On the surface, Monday night in Philadelphia looked something like an affirming echo of that amazing moment in Chicago’s Grant Park, after Barack Obama won election as the first black president of the United States.
An adoring throng welcomed his words. However, this time President Obama was trying to pass the torch to Hillary Clinton. And a lot has changed since 2008. After the divisive politics of the last eight years — and especially of the last year — Americans are less able to believe in the commonality he preached.
The country can still look at Obama and see that thoughtful yet upbeat leader who sold the country on the “audacity of hope.” But was that enough to inspire votes for Clinton?
That was Obama’s big gamble.
You don’t have to agree with Obama’s politics to admire his dignity and optimism. You can decide he fell short on his promise of change — or dislike the change he brought about — and still respect his grace. You can be disappointed in his inability to find common ground with Republicans in Congress, yet still take pride in how he conducted himself in office. You can take issue with some less-than-decisive leadership when it comes to foreign policy and still believe he is trying to do what’s best for America.
Those who disagree with that assessment — and many do — found comfort in Donald Trump’s dark vision of Obama and Clinton. But Obama’s latest approval rating of 54 percent is the highest it has been since his reelection. And to some degree, that reflects the country’s judgment of Obama vs. Trump.
Obama can be cutting, at times arrogant, and a trifle too cute, with his “mic drop” act. But given the deplorables and the racists with whom he had to contend, give him a break.
His legacy is riding on the outcome of the 2016 election. So, he has been all in for Clinton. During last July’s convention in Philadelphia, she was, in Obama’s words, the woman “in the arena.” On Monday night in front of Independence Hall, he said, “She doesn’t complain, she doesn’t buckle, she brushes it off.”
The same could be said of Obama. He was and always will be the adult in the room — or at the rally. But he will need all of that poise and more to weather an election outcome he doesn’t want.