Former President Barack Obama on Wednesday delivered his most direct and scathing attack to date against President Trump, describing him as self-absorbed, incompetent and a danger to democracy in making the case for electing “my friend” Joe Biden.
“Donald Trump hasn’t grown into the job, because he can’t,” Obama said. “And the consequences of that failure are severe: 170,000 Americans dead. Millions of jobs gone. Those at the top taking more than ever. Our worst impulses unleashed, our proud reputation around the world badly diminished, and our democratic institutions threatened like never before.”
It was a departure for Obama, who for most of the last 3½ years has been restrained in criticizing his successor in the White House, as has been traditional among former presidents. But that restraint vanished as he warned convention viewers what’s at stake if Trump wins another four years in office.
Obama warned of moves by Trump and the GOP to make it harder for Americans to vote in the middle of a public health emergency, casting the 2020 election as a test of democracy itself.
“This administration has shown it will tear our democracy down if that’s what it takes to win,” Obama said. “So we have to get busy building it up — by pouring all our effort into these 76 days, and by voting like never before.”
To underscore his view of the stakes, Obama delivered his remarks live from the Museum of the American Revolution in Philadelphia, a city chosen because it was the site of the drafting of the Constitution and because of Biden’s ties to Pennsylvania (he was born in Scranton).
Trump rebutted Obama in advance, telling reporters hours before the televised remarks that the failings of the Obama-Biden administration contributed to his own election in 2016. “They did such a bad job, that I stand before you as president,” he said.
He also tweeted a video taunting Obama and Hillary Clinton, saying, “Welcome, Barack and Crooked Hillary. See you on the field of battle.”
Obama delivered his message just two days after his wife, Michelle, drew acclaim for a video convention speech that took aim at Trump in surprisingly blunt terms. The former president echoed her charge that Trump was dangerously out of his depth in the presidency.
“For close to four years now, he’s shown no interest in putting in the work, no interest in finding common ground, no interest in using the awesome power of his office to help anyone but himself and his friends,” Obama said. “No interest in treating the presidency as anything but one more reality show that he can use to get the attention he craves.”
Delivered remotely like all convention proceedings, Obama’s speech lacked the theater and drama of his breakout 2004 keynote address to the Democratic convention when he was a state senator from Illinois running for the U.S. Senate. That address brought down the house and marked the beginning of his rise as a national figure. He alluded to the occasion in a fundraising email sent to Democratic supporters earlier in the day.
“Folks, sixteen years ago, the first time I spoke at a Democratic convention, I asked a simple question,” Obama wrote. “Do we participate in a politics of cynicism, or do we participate in a politics of hope? … Joe practices the politics of hope.”
Obama, in his speech Wednesday night, offered a personal message to voters who don’t want Trump reelected but are not yet sold on Biden.
“Maybe you’re tired of the direction we’re headed, but you can’t yet see a better path, or you just don’t know enough about the person who wants to lead us there,” he said. “So let me tell you about my friend Joe Biden.”
He described his 2008 search for a vice president, and his surprise at how closely he and Biden bonded despite differences in age and background: “I didn’t know I’d end up finding a brother.”
“He made me a better president,” Obama said. “He’s got the character and the experience to make us a better country.”
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