PHILADELPHIA, Pennsylvania — President Barack Obama’s speech on Wednesday perfectly captured the message of the Democratic National Convention, and perfectly misread the mood of Americans.
Citing Ronald Reagan’s optimism, Obama touted his own achievements and painted an optimistic picture of America, telling voters to stay the course by choosing his former Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, to continue the work they have only just started, and which is going so well.
But as Byron York points out, Obama’s mood is at odds with the feelings of the electorate, 73 percent of whom believe that the country is on the wrong track.
That may be surprising, given the fact that the economy is still growing. But it has not grown fast enough under Obama to reassure Americans about the future. Moreover, many Americans really are worried about terrorism and law and order. That is not just a Donald Trump “nightmare,” however much Democrats choose to ignore it.
There were two other jarring problems with the speech. One was that Obama’s words were — once again — at odds with his actions. “Our power doesn’t come from some self-declared savior promising that he alone can restore order,” he said, as if the “Barackopolis” of the 2008 convention never happened. He also cited the Constitution as the source of America’s power — a Constitution he has often violated, most egregiously in the 9-0 ruling by the Supreme Court against his recess appointments.
The other clanger was his attack on Donald Trump, whom he accused of “offering fear.” Obama never uses the term “radical Islam,” and rarely uses the term “jihad.” Yet in his speech, he said: “… anyone who threatens our values, whether fascists or communists or jihadists or homegrown demagogues, will always fail in the end.” The term “homegrown demagogue,” while hyperbolic, referred to Trump, and lumped him in with deadly terrorists. That’s pretty “dark” for a supposedly sunny speech.
In fact, on closer inspection, Obama’s vision of America isn’t so sunny after all. “We’re not done perfecting our union,” he said — the implication being that America is still not quite up to his standards. He has spent the bulk of his presidency talking about how unequal our society has become, how racism has persisted, how Washington is still broken. Now, to preserve his legacy through his chosen successor, he is trying to flip a switch, playing up patriotic themes he has neglected for eight years.
The entire Democratic National Convention is following the same script — at least onstage. On the convention floor, and in the hallways, and in the streets outside, the story is dramatically different. Supporters of Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) — who are as anti-establishment as Donald Trump’s fans, and who are motivated by some of the same concerns — are furious that they have been silenced by the party. Some of these people are the perpetually aggrieved. But some are sincere, and hurt.
Obama ignored all of that. Instead, he framed the choice in November as a decision about “who we are as a people.” That is the same identity politics that fueled his 2008 and 2012 campaigns. And it is a sentimental, aesthetic choice, one that shuts its eyes to the things that threaten America.
What Trump and his campaign are saying — he even put the “Q” in LGBTQ — is that if you want that inclusive America, you first have to defend America from evil people who are determined to destroy us.
The president remains what he was in 2004, when he first addressed the Democratic National Convention: a motivational speaker. Twelve years of speeches later, Obama has doubled the national debt, divided the country, damaged the heath care system, hobbled the economy, lost two wars, allowed terror to proliferate, and pulled apart the threads that hold the country together.
Obama’s failure to tell the truth about that has left Americans hungry for the leadership Trump is providing.
Joel B. Pollak is Senior Editor-at-Large at Breitbart News. His new book, See No Evil: 19 Hard Truths the Left Can’t Handle, is available from Regnery through Amazon. Follow him on Twitter at @joelpollak.