A good deal of the speech was a brutal takedown of Trump’s incompetence, meanness, disregard for ordinary Americans and corruption. On the pandemic, Obama reminded the crowd that his administration left Trump a pandemic playbook. “When asked if he’d do anything differently, Trump said, ‘not much.’ Really?” Obama said. "Not much? Nothing you can think of that could have helped some people keep their loved ones alive? So Joe’s not going to screw up testing. ... He’s not going to host a superspreader event.” He dinged Trump for failing to protect the country, adding, “He can’t even take the basic steps to protect himself.”
Obama gave voice to the incredulity that has been dulled over time by the sheer number and magnitude of Trump’s outrages. He recalled that Trump failed to act when Russian bounties were reportedly put on the heads of U.S. troops and that he called service members “suckers” and “losers.” He dangled the prospect of a president who does not constantly lie and retweet conspiracy theories. He acknowledged: “Our democracy’s not going to work if the people who are supposed to be our leaders lie every day and just make things up. And we’ve just become numb to it.”
On health care, Obama pounded Trump and Republicans for trying to dismantle Obamacare. “Where is this great plan to replace Obamacare? They’ve had 10 years to do it. There is no plan,” he said. It’s always two weeks away, he mused. Two weeks away — for 10 years.
Obama made clear that voting is not about making things perfect — just about making things better. And in a much-needed moment of uplift he declared: “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.”
The main thread throughout the speech was that Biden cares about Americans, while Trump cares only about himself. Obama insisted that Biden and his running mate, Sen. Kamala D. Harris (D-Calif.), “actually care about every American, including the ones that don’t agree with them. ... They believe no one, especially the president, is above the law.”
The speech invited us to close the door on an infuriating, debilitating and scary chapter in our history. "With Joe and Kamala at the helm, you’re not going to have to think about the crazy things they said every day.” You can get through Thanksgiving without fights, Obama joked. “It just won’t be so exhausting.”
And he ended with a plea: “We can’t have any doubt. We can’t be complacent. I don’t care about the polls. There were a whole bunch of polls last time. Didn’t work out. Because a whole bunch of folks stayed at home and got lazy and complacent. Not this time. Not in this election.”
No wonder Trump despises Obama. Obama speaks in complete sentences and is tethered to the real world. He celebrates American values, such as treating people with dignity. He is actually funny. But most of all, he reminds us how aberrant and unfit Trump is. He makes Trump look small, inept and whiny. Obama urges us to remember that presidents don’t have to be cruel or congenitally dishonest or racist or irrational or in over their heads.
It is striking that the Democratic Party now claims the mantle of the party of values — not just liberal or conservative values, but American values such as “truthfulness and democracy and citizenship and being responsible,” as Obama put it. Obama claims for Democrats the ground Republicans have ceded by backing a liar, a racist, a divider, a know-nothing, a misogynist and a would-be authoritarian. For those of us who think that character matters in our leaders and that ultimately what defines a president and a country are the values we adhere to, there is only one conceivable choice in this election.