President Obama on Thursday night delivered a sober nomination acceptance speech to the Democratic National Convention that framed the upcoming election as a choice between two very different visions for America’s future.
Mr. Obama noted that after four years in office his supporters from 2008 may have had their hopes tested by war, recession, and political gridlock. But he asked for their continued support, saying that coming years will see crucial decisions on jobs and the economy, taxes and the deficit, energy production, and foreign policy.
“On every issue, the choice you face won’t be just between two candidates or two parties,” said Obama. “It will be a choice between two different paths for America.”
Democrats want to restore the values that built the American middle class, said Obama. He called it “the basic bargain at the heart of the American story: the promise that hard work will pay off; that responsibility will be rewarded; that everyone gets a fair shot, and everyone does their fair share, and everyone plays by the same rules – from Main Street to Wall Street to Washington, D.C.”
Meanwhile, the Republicans and their nominee, Mitt Romney, want to take the nation back to the same old policies they have espoused for years, said Obama, in which tax cuts and regulation reduction are the answer to every ill.
“Have a surplus? Try a tax cut. Deficit too high? Try another,” the president said. “Feel a cold coming on? Take two tax cuts, roll back some regulations, and call us in the morning!”
For his way forward, Obama offered not so much a new set of policy proposals as a vision in which his existing policies pay off as advertised.
Thus he said that voters have a choice between a Republican White House that would give tax breaks to companies that ship jobs overseas, or a Democratic one that would help firms increase exports and create a million new manufacturing jobs in four years. Voters can choose Obama’s deficit-reduction and tax plan, which he said would cut $4 trillion off the deficit, reform taxes, and increase taxes on the wealthy; or they can opt for the Romney approach, in which the wealthy get a tax cut and government programs that help the middle class would be gutted.
“I refuse to ask middle-class families to give up their deductions for owning a home or raising their kids just to pay for another millionaire’s tax cut,” said Obama.
Unsurprisingly, Republicans objected that Obama was misrepresenting their proposals while glossing over the gaps in his own record.
“Tonight President Obama laid out the choice in this election, making the case for more of the same policies that haven’t worked for the past four years. He offered more promises, but he hasn’t kept the promises he made four years ago,” said Romney campaign manager Matt Rhoades in a statement.
The speech wasn’t as soaring as Obama’s acceptance speech in Denver four years ago. That’s by necessity, Obama said.
“The times have changed – and so have I,” said the president.
But if the first half seemed almost like a State of the Union, in which Obama ticked off past policy efforts, promised to never turn Medicare into a voucher program, and reiterated foreign policy successes, the second was more abstract, and dealt with political philosophy.
The GOP believes that since government cannot do everything, it should do almost nothing, said Obama, while Democrats believe in “something called citizenship – a word at the very heart of our founding, at the very essence of our democracy; the idea that this country only works when we accept certain obligations to one another, and to future generations.”
And as to the change voters hoped for when they elected him four years ago, it is the voters themselves who represent it, according to Obama.
His health-care reforms? “You did that,” he said. His order to stop the deportation of many immigrant children here illegally? “You’re the reason,” he added.
As to the poetry his supporters have come to expect in his speeches, there was a patch of that at the end, as Obama built to the crescendo of his ending.
“Yes our road is longer – but we travel it together. We don’t turn back. We leave no one behind,” he said.
But it’s possible that Bill Clinton’s speech the day before outlined the case against the GOP more crisply and entertainingly. And it remains to be seen whether voters will judge that Obama laid out enough of a second-term program to deserve having his contract renewed via reelection for another four years.