Michelle Obama urges Americans to vote Biden like their ‘lives depend on it’

Democratic National Convention also hears contributions from former Republicans

Former US first lady Michelle Obama has urged Americans to vote for Joe Biden like their “lives depend on it,” as she delivered the keynote address on the first night of the Democratic National Convention. Video: Reuters

 

Former first lady Michelle Obama urged Americans to vote for Joe Biden in November like their “lives depend on it,” as she delivered the keynote address on the first night of the Democratic National Convention.

“Four years ago, too many people chose to believe that their votes didn’t matter… and we’ve all been living with the consequences,” Ms Obama said, as she presented a powerful denunciation of Donald Trump’s presidency, depicting him as a man “clearly in over his head”.

“Whenever we look to this White House for some leadership or consolation or any semblance of steadiness, what we get instead is chaos, division and a total and utter lack of empathy.”

She said that America was now “a nation that’s underperforming not simply on matters of policy but on matters of character. That’s not just disappointing, it’s downright infuriating.”

“This is not who we want to be,” she said in a pre-recorded address. “Donald Trump is the wrong president for our country. He has had more than enough time to prove that he can do the job but he is clearly in over his head. He cannot meet this moment, he clearly cannot be what we need him to be.”

“I am one of handful of people who have seen firsthand the immense weight and awesome power of the presidency,” she continued. “The job is hard. It requires clear headed judgment — a mastery of complex and competing issues; a devotion to facts and history; a moral compass and an ability to listen — and an abiding belief that each of the 330 million lives in this country has meaning and worth.”

“If you take one thing from my words tonight, if you think that things cannot possibly get worse, they can and they will if we don’t make a change in this election.”

Outlining his “grit and passion” she said that the man who served as president Obama’s vice president for eight years has the characteristics “to pick us all up, to help us heal and guide us forward.”

Efforts to suppress voting

“We have to vote for Joe Biden in numbers that cannot be ignored,” she said, noting recent efforts to suppress voting.

“We have to vote early, in person if we can. We’ve got to request our mail in ballots right now, tonight, and send them back immediately… we have to be ready to stand in line all night if we have to.”

“This is not the time to withhold our votes in protest or play games with candidates who have no chance of winning. We have got to vote like we did in 2008 and 2012. We’ve got to show up with the same level of passion and hope for Joe Biden.”

Ms Obama, was one of dozens of speakers to address the first night of the virtual convention, which was watched by millions of Americans.

The coronavirus pandemic has forced the DNC to hold its four-day convention – traditionally a high point of the election year calendar – remotely, with speakers appearing via videolink from around the country. The result was a mix of live and pre-recorded content, hosted by actress Eva Longoria.

Ms Obama, who delivered the final speech of the evening, was preceded by Vermont senator Bernie Sanders, the left-wing standard bearer for the party, who delivered an eight-minute address urging voters in November to unite behind Joe Biden.

“This election is the most important in the modern history of this country,” he said of his former rival, as he hit out at Donald Trump’s “negligence” in dealing with the coronavirus pandemic.

Bernie Sanders speaks during the first night of the Democratic National Convention. Image: AP
Bernie Sanders speaks during the first night of the Democratic National Convention. Image: AP

He urged those who supported other candidates in the primary contest to vote for Mr Biden. Directly addressing his own supporters he said: “My friends, thank you for your trust, your support and for the love you showed Jane, me and my family. Together we have moved this country in a bold new direction… our campaign ended several months ago, but our movement continued and is getting stronger every day. Many of the ideas we fought for, that just a few years ago were considered radical, are now mainstream. But let us be clear, if Donald Trump is re-elected all the progress will have been in jeopardy.”

Mr Sanders – whose tensions with Hillary Clinton overshadowed the Democratic primary during the 2016 campaign – outlined several policy positions endorsed by Mr Biden which he said will help the economic situation of millions of Americans, including his commitment to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour, provide 12 weeks of paid family leave and make childcare affordable.

He concluded: “the price of failure is just too great to imagine.”

While the big names of the evening were Ms Obama, Mr Sanders and governors such as Andrew Cuomo of New York and Gretchen Whitmer of Michigan, some of the most effective messaging came from ordinary Americans from all walks of life, who contributed during the evening under the theme “we the people”.

Powerful moments

In one of the most powerful moments of the two-hour event, Kristin Urquiza, whose father died of Covid-19 in Arizona, directly blamed Donald Trump for her father’s death. Her father had been a healthy 65-year-old, she said. “His only preexisting condition was trusting Donald Trump and for that he paid with his life.”

The family of George Floyd, the African-American man whose death at the hands of white police officers sparked national protests against racial injustice also addressed the convention from Texas. A moment of silence was held to honour the memory of Mr Floyd and other people who have died due to police violence. Gwen Carr, the mother of Eric Garner, also spoke during the two-hour convention programme.

In an unusual move, four Republicans also appeared on the virtual stage on the first night of the convention to pledge their support for the Democratic nominee.

Former Republican governor of Ohio, John Kasich, said America was being brought “down the wrong road,” by Mr Trump.

Republican John Kasich, former governor of Ohio, speaks during the virtual Democratic National Convention seen on a laptop computer in Tiskilwa, Illinois. Photograph: Bloomberg
Republican John Kasich, former governor of Ohio, speaks during the virtual Democratic National Convention seen on a laptop computer in Tiskilwa, Illinois. Photograph: Bloomberg

“I’m a lifelong Republican, but that attachment holds second place to my responsibility to my country. That’s why I’ve chosen to appear at this convention. In normal times, something like this would probably never happen, but these are not normal times.”

“We can all see what’s going on in our country today and all the questions that are facing us, and no one person or party has all the answers. But what we do know is that we can do better than what we’ve been seeing today, for sure. And I know that Joe Biden, with his experience and his wisdom and his decency, can bring us together to help us find that better way.”

Earlier Mr Trump hit out at Mr Kasich as he returned from a series of campaign events in Minnesota and Wisconsin where he assailed his Democratic rival Joe Biden.

“He was a loser as a Republican and he’ll be a loser as a Democrat,” he said of Mr Kasich who ran against Mr Trump for the Republican nomination in 2016.

Mr Trump is taking part in several campaign rallies in swing states across the country this week ahead of the Republican National Convention which will take place next week.