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In His Convention Speech, Obama Sees 'A Fundamental Choice'


And I'm David Greene in Philadelphia. Last night, one half of the Democratic ticket said, yes, I'll take it.


TIM KAINE: I humbly accept my party's nomination to be vice president of the United States.

GREENE: That's the voice of Virginia Senator Tim Kaine, Hillary Clinton's running mate. She will give her acceptance speech as the convention wraps up this evening. And one person listening will be Stacy Davis Gates. She is from Chicago, former teacher, now works for a teacher's union. She came here as a delegate for Bernie Sanders. Standing just off the floor last night, she told us there's been a little too much pageantry here for her taste.

STACY DAVIS GATES: I'm from Chicago. This past weekend, there were nearly 60 people shot in the city of Chicago. I'm looking to hear our Democrats talk about a greater society, a bigger, newer deal. Our communities are in pain right now.

GREENE: What are a few solutions that you want to hear more specifically about?

GATES: A job that pays a fair wage with benefits, something that people can retire with dignity.

GREENE: How has President Obama's record been in what we're talking about?

GATES: I think President Obama has been good for us. I mean, having Michelle, the president and the first daughters in the White House have given us a tremendous amount of hope. It's time for us to take it up another notch.

GREENE: And do you see Hillary Clinton as someone who can do that and deliver?

GATES: I'm hoping. Hillary Clinton is still campaigning for out vote.

GREENE: You're not ready to support her.

GATES: Hillary Clinton is our nominee. I think this is historical. And I'm just ready to hear about this greater society that we're going to have. We need to enfranchise the people and invest in the people who have had the Democrats' back since day one, and that's black people. We've seen in a tremendous showcase of black women, we are heading our households. Our children's attend public schools that are grossly underserved. Black women also need a fair job, sick time. We need those things in order to sustain our households and our communities.

GREENE: Can I ask you - you're talking about the pageantry here. The Republicans and Donald Trump have jumped on that and said that ISIS and threats around the world have not come up at this convention.

GATES: I mean, Donald - it's Donald Trump. It's a shame that he is a legitimate contender.

GREENE: But should national security and that idea of - regardless of what Trump has said - I mean, should that be...

GATES: She's the secretary of - she's a former secretary of state. I think it goes without saying that she can address those issues. It's just foolish to say that out loud. We're not fear-mongering here.

GREENE: And let me just ask you - the Trump campaign really seemed to draw a lot of attention today by bringing up Russia. And Donald Trump basically said, Russians, why don't you hack in and see if you can figure out what was in the emails that were in Hillary Clinton's server.

GATES: Donald Trump is a dangerous man who needs to go away.

GREENE: But did the email server make Hillary Clinton vulnerable to that sort of...

GATES: Donald Trump is a dangerous man who needs to go away.

GREENE: I feel like your answer's not going to change.

GREENE: Donald Trump is a dangerous man who needs to go away.

GREENE: The voice there of Stacy Davis Gates, who, as you can probably tell, will not be voting for Donald Trump. As for Hillary Clinton, she said she is ready to be won over fully. Our colleague Mara Liasson says the campaign last night was busy winning over skeptics.

MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: Last night, the Democrats tried to reach beyond the hall and beyond their base. The former Republican mayor of New York, Michael Bloomberg, was their emissary. Bloomberg is a billionaire and now an independent. He spoke directly to voters uneasy about Clinton but also worried about Trump.


MICHAEL BLOOMBERG: I am asking you to join with me, not out of party loyalty but out of love of country. And together let's elect a sane, competent person with international experience, a unifier who is mature enough to reach out for advice, to build consensus and to recognize that we all have something to contribute.

LIASSON: Last night was Tim Kaine's debut. The Democrat's vice presidential candidate confronted Hillary Clinton's biggest problem - majorities of Americans think she is not honest or trustworthy. Kaine said the mothers of children killed by police trust Hillary; so does a little girl worried that her parents will be deported.


KAINE: And on a personal level, as he's serving our nation abroad, I trust Hillary Clinton with our son's life.

LIASSON: President Obama went last. It was 12 years to the day after his maiden speech at the Democratic convention in Boston in 2004. He framed the election to succeed him as a battle of values. He said the election is not a choice between ideology or party.


PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: 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.

LIASSON: The president also made a pitch to any Republicans uncomfortable with the direction Trump is taking the GOP.


