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Barack Obama Reminds America What Presidenting Looks And Sounds Like
'I'm asking you to remember what this country can be.'
Barack Obama gave a rip-roaring speech in support of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris in Philadelphia yesterday, and if it had been in a house of any kind, he'd have brought it down. But because we're in the eighth month of a coronavirus pandemic that has never been brought under any kind of control, Obama spoke outside Lincoln Financial Field, where sportsball is played, to an audience of people in their cars. He noted that it would be far preferable if the parking lot could be used for Eagles tailgate parties again, if only we had a federal government that would do some governing, fight the pandemic, and save lives.
It was a gorgeous speech, a reminder that it's possible to make a point in complete sentences laid out in a coherent structure. Throughout it, Obama kept reminding us of the norms we used to take for granted — not just being able to gather in groups without risking deadly contagion, but stuff like having people in government who know what the hell they're doing. And yes, Obama also went after Donald Trump far more directly than he previously has in his post-presidency. Watch the speech and listen to a leader who knows that governing and bullying are very different things. It's a way better use of 45 minutes than watching Trump yell at Leslie Stahl.
Obama reminds us that when he first met with Trump in the Oval Office, right after the 2016 election, he was willing to give the guy a chance ( because he'd been spying on him!!! ):
I never thought Donald Trump would embrace my vision or continue my policies but I did hope for the sake of the country that he might show some interest in taking the job seriously. But it hasn't happened. He hasn't shown any interest in doing the work or helping anybody but himself and his friends or treating the presidency like a reality show that he can use to get attention. [...]
But the thing is, this is not a reality show, this is reality. And the rest of us have had to live with the consequences of him proving himself incapable of taking the job seriously.
Also, Obama noted Trump's "ratings are down," a little jab that probably soured Trump's Diet Coke.
Obama went over Trump's many failings, chiefly his mishandling of the pandemic and his refusal to take any responsibility for the catastrophe or the more than 220,000 Americans who have died, and that while the pandemic "would have been challenging for any president," Trump is so indifferent to the safety measures needed to control the disease that he caught it himself.
We literally left this White House a pandemic playbook that would have shown them how to respond before the virus reached our shores. They probably used it to, I don't know, prop up a wobbly table somewhere. [...] Just last night, he complained up in Erie that the pandemic made him go back to work. I'm quoting him. He was upset that the pandemic's made him go back to work. If he'd actually been working the whole time, it never would've gotten this bad.
Obama also called attention to the recent New York Times investigations into Trump's taxes and his secret Chinese bank account, laughing,
Listen, can you imagine if I had had a secret Chinese bank account when I was running for reelection? You think Fox News might have been a little concerned about that? They would have called me Beijing Barry.
He also noted that when he got his first job, at a Baskin Robbins store at 15, he might have paid more in income taxes than the $750 Trump paid in taxes his first year in office.
Obama listed several of Trump's other terrible policies, like his attempts to repeal Obamacare, his (and other Republicans') lies about having a replacement ready to go "in two weeks, for the last 10 years," the corporate tools running everything, the attacks on the environment, and Trump's fondness for dictators and insults to US allies.
And throughout, Obama offered Joe Biden as the competent guy who'll make things better because he "knows that the first job of a president is to keep us safe from all threats, foreign, domestic or microscopic." After listing several outrageous Trump escapades that Biden would never think of doing, Obama made a case for a very basic reason to elect Biden and Harris: With them in office, we'll simply be a lot less stressed out.
[You're] not going to have to think about the crazy things they said every day. And that's worth a lot. You're not going to have to argue about them every day.
It just won't be so exhausting. You might be able to have a Thanksgiving dinner without having an argument. You'll be able to go about your lives knowing that the president is not going to retweet conspiracy theories about secret cabals running the world, or that Navy SEALS didn't actually kill bin Laden.
It's a remarkably effective pitch, with all this madness going on. Joe Biden is the Toyota Camry of politics: not terribly exciting, but safe, reliable, and able to do the job without the fear that you'll be ejected into a nest of murder hornets. Wouldn't it be great to get some sleep again? (Though not while driving a Camry.)
As he built to the speech's close, Obama told the audience that whenever someone has asked him if he's had a hard time these last four years, watching Trump ruin everything, the thing that has kept his spirits up is seeing the American people saying they're not about to take it:
I say, look, for all the times these last four years that we've seen our worst impulses revealed, we've also seen what our country can be at its best. We've seen folks of every age and background who've packed city centers and airports and town squares, just so families wouldn't be separated.So another classroom wouldn't get shot up, so our kids wouldn't grow up on an uninhabitable planet. [...] Joining together to declare in the face of injustice that Black lives matter, no more, but no less, so that no child in this country feels the continuing sting of racism. [...]
America is a good and decent place, but we've just seen so much noise and nonsense that sometimes it's hard for us to remember.
Philadelphia, I'm asking you to remember what this country can be.
And to seal the deal, he also reminded listeners that we won't be able to build that better America just by simply imagining it. We'll have to get out there and vote, in huge numbers, up and down the ticket, so there's no question of it being a close race. And even if the sportsball field is only named for an investment group that's named for the 16th president (did you know he was a Republican?), Obama invoked that hero of national reunification:
What Lincoln called the better angels of our nature, those are still in us. We see them operating every single day. We see them in neighborhoods, we see them in churches and synagogues and mosques and temples. We see them in people helping out a neighbor. We see them inside our own families. We see that what is best in us is still there, but we've got to give it voice, and we've got to do it now.
And by golly, we are fired up, and ready to go. We want that Camry.
[ CNN Transcript ]
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