Critic's Notebook: Obama Inspires, Bloomberg Tears Into Trump at Democratic Convention

Barack_Obama_DNC_3 - Getty - H 2016
Getty Images

Barack_Obama_DNC_3 - Getty - H 2016

President Obama led a slew of Democratic heavy-hitters (plus Michael Bloomberg) in a series of blistering attacks on the Republican nominee.

Early on during the third night of the Democratic National Convention, a line-up of Broadway performers sang "What the World Needs Now is Love."

The sentiment may be true for the world, but for Democrats fighting a tough election right now, love is the last thing on their minds.

Featuring an unusually strong line-up of Democratic heavy hitters—the only real one left for the final night is Hillary herself—the evening mainly consisted of fierce attacks against Donald Trump. Some were more eloquent and forceful than others, but the cumulative effect was probably enough to elicit some really nasty tweets by the Republican nominee in response.

The fusillade began, appropriately enough, with some illustrious military figures. Retired Navy Rear Admiral John Hutson witheringly told Trump, "Donald, you're not fit to polish John McCain's shoes." He also described him as "a walking, talking, recruiting poster for terrorism."

Next came Leon Panetta, whose former job titles include CIA Director and Defense Secretary, not that those were impressive enough to prevent waves of heckling from the crowd, which this night seemed amped up on Red Bull. Outraged that, earlier in the day, Trump had encouraged Russia to continue hacking the Democrats, he announced, "Donald Trump cannot become our Commander-in-Chief." (It's gotten to the point where the Dems can barely keep up responding to Donald's daily outrages.)

"In an unstable world, we cannot afford unstable leadership!" Panetta thundered.

Speaking of unstable, that was certainly the picture painted of Trump by former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg during his address. The self-described "outsider" speaking as an "Independent" (about the only thing he has in common with Ivanka Trump), Bloomberg made it a battle of the billionaires. Or, at least a battle between a billionaire and someone whose net worth is…who the hell knows? It was like King Kong vs. Godzilla, if they had thick New York accents.

Establishing his bona fides, Bloomberg told the crowd, "I built a business, and I didn't start it with a million dollar loan from my father" (oh, snap!).

"I'm a New Yorker, and I know a con when I see one," he added, sounding like he had once lost a game of three-card monte.

"The richest thing about Donald Trump is his hypocrisy," he went on. "Trump said he wants to run the nation like he runs his business? God help us!"

He concluded by asking his "fellow Independents" to vote not for Trump, but rather for a "sane, competent person," which pretty well sums up the public perception of how low the bar has been set with this election.

At first, Vice President Joe Biden seemed too darn nice to join in on the attacks. Coming onstage to the theme from Rocky, he paid such lavish tribute to Barack ("One of the finest presidents we have ever had!") and Michelle ("I don't know where you are, kid, but you're incredible!") that it felt like he was delivering a wedding toast rather than a political speech. He also talked movingly about the death of his son Beau, saying that the tragedy left him "strong in the broken places."

But his affable demeanor didn't prevent him from eventually launching into a vicious diatribe against the Republican nominee, with Biden's moral outrage, fueled by his reputation as "middle-class Joe," making it sting all the more.

"He's trying to tell us he cares about the middle class?" Biden asked. "Give me a break! That's a bunch of malarkey." (Believe it or not, the statement actually resulted in a spike in Google searches of the word "malarkey.")

"He has no clue about what makes America great," Biden pointed out. "Actually, he has no clue, period."

At first, Tim Kaine seemed like another politician who wouldn't resort to going negative. His near constant smile is a bit unnerving, much like The Joker's. He exudes such a regular-guy quality that even in a dark suit he looks like he's wearing dad jeans.

He began his talk by introducing himself to the country, describing his humble beginnings, listing his many jobs, and giving shout-outs to the seemingly endless number of friends and family in the audience. He also spoke so much Spanish (not to brag, but I won the office pool as to how soon he would get around to it) that it felt like he was running for office in Guatemala. (We get it, Tim, you're bi-lingual.  Now, if you spoke, say, Chinese…that would really be impressive. And by the way, you're not allowed to keep those gifts if you become the VP.)

But eventually Kaine, too, went into the attack dog mode expected of presidential running mates. He took to it pretty well, although he badly needs to work on his Donald Trump impression, which was a well he went to much too often.

The main event, of course, was Barack Obama, who paid such lavish tribute to Hillary that it almost made you forget he once described her as "likeable enough." His rapturously received appearance was bookended by songs from U2 and Stevie Wonder, because unlike Republicans, Democrats don't get sued by the artists whose music they're using.

Obama had a difficult task this evening, since his speech needed to touch so many bases. It was at once a victory lap in which he reminded us of his administration's accomplishments; a bemused commentary on the current state of politics; a surgical dissection of the Republican nominee; an enthusiastic endorsement of Hillary; and finally a sort of valedictory in which he said he was ready to "pass the baton."

But despite the occasional structural awkwardness, Obama not surprisingly still managed to pull off yet another rhetorical triumph. He expressed a clear, optimistic vision for America, compared to the death knells heard at the GOP convention. He reminisced about his long primary battle with Hillary eight years earlier ("I was worn out"), admiringly observing that "she was doing everything I was doing, but, just like Ginger Rogers, it was backwards and in heels." And he said that "there's never been anyone more qualified to be president…not me, not Bill."

His first mention of Trump elicited loud boos from the crowd.

"Don't boo, vote!" Obama instructed, like he was teaching a course in civics.

"People outside the United States do not understand what's going on with this election," he said wearily, as if exhausted from fielding urgent late night phone calls from anxiety-stricken world leaders.

He couched his criticism in philosophical terms, saying that the American people "don't look to be ruled" by a "self-declared savior."

"The American dream is something that no wall will ever contain," he declared. He also observed about "homegrown demagogues" that they "will always fail in the end."

Threading his many thematic needles skillfully and leavening his speech with his typical folksy humor--he got laughs by saying about his white Kansas ancestors, "I don't know if they had their birth certificates..."--Obama effectively made the case for Hillary being a worthy successor. He certainly had to, considering that his legacy hangs in the balance.

When he finished, Hillary, making a surprise appearance, burst onto the stage, with the two sharing a big hug. It was an embrace between America's first black president and, just possibly, America's first female one.