They needed to hear from him that not only did he believe in America’s possibility, but that he believed in himself. They needed to know that having hope and expecting change does not make them naive or ill-informed, but rather is a display of faith in our president that has been tested, but one that can not be allowed to falter in the face of cynicism and suppression.
And he did not disappoint.
The first time I addressed this convention in 2004, I was a younger man; a Senate candidate from Illinois who spoke about hope – not blind optimism or wishful thinking, but hope in the face of difficulty; hope in the face of uncertainty; that dogged faith in the future which has pushed this nation forward, even when the odds are great; even when the road is long.
Eight years later, that hope has been tested – by the cost of war; by one of the worst economic crises in history; and by political gridlock that’s left us wondering whether it’s still possible to tackle the challenges of our time.
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From energy to education, to national security to debt, he painted a clear picture of a Mitt Romney who, as Gov. Deval Patrick said, “is more interested in having the job than doing the job.” This time there were no blind assumptions or promises made with no idea of how to fulfill them. He stood as the incumbent, battered and war-weary, yet still standing, still fighting.
“I’m no longer just the client; I’m the president,” he said to cascading applause.
That fact was underscored by the deftness in which he spoke on Romney’s lack of knowledge on foreign policy. It was obvious when he spoke of supporting American businesses who actually do work in America, instead of those that outsource for capital gains. He was a more confident Obama than he was 4 years ago, standing comfortably in his experience, the one insult that the GOP assailed him with during the 2008 campaign.
Now, our friends at the Republican convention were more than happy to talk about everything they think is wrong with America, but they didn’t have much to say about how they’d make it right. They want your vote, but they don’t want you to know their plan. And that’s because all they have to offer is the same prescription they’ve had for the last thirty years:
“Have a surplus? Try a tax cut.”
“Deficit too high? Try another.”
“Feel a cold coming on? Take two tax cuts, roll back some regulations, and call us in the morning!”
He also extended an olive branch to the evangelical community, who have been made to feel that a vote for President Barack Obama is a vote against God. By humbly admitting that he is no savior, but has had to bow to a greater power in the face of his failings, was one of the more poignant lines of the night. Quoting Abraham Lincoln, the president made it plain:
“I have been driven many times to my knees by the overwhelming conviction that I had nowhere else to go.”
He still didn’t specifically mention the African-American community; he ignored civil liberty complaints and war criminal accusations; he boasted of energy progress, without mentioning his flip-flop on oil drilling. He spoke of foreign policy, without touching on policy to address police brutality in the war-zones of America.
But tonight, he gave the impression that he knows many of us are disappointed and that while he understands, he has also honestly, conscientiously, done his personal best.
Will that be enough for swing voters? Possibly, because unlike Romney, he was inclusive of all Americans, and even when one group wasn’t mentioned specifically, it still felt as if he was addressing America, not just the 1 percent or those trying to become the 1 percent.
In short, he catapulted over his base, across both sides of the isle, all across the spectrum and back into 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.
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.
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