Wednesday, August 3, 2016

The Democratic Convention Day 3:
The president speaks to the American room

BARRY HASN’T dropped the presidential mic for the last time just yet, and it’ll be a sad-ass day in the world of oratory when he does, on or about January 20th. But until then, and for the rest of this campaign, President Obama can be counted on for some seriously heavyweight speeches on behalf of Hillary Clinton — speeches he probably field-tested Wednesday in Philadelphia.

Over the past seven years and change, our president has observed the necessary decorum of his high office; he has masterfully let others roll around in the rhetorical mud; he’s sharpened his skills of telling various adversaries to go to hell and made them at least curious about taking the trip.

But Wednesday in the heart of plain-spoken Philly, the president brought his own attytood to the subject of Donald Trump, a longtime presidential antagonist who just happens to be the Republican nominee. Obama combined sharp, ad hominem broadsides with an overview of administration accomplishment; joined a frank understanding of the troubles facing this country with a grasp of the ways Americans have brilliantly, successfully faced down existential challenges before ... and his own full-throated endorsement of Hillary Clinton for the presidency. It was fun to watch, and more than a little bittersweet.

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By so many measures, our country is stronger and more prosperous than it was when we started. And through every victory and every setback, I’ve insisted that change is never easy, and never quick; that we wouldn’t meet all of our challenges in one term, or one presidency, or even in one lifetime.

So, tonight, I’m here to tell you that, yes, we’ve still got more work to do. More work to do for every American still in need of a good job or a raise, paid leave or a decent retirement; for every child who needs a sturdier ladder out of poverty or a world-class education; for everyone who has not yet felt the progress of these past seven and a half years.

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 idea that pushes our country forward. But 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.

Read the full transcript of the speech

And that is not the America I know. The America I know is full of courage, and optimism, and ingenuity. The America I know is decent and generous. Sure, we have real anxieties -- about paying the bills, and protecting our kids, caring for a sick parent. We get frustrated with political gridlock, and worry about racial divisions. We are shocked and saddened by the madness of Orlando or Nice. ...

All of that is real. We are challenged to do better; to be better.

But as I’ve traveled this country, through all 50 states, as I’ve rejoiced with you and mourned with you, what I have also seen, more than anything, is what is right with America. I see people working hard and starting businesses. I see people teaching kids and serving our country. I see engineers inventing stuff, doctors coming up with new cures. I see a younger generation full of energy and new ideas, not constrained by what is, ready to seize what ought to be.

And most of all, I see Americans of every party, every background, every faith who believe that we are stronger together -- black, white, Latino, Asian, Native American; young, old; gay, straight; men, women, folks with disabilities, all pledging allegiance, under the same proud flag, to this big, bold country that we love. That's what I see. That's the America I know!

And there is only one candidate in this race who believes in that future, has devoted her life to that future; a mother and a grandmother who would do anything to help our children thrive; a leader with real plans to break down barriers, and blast through glass ceilings, and widen the circle of opportunity to every single American -- the next president of the United States, Hillary Clinton.

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You know, the Donald is not really a plans guy. He’s not really a facts guy, either. He calls himself a business guy, which is true, but I have to say, I know plenty of businessmen and women who’ve achieved remarkable success without leaving a trail of lawsuits, and unpaid workers, and people feeling like they got cheated.

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? Your voice?

If so, you should vote for him. ...

President Obama smartly undercut the cult of personality Trump has erected around himself and his campaign, and also played down the idea that improving America is or can be the work of a single individual. Even the president himself.

America is already great. America is already strong. And I promise you, our strength, our greatness, does not depend on Donald Trump. In fact, it doesn’t depend on any one person. And that, in the end, may be the biggest difference in this election -- the meaning of our democracy.

Ronald Reagan called America “a shining city on a hill.” Donald Trump calls it “a divided crime scene” that only he can fix. It doesn’t matter to him that illegal immigration and the crime rate are as low as they’ve been in decades -- because he’s not actually offering any real solutions to those issues. He’s just offering slogans, and he’s offering fear. He’s betting that if he scares enough people, he might score just enough votes to win this election.

And that's another bet that Donald Trump will lose. And the reason he'll lose it is because he’s selling the American people short. We're not a fragile people. We're not a frightful people. Our power doesn’t come from some self-declared savior promising that he alone can restore order as long as we do things his way. We don’t look to be ruled. Our power comes from those immortal declarations first put to paper right here in Philadelphia all those years ago: We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal; that We the People, can form a more perfect union.

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THE BULLY pulpit of the presidency is an awesome thing, and more often than not what makes it awesome has less to do with the powers and authorities of the office and everything to do with the authority of its own populist underpinnings. No other public officeholder on earth has this capacity to sway a nation through an array of ideas and perspectives, rendered without fear of reprisal or revolution. No other public officeholder on earth can so arouse a nation’s people to be the people of a Nation.

Bittersweet Dept.: President Obama hasn’t dropped the mic for the last time just yet; we've got about five more months of maybe the best presidential communicator since Reagan. But when that happens, you can bet there will be a hole in our American lives. We’ll have to confront the absence of that rhetorical ability to speak truth to power and do so eloquently, charitably, with a laser focus on what matters to everyone in the American room, not just the siloed, cloistered, privileged few.

And you can also bet that, sooner or later, whether you admit it out loud now or not ... you’re gonna miss him.

Image credit: Obama top: Convention pool. Obama lower: CNN.

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