President Barack Obama gave his final Democratic convention speech as president on Wednesday night in Philadelphia. He brought the crowd to their feet with his evisceration of Donald Trump and a rousing defense of Hillary Clinton as the right person to carry on his legacy.
Obama began by reminiscing about his first time nervously addressing the Democratic National Convention—12 years ago in Boston, when he was running for Senate—with his young daughters and his wife in the audience. During his nearly eight years as president, Obama argued, the country had achieved enormous progress, from making health care “a right for everybody,” to a historic global climate agreement, to full marriage equality.
But there’s still work to do, Obama said, and “that work involves a big choice this November.” He then launched into a passionate argument for Clinton’s candidacy. He lauded her as a tenacious foe in the 2008 presidential race. “It was tough, because Hillary’s tough,” he said. “She was doing everything I was doing, but just like Ginger Rogers, it was backwards and in heels.”
“You know, nothing truly prepares you for the demands of the Oval Office,” Obama continued. “You can read about it, you can study it, 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, he added, “Hillary’s been in the room; she’s been part of those decisions. She knows what’s at stake in the decisions our government makes for the working family, the senior citizen, the small-business owner, the soldier, and the veteran. Even in the midst of crisis, she listens to people and keeps her cool and treats everybody with respect. And no matter how daunting the odds, no matter how much people try to knock her down, she never, ever quits.”
Obama contrasted Clinton’s years of experience with Trump’s business career, and he didn’t hold back. “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,” Obama said. “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?”
After a few more digs, he turned back to the optimistic rhetoric he has used so successfully in his own campaigns. “America has never been about what one person says he’ll do for us,” Obama said. “It’s always been about what can be achieved by us, together, through the hard, slow, sometimes frustrating but ultimately enduring work of self-government.”
Obama invoked the values of his grandparents and other ancestors from Kansas. “They didn’t like show-offs,” he said. “They didn’t admire braggarts or bullies. Instead, they valued traits like honesty and hard work.” Those values still hold up today, Obama said, as he launched into another attack on Trump. “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 end, Obama returned to the message that launched his national political career: hope. “Tonight, I ask you to do for Hillary Clinton what you did for me; I ask you to carry her the same way you carried me,” he said. “It’s been you who’ve fueled my dogged faith in our future, even when the odds are great, even when the road is long. Hope in the face of difficulty, hope in the face of uncertainty .The audacity of hope!”