Obama returns to campaign trail to help crush Trump
Former President Barack Obama speaks during a campaign stop for Joe Biden, Oct. 21, 2020, in Philadelphia. | Matt Slocum / AP

PHILADELPHIA—Say one thing for former Democratic President Barack Obama: He can still fire up a crowd, even if they’re stuck in parked cars at a Philadelphia stadium lot due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Because that’s what Obama did in a rousing Oct. 21 speech at Lincoln Financial Field, to a chorus of shouted cheers and honking horns, as he lauded his VP, Joe Biden, seeking the presidency this fall against Obama’s GOP successor, Donald Trump.

And Obama pulled no punches about the current Oval Office occupant, especially over his handling of the economy and of the coronavirus pandemic, which has sickened more U.S. people than live in New York City and killed more than live in Spokane, Wash.

“I get this president wants full credit for the economy he inherited” from Obama’s and Biden’s eight years in the White House, which saw joblessness, after a 10% high, fall to 4.8%, the Detroit 3 auto firms rescued with Auto Worker cooperation, factories adding jobs, and even low-wage workers making gains, the former president said.

But Trump also wants “zero blame for the pandemic he ignored,” Obama declared. Trump admitted to author Bob Woodward that he knew of the virus’s danger as early as Jan. 28, but lied—repeatedly—to the U.S. about it. Trump continues to denigrate science, push quack cures, demand the economy reopen despite the threat, and sneer at protective measures people, including Biden, take, such as wearing N95 anti-viral masks.

“But you know what? The job doesn’t work that way,” Obama told the crowd, conversationally. “Tweeting at the television doesn’t fix things. Making stuff up doesn’t make people’s lives better. You’ve got to have a plan” to battle the pandemic. Trump doesn’t.

Obama didn’t spend his whole speech attacking Trump, just most of it. He took time out, enjoying himself in the half-hour talk, to extol Biden and his running mate, Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., the first African-American woman and the first Asian-American on a major party ballot. Obama, of course, was the first president who was not a white male.

“I am asking you to remember what this country can be. What it is like when we treat each other with respect and dignity. What is it is like when our elected officials actually behave responsibly,” Obama said. “I am asking you to believe in Joe’s ability and Kamala’s ability to lead this country out of these dark times and help us build it back better.”

“Build it back better,” is a constant Biden campaign theme for what he plans to do with an economy which, thanks to joblessness as a result of the virus, has sent more than one of every six workers—almost 25 million—into needing state or federal jobless aid.

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Then Obama returned to zinging his successor on just about everything, as opposed to his most-notable prior speech this year, during the Democratic National Convention. Then, in stark terms, former University of Chicago constitutional law professor Obama described Trump as a threat to the Constitution and to U.S. democracy.

He continued on that vein in this speech. “We are not going to have a president that goes out of the way to insult anybody who does not support him, or threatens them with jail,” Obama said, without specifically citing Trump’s constant and continuing calls to  “Lock her up!” referring to his 2016 foe, Obama’s Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton. Trump’s crowds chant it back and extend it to others.

“That is not normal presidential behavior. We would not tolerate it from a high school principal. We would not tolerate it from a coach or a coworker. Why are folks making excuses for that, [saying] ‘Well, that’s just him’? No! There are consequences to these actions.”

Obama also borrowed a line Ronald Reagan used while linking it to Trump’s disastrous performance in handling the pandemic.

“Presidents up for re-election usually ask if the country is better off than it was four years ago. I will tell you one thing. Four years ago, you would be tailgating here at the Lincoln Field, instead of watching this speech from your cars,” he said.

Tailgaters at the field are usually there for Philadelphia Eagles football games, and they’re not in their cars. At the games, they’re in the stands. Thanks to the pandemic, the NFL’s Eagles, like most other sports teams, are playing before empty stands—if the pandemic threat lets them play at all.


Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Award-winning journalist Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of the union news service Press Associates Inc. (PAI). Known for his reporting skills, sharp wit, and voluminous knowledge of history, Mark is a compassionate interviewer but tough when going after big corporations and their billionaire owners.