President Barack Obama offered an optimistic vision of the country and a strong indictment of Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump Wednesday night in a speech that also cast Hillary Clinton as the best candidate to carry on his legacy and complete his unfinished business.
"America is already great. America is already strong," he said during his speech to close out the Democratic National Convention. "And I promise you, our strength, our greatness, does not depend on Donald Trump."
It was a speech aimed at both defending his legacy and "passing the baton" to Clinton, while unifying Democrats by acknowledging liberal followers of Sen. Bernie Sanders, the party's presidential runner-up, were correct in their frustrations that there was more work to be done.
Obama vouched for Clinton in personal terms, telling a cheering crowd that because of his work with her as secretary of state "I can say with confidence there has never been a man or a woman more qualified than Hillary Clinton to serve as president of the United States of America."
"Even in the middle of crisis, she listens to people, and keeps her cool, and treats everybody with respect. And no matter how daunting the odds; no matter how much people try to knock her down, she never, ever quits," he said.
In contrast, Obama challenged many of Trump's key campaign pitches. The GOP nominee, Obama said, is "not really a plans guy. 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 success without leaving a trail of lawsuits, and unpaid workers, and people feeling like they got cheated."
And after two days during which convention speakers barely mentioned foreign policy — drawing attacks from Republicans, who noted ISIS wasn't mentioned once on Monday — Wednesday night's speakers finally made the Democratic case on the issue. Obama defended his battle against the terror group, telling the crowd "our troops have pounded ISIL [another acronym for ISIS] without mercy, taking out leaders, taking back territory" and "Hillary won't relent until ISIL is destroyed."
The speech served as a direct repudiation of Trump's comments at the Republican National Convention last week, during which the Republican nominee offered a gloomy vision of a nation besieged by threats at home and abroad and painted himself as the one man who can solve the nation's problems and speak out for the working class.
Obama opened his speech by noting it had been 12 years since he gave the electrifying address at the 2004 convention that catapulted him to national prominence and kick-started his path to the White House, and then ran through a litany of accomplishments over his two terms as president: Killing Osama bin Laden; legalization of gay marriage, an improved economy and diplomatic deals with Iran and Cuba.
And in contrast to the critical view of the country offered by Republicans at their convention — and the concerns expressed by some liberals within his own party, foremost among them Democratic presidential nominee runner-up Bernie Sanders — Obama insisted he was "optimistic" for the country's future.
"While this nation has been tested by war, and it's been tested by recession and all manner of challenges, I stand before you again tonight after almost two terms as your president to tell you I am more optimistic about the future of America than ever before," he said.
In contrast, he said "what we heard in Cleveland [at the Republican National Convention] last week ... 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," Obama said — a clear knock on GOP nominee Donald Trump, whose convention speech was panned by critics as dark and gloomy.
"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?" Obama asked, referring to Trump. "If so, you should vote for him.
"But if you're someone who's truly concerned about paying your bills, and seeing the economy grow, and creating more opportunity for everybody, then the choice isn't even close," he continued. "If you want someone with a lifelong track record of fighting for higher wages, better benefits, a fairer tax code, a bigger voice for workers, and stronger regulations on Wall Street, then you should vote for Hillary Clinton."
Likely the president's last speech to a crowd as big as the one that packed the Wells Fargo arena in Philadelphia Wednesday night, Obama began preparing for it in June, when he started throwing ideas around with staff.
Writing started two weeks ago, and last Monday he received the first draft of the speech, according to senior admin officials. Since then, they said, Obama rewrote the address six times — including as recently as this past Monday, when he stayed up till 3:30 a.m. rewriting it after he watched First Lady Michelle Obama deliver a speech that brought down the house.
Obama's speech was also met with resounding applause, multiple standing ovations and huge cheers as the audience members waved "Obama" signs and chanted "Yes we can!" at one point. The president enjoys some of the highest approval ratings of his tenure.
But it wasn't completely well-received — a few protesters shouted out during the speech. That streak of liberal opposition — which has been small but active and vocal throughout the primary and convention — has many Democrats concerned they could lose the White House if enough disaffected liberals stay home.
That possibility seemed to weigh on Obama's mind, as he emphasized the need for Clinton's skeptics to turn out to the polls.
"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. America isn't about 'yes he will.' It's about 'yes we can,'" he said.
Obama went on to pledge: "And we're going to carry Hillary to victory this fall, because that's what the moment demands."