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President Barack Obama delivered a passionate endorsement of Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton in a speech at the party’s convention Wednesday night.
His speech was built on a message of optimism, which has been the overriding tone of the Democratic National Convention this week.
“I’m ready to pass the baton and do my part as a private citizen,” he said. “So this year, in this election, I’m asking you to join me – to reject cynicism, reject fear, to summon what’s best in us, to elect Hillary Clinton as the next president of the United States and show the world we still believe in the promise of this great nation.”
And Obama didn’t simply make the case against the Republican nominee Donald Trump. He argued strongly in favor of Clinton, a former political rival whom he defeated for the presidential nomination in 2008.
“Eight years ago, you may remember Hillary and I were rivals for the Democratic nomination,” Obama said. “We battled for a year and a half. Let me tell you: It was tough, because Hillary was tough. I was worn out. She was doing everything I was doing, but, just like Ginger Rogers, it was backwards and in heels. Every time I thought I might have that race won, Hillary just came back stronger.”
Obama and Clinton competed in a fierce primary battle in 2008. Clinton, the establishment candidate, was widely expected to win the Democratic nomination. But Obama rose to the top of the party on his message of hope and change.
Obama and Clinton were thought to dislike each other – as evidenced by the moment during a debate when Obama said snidely, “You’re likable enough, Hillary” – but their relationship has warmed since Obama tapped Clinton to be his first secretary of state.
“After it was all over, I asked Hillary to join my team,” Obama said. “She was a little surprised, and her team was a little surprised, but ultimately she said yes – because she knew that what was at stake was bigger than either of us.”
Obama testified to her experience and judgment, two things that have been popular avenues for attack against her.
“For four years, I had a front-row seat to her intelligence, her judgment, and her discipline,” he said. “I came to realize that her unbelievable work ethic wasn’t for praise or attention – that she was in this for everyone who needs a champion.”
He then ran through some of her accomplishments, including her work at the Children’s Defense Fund, on behalf of 9/11 first responders, and on the mission that killed Osama bin Laden.
Obama made the case that Clinton’s experience was invaluable, implicitly contrasting Clinton’s achievements in government with Trump’s lack of political experience.
“Nothing truly prepares you for the demands of the Oval Office,” Obama said. “But until you’ve sat at that desk, you don’t know what it’s like to manage a global crisis or send young people to war. But Hillary’s been in the room – she’s been part of those decisions.”
He then cracked a joke about Clinton’s husband, Bill Clinton, the 42nd president.
“I can say with confidence there has never been a man or a woman, not me, not Bill, nobody, more qualified than Hillary Clinton to serve as president of the United States of America,” Obama said, quipping, “I hope you don’t mind, Bill, but I was just telling the truth, man.”
Obama also went after Trump, accusing him of using rhetoric designed to invoke fear but lacking solid plans for how to fix the country’s problems.
“The Donald is not really a plans guy,” Obama said. “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 success without leaving a trail of lawsuits, and unpaid workers, and people feeling like they got cheated.”
He continued: “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. But if you’re someone who’s truly concerned about paying your bills, if you’re really concerned about pocketbook issues and seeing the economy grow and creating more opportunity for everybody, then the choice isn’t even close.”
Obama also aimed to dismantle the argument that Trump would be tougher on terrorism.
“If you’re rightly concerned about who’s going to keep you and your family safe in a dangerous world – well, the choice is even clearer,” Obama said. “Hillary Clinton is respected around the world not just by leaders but by the people they serve.”
And he made the case that Clinton was respected by world leaders who are crucial partners in the fight against terrorism.
“I have to say this – people outside the United States do not understand what’s going on in this election,” Obama said. “Because they know Hillary, they’ve seen her work. She’s worked closely with our intelligence teams, our diplomats, our military. And she has the judgment, the experience, and the temperament to meet the threat from terrorism. It’s not new to her.”
Obama continued pushing his message of hope by emphasizing that the US was already great and that Americans needed to come together rather than allow themselves to be divided.
And while he acknowledged Clinton’s weaknesses and mistakes, he suggested they had been inflated because she had been constantly under a microscope during 40 years in the public eye.
“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,” Obama said. “You’ve got to get in the arena with her, because democracy isn’t a spectator sport.”