In the arms of Obama (who towers over her), on the stage at the Wells Fargo Center, with the audience in a frenzy after the president’s overwhelming speech (the blue-and-white signs distributed among the crowd said “thank you” and “yes we can”), and even more excited by the unexpected appearance of the Democratic nominee, Hillary Clinton could not have had a better eve before her big night.
After three days of excitement in crescendo — often very interesting and very exciting at times, even during its conflicts — it was Clinton’s turn. Her speech, at the end of the Democratic National Convention Thursday night, came after we put the paper to bed.
But the message of the Democrats, articulated consistently this week, and elevated by the words of Obama into a clear, great political and moral vision of America. It was a completely different picture from the dysfunctional dystopia advertised in Cleveland.
“We’re not a fragile people,” Obama said. “We’re not a frightful people. Our power doesn’t come from some self-declared savior promising that he alone can restore order as long as we do things his way. We don’t look to be ruled. Our power comes from those immortal declarations first put to paper right here in Philadelphia all those years ago: We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal; that We the People, can form a more perfect union.”
The America of the Democrats, Obama recalled, is optimistic, generous, inclusive, loyal to its allies, future-oriented, open to differences (“the American Dream is something no wall will ever contain”). The only candidate who believes in the future of this country and will be capable of tackling its problems, said the president, is Clinton.
“For four years, I had a front-row seat to her intelligence, her judgment and her discipline,” Obama said. “I came to realize that her unbelievable work ethic wasn’t for praise, it wasn’t for attention — that she was in this for everyone who needs a champion. … And that’s why 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.”
Describing the objectives achieved in his eight years in the White House, and anticipating that there are still many things to do, Obama positioned Clinton as the one to continue his policies and especially his values. Clinton will be responsible for strengthening and expanding Obamacare, to finally get the immigration reform that he could not accomplish, to push further on environmental protection, to revive arms control. Obama’s successes and works in progress in the event of a Trump presidency would be completely dismantled. Clinton, Obama guaranteed, will uproot ISIS.
If, in a sense, by aggressively campaigning on her behalf, Obama is returning to Clinton the favor she did four years ago when, after losing the nomination, she threw herself at his side against Mitt Romney, for Obama, a Clinton win is also the guarantee that his legacy does not go up in smoke.
Clearly addressing Bernie Sanders’ supporters, Obama said: “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. 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,’” thus evoking the “yes we can” that was the mantra of his first election.
There were several Sanders supporters in the lobby Wednesday night (the protesting delegates can back for the presidential speech) — some more malleable than three days ago, others more determined than ever not to give up — Bernie or nothing. They let Obama speak, and even his VP Joe Biden (loudly applauded, especially by elderly ladies) made his pro-Clinton and anti-Trump heartfelt speech undisturbed by the protests.
Even the former New York mayor, Michael Bloomberg, (by his own definition a fish out of water at the convention of a political party) completed his address to independent voters without problems. Bloomberg, who called Trump “a dangerous demagogue,” from the top of his fortune (estimated at least ten times that of the Republican candidate) invited those present to vote for Clinton, not out of loyalty to the party but because Trump “would make it harder for small businesses to compete, do great damage to our economy, threaten the retirement savings of millions of Americans, lead to greater debt and more unemployment, erode our influence in the world, and make our communities less safe.”
But the audience of the Wells Fargo Center did not pay the same respect to former Defense Secretary and CIA Director Leon Panetta, whose unfortunate discourse on security was nearly buried by shouts and whistles. It was not just Sanders’ supporters screaming “No more wars.” Other protests on the floor (holding No TPP signs) addressed Tim Kaine, the Senator of Virginia and Clinton’s vice presidential pick, who (unlike her) is in favor of the Trans-Pacific Partnership.
“The party is divided. And the issue of trade agreements, the TPP in particular, is one of the points that are being discussed the most,” Jeff Engels told me. Engels is a delegate from Washington state (one of the most pro-Sanders, with 40 delegates who protested in the early afternoon) and a coordinator of the International Transport Workers’ Federation for the West Coast, the union of international shipping. “Perhaps the party would come together if Obama renounced the TPP. But I do not know if he will.”
And that internal division of the party will be a problem Clinton will have to manage — far beyond Thursday night, when she officially accepted the Democratic nomination — between now and November.