CHARLOTTE, N.C. — First lady Michelle Obama mixed personal history with public policy here Tuesday as she helped open the first night of the Democratic National Convention with a speech portraying President Barack Obama as a man still driven to help people who are struggling.
The first lady told an arena packed with cheering delegates that the president is still the same man of humble beginnings she met 23 years ago and who won the presidency in 2008. She said he has fought for people like the grandmother who raised him and her own father, while he has tried to rebuild the economy.
“And he reminds me that we are playing a long game here and that change is hard and change is slow, and it never happens all at once,” the first lady said. “But eventually we get there. We always do.”
She issued a call to “work like never before” to give her husband another four years in office.
Democrats opened their convention with a series of speeches and videos defending the president's economic policies and praising him for pushing health care and Wall Street reform, bailing out the auto industry, allowing gays and lesbians to serve openly in the military, fighting wage discrimination, ending the war in Iraq, killing Osama bin Laden and helping veterans.
An Arizona mother said the health care law would prevent her family from hitting the insurance cap on medical care for her young daughter with a heart defect. Lilly Ledbetter, who fought a pay discrimination case to the U.S. Supreme Court, said the first bill signed by the president bore the name the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act.
Wounded vet speaks
Illinois congressional candidate Tammy Duckworth, who lost her legs in the Iraq War, got a rousing ovation in the Time Warner Cable Arena when she told of her comrades refusing to leave her behind after she was hit by a rocket-propelled grenade.
Duckworth said Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney had a chance in his convention speech last week “to show his support for the brave men and women he is seeking to command. But he chose to criticize President Obama instead of even uttering the word ‘Afghanistan.'
“Barack Obama will never ignore our troops. He will fight for them.”
Debt hits $16 trillion
Democrats also hit back at Republicans, who held their national convention in Tampa last week, accusing Romney and vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan of twisting facts and lying about the president's statements and positions on Medicare, welfare reform and the closing of an auto plant in Wisconsin.
Republicans on Tuesday, meanwhile, noted that the nation's debt crossed the $16 trillion point as Democrats opened their convention.
Rep. James Lankford, R-Oklahoma City, said, “It is a very sad day as our nation exceeded another debt milestone, $16 trillion in debt burden on this and future generations of Americans.
“President Obama promised to cut the deficit in half by the end of his first term, and instead his deficits were more than double any other president in American history every single year.”
Michelle Obama, whose approval rating was 66 percent in a Gallup poll released in May, said Tuesday that her most important title is still “mom-in-chief.” But she also has been tasked with helping her husband win another term and is expected to make frequent campaign appearances in the next two months.
In the last four years, she launched an effort against child obesity and has worked to raise awareness about the challenges faced by military families and veterans.
In her speech on Tuesday, she said her husband had lived the American dream.
“And he believes that when you've worked hard, and done well and walked through that doorway of opportunity, you do not slam it shut behind you — you reach back, and you give other folks the same chances that helped you succeed,” she said.
In a line that likely drew scoffs from some Republican members of Congress, the first lady said that Obama was always ready to listen to good ideas, whether they came from Democrats or Republicans.
San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro, who spoke just before the first lady, mocked GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney for telling students at Otterbein University in Ohio in April to borrow money from their parents to start a business.
“Gee, why didn't I think of that?” said Castro, who was raised by his mother in a low-income section of San Antonio.
Castro said, “We all understand that freedom isn't free. What Romney and Ryan don't understand is that neither is opportunity. We have to invest in it.”
Former Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland charged that Romney was an “outsourcing pioneer” during his time running an investment company and that workers to him were “just numbers on a spreadsheet.”
“Mitt Romney never saw the point of building something when he could profit from tearing it down,” Strickland said. “If Mitt was Santa Claus, he'd fire the reindeer and outsource the elves.”
The president is scheduled to arrive in Charlotte on Wednesday; he and Vice President Joe Biden will speak on Thursday at Bank of America Stadium, where the NFL's Carolina Panthers play.
Former President Bill Clinton is scheduled to give the keynote speech on Wednesday.