By the time the president strode onto the big stage at the jammed packed Time Warner Cable Arena Thursday night in Charlotte North Carolina, the Democratic delegates, alternates, and VIP guests had been primed for delirium. Although distracted and for a day divided by a dumb move by their platform committee, and disappointed that threatening weather had forced their celebration indoors, the 17,000 in attendance exploded when their nominee hugged his elegant First Lady, took his position behind the podium, thanked the crowd and acknowledged their desire for “four more years.”
There he was, graceful, confident of their love, waving and smiling broadly, Barack Hussein Obama, the 44th president of the United States.
The historic nature of his presidency still moves me. He is the living breathing fulfillment of the dream articulated by Martin Luther King and held by uncounted Americans over centuries. But unlike 2008, President Obama no longer commands my loyalty based on being the first black man to occupy the Oval Office. Now he is being judged by me and millions of other swing voters for how he has performed on the job these past three and a half years, and in that regard he is diminished.
Diminished but still formidable.
Because of him, Vice President Joe Biden likes to say, “Osama bin Laden is dead and General Motors is alive.”
Fair enough, but the economy is still mired in lethargy. Unemployment remains above 8%. The deficit has soared past $16,000,000,000,000 (that’s 16 trillion). And Medicare and Social Security face an uncertain future as our population ages and the government borrows $40 of every $100 it spends.
So despite the enthusiasm in that Arena, as he accepted his party’s nomination for President of the United States, Mr. Obama faces an electorate more skeptical and less adoring than it was four years ago. Now the thrill is gone and he is running as a mere mortal facing the question posed by his bitter rivals, the GOP.
“Are you better off than you were four years ago?”
Still, as he said Thursday night, the choice has seldom been as clear between competing political and economic philosophies as it is in 2012. That stark contrast was laid bare Wednesday by former president Bill Clinton, who delivered a speech that was a rousing, riveting, impassioned, sometimes funny, yet surprisingly substantive defense of Mr. Obama’s first term.
Ironically, it was Bill Clinton’s speech against which the president’s speech was competing Thursday night, not Mitt Romney’s.
Clinton told the Obama story better than the current president ever did by eviscerating the Romney/Ryan/Republican budget plan as failing the science of arithmetic, saying he didn’t know whether to laugh or cry, when the GOP suggests balancing the budget by cutting taxes by five billion dollars mostly for the wealthy.
Clinton did it by telling voters that we can’t give the reins of government to Mitt Romney, someone who, in Clinton’s words, will “double down on trickle down,” or someone like Paul Ryan who has “the brass to re-write” the president’s efforts on both Obamacare and Medicare.
Clinton praised the president for having the good sense to marry Michelle.
He criticized the current climate of conflict, confrontation and obstructionism.
And he said no president could have repaired all the damage Obama inherited in just four years. He criticized Republicans for their efforts to cut down on minority voting with stringent voter eligibility requirements. Bubba pulled the Democrats toward the center. He dared the Republicans to compromise to fix what ails the nation. And to the sounds Tom Petty’s “I won’t back down,” he embraced Barack Obama on that stage and probably made the incumbent the favorite in the race for re-election.
The president’s speech Thursday felt more, well, speechier. Unlike Clinton’s folksy, natural appeal, Obama’s familiar cadence now sounds contrived and rehearsed. But I fought through my disdain for his practiced eloquence and listened to his message.
He’s no longer a symbol. But he is a good man, a loving husband, father and leader whose vision for our country as expressed Thursday night is a good and powerful one.