President Obama took the stage one last time Wednesday to attempt the hand the baton to Hillary Clinton, by trying to paint a presidential picture of his former secretary of state’s judgement one night after former President Clinton tried to make her human.
It capped a night at the Democratic National Convention of relentless, hyperbolic broadsides aimed at the Republican nominee. Several speakers suggested Americans’ very lives depend on the outcome of November’s election. If Trump gets his hands on the nuclear codes, after all, there’s no telling what he might do.
“But what we heard in Cleveland last week wasn’t particularly Republican. And it certainly wasn’t conservative.”
For this is not just a campaign between Republicans and Democrats, Obama said.
“This is a more fundamental choice about who we are as a people,” he said.
Obama spoke in lofty terms.
“Democracy doesn’t work when we constantly demonize each other,” he said, and then went on to demonize Trump.
Speaking as the professor he is, as an expert on every subject — including the other party — Obama critiqued last week’s Republican National Convention.
“But what we heard in Cleveland last week wasn’t particularly Republican,” he said. “And it certainly wasn’t conservative.”
Vice President Joe Biden made only passing reference to Clinton in his speech, calling her smart, tough, and passionate. He trained most of his rhetorical energy on Trump: “His cynicism and undoubtedly his lack of empathy and compassion can be summed up in that phrase I’m sure he’s proud of making famous: ‘You’re fired.'”
The Trump campaign took all the criticism in stride.
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“Tonight was a sad night for the Democratic Party,” campaign policy adviser Stephen Miller said in a prepared statement. “They offered no solutions for the problems facing America — in fact, they pretended those problems didn’t even exist. They described a vision of America that doesn’t exist for most Americans, including the 70 percent of Americans who think our country is on the wrong track. Never has a party been so disconnected from what is happening in our world.”
The campaign noted that Obama mentioned Trump six times, ISIS twice, and made zero mentions of Israel, Iraq, Libya, trade, or the national debt.
If Bill Clinton’s task Tuesday night was to humanize his wife, Obama’s mission was to reassure Americans about Clinton’s judgment.
“For four years I had a front-row seat to her intelligence, her judgment, and her discipline,” he said, adding that she “stood with me in the situation room and forcefully argued in favor of the mission that took out [Osama] bin Laden.
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Obama depicted his onetime rival as a cool decision-maker.
“Even in the midst of crisis, she listens to people, and she keeps her cool and she treats everyone with respect,” he said.
Obama did not dare mention all of the things that might cause voters to doubt those pronouncements:
- Her well-publicized decision to bypass record-keeping and public information requirements by setting up home-brew servers in the basement of her home and subjecting government secrets to potential hacking.
- Accusations that she used her official position to leverage donations from wealthy foreigners and governments to the Clinton Foundation and lucrative speaking fees for herself.
- Her role in taking sides with Libyan rebels who turned the country into a virtual terrorist state, or false statements she made in public and to the victims’ families in private about an attack that killed the U.S. ambassador and three other Americans in Benghazi.
- Her role in abandoning Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, a U.S. ally who was deposed, which led to an election that put the Muslim Brotherhood in power. They tried to establish an Islamic state, only to be deposed by the military.
- For that matter, Obama made no mention of Clinton’s vote for the war in Iraq, which the president used to great effect in his 2008 primary race against her.
Obama insisted Clinton has the “judgment, the experience, and the temperament” to be president and made only the most oblique reference to the fact that she has made mistakes, “just like I have, just like we all do. That’s what happens when we try.”
For a president famously loathe to call out Islamic extremism, he notably said the country would reject jihadists, but used the term only to liken to Trump, to whom he made a veiled reference when he referenced “home-grown demagogues.”