"What we heard in Cleveland last week wasn't particularly Republican, and it sure wasn't conservative."
President Obama said many things during his address at the Democratic convention Wednesday night, but perhaps none were more salient nor effective than those fifteen words. In 45 minutes he not only laid out the case for his successor, Hillary Clinton, he brilliantly and strategically gave the entire GOP a Mulligan for their nominee. In effect, by declaring that Donald Trump was neither Republican or conservative, he paved the way for what might ultimately prove to be deciding factor in this election: a defection of just enough moderate Republicans over to the Democrats.
Now those of us who know better, understand full well that Trump is simply the by-product of a decades-long seismic shift (slide would be more appropriate) within the GOP from a party that was once the home of Lincoln and Eisenhower to a party that Barry Goldwater would have a hard time recognizing. While it's true that not all Republicans are racists, it is painfully apparent that most racists have found a home in the GOP.
But Obama wasn't speaking to us. We know this because he opened his speech by saying "Hello, America," not "Hello, Democrats." That's an important distinction. because Obama knows full well that winning a general election is not the same thing as winning a primary. And with Trump making a play for some of Hillary's blue-collar voters, it was vital that Obama return the favor and attempt to take some of his less extreme ones.
Was it effective? We'll have to wait till November to find out. But based on the comments by some conservatives after the speech, I'm guessing he struck a nerve. Not only did Obama exorcize Trump from the Republican Party, he then channeled its most beloved and effective president hook, line and sinker.
Ronald Reagan called America “a shining city on a hill.” Donald Trump calls it “a divided crime scene” that only he can fix. It doesn’t matter to him that illegal immigration and the crime rate are as low as they’ve been in decades because he’s not actually offering any real solutions to those issues. He’s just offering slogans, and he’s offering fear. He’s betting that if he scares enough people, he might score just enough votes to win this election.
We're 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. Our power comes from those immortal declarations first put to paper right here in Philadelphia all those years ago: We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal; that We the People, can form a more perfect union.
That's who we are. That’s our birthright -- the capacity to shape our own destiny. That’s what drove patriots to choose revolution over tyranny and our GIs to liberate a continent. It’s what gave women the courage to reach for the ballot, and marchers to cross a bridge in Selma, and workers to organize and fight for collective bargaining and better wages.
America has never been about what one person says he’ll do for us. It’s about what can be achieved by us, together -- through the hard and slow, and sometimes frustrating, but ultimately enduring work of self-government.
That is America. That is America. Those bonds of affection; that common creed. We don’t fear the future; we shape it. We embrace it, as one people, stronger together than we are on our own.
Put aside your political leanings for just a moment and be honest. In your mind's eye couldn't you just see the Gipper up there on that stage delivering those same words? Obama's speech, albeit with some important policy differences, was pure Reagan. His optimism stood in stark contrast to the dark pessimism of Trump. While the GOP engaged in scare tactics last week, Obama reminded the country that we have been through tough times before and come out the other end better for the wear.
Ironic, don't you think? The Republican Party, for most of its history, has been the party of optimism, almost to a fault; the party of patriotism and the party of hope. The Democrats, by comparison, were Debbie downers. Not this time around. While Republicans were planning a funeral in Cleveland, Democrats were celebrating the strengths of America in the city of brotherly love.
This is the message the Democratic Party needed to send to the country this week and, thanks to this president, it's a message that might just end up saving it.