PHILADELPHIA — President Obama gave a more optimistic view of America in a speech to the Democratic National Convention, calling on voters to reject Donald Trump’s “cynicism” while describing Hillary Clinton as exceptionally qualified to become president.
“There has never been a man or a woman — not me, not Bill, nobody — more qualified than Hillary Clinton to serve as president of the United States,” he said to a filled Wells Fargo Arena.
Clinton made a surprise appearance after his speech and they embraced and then waved to the crowd.
“Even in the middle of crisis, she listens to people, and keeps her cool, and treats everybody with respect,” he said. “And no matter how daunting the odds; no matter how much people try to knock her down, she never, ever quits.”
After being introduced by a video retrospective of his presidency, which was made by Davis Guggenheim and Peter Kunhardt, Obama used his speech as much as an endorsement of his one-time rival as rejecting Trump’s vision of the country.
As Obama talked of the continuity of choosing Clinton — “pass the baton” — the real strength of the speech was in the contrasting views of the country. But he didn’t frame it as Democrat vs. Republican, but as a matter of how Americans see themselves.
He said that “what we heard in Cleveland last week wasn’t particularly Republican – and it sure wasn’t conservative. What we heard was a deeply pessimistic vision of a country where we turn against each other, and turn away from the rest of the world. There were no serious solutions to pressing problems – just the fanning of resentment, and blame, and anger, and hate.”
He said that Trump “was not a plans guy. He’s not a facts guy either.”
But rather than riff on Trump for humor, Obama pointed out what he saw as the risk of his election.
“He cozies up to Putin, praises Saddam Hussein, and tells the NATO allies that stood by our side after 9/11 that they have to pay up if they want our protection. Well, America’s promises do not come with a price tag. We meet our commitments. And that’s one reason why almost every country on Earth sees America as stronger and more respected today than they did eight years ago.”
He also zeroed in on Trump’s slogan — “Make America Great Again” — and the Republican nominee’s proclamations that he alone could solve the nation’s problems.
“America is already great. America is already strong. And I promise you, our strength, our greatness, does not depend on Donald Trump,” he said.
He even suggested that Trump had an authoritarian streak.
“Our power doesn’t come from some self-declared savior promising that he alone can restore order. We don’t look to be ruled,” he said.
The enthusiasm in the Wells Fargo Center mirrored that of Bill Clinton’s speech in 2012 on the penultimate night of the convention in Charlotte, when he made the case for Obama’s reelection.
Obama noted that he and Clinton faced each other in a heated primary battle in 2008, where he recalled how tough she was a a foe.
“Now, eight years ago, Hillary and I were rivals for the Democratic nomination. We battled for a year and a half. Let me tell you, it was tough, because Hillary’s tough. Every time I thought I might have that race won, Hillary just came back stronger.
“She was doing everything I was doing, but just like Ginger Rogers it was backwards and in heels.”
He then went on to ask her to be his Secretary of State, and Obama relayed how he saw first hand how qualified she was.
“Now, Hillary has real plans to address the concerns she’s heard from you on the campaign trail. She’s got specific ideas to invest in new jobs, to help workers share in their company’s profits, to help put kids in preschool, and put students through college without taking on a ton of debt. That’s what leaders do.
He added, “Does anyone really believe that a guy who’s spent his 70 years on this Earth showing no regard for working people is suddenly going to be your champion?”
He also made an appeal to supporters of Bernie Sanders, at one point using the slogan of his campaign, “feel the Bern.”
“So if you agree that there’s too much inequality in our economy, and too much money in our politics, we all need to be as vocal and as organized and as persistent as Bernie Sanders’ supporters have been. We all need to get out and vote for Democrats up and down the ticket, and then hold them accountable until they get the job done.”
“If you’re serious about our democracy, you can’t afford to stay home just because she might not align with you on every issue. You’ve got to get in the arena with her, because democracy isn’t a spectator sport.”