When Trump entered the Oval Office on his first day as president, he was greeted by a note from his predecessor. In his letter, Obama congratulated Trump on "a remarkable run," offered a few bits of sage advice, wished him well, and told him that he and Michelle "stand ready to help in any ways which we can." It was a distinguished letter from a statesman, and a beautiful example of the peaceful and supportive transfer of power that has marked every election in modern history.
Since then, Obama has largely stayed above the fray and out of the spotlight, allowing President Trump a chance to do the job without interference. Even when his friend and former vice president Joe Biden announced his run for president, Obama held back on a formal endorsement, letting the political process run its course. At the Democratic National Convention, we saw a shift, as the former president finally let the public hear his frank assessment of Trump's job performance from his experienced point-of-view.
But at a drive-in rally in Philadelphia yesterday, Obama rolled up his sleeves, took off the gloves, and gave real voice to the frustrations half of America has felt for the past four years. And phew—it was gloriously cathartic.
While those who admire Obama admire him for always going high, going high doesn't mean overlooking the obvious. There comes a time and place for laying out the bare truth, no matter how ugly it is. Obama stepped back and gave Trump the time and space to do the job, but now that his term is nearing its end, the time for truth-telling has come.
President Barack Obama Speech at Drive-In Rally in Pennsylvania | Joe Biden for Presidentwww.youtube.com
The whole speech is worth watching, especially after the standard pleas to get out the vote. I recommend starting at the 3:20 mark. Here are some highlights:
"I never thought Donald Trump would embrace my vision or continue my policies but I did hope for the sake of the country that he might show some interest in taking the job seriously, but it hasn't happened. He hasn't shown any interest in doing the work or helping anybody but himself and his friends or treating the presidency like a reality show that he can use to get attention. And by the way, even then his TV ratings are down. So you know that upsets him.
But the thing is, this is not a reality show, this is reality. And the rest of us have had to live with the consequences of him proving himself incapable of taking the job seriously. At least 220,000 Americans have died. More than 100,000 small businesses have closed. Millions of jobs are gone. Our proud reputation around the world is in tatters."
On Trump's secret Chinese bank account and taxes and how Fox News would have reacted if that were him:
"We know that he continues to do business with China because he's got a secret Chinese bank account. How is that possible? How is that possible? A secret Chinese bank account. Listen, can you imagine if I had had a secret Chinese bank account when I was running for reelection. You think Fox News might have been a little concerned about that? They would've called me Beijing Berry. It is not a great idea to have a president who owes a bunch of money to people overseas. That's not a good idea.
I mean, of the taxes Donald Trump pays, he may be sending more to foreign governments than he pays in the United States. His first year in the White House he only paid $750 in federal income tax. Listen, my first job was at a Baskin Robbins when I was 15 years old. I think I'm might have paid more taxes that year working at a dispensing ice cream. How is that possible?"
On responsibility, tweeting, and making things up:
"I get that this president wants full credit for the economy he inherited and zero blame for the pandemic that he ignored. But you know what? The job doesn't work that way. Tweeting at the television doesn't fix things. Making stuff up doesn't make people's lives better. You've got to have a plan. You've got to put in the work. And along with the experience to get things done, Joe Biden has concrete plans and policies that will turn our vision of a better, fairer, stronger country into a reality."
On the pandemic response:
"We literally left this White House a pandemic playbook that would have shown them how to respond before the virus reached our shores. They probably used it to, I don't know, prop up a wobbly table somewhere. We don't know where that playbook went. Eight months into this pandemic, cases are rising again across this country. Donald Trump isn't suddenly going to protect all of us. He can't even take the basic steps to protect himself...
This pandemic would have been challenging for any president but this idea that somehow this White House has done anything but completely screw this up. It's just not true. I'll give you a very specific example. Korea identified it's first case at the same time that the United States did. At the same time, their per capita death toll is just 1.3% of what ours is. In Canada, it's just 39% of what ours is. Other countries are still struggling with the pandemic but they're not doing as bad as we are because they've got a government that's actually been paying attention.
And that means lives lost. And that means an economy that doesn't work. And just yesterday, when asked if he'd do anything differently, Trump said, 'Not much.' Really? Not much? Nothing you can think of that could have helped some people keep their loved ones alive? So, Joe's not going to screw up testing. He's not going to call scientists idiots. He's not going to host a super spreader event at the White House."
