PHILADELPHIA – Charging that Donald Trump “wants us to fear the future and fear each other,” Hillary Clinton took him on with the most powerful line in her party’s tradition.
“Well, a great Democratic president, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, came up with the perfect rebuke to Trump more than 80 years ago, during a much more perilous time: ‘The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.’”
Clad in white, the color of the women’s suffrage movement, she noted her special role: that this convention marked “the first time that a major party has nominated a woman for president.” It was, she said, happy news “for grandmothers and little girls and everyone in between.”
But she spoke first of her hopes for the country and how her vision and approach to governing contrasted so sharply with her opponent’s divisive, angry and self-centered campaign.
“Don’t believe anyone who says: ‘I alone can fix it.’ Those were actually Donald Trump’s words in Cleveland. And they should set off alarm bells for all of us.”
She made clear that she had no intention of ceding economically discontented voters to Trump.
“Democrats,” she declared, “are the party of working people.”
“My primary mission as president will be to create more opportunity and more good jobs with rising wages, right here in the United States,” she said. “From my first day in office to my last. Especially in places that for too long have been left out and left behind.”
This was a convention in which the word “we” was invoked by speaker after speaker, from President Obama to the Rev. William Barber, as a talisman and a commitment.
Clinton embraced the communitarian theme, signaling that her “Stronger Together” slogan would remain at the heart of her campaign.
“Every generation of Americans has come together to make our country freer, fairer and stronger,” she declared. “None of us can do it alone. That’s why we are stronger together.”
And she underscored the other side of that catchphrase by warning that Trump would divide the nation.
“Powerful forces are threatening to pull us apart,” she said. “Bonds of trust and respect are fraying. And just as with our Founders, there are no guarantees. [It] truly is up to us. We have to decide whether we’re going to work together so we can all rise together.”
As she often has in the past, Clinton cited as her guiding principle a favorite teaching from her Methodist faith: “Do all the good you can, for all the people you can, in all the ways you can, as long as ever you can.”
She included a lengthy tribute to Bernie Sanders, whom she praised for having “put economic and social justice issues front and center, where they belong.”
And she pledged to live up to the hopes that inspired their engagement. “Your cause,” she said, “is our cause.”
Her speech capped a star-studded, thematically coherent and methodically organized convention that contrasted sharply with a shambolic Trump gathering in Cleveland that most leading Republicans shunned.
She faced the challenge of following a passionately persuasive address on her behalf by Obama, much as Obama had to follow a similarly successful speech by Bill Clinton four years ago.
Her style was very different from Obama’s. She spoke quietly, deliberately and often affectingly, particularly when discussing her mother, who was abandoned by her parents and “was saved by the kindness of others.” It was a powerful speech in which she combined the personal with policy, a vigorous defense of the Obama record with an insistence that she would tackle the problems left unsolved and the injustices that still needed righting.
Again and again, she came back to Trump’s shortcomings and hypocrisies.
Sounding a theme her campaign has signaled it will drive home, she highlighted Trump’s failure to pay many who had worked for him – “People who did the work and needed the money, and didn’t get it – not because he couldn’t pay them, but because he wouldn’t pay them.”
And she noted Trump’s statement: “I know more about ISIS than the generals do … .” She clearly enjoyed reciting the next line: “No, Donald, you don’t.”
In the primaries, Trump’s opponents were fearful of attacking him until it was too late. Clinton showed she would be a happy warrior with no compunction about taking him on.
Democrats have often criticized themselves as putting too much faith in policy. She embraced her persona as someone who proudly sweats policy details. And she promised a campaign rooted in a moral challenge to her opponent: “Yes, the world is watching what we do.”
E.J. Dionne’s email address is firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @EJDionne.