CHARLOTTE, N.C. (MCT) — Four years after riding a wave of optimism into the White House, Barack Obama offered a more sobering message about the future as he asked Americans for another term to help complete the country’s recovery from the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression.
Accepting the 2012 Democratic nomination Thursday night, Obama offered an updated version of the message of hope and change that brought him to office in the first place. He said that he’d been humbled by the burdens of his office and told millions watching on TV that he feels the sorrows of ordinary Americans who have lost loved ones in war or their homes or jobs to the recession.
“While I’m very 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,’ the president said near the end of his 38-minute speech.
Reaching out to the relatively small number of voters who are still undecided, he framed the election as a choice between competing visions of the future, and between differing ideas about whether government is a friend or enemy.
“We don’t think government can solve all our problems,” he said, “but we don’t think that government is the source of all our problems, any more than are welfare recipients, or corporations, or unions, or immigrants, or gays, or any other group we’re told to blame for our troubles.” He contended that shared responsibility, rather than favors for the wealthy and well-connected, would help solve problems that have been building for decades and “will take more than a few years for us to solve.”
Mitt Romney, he said, was merely writing the same prescription that Republicans have offered since Ronald Reagan was president.
“Have a surplus? Try a tax cut. Deficit too high? Try another,” Obama said, as the convention crowd greeted his mockery with laughter and cheers. “Feel a cold coming on? Take two tax cuts, roll back some regulations, and call us in the morning!”
He also pushed back against the Romney campaign argument that his administration is hostile to domestic energy production, arguing that the U.S. was less dependent on imported oil than at any time in nearly 20 years and setting a goal of even steeper declines by 2020.
And he highlighted an issue that had gone virtually unmentioned at either party’s convention, declaring that “climate change is not a hoax. More drought and floods and wildfires are not a joke. They are a threat to our children’s future. And in this election you can do something about it.”
But in a presidential contest that may well be decided by which campaign has more success turning out its supporters, the president devoted much of his time addressing the disappointment of those who have felt let down by his failure to make more progress on the problems he had pledged to fix. He gave a quick review of his achievements, including a sweeping health care overhaul, protection against deportation for some young illegal immigrants, allowing gays to serve openly in the military and ending the war in Iraq.
“You are the change,” he declared, to rapturous applause. “You did that!”
Still, Obama took pains to reprise his argument from 2008 that recovery would not be a quick or painless process.
“You didn’t elect me to tell you what you wanted to hear,” he said. “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.”
At the same time, in a message tailored for the ears of his younger supporters, he offered an upbeat argument for staying involved in electoral politics.
“Our problems can be solved. Our challenges can be met. The path we offer may be harder but it leads to a better place,” he said. “That is why I am running for a second term as president of the United States.” At that, the convention floor exploded in a sea of blue “Forward” signs being waved by delegates chanting “Four more years!”
The third and final night of the Democratic gathering featured a bevy of celebrity appearances and speeches by both halves of the party’s ticket. That was a departure from the tradition of providing the vice-presidential running mate with his own night onstage.
The campaign’s convention producers chose to place former President Bill Clinton in the spotlight Wednesday night.. Vice President Joe Biden was further demoted by the campaign’s decision to begin his acceptance speech outside the hour that most of the major TV networks devoted to coverage of the convention.
But inside the hall, the 69-year-old Biden drew cheers with his response to the “Are-you-better-off?” challenge that Republicans are posing to voters.
“Osama bin Laden is dead, and General Motors is alive,” he said.
Playing the running mate’s traditional attacking role, Biden said Romney is not “a bad guy” but that, as head of the private equity company he co-founded, Bain Capital, he became more concerned with “balance sheets” and “write-offs” than with people.
“Folks, the Bain way may bring your firm the highest profits. But it’s not the way to lead our country from its highest office,” Biden said, criticizing Romney’s opposition to the auto industry bailout and his hesitation about spending billions of dollars to catch bin Laden.
Obama picked up Biden’s foreign policy theme in his speech, saying he was offering the country “leadership that has been tested and proven,” while Romney and his running mate Rep. Paul D. Ryan “want to take us back to an era of blustering and blundering that cost America so dearly.”
His speech ended in a cloud of confetti, and the roars of some 20,000 in the hall, with Obama’s wife Michelle, who had introduced him, returning to the stage. Joining them were their daughters Malia, 14, and Sasha, 11, and, quickly, by other Obama and Biden relatives.
The tableau ended a night whose most poignant note may have been the appearance of former Arizona Rep. Gabby Giffords, wounded in a January 2011 shooting. Giffords walked haltingly to center stage to lead the crowd in the Pledge of Allegiance, as delegates wept.
Defense and foreign policy were among the night’s central themes, an effort to draw a contrast with the Republican convention, which largely skirted those issues, a traditional GOP strength. To an unusual degree, the Democrats have neutralized the Republican edge this year, and on Wednesday night they attempted to turn national security to their advantage.
“Ask Osama bin Laden if he is better off now than he was four years ago,” said Sen. John Kerry, the 2004 Democratic presidential nominee, bringing the delegates to their feet. A leading contender for secretary of State if Obama is re-elected, Kerry criticized Romney as “out of his depth” on international affairs and compared his understanding of foreign policy to Sarah Palin’s. The Romney-Ryan ticket, he said, is “the most inexperienced foreign foreign policy twosome to run for president and vice president in decades.”end
Kerry, a Vietnam veteran, praised the Obama administration’s treatment of returning troops and deplored Romney’s failure to mention the war in Afghanistan, where about 70,000 U.S. servicemen and women are deployed, in his acceptance speech last week. He also accused his fellow Massachusetts politician of shifting positions on the conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq and on the Libyan civil war—and poked fun at his own famous gaffe in the process.
“Talk about being for it before you were against it! Mr Romney, here’s a little advice. Before you debate Barack Obama on foreign policy, you better finish the debate with yourself,” prompting a roar from the crowd and another standing ovation.
Throughout the proceedings, the delegates were serenaded by a variety of performers, including singers James Taylor and Mary J. Blige and the Foo Fighters. Actresses Eva Longoria and Scarlet Johansson were among the celebrity speakers. Marc Anthony sang the national anthem.
A threat of thunderstorms had forced a late change in convention staging this week. Plans to have Obama reprise his 2008 acceptance speech with another outdoor stadium extravaganza were scrapped. Instead of taking a midfield stage at Bank of America Stadium, with a crowd that his campaign hoped would top 65,000, he spoke inside the Time Warner Cable Arena, which seated fewer than one-third that many.
Still, the electricity and excitement at the Democratic gathering exceeded that of the recently concluded Republican convention in Tampa. Network television audiences for the first two nights of the Democratic convention were also larger, by roughly 15 percent, than for the GOP’s corresponding nights, according to the Nielsen Co.