Barack Obama’s political career began on August 18, 2004, when, at that year’s Democratic National Convention, he bellowed for the country to believe in itself and unite — the red states, the blue states, liberal America, conservative America, black America, white America.
Twelve years later, on Wednesday night at the Democratic National Convention, he bookended his remarkably quick political career by urging the country to unite again.
To “reject cynicism, reject fear, to summon what’s best in us.” And to reject the candidacy of Republican nominee Donald J. Trump.
What was interesting about Obama’s speech was that he could have gone an entirely different route. He could have cast Trump as a consequence of the Republican Party, painted the Democratic Party as a long-term, sane solution, and spun conservatism as an extension of Trump.
Instead, he made a point of saying the ideas Trump and his allies espoused during last week’s Republican National Convention in Cleveland were not Republican — and not conservative. He gave Republicans an out — a tactic that has, to the dismay of many of his critics on the left, been a recurring feature of his presidency.
“Look, we Democrats have always had plenty of differences with the Republican Party, and there’s nothing wrong with that; it’s precisely this contest of ideas that pushes our country forward,” Obama said.
“But what we heard in Cleveland last week wasn’t particularly Republican — and it sure wasn’t conservative,” he added. “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 painted Trump as an authoritarian, a self-proclaimed “saviour” who isn’t. America, he said, doesn’t “look to be ruled.”
He delivered a forceful endorsement of Hillary Clinton, the Democratic nominee for president, his former secretary of state, the best chance he has to cement in stone all of the items on his legacy list.
He nodded, at points, to the lack of flash around Clinton, the fact that she is not perfect.
“And we”re going to carry Hillary to victory this fall, because that’s what the moment demands,” he said, a line that simultaneously conveyed enthusiasm and resentment.
“President Obama had two jobs tonight: set the table of the stakes of this campaign, and pass the torch of an energised, enthusiastic, and unified party to Hillary Clinton,” he said. “In both cases, the speech was an unqualified success.”
And so he ended his political career by attempting to expand that beyond the party — to “show the world we still believe in the promise of this great nation.”
He was played off, as he has so often, to Stevie Wonder’s “Signed, Sealed, Delivered.”
He might have just done that for Hillary Clinton.
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