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Yes, Biden and Obama gave great speeches. But much of the country isn’t receptive to an optimistic message right now

Eight thoughts after watching night three of the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia.

President Barack Obama speaking Wednesday night at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia.
REUTERS/Mike Segar

First, eight bullet-items expressing my reactions/thoughts after watching Night Three of the Democratic convention last night from Philly, followed by some key quotes from the speeches and the commentators, in case you didn’t watch and don’t want to read the full transcripts:

  1. Several strong speeches, especially by Vice President Joe Biden (best I’ve ever heard him give) and President Obama (not his best, but solid, but also too long and ran past the end of the prime-time viewing window).
  2. It was smart to give time to a non-Democrat, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, to rip Donald Trump (especially for his business practices, about which fellow billionaire and fellow New Yorker Bloomberg knows much), praise Hillary Clinton and appeal directly to independent voters to swing into the Dem column this year.
  3. But, given what we have witnessed so far this campaign season, and pending the next week or two of polling, it is best to assume relatively few hearts and minds in the broader electorate are being changed. Trump got a medium-sized bump out of the Republican convention and is ahead in most polls. Liberals who have convinced themselves that Trump can’t win need to start noticing that he definitely could. But don’t attach much importance to any poll numbers until the middle of next week, when both convention bumps have settled in. And even then, I can almost promise, the polls will show it to be a race either ticket has a realistic chance to win.
  4. Most people weren’t watching the Democratic convention and most of those who did watch would likely be already committed Dems. Most hearts and minds aren’t open. And the (to me, unreasonably) gloomy mood of the country doesn’t seem to be receptive to optimistic messages about what the government, and especially the Democratic Party, can do to make things better.
  5. This was night three of four and tomorrow will be Clinton’s night to speak. She is not known as a gifted orator. Maybe that will help by lowering expectations, or maybe she will reveal some new talents, but maybe not.
  6. It was often remarked during the Republican convention last week that the real energy seemed to be more anti-Clinton than pro-Trump. The same in reverse this week. Most of the lines last night were Trump put-downs.
  7. The story of the revolt of the Sanders people felt mostly over last night, although not completely. Several speakers, including Biden and Obama, took pains to express respect for Sanders and his peeps. The occasional shots of Sanders himself in the stands last night showed him looking sad, tired or disengaged. He has made clear that he will try to deliver his followers to the Democratic ticket. If he had known when the camera was on him, he might have perked up.
  8. Vice Presidential nominee Sen. Tim Kaine gave one of the weaker talks, although I can see why everyone calls him “likeable.” His best bit was imitating Trump’s voice and accent to show how he constantly tells Americans to “believe me,” about outcomes he will guarantee even though he has not disclosed the policies that will lead to the outcomes.

A few quotes:

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Former Democratic congressman, CIA director and Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, referring specifically to Trump’s bizarre suggestion/request to Russian President Vladimir Putin to hack Hillary Clinton’s private server and divulge the contents of the missing email: “As someone who was responsible for protecting our nation from cyberattacks, it’s inconceivable to me that any presidential candidate would be this irresponsible. Donald Trump cannot become our commander-in-chief.

Also from Panetta: “We cannot afford an erratic finger on our nuclear weapons. (Actually, if you go for the “finger” metaphor, you have to also mention the metaphorical “button.”)

Vice Presidential nominee Tim Kaine, after doing the routine I mentioned above imitating Trump saying “believe me” this, “believe me” that, “believe me” something else: “Folks, you can not believe one word that comes out of Donald Trump’s mouth.” (Note: The days of at least feigning respect for opponents seem to be over.)

Kaine again, summarizing his view of Trump: “A slick talkin’, empty promisin’, one-man wrecking crew.”

Chris Wallace, on Fox News Channel, reacting to Kaine’s list of Trumpian rip-offs, like Trump University and others: “Everyone has heard about these rip-offs and they don’t seem to care.”

Vice President Biden: “We cannot elect a man who exploits our fears of ISIS and other terrorists, who has no plan whatsoever to make us safer. A man who embraces the tactics of our enemies, torture, religious intolerance. You all know, other Republicans know, that is not who we are. It betrays our values. It alienates those who we need in the fight against ISIS. Donald Trump, with all his rhetoric, would literally make us less safe. We cannot elect a man who belittles our closest allies while embracing dictators like Vladimir Putin. I mean it. A man who seeks to sow division in America for his own gain and disorder around the world. A man who confuses bluster with strength. We simply cannot let that happen as Americans. Period.

New York Mayor Bloomberg: “There are times when I disagree with Hillary Clinton. But whatever our disagreements may be, I’ve come here to say: We must put them aside for the good of our country and unite around the candidate who can defeat a dangerous demagogue …”

Also Bloomberg: “We’ve heard a lot of talk in this campaign about needing a leader who understands business. I couldn’t agree more. I’ve built a business. And I didn’t start it with a $1 million check from my father.” 

