President Obama Addresses Divided Nation, 12 Years After Historic Keynote

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President Obama will take the stage at the Democratic National Convention on Wednesday to vouch for his former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who on Tuesday became the first woman ever to win a major-party presidential nomination.

From the stage in Philadelphia, Obama is expected to make the case for his own presidency, and the progress his administration has delivered over the past eight years, while explaining why he thinks Clinton is uniquely qualified to succeed him.

“Secretary Clinton will be the focus,” said Jen Psaki, the communications director of the White House. “He’ll be making pitch on why she has the judgement, temperament and intellect to succeed in the Oval Office.”

White House officials say the president has been working on this speech for weeks. On Tuesday, White House deputy principal press secretary Eric Schultz told reporters that late into the night on Monday, Obama was still tweaking his remarks. From his perspective, the stakes in this election couldn’t be higher. As they see it, not only is the president’s legacy in jeopardy come November, but the future direction of the country.

While the focus of the speech will be Clinton, Obama is expected to also touch on the rifts this election cycle has exposed, particularly those driven by the rhetoric of Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump and his surrogates. Obama has been distinctly critical of Trump. He has called some of his proposals un-American and on Tuesday said Trump doesn’t have the knowledge one needs to be president.

“What I think is scary is a president who doesn’t know their stuff and doesn’t seem to have an interest in learning what they don’t know,” Obama told NBC’s Savannah Guthrie.

Yet in an effort to rebuke the apocalyptic picture Republicans painted at their national convention last week, the president is expected to focus on the strength of a unified America, rather than focus on the things that divide us.

It’s a message he’s delivered before. In fact, it mirrors one he delivered exactly 12 years ago, when he was first introduced on the national stage.

In 2004, during the Democratic National Convention in Boston then-Senate candidate Barack Obama first asked the nation if we, “participate in a politics of cynicism, or do we participate in a politics of hope?” In those remarks he declared our social and divisions moot. “There’s not a liberal America and a conservative America; there’s the United States of America,” he said. “There’s not a black America and white America and Latino America and Asian America; there’s the United States of America.”

Twelve years later, after the election and reelection of the nation’s first black president led many to believe we’d entered a new era, it seems those divisions have only grown. A recent Pew Survey found that 45% of whites and 61% of blacks think race relations are bad in the U.S. Thirty-two percent of all whites and 63% of white Republicans say President Obama for made things worse. It also found that Democrats and Republicans have equally negative views of the opposite party.

Despite those fault lines, the president’s message, from that 2004 speech until now, has largely been consistent. He argues America to be a country of great potential full of people whose differences make them unique, but who function better when they’re united.

Schultz said Tuesday that theme will shape Obama’s speech on Wednesday as well. “Not just because it’s a stark contrast between the two candidates on the ballot this year, but also because it’s a principle that has animated the President’s lifetime of public service,” he said. “It also happens to be a distinctive American tradition, one that the President believes is fundamental to our nation’s identity.”

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