President Obama’s speech on Wednesday at the Democratic National Convention was mostly a celebration of American ideals and an expression of optimism about the country’s future.
As expected, the president enthusiastically endorsed Hillary Clinton as his successor and repeatedly bashed Donald Trump.
But the core of the president’s message was not so much about the two candidates, but rather invoking the hope and idealism of the 2004 DNC speech in Boston that launched his national political career. Obama reminded the audience of Ronald Reagan’s description of the United States as a “shining city on a hill,” arguing that the nation is largely united and said America’s values are “as strong as ever.”
“We don’t fear the future,” the president said. “We shape it. We embrace it as one people.”
Many other speakers at the DNC this week, including ex-New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and vice-presidential nominee and Virginia Sen. Tim Kaine, highlighted Trump’s personal controversies in business or told personal stories about Clinton.
Obama did some of that as well. But his overall message was not to reject Trump, but instead question the views of the real estate mogul’s supporters, many of whom argue America is in decline.
“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,” the president said.
He added, “He’s selling the American people short. We are not a fragile or frightful people.”
“America is already great,” Obama said to loud applause. “Our greatness does not depend on Donald Trump. In fact, it doesn’t depend on any one person.”
He added, “There’s been a lot of talk in this campaign about what America’s lost, people who tell us that our way of life is being undermined. ... They tell voters there’s a real America out there that must be restored. This isn’t an idea that started with Donald Trump. “
Obama argued, “America has changed over the years. But these values my grandparents taught me-they haven’t gone anywhere. They’re as strong as ever.”
Obama’s speech, exactly 12 years after his appearance at the DNC in 2004, was both a celebration of his tenure and an illustration of his importance to Clinton’s campaign. The president’s speech on Wednesday night was billed by Democratic officials as one of the highlights of the convention, overshadowing the remarks of Kaine.
Clinton came on stage after Obama’s speech, as if the president is her running mate.
And in many ways, Clinton is running with Obama., for better and for worse.
The racial, ethnic, economic and cultural changes that have happened under Obama are defining the 2016 campaign. The homicide rate in many large cities, such as Washington, D.C., is surging, as Trump has highlighted. The stagnating wages of the middle class, as the president acknowledged, are a huge problem and are in some ways fueling Trump backers’ concerns about immigration.
“By so many measures, our country is stronger and more prosperous than it was when we started,” Obama said, referring to his election in 2008.
The audience in Philadelphia cheered loudly as the president listed his accomplishments, such as the millions of Americans insured through the Affordable Care Act. But the outcome of this election could depend on whether Americans share Obama’s hope and optimism or believe the more gloomy vision that Trump presented in his speech at the Republican National Convention last week is more accurate.