The reaction to his speech on Wednesday night showed thatby Sam Tanenhaus / July 28, 2016 / Leave a comment
The universal praise for Barack Obama’s speech Wednesday night felt tinged with sentiment. The most remarkable political ascent since that of another Illinois legislator—Abraham Lincoln, who also rose to the presidency on the strength of his rhetorical gifts and quietly ruthless political instincts—has reached its end. And with it Obama seemed looser, freer, lighter. He skipped onto the stage looking young and fresh, even happy, as he summoned his troops—the great coalition he built to achieve two 50 percent-plus election wins—for one last battle, which he painted in the stark hues of historic danger. Hillary Clinton is not just the better choice, Obama said. Her opponent, Donald Trump is an outlier and existential threat. Not a “real” Republican or conservative, Trump instead dwells among the alien tribe of “homegrown demagogues.” In a veiled attack on Trump, he declared that “fascists or communists or jihadists” will always fail in the end.
The “Never Trump” faction on the American right has been saying exactly that, or trying to, for many months now. But they could find no effective messenger. Now they have one, in Obama, whom they have disparaged for the whole of his two terms—reborn, in their eyes, as the great tribune of conservative values. It wasn’t just his attack on Trump, but also his sunny vision of “hope and change,” complete with quotations from the Constitution (“those immortal declarations first put to paper right here in Philadelphia all those years ago.”) Of course Obama is as steeped in America’s creedal scripture as anyone on the right. The right just never seemed to listen before. They now seem amazed to have discovered the Obama most of the country has known from the beginning.