CHARLOTTE, N.C. – 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 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.