OBAMA: 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. And that is not the America I know.

LIASSON: Mr. Obama described the America he knew as a country unified by shared values, not blood or soil. And he delivered an eviscerating takedown of Donald Trump.


OBAMA: That's why we can attract strivers and entrepreneurs from around the globe to build new factories and create new industries here. That's why our military can look the way it does, every shade of humanity forged into common service. That's why anyone who threatens our values, whether fascists or Communists or jihadists or homegrown demagogues, will always fail in the end.

LIASSON: Hillary Clinton has had a lot of powerful validators this week - first lady Michelle Obama, her husband, former President Bill Clinton, Vice President Joe Biden - but none as effective as President Obama. He said she was more qualified to be president than he or Bill Clinton had been. He said as commander in chief she would destroy ISIS without resorting to torture or banning entire religions from entering the country. And he tried to give voters with doubts about Clinton what speechwriters call a permission structure to vote for her. He said she'd been under the microscope for 40 years.


OBAMA: She knows that sometimes there in those 40 years she's made mistakes, just like I have, just like we all do.


OBAMA: That's what happens when we try. That's what happens when you're the kind of citizen Teddy Roosevelt once described, not the timid souls who criticize from the sidelines but someone who is actually in the arena.

LIASSON: This was Barack Obama's valedictory speech. In his remaining months in office, he will never have as big an audience, and electing Hillary Clinton is the only way for Obama to protect his legacy and his policies.


OBAMA: And now I'm ready to pass the baton and do my part as a private citizen. So this year in this election, I'm asking you to join me to reject cynicism and reject fear and to summon what is best in us to elect Hillary Clinton as the next president of the United States and show the world we still believe in the promise of this great nation.

LIASSON: Then, from the wings, out walked Hillary Clinton. They hugged and waved to the crowd. Tonight is Hillary Clinton's night. Michelle Obama, Joe Biden and Barack Obama have built her a solid foundation. Now, it's her turn to convince a skeptical country that she is the best choice in November.

GREENE: That was the voice of NPR's Mara Liasson, who's here in Philadelphia. I'm joined now by two colleagues. NPR national political correspondent Don Gonyea has been in the studio with us at member station WHYY all week, and Mary Louise Kelly, who covers national security, is on the line from Washington. Good morning to you both.

DON GONYEA, BYLINE: Good morning.

MARY LOUISE KELLY, BYLINE: Good morning, David.

GREENE: One comment from the president there, that anyone who attacks American values will fail. I mean, this is a big question confronting voters in this election. Is it not? I mean, because Donald Trump is basically arguing that the country has not been safe under President Obama and that he would be the one to make it safe.

KELLY: That is absolutely a key question that's run through the campaign and will continue to right up to November. The Republican argument runs that the world today is a violent, unsteady, terrifying place and that Obama and Clinton have been running it, and therefore that, if you want change, this is not the team to vote for. That is an argument that resonates, as you know, David, with a lot of voters.

We have heard Democrats push back hard against that all this week saying, look, Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, they didn't create Russia. They didn't create China. They didn't create ISIS. They didn't create terrorism. But Hillary Clinton is the most experienced hand to respond to it. We heard Leon Panetta, the former defense secretary, former CIA director, make that point explicitly last night. And I expect that we will hear something along those same lines from Hillary Clinton tonight.

GREENE: But, Don Gonyea, you're out there talking to voters. How much is it resonating, the argument that Obama has made the country less safe?

GONYEA: It is absolutely a theme that runs through not just Donald Trump rallies when you go there but when you talk to voters, when you pop into a diner, when you sit down at a picnic table in a park. They do hear things like what we heard Vice President Biden say last night. Nobody ever won by betting against the United States.

They get that. They get that long term. But then they go why is Orlando happening? Why is San Bernadino happening? Why is it happening in a, you know, just kind of in these random places around the country? So the anxiety and the stress that that creates is very real.

GREENE: And I guess questions about President Obama's policies in Syria, in Iraq, Afghanistan - I mean, he would make the argument that he was able to kill Osama bin Laden. I mean, there's an actual record that voters can pick apart as this election goes on. We'll be talking much more about this. I'm with my colleague Don Gonyea here in Philadelphia and my colleague Mary Louise Kelly from Washington. Thank you both.

KELLY: You're welcome.

GONYEA: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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