Also Bloomberg: “Throughout his career, Trump has left behind a well-documented record of bankruptcies, lawsuits, and angry shareholders and contractors who feel cheated, as well as disillusioned customers who feel ripped off. He says he wants to run the nation like he has run his business. God help us… I’m a New Yorker, and New Yorkers know a con when we see one. Trump says he’ll punish manufacturers that move to Mexico or China, but the clothes he sells are made overseas in low-wage factories. He says he wants to put Americans back to work, but he games the U.S. visa system so he can hire temporary foreign workers at low wages. He says he wants to deport 11 million undocumented people, but he seems to have no problem in hiring them. What’d I miss here? Truth be told, the richest thing about Donald Trump is his hypocrisy.”

And one more from Bloomberg: “And so I say to my fellow independents: Your vote matters now. Your vote will determine the future of your job and your business — and our future together as a country. To me, this election is not a choice between a Democrat and a Republican. It’s a choice about who is better to lead our country right now: better for our economy, our security, our freedom and our future. There is no doubt in my mind that Hillary Clinton is the right choice.

From President Obama (the Obama quotes from his remarks as prepared):

Fair to say, this is not your typical election. It’s not just a choice between parties or policies; the usual debates between left and right. This is a more fundamental choice – about who we are as a people, and whether we stay true to this great American experiment in self-government.

Look, we Democrats have always had plenty of differences with the Republican Party, and there’s nothing wrong with that; it’s precisely this contest of ideas that pushes our country forward.

But what we heard in Cleveland last week wasn’t particularly Republican — and it sure wasn’t conservative. What we heard was a deeply pessimistic vision of a country where we turn against each other, and turn away from the rest of the world. There were no serious solutions to pressing problems — just the fanning of resentment, and blame, and anger, and hate …

… Does anyone really believe that a guy who’s spent his 70 years on this Earth showing no regard for working people is suddenly going to be your champion? Your voice? If so, you should vote for him. But if you’re someone who’s truly concerned about paying your bills, and seeing the economy grow, and creating more opportunity for everybody, then the choice isn’t even close. If you want someone with a lifelong track record of fighting for higher wages, better benefits, a fairer tax code, a bigger voice for workers, and stronger regulations on Wall Street, then you should vote for Hillary Clinton.

Ronald Reagan called America “a shining city on a hill.” Donald Trump calls it ‘a divided crime scene’ that only he can fix. It doesn’t matter to him that illegal immigration and the crime rate are as low as they’ve been in decades, because he’s not offering any real solutions to those issues. He’s just offering slogans, and he’s offering fear. He’s betting that if he scares enough people, he might score just enough votes to win this election.

That is another bet that Donald Trump will lose. Because he’s selling the American people short. We are not a fragile or frightful people. Our power doesn’t come from some self-declared savior promising that he alone can restore order. We don’t look to be ruled. Our power comes from those immortal declarations first put to paper right here in Philadelphia all those years ago; We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal; that together, We, the People, can form a more perfect union.

From New York Times (conservative but anti-Trump) columnist David Brooks, on the PBS panel, reacting to Obama’s talk and the way it contrasts with Trump:  The one thing, the one word I’d apply to [Obama’s presentation] is conservative. I don’t mean in policy terms. I mean it in terms of values. Donald Trump has essentially walked away from the traditional values of the Republican Party, or let’s say the American Midwest: Hard work, not bragging, simple faith. And Barack Obama just grabbed that ground… There are going to be a lot of Republicans out there who are going to say: ‘These people [meaning Obama and other speakers last night] don’t sound crazy. And Donald Trump – is he one of us, with all that bragging, all that boasting, is that how we were raised?”

From Domenico Montanaro of NPR, after noting that Obama is the first president since Eisenhower to win election and re-election with more than 50 percent of the vote both times: “That coalition is still out there if, with Obama’s blessing and assistance, Democrats can turn it over to Hillary Clinton.”

Pollster Doug Schoen, who has Democratic credentials and worked for the Hillary Clinton campaign for president in 2008 but now seems to be a regular panelist for Fox, speaking to Sean Hannity after the convention last night:  “The amount of abuse Democrats are heaping on Donald Trump shows that they don’t think they can win with a positive case for Hillary Clinton.”

Britt Hume, of Fox, called the abuse heaped on Trump “powerful,” but then after noting that Obama’s valedictory of his own accomplishments seemed more fulsome than his praise of Clinton, said it reminded him of a famous Mark Twain crack about the work of opera composer Richard Wagner: “Wagner’s music is better than it sounds.”