There was a point toward the end of President Barack Obama’s speech at the Democratic National Convention Wednesday night when he talked about the American values instilled in him by his Kansas grandparents.
“They came from the heartland,” Obama told the partisan crowd in Philadelphia, drawing cheers, especially from the Kansas delegation.
“And my grandparents explained that folks in these parts, they didn’t like show-offs,” he added. “They didn’t admire braggarts or bullies. They didn’t respect mean-spiritedness, or folks who were always looking for shortcuts in life. Instead, what they valued were traits like honesty and hard work, kindness, courtesy, humility, responsibility, helping each other out. That’s what they believed in. True things. Things that last. The things we try to teach our kids.”
This was Obama’s vision of America: a place where people want to work hard and provide for their families. His portrait came in stark contrast to Donald Trump’s dystopian outlook of a crime-ridden nation seemingly on the verge of inescapable collapse that the billionaire tycoon depicted last week in Cleveland at the Republican National Convention. Unless, of course, one man—Trump—can ride to victory in November against Hillary Clinton and reinstate law and order, actually end crime, obliterate the self-proclaimed Islamic State, shore up the country’s Mexican border, and prevent foreign Muslims from entering the United States.
“Americans watching this address tonight have seen the recent images of violence in our streets and the chaos in our communities,” Trump said last week during his acceptance speech. “Many have witnessed this violence personally, some have even been its victims.
“I have a message for all of you: The crime and violence that today afflicts our nation will soon come to an end,” he added. “Beginning on January 20, 2017, safety will be restored.”
Obama painted a different picture in Philadelphia. This was likely Obama’s last major speech as president, and it came on the eve of Hillary Clinton’s historic acceptance speech for the Democratic nomination for president, making her the first woman to be nominated by a major American party.
Although Obama spent parts of his 45-minute address lacing into Trump—he called him a “no plans” guy and evoked “homegrown demagogues” in the same line as communists and Jihadists—the president was seeking to refute Trump’s narrative of an America on the brink of disaster.
This vision was not lost on some conservatives.
Text just now from a senior House Republican who gave me permission to tweet this: “We were supposed to make that sort of speech.”
— Erick Erickson (@EWErickson) July 28, 2016
Still stunned. Feel like I’m in the twilight zone. Obama just defended America & conservative values from attacks by the Republican nominee.
— (((AG))) (@AG_Conservative) July 28, 2016
In case you don’t believe me on this, former Reagan speechwriter –> https://t.co/5qCmO9CP22
— (((AG))) (@AG_Conservative) July 28, 2016
Take about five paragraphs out of that Obama speech and it could have been a Reagan speech. Trust me. I know.
— John Podhoretz (@jpodhoretz) July 28, 2016
Obama also tried to make the case that America’s best days are still ahead.
“That is America. Those bonds of affection, that common creed. We don’t fear the future. We shape it,” he said. “We embrace it, as one people, stronger together than we are on our own.
“That’s what Hillary Clinton understands—this fighter, this stateswoman, this mother and grandmother, this public servant, this patriot—that’s the America she’s fighting for,” Obama said.
For all the focus on what constitutes “real America,” Obama also sought to mobilize the Democratic base: urging all voters to exhibit the same passion as Bernie Sanders’ supporters and hit the polls on Election Day.
“If you want more justice in the justice system, then we’ve all got to vote—not just for a president, but for mayors and sheriffs and state’s attorneys and state legislators,” he said.
When the Democratic faithful booed at the mere mention of Trump’s name, Obama urged them to turn their distaste into action.
“Don’t boo,” he insisted. “Vote!”
Day 3 of the Democratic National Convention also included fiery speeches from Vice President Joe Biden and his potential successor, Clinton’s VP pick, Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA).
Biden, who has made a career out of appearing to be cut out of the same cloth as middle-class Americans, questioned Trump’s commitment to workers.
“No matter where you were raised. How can there be pleasure in saying ‘You’re fired?’” asked Biden. “He’s trying to tell us he cares about the middle-class? Give me a break. That’s a bunch of malarkey.”
Kaine also questioned Trump’s devotion to working-class people.
“So here’s the question, here’s the question: Do you really believe him?” Kaine asked the audience. “I mean, Donald Trump’s whole career says you had better not.”
Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who was a Republican when he ran for city hall and is now an independent, made a prime-time appearance to denounce Donald Trump’s business acumen speaking as one billionaire about another. Calling Trump a “dangerous demagogue” and a “risky, reckless and radical choice” for the White House, Bloomberg cited Trump’s half dozen bankruptcies as a real estate developer and called out his hypocrisy for saying he’d protect American jobs despite having his Trump products made overseas by cheap labor.
“Trump says he wants to run the nation like he’s running his business? God help us!” Bloomberg said. “I’m a New Yorker, and I know a con when I see one.”
Tellingly, New York City’s current mayor, Bill de Blasio, a liberal Democrat, spoke around 5:30 p.m. when the hall was nearly empty. In 2000, he’d run Clinton’s successful campaign to become a New York Senator.
Thursday night it’s Hillary Clinton’s turn to take the stage in prime-time for the most anticipated speech of her political life. No doubt the hall will be packed and millions of people will be tuning to watch. The question remains: Will Americans trust her? She still has a lot to prove.
(Photo credit: Michael Davidson for Hillary for America/flickr)