Former First Lady Michelle Obama made the most compelling case for Joe Biden, the Democratic presumptive nominee for president, on the first day of the party’s most unconventional convention yet on Monday with a stirring speech casting President Donald Trump as the “wrong president”.
Politically, Independent Senator Bernie Sanders, who went toe-to-toe with Biden for the nomination in the primaries, was more significant with his appeal for party unity. His reluctance to support Hillary Clinton in 2016 had split the party, with many of his fiercely loyal supporters choosing to sty home.
John Kasich, the former Republican governor of Ohio, was the other politically significant voice at the convention. He represented growing disaffection with President Donald Trump in his own party. They are increasingly assertive, more organized and less inhibited of their support for Biden.
But Michelle Obama, the former first lady, it was who delivered the defining speech of the night, which, it was noted by observers, did not mention Kamala Harris, the first Black and Indian-descent nominee for vice-president, at all. The speech was recorded before Biden announced his pick.
It was an unconventional convention, held virtually for the first time in the history of US elections. It was shorter than the daily fare at a regular convention, and lacked the usual on-site energy and excitement. But it found quick acceptance given the circumstances, a raging Covid-19 epidemic.
“So let me be as honest and clear as I possibly can,” said Obama, the first lady, in the night’s most anticipated speech. “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 last sentence — “It is what it is” — was an unmistakable take-down of President Trump response to the mounting Covid-19 infections and fatalities using his own words — Trump has used that phrase several times — reflecting abject surrender to the consequences of his own inactions.
Building on the iconic lines from her speech at the 2016 convention — going high against the low blows of the Trump campaign — Obama said, “But let’s be clear: going high does not mean putting on a smile and saying nice things when confronted by viciousness and cruelty.
“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.”
Obama’s spirited appeal for party unity was pre-empted by Sanders. whose words, however, would count for more. “My friends, I say to you, and to everyone who supported other candidates in this primary and to those who may have voted for Donald Trump in the last election,” Sanders said, imploring supporter to do more,
He added: “The future of our democracy is at stake. The future of our economy is at stake. The future of our planet is at stake. We must come together, defeat Donald Trump and elect Joe Biden and Kamala Harris as our next president and vice president. My friends, the price of failure is just too great to imagine.”
Kasich, the other standout-speaker of the first day, was characteristically blunt. “I’m a lifelong Republican, but that attachment holds second place to my responsibility to my country. That’s why I’ve chosen to appear at this convention. In normal times, something like this would probably never happen, but these are not normal times.”