Michelle Obama said Wednesday she is a product of a working-class background and rejected characterizations of her and her husband as elitist.
Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama has tried to deflect criticism of his comments that people in small towns cling to religion and guns out of bitterness over their economic plight. Democratic rival Hillary Rodham Clinton and Republican John McCain have called the remarks elitist. Obama said it was a poor choice of words to describe the economic insecurity many face.
"I am a product of a working-class background, I am one of those folks who grew up in that struggle. That is the lens through which I see the world," Michelle Obama told a cheering crowd at Harrison High School, the first stop of a three-city campaign swing ahead of the state's May 6 primary.
'Folks are struggling like never before'
"So when people talk about this elitist stuff, I say, 'You couldn't possibly know anything about me.' So let me give you a better sense of who me and Barack are and why we're doing this," she said.
Michelle Obama said the difficulties people face are real.
"Folks are struggling like never before," she said. "We shouldn't be surprised that people are cynical. There is a level of cynicism that comes when you feel like no matter how hard you work, no matter how much you do, you never catch up and you certainly can't get ahead. So you don't believe that politics can do anything for you, you lose hope. Naturally, you fold your arms in disgust of the process."
As a result, she said, people become isolated.
"They feel lonely and oftentimes they're embarrassed by their struggle because they feel like somehow they must be doing something wrong," she said.
That can make people "susceptible to being led by fear," she added.
Michelle Obama drew heavily on her upbringing in a working-class family in Chicago, noting that her family lived on her father's city salary while her mother stayed home.
"There were no miracles in my life," she said. "The thing that I saw that many of us still see is hard work and sacrifice."
Touching on rising food and gas prices, the mortgage crisis and many Americans' struggles to make ends meet on one salary, she asked the crowd, "Does this sound familiar? Am I out of touch?"