Michelle Obama delivered a blistering speech about the character of Donald Trump, as she gave the marquee speech on the first night of the Democratic National Convention that was the highlight of the evening and also an unusual moment in history.
“Let me be as honest and clear as I possibly can,” Obama said in her pre-taped remarks. “Donald Trump is the wrong president for our country. He has had more than enough time to prove that he can do the job, but he is clearly in over his head. He cannot meet this moment. He simply cannot be who we need him to be for us. It is what it is.”
The speech — unusual for a former First Lady — was a contrast to what she told the convention four years ago, when she had the most memorable line of the week. As Donald Trump was running a campaign defined by insult, she said, “when they go low, we go high.”
She referenced that on Monday. “Let’s be clear: going high does not mean putting on a smile and saying nice things when confronted by viciousness and cruelty,” she said. “Going high means taking the harder path. It means scraping and clawing our way to that mountain top. Going high means standing fierce against hatred while remembering that we are one nation under God, and if we want to survive, we’ve got to find a way to live together and work together across our differences.”
As one of the admired women in the world, Obama has long been the Democrats’ dream candidate — but she has made it clear that she has no interest (she recently launched a Spotify podcast). She referred to that in her speech.
“We live in a nation that is deeply divided, and I am a Black woman speaking at the Democratic Convention,” she said. “But enough of you know me by now. You know that I tell you exactly what I’m feeling. You know I hate politics. But you also know that I care about this nation.”
She went on, “If you take one thing from my words tonight, it is this: if you think things cannot possibly get worse, trust me, they can; and they will if we don’t make a change in this election.”
Her speech also was notable for what it said about Joe Biden. While it was an enthusiastic endorsement, she acknowledged that he has his detractors among Democrats, most especially among progressives. She said that Biden “is not perfect,” but also said, “This is not the time to withhold our votes in protest or play games with candidates who have no chance of winning.”
She was praised by the punditry in the immediate aftermath of the speech.
“It’s interesting Michelle Obama as she said doesn’t like politics and she said that this speech was her main contribution to the Biden campaign,” said Chris Wallace of Fox News Sunday. “It was a heck of a contribution. She really flayed, sliced and diced Donald Trump talking about the chaos and confusion and lack of empathy especially coming from this president and this White House.”
On CBS News, John Dickerson said, “I kept thinking of the alarms where it says ‘break grass in case of emergency’, there was glass all over the place by the end of this speech. This was an emergency speech, by someone who is not a politician, who has written one of the most successful books in modern times.”
That was a message reflected in Bernie Sanders remarks. Immediately preceding Obama’s speech, Sanders told the TV audience from Burlington, VT, “Many of the ideas we fought for, that just a few years ago were considered ‘radical,’ are now mainstream. But, let us be clear, if Donald Trump is re-elected, all the progress we have made will be in jeopardy.”
He also ran through a litany of issues where he said that progressives should be pleased with Biden, such as a $15 minimum wage and fighting climate change. On the issue of Medicare for All, Sanders said acknowledged that they disagree but said that Biden a plan to expand healthcare and the cost of prescription drugs, as well as lower the eligibility age of Medicare to 60.
Much of his speech was aimed at Trump — and Sanders was a bit more scathing than Obama in using the occasional zinger.
“Nero fiddled while Rome burned; Trump golfs,” Sanders said. “His actions fanned this pandemic resulting in over 170,000 deaths and a nation still unprepared to protect its people.”
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