PHILADELPHIA (CNN) — President Barack Obama made a fervent plea for Hillary Clinton on Wednesday, casting the Democratic nominee as a custodian of his legacy while rejecting Republicans’ message as fostering anger and hate.
In remarks that demonstrated Obama’s lasting appeal to wide swaths of the Democratic Party, the President sought to describe country headed firmly in the right direction, despite the loud protestations otherwise by Donald Trump.
Obama said his former secretary of state is a better qualified candidate than even he or her husband, former President Bill Clinton, had been when they sought office.
“I can say with confidence there has never been a man or a woman — not me, not Bill, nobody — more qualified than Hillary Clinton to serve as president of the United States of America,” Obama said to a roaring crowd — and a belly-laughing Bill Clinton — at the Democratic National Convention.
Even as a pessimistic attitude pervades the presidential campaign, Obama attempted to harness the optimism that propelled him into office eight years ago.
“America is already great,” Obama insisted, rejecting Trump’s campaign slogan, “Make America Great Again.” “America is already strong. And I promise you, our strength, our greatness, does not depend on Donald Trump.”
In remarks that defended his own record as a progressive leader as much as they boosted the candidate who could maintain them, Obama argued that two terms of a Democrat weren’t enough to finish the work he started.
“I have confidence, as I leave this stage tonight, that the Democratic Party is in good hands,” Obama said to scattered sighs among the delegates. “My time in this office hasn’t fixed everything; as much as we’ve done, there’s still so much I want to do.”
Ahead of Obama’s speech, aides said the President was intent on highlighting the aspects of Clinton’s record he feels have been overlooked through the years, including her work protecting children and her dogged work as his secretary of state.
Obama worked with White House speechwriter Cody Keenan on the address for three weeks, going through six drafts. The most recent draft came after First Lady Michelle Obama’s well-received speech on Monday night, which had the President up until 3 a.m. on Tuesday re-writing, White House officials said.
Michelle Obama endorsed her husband’s speech.
“That’s my man! Your truth, dignity and grace reminds us what real leadership looks like. I am always proud of our @POTUS.” she tweeted.
The President had debated whether he should do a point-by-point policy speech but decided to talk about themes of America given how unconventional the election has become.
He also acknowledged that many Democrats remain wary of their party’s nominee.
“Hillary’s got her share of critics,” Obama said. “She’s been caricatured by the right and by some folks on the left; accused of everything you can imagine — and some things you can’t. But she knows that’s what happens when you’re under a microscope for 40 years. She knows she’s made mistakes, just like I have; just like we all do. That’s what happens when we try.”
And he offered a nod to the supporters of Sen. Bernie Sanders, many of whom remain bitterly disappointed in their candidate’s loss to Clinton in this year’s primary contests.
“This is not your typical election,” Obama said during his fourth Democratic convention speech. “It’s not just a choice between parties or policies; the usual debates between left and right. This is a more fundamental choice — about who we are as a people, and whether we stay true to this great American experiment in self-government.”
Detailing Clinton’s record, Obama said the former top diplomat had the best view of what it takes to occupy the Oval Office.
“Nothing truly prepares you for the demands of the Oval Office,” Obama said. “You can read about it. You can study it. Until you’ve sat at that desk, you don’t know what it’s like to manage a global crisis, or send young people to war. But Hillary’s been in the room; she’s been part of those decisions.”
Her rival, meanwhile, is merely ginning up fear to secure votes, Obama argued.
“Donald Trump calls it ‘a divided crime scene’ that only he can fix,” Obama said of the Republican nominee’s descriptions of the state of the country. “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.”
“That is another bet that Donald Trump will lose,” Obama continued. “Because he’s selling the American people short. We are not a fragile or frightful people. Our power doesn’t come from some self-declared savior promising that he alone can restore order. We don’t look to be ruled.”
Obama said the message at last week’s GOP convention in Cleveland “wasn’t particularly Republican — and it sure wasn’t conservative.”
“What we heard was a deeply pessimistic vision of a country where we turn against each other, and turn away from the rest of the world,” Obama said. “There were no serious solutions to pressing problems — just the fanning of resentment, and blame, and anger, and hate.”
Speaking to what’s likely to be the largest remaining audience of his presidency, Obama recalled the moment 12 years ago to the day that thrust him onto the national stage. And he insisted the country was better off now than when he first entered office in 2009.
“Through every victory and every setback, I’ve insisted that change is never easy, and never quick; that we wouldn’t meet all of our challenges in one term, or one presidency, or even in one lifetime,” Obama said. “So tonight, I’m here to tell you that, yes, we still have more work to do.”