Reason Roundup

Michelle Obama Hates Politics and Third Parties, Loves Schmaltz and Unity

Plus: The 19th Amendment turns 100, DOJ doubts about Google antitrust case, and more...


Sen. Bernie Sanders (I–Vt.) and a slew of musical guests were on the roster for night one of the virtual Democratic National Convention, a two-hour hodgepodge of panels, speeches, smooth jazz, hope, and nonsense. But it was former first lady Michelle Obama who stole the show with an eloquent speech that harked back to her husband's heyday and less complicated times.

There was nothing remarkable about the contents of her speech, or at least there wouldn't have been in another era. Perhaps its focus on unity and a simple but dignified message are themselves a rarity in 2020 politics.

"Let's be clear: Going high does not mean putting on a smile and saying nice things when confronted by viciousness and cruelty," said Obama in the pre-recorded segment which aired last night.

Going high means taking the harder path. It means scraping and clawing our way to that mountaintop. Going high means standing fierce against hatred while remembering that we are one nation under God, and if we want to survive, we've got to find a way to live together and work together across our differences.

Obama's speech moved seamlessly between the personal and the political, weaving a narrative thread between her husband's administration with Joe Biden as vice president and a potential Biden presidency. She touched on the COVID-19 pandemic, racial justice, and other highly-charged issues without getting all mucked up culture war grievances; it was all top-level values and empathy.

"The America that is on display for the next generation" is "a nation that's underperforming not simply on matters of policy but on matters of character," said Obama.

And that's not just disappointing; it's downright infuriating, because I know the goodness and the grace that is out there in households and neighborhoods all across this nation.

And I know that regardless of our race, age, religion, or politics, when we close out the noise and the fear and truly open our hearts, we know that what's going on in this country is just not right. This is not who we want to be.

Michelle Obama didn't chastise past Trump voters but appealed to people's better angels, and—in contrast to much Democratic messaging these days—didn't try to portray President Donald Trump as a literal fascist or a shady foreign stooge, but rather someone that many Americans simply know, deep down, just isn't right.

"Let me be as honest and clear as I possibly can," said Obama. "Donald Trump is the wrong president for our country. He has had more than enough time to prove that he can do the job, but he is clearly in over his head. He cannot meet this moment. He simply cannot be who we need him to be for us. It is what it is."

A lot of people seemed to be inspired.

Others found her delivery stilted and optimism forced.

I'll split the difference and say it was indeed schmaltzy and basic but that's probably exactly what the moment called for and, honestly, it was still a little refreshing. (I also liked that it didn't mention Biden's V.P. pick, Kamala Harris, at all even if this was just because the segment was recorded before the pick was announced.)

The only truly annoying part of Obama's speech was her dig at third-party voters.

"This is not the time to withhold our votes in protest or play games with candidates who have no chance of winning," Obama said. "We have got to vote like we did in 2008 and 2012."

That wouldn't be the worst thing: In 2012, the Libertarian Party saw its highest number of votes yet, with candidate Gary Johnson earning nearly 1 percent of the popular vote that year. But Johnson and the L.P. smashed this record in 2016, gaining 3.28 percent of the popular vote.

Were these—and votes for other non-Democratic or Republican candidates—wasted? Hardly. As Reason's Matt Welch wrote recently, "behavior that gets rewarded gets repeated. If you reward your party for nominating people you don't like, chances are very likely that will happen again, sooner rather than later. There is a contradiction in complaining that two-party choices seem to get worse every four years while still voting reliably for one of those choices."

Watch Obama's whole speech here.


Happy 100th anniversary to the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which said "the right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex." I'll be talking tonight with author and Liberty Fund Senior Fellow Sarah Skwire, Rachel Davison Humphries of the Bill of Rights Institute, and the Cato Institute's Kat Murti about the history of the suffrage movement, its divides and missteps, and what the 19th Amendment actually meant for American women and electoral politics. The panel is hosted by Feminists for Liberty, a nonprofit libertarian feminist group that Murti and I founded. Tune in via Zoom at 7 p.m. EST.


Some authorities have reservations about the antitrust attack on Google. "Some Justice Department staffers have expressed internal concerns over plans to bring an antitrust lawsuit against … Google—and what they view as an aggressive timeline favored by Attorney General William Barr," the Wall Street Journal reports:

There are a range of views among staff about a Google case, people familiar with the deliberations said. Some Justice Department lawyers believe Google's conduct isn't blameless, but they don't want to bring a once-in-a-generation lawsuit with flaws and lose in court, the people said.

Some staffers also are concerned that top officials overseeing the probe might be feeling pressure to get a lawsuit filed before the election, the people said.

More here.


• College "free speech zones" are getting a look from the U.S. Supreme Court.

• Teachers are calling the cops over kids skipping virtual classes.

• Viral photos of the horrors supposedly brought by Postal Service cuts keep turning out to be not at all what people fear.

• How social justice slideshows took over Instagram.