IF Hillary Clinton is elected President of the United States in November, she will have Barack Obama’s speech tonight to thank for it. Historians are already saying this was the most impressive speech by a sitting President to endorse a preferred successor in history.
Obama began by noting that he had addressed this convention for the first time twelve years ago tonight. What he didn’t say was that he has given amazing, stirring speeches at every subsequent Democratic convention over that time period. But this one was an extraordinary culmination.
Tonight’s speech, which ran about 50 minutes, began slowly and built in intensity to an explosive conclusion. He accomplished a number of related goals in this one speech. First, he made a singularly effective argument for electing Hillary Clinton. He reiterated that she is the most qualified candidate for President in history (“more than me, more than Bill, more than anybody”). He said that no one really knew how hard it was to be President until they sat behind the desk in the Oval Office, and said that, “She hasn’t been behind the desk, but she’s been in the room,” and added, “she hasn’t been on the sidelines, criticizing, she’s been in the arena, fighting, for 40 years.”
He eviscerated Donald Trump with cruel precision. His tone resembled the one he used when he roasted Trump, to his face, at the Washington Correspondents’ Dinner in 2011. In Philadelphia tonight, he presented the Donald as the small man he is. He said, “Donald is not really a plans guy. He’s not a facts guy either.” “He’s betting that if he scares enough people he’ll get just enough votes to get elected.” But then he broadened the critique, to show why what Trump is selling is actually against everything America stands for: “The American Dream is something no wall will ever contain.” And then came the estocada: “We don’t look to be ruled.”
He also summed up his time in office and defined his legacy in clear and forceful terms. He elaborated the “faith in America,” in “this great experiment in self-governance” that has guided him throughout his Presidency, and he expressed an unlimited belief in the strength and durability of the American people.
At the end, he spoke directly to the people in the room. These people are the foot soldiers of the electoral process. They’re the ones who do the hard work to get out the vote, and they’ve been doing it, for Bernie and Hillary, for a long time now. Obama spoke to persuade the Bernie supporters and shore up the Hillary ones. They are tired, and they need to be reinvigorated for the tough 100 days to come. He flattered them, he inspired them, and he honestly thanked them.
He said the only thing that kept him going for the past 8 years was they, the American people, who stayed with him and encouraged him. “Democracy isn’t a spectator sport,” he said. “You’ve got to get in the arena and fight.”
And a final plea: “I ask you to carry her just like you carried me. I’m ready to pass the baton.”
And then suddenly she appeared, from the wings, as if by magic, and finally looked radiant and relaxed, and the two embraced warmly. That image just might get this ultimate insider elected after all.
David Levi Strauss
Wednesday, July 27, 2016, 11:55 pm
[Photograph: Jon Winet. July 27, 2016. Click on image to see an enlargement.]
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