President Obama delivered a stirring valedictory address at the Democratic convention Wednesday night, hailing Hillary Clinton as his rightful political heir and the party’s best hope to protect democracy from “homegrown demagogues” like the Republican Donald J. Trump.
Taking the stage to rapturous roars of “We love you” and “Yes we can,” Mr. Obama acknowledged that Democrats were still divided after a bruising nomination fight and that Mrs. Clinton had made “mistakes.”
But he vouched passionately for Mrs. Clinton as a trusted and reliable ally not just for him but for all Americans who need a fighter to improve their lives and keep them safe.
“She’s been there for us — even if we haven’t always noticed — and 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,” Mr. Obama said, an explicit appeal to supporters of Senator Bernie Sanders who continue to resist Mrs. Clinton.
Mr. Obama offered an optimistic portrait of America and a strong defense of his policies, but also unleashed by far his most ferocious attack yet on Mr. Trump, even portraying the Republican nominee as a threat to the country. “That’s why anyone who threatens our values, whether fascists or communists or jihadists or homegrown demagogues, will always fail in the end,” he said.
In the most unmistakable declaration yet by Mrs. Clinton that she is effectively seeking Mr. Obama’s third term, she strolled on stage after his speech and embraced the president as the delegates roared. It was a tableau of continuity and a vivid illustration of how dependent the two former rivals are on each other now.
Mr. Obama also used his own remarks to try to drive a wedge between Mr. Trump’s campaign and Republican voters. “It wasn’t particularly Republican and it sure wasn’t conservative,” he said of last week’s Republican convention. “There were no serious solutions to pressing problems. Just the fanning of resentments and blame and hate and anger.”
The president’s contempt for Mr. Trump took on a personal dimension as well when he recalled his grandparents from Kansas and said, “I don’t know if they had their birth certificates” — a reference to Mr. Trump’s leadership of the so-called birther movement that raised questions about Mr. Obama’s citizenship.
Wednesday signaled a transition for the party. Emotion suffused the convention hall: Some delegates, in tears, were not ready to say goodbye to Mr. Obama yet, and others — particularly some liberals and young Democrats — were not ready to accept Mrs. Clinton as their new leader. As she prepares to give her nomination acceptance speech on Thursday night, the left wing of the party still remains divided, while many Republicans appear ready to fall in line behind Mr. Trump.
Mr. Obama’s speech, a passionate defense of Mrs. Clinton’s vision and character, did not itself herald the start of new political era. Mrs. Clinton has wrapped herself in the cloth of the Obama presidency rather than break with him and offer a new path, like Vice President George Bush’s promise of “a kinder, gentler nation” in 1988 after the Reagan years.
Instead, the lineup on Wednesday reflected a party attempting to rally its own partisans and attract Republicans with blunt warnings that, whatever they may think about the new Democratic standard-bearer, they must all do their duty to thwart Mr. Trump.
And the convention speeches were full of cross-party appeals, as Senator Tim Kaine, the Democratic vice-presidential nominee, offered Republicans “a home” if they felt Mr. Trump did not represent “the party of Lincoln,” and former Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg of New York urged independents to vote for “a sane, competent person” — Mrs. Clinton.
Mr. Kaine, a first-term senator and a former governor of Virginia, introduced himself to his largest television audience yet as a product of a Jesuit high school who embraced its motto — “Men for others” — who held close to his faith while trying to help Americans as a civil rights lawyer and then as a political leader whose most searing experience was the mass shooting at Virginia Tech in 2007. He occasionally shifted to Spanish, which he speaks fluently, and led the audience in a chant of an Obama political slogan, “Sí se puede” (“Yes you can”).
Mr. Kaine paid brief tribute to Republicans and also hailed Senator Bernie Sanders, whom Mrs. Clinton defeated for the nomination, at several points.
Yet some Sanders supporters were not willing to fall behind the new vice-presidential nominee. As Mr. Kaine spoke, jeers broke out from the Utah delegation attacking the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal that the senator has supported and Mr. Sanders is against — and Mrs. Clinton has shifted to oppose. Placards denouncing the trade deal quickly spread through the hall, including a couple of dozen in the California delegation.
Leon E. Panetta, the former defense secretary and C.I.A. chief, spoke early in the evening and was repeatedly interrupted with shouts of “No more war!” from several state delegations that favored the candidacy of Mr. Sanders during the presidential race. As the heckling persisted, Mrs. Clinton’s supporters took up a counter-chant heard more often at the Republican convention to drown out the jeers: “U.S.A., U.S.A.!”
Mr. Obama and Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. also turned to images and language more commonly used by the right to depict Mr. Trump as denigrating American greatness, invoking patriotism and saluting military service.
Before Mr. Obama even entered the convention hall here, the audience was clearly as devoted to him as they were excited for Mrs. Clinton. The first lady, Michelle Obama, was received with adoration and her speech on Monday was the most talked-about moment of the first days of the convention. And even a quick flash of Mr. Obama’s face, amid a procession of past presidents on the convention screen Tuesday, brought a burst of applause.
The president is also the strongest adhesive holding Democrats together after five months of bitterly fought primary and caucus contests between Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Sanders of Vermont. According to a New York Times-CBS poll earlier this month, 82 percent of Sanders supporters approved of Mr. Obama’s job performance.
After two nights of convention speeches focused on Mrs. Clinton’s virtues and attempts to make peace with Sanders supporters, Clinton campaign officials sought to address the threat of radical Islamists — an omission early on that Republicans had criticized. And in a shift from only about a decade ago when they largely avoided the issue, Democrats used much of Wednesday to advocate gun control, sending relatives of those murdered in Newtown, Conn., and Charleston, S.C., as well as a former congresswoman, Gabrielle Giffords, to recount their stories.
But virtually all of the anticipation on Wednesday surrounded Mr. Obama and the symbolic passing of the torch to Mrs. Clinton after she became the party’s nominee on Tuesday night.
Mr. Obama’s resounding endorsement of his one-time rival was the final consummation of a political alliance over a decade in the making, since Mrs. Clinton flew to Chicago in 2004 to raise money for a 42-year-old state senator and discovered a phenom.
Back then he was the one who benefited from the imprimatur of a well-established political star, and her support continued to prove critical over the years. After he won the presidential nomination that she expected to be hers in 2008, Mrs. Clinton put aside her resentment and helped him unify a divided Democratic Party. And later that year, she again came to his aid by agreeing to become his first secretary of state.
Mr. Obama is the one riding high now, his approval rating over 50 percent. And his image is only enhanced as voters view him, in his final months as president, through the prism of a race to replace him that features two deeply unpopular candidates.
While acknowledging that Mrs. Clinton has “her share of critics’’ on the right and the left, the president sought to transfer his prestige and political appeal to his long ago rival.
“Tonight, I ask you to do for Hillary Clinton what you did for me,” he said. “I ask you to carry her the same way you carried me.”
“And 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.’”
(via: New York Times)