President Barack Obama brought the Democratic Party’s national convention to a rousing conclusion by accepting his party’s nomination for president with a measured speech that set out an agenda of choice and faith – not hope and change – for the tasks yet unfinished. J BROOKS SPECTOR was once again up before sunrise to get a handle on how Obama could reach out to those voters who haven’t yet made up their minds.
Central to Obama’s goal on Thursday evening was to paint this election as a stark choice. On the one hand, his opponent, Mitt Romney, has defined the country’s problems as governmental in nature. On the other, Obama and his party believe citizens and their government must be in a dynamic partnership to address the national challenges. In doing this, Obama and his party were aiming to make a further point – this election is not a referendum on Obama’s success or failure so far. Rather it is a choice between two divergent views about the future of the nation.
If Obama’s objective was not a fine-grain, detailed policy discussion, he nevertheless outlined key planks in support of veterans and their families, expanding educational opportunities, energy independence, renewable energy growth, reinvigorating American manufacturing and expanding exports in tandem with expanded job creation efforts. In Obama’s view, these are areas where his views diverge sharply from those of his opponent – and where the government is a partner, not an enemy.
As the New York Times described it, Obama made his best case that “he had rescued the economy from disaster and ushered in a recovery that would be imperilled by a return to Republican stewardship.” Acknowledging his own less than totally successful experience on employment and job creation, he said he was “mindful of my own failings,” and recalled a recent TV interview where he assessed himself as having achieved only an “incomplete grade” so far.
Nevertheless, Obama defended his administration’s progress over the past nearly four years as he called on voters to give him a second term to finish the job. “I won’t pretend the path I’m offering is quick or easy; I never have. You didn’t elect me to tell you what you wanted to hear. You elected me to tell you the truth. And the truth is, it will take more than a few years for us to solve challenges that have built up over decades…But know this, America: Our problems can be solved. Our challenges can be met. The path we offer may be harder, but it leads to a better place. And I’m asking you to choose that future.”
Watching the speech, it was clear the word of the day was “forward” rather than “hope” and “change”, as would have been true four years ago. Many commentators have already pointed to the fact that Obama’s speech seems to have had a bit of a “State of the Union” feel to it – in contrast to the broad homilies of parental love and affection that occupied so much of Mitt Romney’s acceptance address.
Veteran Democratic political strategist James Carville, “the Ragin’ Cajun”, claimed Obama’s text heralded the view that the Democratic Party was now the big-shouldered “daddy party” on the block, rather than just a nurturing “mommy party”. David Gergen, a man who has worked in the White House for both parties and a clutch of presidents, argued the message of Obama’s acceptance speech was that the Democratic Party “has your back” in the current difficulties.
In a stark contrast with Mitt Romney’s speech that rushed through – or right past – foreign policy issues, Barack Obama chided his rival by reminding the nation the Romney-Ryan team was “new to foreign policy” and thus was unprepared for the challenges of a complex international world. Calling attention to the voters’ clear choice between the two candidates, as he did so many other times in his speech, Obama said: “So now we have a choice. My opponent and his running mate are new to foreign policy. But from all that we've seen and heard, they want to take us back to an era of blustering and blundering that cost America so dearly. After all, you don't call Russia our number one enemy — not al-Qaida, Russia — unless you're still stuck in a Cold War mind warp. You might not be ready for diplomacy with Beijing if you can't visit the Olympics without insulting our closest ally.”
Obama even stole some of the glow from Republicans in quoting Abraham Lincoln – their party’s greatest president – using Lincoln’s words about humility in office, together with allusions to faith and religion to make his points.
“While I'm proud of what we've achieved together — I'm far more mindful of my own failings, knowing exactly what Lincoln meant when he said, ‘I have been driven to my knees many times by the overwhelming conviction that I had no place else to go’ for I have held in my arms the mothers and fathers of those who didn't return. I've shared the pain of families who've lost their homes, and the frustration of workers who've lost their jobs. If the critics are right that I've made all my decisions based on polls, then I must not be very good at reading them.”
Earlier in the evening, the crowd had been brought to tears by former congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords’ recitation of the American pledge of allegiance – Giffords of course had been shot by an assailant in Arizona earlier and has now spent many months in rehabilitation and physical therapy as a result.
And of course vice president Joe Biden gave his own acceptance speech before the president’s, hammering home the message that has been running through other speeches since the convention opened on Tuesday that the Obama administration has acted with resolve on national security and in rescuing the economy. In this case, responding to that Republican challenge to undecided voters to ask themselves if they are better off now than they were four years ago after having picked Barack Obama, Biden told the convention to ask Osama bin Laden if he is better off now than he was four years ago, and added his now-familiar bumper sticker line: “Osama bin Laden is dead and General Motors is alive.”
This – as with so many other points in the speeches these past three days – was targeted directly at the undecided voters in Michigan and Ohio where the auto industry has so many plants and employees. Analysts now point to those two states as the key to the election – if Republicans cannot win there, regardless of what else happens with the electoral vote, they will find it an enormous struggle to solve the electoral math that underlies the electoral vote puzzle for an election win. And, of course, the reverse is probably true as well.
If the Democrats have left Charlotte and their convention on a high – provided in large part by Bill Clinton’s speech of a lifetime – their joy may be partially undone when the newest employment figures are released later on Friday. If these numbers do not move the dial, it will just underscore the fact of the tough campaigning that remains between now and 6 November and the criticality of the presidential debates that will take place in October. DM
- Deconstructing Barack Obama the orator at the AP;
- CONVENTION WATCH: Obama basks in Clinton's embrace at the AP;
- Bill, Barack and Us, a column by Gail Collins in the New York Times;
- Clinton is Better Than Obama at Explaining Why Obama is Better Than Clinton at the New Republic;
- Obama's Challenge: Defining Forward as More than Just a Slogan at Time;
- 2012 Election Transcript: President Obama's Convention Speech at the National Public Radio;
- Obama Makes Case for 2nd Term: ‘Harder’ Path to ‘Better Place’ at the New York Times;
Photo: U.S. President Barack Obama, first lady Michelle Obama and their daughter Sasha, wave to delegates during the final session of the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, North Carolina September 6, 2012. REUTERS/Eric Thayer