On a night that began with vice presidential candidate Tim Kaine being nominated by acclamation, Democrats – and one high-profile Independent – squared off against Trump and built a solid affirmative case for a Hillary Clinton presidency.
Aiming squarely at the image that Trump projected in his convention last week, Obama offered a scathing dissection.
“The reason he’ll lose it is because he’s selling the American people short,” he said. “We are not a fragile people, 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.”
Obama spent a major part of his speech sharing his first-hand experience of Clinton’s strengths.
“For four years,” Obama said, “I had a front-row seat to her intelligence, her judgment and her discipline. 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.”
In a moment that was both self-effacing and a play to his popularity with the Democratic base, Obama offered himself as a point of comparison. “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.”
When his speech wrapped up, Hillary came out to join him on stage for a brief hug and wave. The Wells Fargo Arena, which was packed to the rafters, exploded in prolonged applause and cheers.
Members of the Rhode Island delegation were still smiling about it this morning. “It was a terrific night,” said Rhode Island Senate President Teresa Paiva-Weed. “The speech that President Obama gave was phenomenal, and I can’t wait for this evening when we see the first woman officially accept the nomination to the Presidency of the United States.”
“It was exciting to meet vice-president (candidate) Kaine for the first time,” said RI Rep. Deb Ruggiero. “I love his social justice agenda. I think what President Obama did was galvanize everyone, whether you’re a Democrat or you’re an unaffiliated to realize that we need to elect Hillary Clinton as the next President. We cannot have someone like Donald Trump. As Mike Bloomberg said, ‘Hillary Clinton understands this is not reality television, this is reality.”
Kaine gave a solid, largely introductory speech that saw him slipping into a Donald Trump impersonation, asking the audience if they accepted all the promises the Republican made when he said, “Believe me.” “I’m going to build a wall and make Mexico pay for it. Believe me.” “There’s nothing suspicious in my tax returns. Believe me.” “Does anybody here believe him?” The attendees in the Wells Fargo Center thundered, “No!”
A high point of the evening, for many, was Vice President Joe Biden’s speech. In a fiery address that played to his middle-class sensibilities, Biden offered a blunt critique of Trump’s so-called populism.
Said Biden, “His cynicism and undoubtedly his lack of empathy and compassion can be summed up in that phrase he is most proud of making famous: “You’re fired.” I’m not joking. Think about that. Think about that. Think about everything you learned as a child. No matter where you were raised, how can there be pleasure in saying, “You’re fired.” He is trying to tell us he cares about the middle class. Give me a break. That is a bunch of malarkey.”
There were more pointed critiques. Former candidate Martin O’Malley chided the Republicans: “Anger never fed a hungry child.” Retired Rear Admiral John Hutson got in the first dig over Trump’s call for Russian hackers to try to uncover additional Clinton e-mails. “That’s not law and order, that’s criminal intent.”
Independent Mike Bloomberg, who made it clear that he was not there to endorse the Democratic platform, nonetheless endorsed Hillary and, in no uncertain terms, drew a sharp distinction between his own status and that of the Republican nominee. “I’ve built a business and I didn’t start it with a million-dollar check from my father.”