First, former President Barack Obama broke with tradition to criticize his successor. Now, his wife Michelle is speaking out, telling a crowd in Las Vegas Sunday night she is “frustrated” with the current political scene.
“Believe me, I am frustrated, too,” she said. “I am sick of all the chaos and the nastiness of our politics. It’s exhausting.”
Obama’s public appearance is her first since leaving the White House almost two years ago. She appeared on behalf of the non-profit, When We All Vote, she launched in July.
The former first lady claims its goal is to increase voter turnout and says it is non-partisan. Critics say that’s inaccurate, calling the group’s rallies little more than a voter registration drive.
“We get the leaders we vote for, we get the policies we vote for, and when we don’t vote, that’s when we wind up with government of, by and for other people,” she told the adoring crowd. “Because you can’t vote some of the time and then sit out. You know we saw that happen. We experienced that. We had a great president.”
But she said she didn’t care who people voted for – as long as they cast a ballot.
The group has planned 25 events this week, many in key swing states with close elections, like Florida, Arizona, California and Tennessee. All of the celebrities invited are Democrats, like actors Tom Hanks and Lin Manuel Miranda from the play Hamilton, NBA star Chris Paul and self-described “blue dog Democrat” Tim McGraw and his wife Faith Hill, also a former Obama supporter.
Obama said she is trying to increase turnout. Compared with other democracies, America’s is low. In past presidential elections, about half of all voters eligible to cast ballots actually voted. In the last midterm election in 2014, only 36 percent of eligible voters cast a ballot, which was lowest turnout in 70 years.
“You might not like living with the consequences of other people’s choices. But that’s what happens when you stay home. You’re essentially putting your future in the hands of others,” Obama told the crowd in Las Vegas.
When We All Vote has a paid staff of 10, most of whom are former Obama aides. While the group claims to support get-out-the-vote efforts for all demographics, the organization admits it is paying special attention to African Americans, Hispanics and young people, all of whom vote disproportionally on behalf of Democrats.
Republicans say Obama’s get-out-the-vote effort is a veiled attempt to rally Democratic voters.
“While Democrats parachute Michelle Obama into battleground states a little over a month out from midterms, Republicans –meanwhile – have remained consistently engaged in a permanent, year-round voter registration program,” said Republican National Committee spokesman Steve Guest. “At this point in the cycle, Democrats don’t have enough time or money to make up for what Republicans have been doing this entire cycle.”
Kyle Lierman, an Obama administration official who is now working with the former first lady, told the Washington Post that while they are targeting specific groups, the voter registration effort is for everyone.
“We are able to make sure we’re doubling down our efforts and reaching them,” he said, “but we really are trying to reach all Americans.”