On Trump's economic record and Biden's economic plan:
"Donald Trump likes to claim he built this economy but America created 1.5 million more jobs in the last three years of the Obama-Biden administration than in the first three years of the Trump-Pence administration. How you figure that? And that was before he could blame the pandemic. Now, he did inherit the longest streak of job growth in American history but just like everything else he inherited, he messed it up. The economic damage he inflicted by botching the pandemic response means he will be the first president since Herbert Hoover to actually lose jobs.
Joe's got a plan to create 10 million good clean energy jobs as part of a historic $2 trillion investment to fight climate change, to secure environmental justice. And he'll pay for it by rolling back that tax cut for billionaires. And Joe sees this moment not just as a chance to get back to where we were but to finally make long overdue changes so that our economy actually makes life a little easier for everybody, the waitress trying to raise her kid on her own, the student trying to figure out how to pay for next semester's classes, the shift worker who's always on the edge of getting laid off, the cancer survivor who's worried about her preexisting conditions, protections being taken away."
On conspiracy theories and crazy uncles and how character matters:
"With Joe and Kamala at the helm, you're not going to have to think about the crazy things they said every day. And that's worth a lot. You're not going to have to argue about them every day. It just won't be so exhausting. You might be able to have a Thanksgiving dinner without having an argument. You'll be able to go about your lives knowing that the president is not going to retweet conspiracy theories about secret cabals running the world or that Navy Seals didn't actually kill bin Laden. Think about that. The president of the United States retweeted that. Imagine. What? What?! We're not going to have a president that goes out of his way to insult anybody who doesn't support him or threaten them with jail. That's not normal presidential behavior.
We wouldn't tolerate it from a high school principal. We wouldn't tolerate it from a coach. We wouldn't tolerate it from a co-worker. We wouldn't tolerate it in our own family, except for maybe crazy uncle somewhere. I mean, why would we expect and accept this from the President of the United States? And why are folks making excuses for that? 'Oh, well, that's just him.' No. No. There are consequences to these actions. They embolden other people to be cruel and divisive and racist, and it frays the fabric of our society, and it affects how our children see things. And it affects the ways that our families get along. It affects how the world looks at America. That behavior matters. Character matters."
On the unqualified people Trump has appointed to run government agencies:
"The Environmental Protection Agency that's supposed to protect our air and our water is right now run by an energy lobbyist that gives polluters free reign to dump unlimited poison into our air and water. The Labor Department that's supposed to protect workers and their rights, right now it's run by a corporate lobbyist who's declared war on workers, guts protections to keep essential folks safe during a pandemic, makes it easier for big corporations to shortchange them on their wages. The Interior Department, that's supposed to protect our public lands and wild spaces, our wildlife and our wilderness. And right now that's run by an oil lobbyist who's determined to sell them to the highest bidder.
You've got the Education Department that's supposed to give every kid a chance, and that's run by a billionaire who guts rules designed to protect students from getting ripped off by for profit colleges and stiffs arm students looking for loan relief in the middle of an economic collapse. I mean, the person who runs Medicaid right now is doing their best to kick people off of Medicaid instead of sign them up for Medicaid. Come on."
There's so much in here that speaks to how tens of millions of Americans have been feeling, and hearing it from no-drama Obama is refreshing. But Obama didn't just lay out the ugly truth about Trump. Much of his speech was spent explaining why Joe Biden would be—will be—the president American needs. He highlighted some of Biden's policy proposals and plans, but the heart of his endorsement is about who Joe Biden is:
"Joe's no stranger to here. He's a native son. Scrappy kid from Scranton. You know him and he knows you. But let me, let me tell you how I came to know him and how I came to love him. Twelve years ago, when I chose Joe Biden as my vice presidential running mate, I didn't know Joe all that well. We had served in the Senate together, but we weren't super close. He and I came from different places. We came from different generations.
But I came to admire Joe as a man who has learned early on to treat everybody he meets with dignity and respect, living by the words his parents taught him, no one's better than you Joe, but you're better than nobody. And that empathy, that decency, that belief that everybody counts, that's who Joe is. That's who he'll be.
And I can tell you the presidency doesn't change who you are, it reveals who you are. And Joe has shown himself to be a friend of working people. For eight years, Joe was the last one in the room when I faced a big decision. He made me a better president and he's got the character and experience to make us a better country."
Obama earned the right to retire from the limelight after eight years leading the nation, and he may have hoped to retreat from the political fray after his two terms. But his voice is appreciated by many Americans, and his reason, intelligence, and compassionate leadership is needed now more than ever. Bringing that, along with some raw honesty, to the campaign trail is sure to be a boon for Joe Biden.
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