CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — For President Barack Obama, hope has become hang in there.
On the biggest stage of his re-election bid, Obama is dropping some tough love on voters, offering no fast solutions for a nation whose spirit has been sapped by economic insecurity.
“You didn’t elect me to tell you what you wanted to hear,” Obama said in excerpts of the speech he was delivering Thursday evening at the Democratic National Convention.
“You elected me,” he said, “to tell you the truth.”
The message was reminiscent of the night Obama won the presidency four years ago, when supporters reveled around him, but his words of change in America were tempered by caution about how long and hard the climb back to prosperity would be. It has indeed been that hard, so much that Obama is using his address this time to reach back to the Great Depression.
Calling his first term a mere start, Obama reached for Americans to join him in a “bold, persistent experimentation that Franklin Roosevelt pursued during the only crisis worse than this one.”
The substance of the new Obama deal consists of the economic pillars of Obama’s campaign: manufacturing, energy, education, national security and debt reduction.
Even though it was Obama who said just this week that “a convention speech is never a State of the Union speech,” the outline released in advance by his campaign sure looked like one, right down to specific policy goals such as recruiting 100,000 math and science teachers over the next 10 years.
For a nation short on job security, this is Obama’s night to protect his own. He speaks to a television of audience of millions in the 10 p.m. EDT hour.
Obama’s speech will be about promise — the kind he’ll say he has kept, and the kind of feeling he wants to stir once more. He will take people back to the start of his presidency to make a case why their lives are better, but his bigger imperative is to sell himself as better for middle-class America than Republican Mitt Romney.
Gone is the newness of the last time he stood up to accept the nomination of his party. Obama, the graying incumbent, will not try to recreate it.
Instead, he will whittle the election down to a choice, spelling out his vision of how to create economic opportunity for all, and warning that Romney would restore trickle-down ideas that Obama says were quietly gutting the economy for years before crashing it completely.
Obama will also try to summon inspiration again that America is right on the cusp of what it could be.
Campaigns can thrive or die on voter passions, and Romney had his shot at this first. At his own convention last week, he told a TV audience of millions that it was a telling sign if many people’s best feelings about Obama peaked the moment they voted for him.
Gone, too, is the setting Obama wanted for the biggest address of his re-election bid.
Democrats opted for their convention’s rented basketball arena instead of a much larger, open-air football stadium for Obama, wary of the safety and political risks if rain came pouring down.
Yet tighter, packed quarters of energized supporters could present just the optics Obama wants on TV. He must give his backers and undecided voters a reason to mobilize behind him.
It worked on Wednesday night for former President Bill Clinton, and for first lady Michelle Obama the night before that.
In a nation in which more than 23 million people are unemployed or underemployed, Obama will focus instead on the millions who have found work, and how many more can, too.
He will ask for more time, just as Clinton foreshadowed.
As Clinton put it: “No president — not me, not any of my predecessors — no one could have fully repaired all the damage that he found in just four years. But he has laid the foundations for a new, modern, successful economy of shared prosperity. And if you will renew the president’s contract, you will feel it.”
Expect him to talk about ending the war in Iraq and promising to close the still-raging war in Afghanistan, particularly after mocking Romney for never addressing the latter in his own convention speech. Every speaker at the Democratic convention has contributed to the collective message that Obama wants to send of a diverse party that protects gay rights and women’s reproductive rights.
Yet it all comes back to the economy, Obama’s biggest burden.
Follow Ben Feller on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/benfellerdc
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