It was a night for passing the torch, and President Obama was on fire.
The president electrified the crowd at the Democratic National Convention Wednesday with a speech recounting his administration’s accomplishments — which, he said, would not have been possible without the work of the American people — and urging them to vote for Hillary Clinton as his successor.
And when the audience began booing at the mention of Donald Trump’s name, Obama admonished them, “Don’t boo — vote.”
It was a night for well-received speeches at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia. Vice President Joe Biden spoke with passion, humor, and a few tears as he praised Obama and Clinton. Perhaps his biggest zinger was when he called Republican nominee Trump’s alleged commitment to the middle class “a bunch of malarkey,” echoing a line he used to great effect in a 2012 debate with that year’s GOP vice-presidential nominee, Paul Ryan.
Sen. Tim Kaine of Virginia, who was officially approved by delegates Wednesday as Clinton’s running mate, also gave a rousing speech, going against his image as a boring choice for vice president, and received applause for speaking Spanish, among other things. And former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who has been a Republican, a Democrat, and an independent, made an appeal for independent voters to support Clinton.
There was a bit of protest during Kaine’s address, with some delegates holding signs denouncing the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a trade deal that Kaine supported until recently. And former Defense Secretary and CIA chief Leon Panetta was interrupted by chants of “no more war.” A heckler could be heard while Obama was onstage, but the president simply went on with his speech.
The night’s prime-time speakers gave frequent shout-outs to the progress made in LGBT rights the past few years, including the end of “don’t ask, don’t tell” and the arrival of nationwide marriage equality. Kaine, in listing heroes of various civil rights movements, invoked Harvey Milk, saying, “Harvey gave his life.”
Earlier in the day, speakers included gay, HIV-positive health activist Daniel Driffin, who praised Clinton’s record and urged the audience to get tested and vote, and out filmmaker Lee Daniels, who noted that several members of his family are incarcerated or have been victims of gun violence, and said he trusted Clinton to advocate for stronger gun control laws. Also speaking on gun violence was Christine Leinonen, whose gay son, Christopher Andrew “Drew” Leinonen, was killed in the mass shooting at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, along with his boyfriend.
She noted her son’s accomplishments, such as starting a gay-straight alliance at his high school, and recalled that she, a police officer at the time of his birth, had to surrender her gun when she checked into the hospital. “I’m glad common-sense gun policy was in place when Christopher was born, but where was that common sense the day he died?” she said. See her full remarks here.
There was also extensive shade thrown at Donald Trump. Biden said he “doesn’t have a clue” how to govern. Bloomberg said “God help us” if Trump runs the country like he’s run his businesses, and urged voters to choose the “sane, competent” candidate in Clinton. Kaine skewered the Republican for his lack of specifics about how he would improve life in the U.S., as he tends to simply say, “Believe me.” Obama denounced Trump’s characterization of himself as the one person who can solve America’s problems. “We don’t look to be ruled,” the president said.
Obama countered the version of America presented last week at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland. “What we heard was a deeply pessimistic vision of a country where we turn against each other, and turn away from the rest of the world,” he said. “There were no serious solutions to pressing problems — just the fanning of resentment, and blame, and anger, and hate. And that is not the America I know. The America I know is full of courage, and optimism, and ingenuity. The America I know is decent and generous.”
“Most of all,” the president added, “I see Americans of every party, every background, every faith who believe that we are stronger together — black, white, Latino, Asian, Native American; young and old; gay, straight, men, women, folks with disabilities, all pledging allegiance, under the same proud flag, to this big, bold country that we love.”
Obama and Kaine both reached out to supporters of Bernie Sanders, Clinton’s rival for the nomination. Obama told people worried about economic inequality and the influence of big donors in politics to be as persistent as Sanders’s supporters have been. Kaine praised Sanders’s service on the Senate Budget Committee with him — also noting that the members of that committee praised Clinton’s work as a senator from New York.
The president lauded Clinton’s intelligence and tenacity, and he told the crowd there has never been anyone more qualified than she is to be president, including himself and her husband, former President Bill Clinton.
As Obama received an extended ovation at the end of his speech, Clinton joined him onstage, her first in-person appearance so far at the convention. She will address the gathering Thursday night.