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President Obama makes pitch for a second term by focusing on future - and past

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Sept. 6, 2012 - Amid deafening shouts of “four more years,” President Barack Obama took to the stage himself Thursday to make the case to thousands of fellow Democrats in the convention hall – and millions of Americans watching television -- that his administration’s actions, past and present, have set a course for a better American future.

And that he and Vice President Joe Biden deserve four more years to carry it out.

“I won't pretend the path I'm offering is quick or easy. I never have,” Obama said. “You didn't elect me to tell you what you wanted to hear. 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. It will require common effort, shared responsibility, and the kind of bold, persistent experimentation that Franklin Roosevelt pursued during the only crisis worse than this one.”

The president’s address – interrupted frequently by cheers, applause and standing ovations -- appeared to promote his character, a strong point with the public, as much as his policies, which have gotten mixed reviews.

He also sought to take advantage of the public’s wary view of the character and intentions of Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney and running mate Paul Ryan.

Obama declared that the Nov. 6 election “will be a choice between two fundamentally different visions for the future.”

“Ours is a fight to restore the values that built the largest middle class and the strongest economy the world has ever known,” the president said, as he cited the sacrifices of average Americans – including his grandparents -- during the Great Depression and World War II.

In contrast, Obama said, Republicans “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 30 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!"

Later Obama tweaked Romney, a wealthy former businessman, by recalling the former Massachusetts governor’s advice to a college student faced with high tuition bills: “If you can't afford to start a business or go to college, take my opponent's advice and 'borrow money from your parents.'"

Obama also sought to transform the election from a referendum on him to an affirmation of the like-minded Americans who had elected him four years ago.

“The election four years ago wasn't about me,” he said. “It was about you. My fellow citizens – you were the change.”

Obama’s 38-minute address built to a climactic and emotional finish, in which he declared:

“If you reject the notion that this nation's promise is reserved for the few, your voice must be heard in this election.

“If you reject the notion that our government is forever beholden to the highest bidder, you need to stand up in this election.

“If you believe that new plants and factories can dot our landscape; that new energy can power our future; that new schools can provide ladders of opportunity to this nation of dreamers; if you believe in a country where everyone gets a fair shot, and everyone does their fair share, and everyone plays by the same rules, then I need you to vote this November.”

Afterward, Romney's campaign responded in a statement, 

“Tonight President Obama laid out the choice in this election, making the case for more of the same policies that haven't worked for the past four years. He offered more promises, but he hasn’t kept the promises he made four years ago. Americans will hold President Obama accountable for his record – they know they’re not better off and that it’s time to change direction. Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan will restore America’s promise and deliver a better future for our country.”

Address moved indoors, a protest out of doors

Until mid-week, plans had called for Obama to deliver his address before more than 60,000 people in Charlotte's Bank of America Stadium. But amid predictions of rain -- a downpour had marked Tuesday night's kickoff -- the president's acceptance speech was moved indoors to the much smaller Charlotte Arena.

That meant disappointing most of the tens of thousands of campaign volunteers and supporters who were to fill the stadium. Obama had invited them to participate in a conference call Thursday afternoon in which he expressed his disappointment in the change in plans.

Although rain poured in the afternoon, the skies were clear by Thursday night when the president took to the stage.  As a result, part of downtown Charlotte was filled with a noisy protest march -- largely by Occupy-allied groups -- that prompted even stiffer security in the already-locked-down area around the arena and the convention center.

Obama's address capped an evening – and a three-day convention -- filled with supportive testimonials and jabs at the GOP.

Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., a decorated military veteran and the unsuccessful 2004 presidential nominee, ignited the convention hall Thursday when he declared, “Ask Osama Bin Laden if he is better off than he was four years ago.”

“Our opponents like to talk about 'American exceptionalism,' but all they do is talk,” Kerry said. “They forget that we are exceptional not because we say we are, but because we do exceptional things.”

Kerry and retired Admiral John Nathman accompanied more than 50 veterans who took to the stage to show their support for Obama as commander-in-chief. The focus on veterans also contrasted with the Republican convention's lack of focus on the military, including no mention in Romney's acceptance speech.

The Democratic convention's closing night also repeatedly highlighted the successful auto-industry bailout. Former Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm brought delegates to their feet when she emphasized the millions of jobs saved -- listing them state by state -- and then shouted out, “In Romney’s world, the cars get the elevator and the workers get the shaft!”

Biden, in an emotional tribute to Obama, described the president as a man who “made one gutsy move after another.”

“This man has courage in his soul, compassion in his heart, and steel in his spine,” Biden said.

Obama’s speech, in contrast, dealt as much with the future as the past. He defended his past record generally in broad strokes, having left it to former President Bill Clinton on Wednesday to refute the details of the Republican attacks. Clinton's speech, by the way, was 10 minutes longer.

Afterward, Missouri delegates and activists in the audience were euphoric. "I'm fired up and ready to go!'' declared Dr. Dolores Gunn, director of health for St. Louis County.

Gunn said Obama's firey address -- and equally passionate response from conventioneers -- helped provide the energy that she recalled from his 2008 address in Denver. "It was like a revival meeting for the Democratic Party," she said.

Marianne Solari, Airport Township Democratic committeewoman, contended, "After tonight, if people are still listening to the Republicans and tea partiers, they need to wake up and smell the coffee.  We're the party of inclusion, not exclusion."

The Charlotte convention shared one element with the GOP counterpart: Cardinal Tim Dolan of New York, formerly from St. Louis, delivered the benediction. He'd performed the same role in Tampa.

President's promises, by the numbers

Right before the speech, the Obama campaign issued a detail list of his promises for the next four years – which the president himself dealt with primarily in generality.

His plans for a second term include:


  • Create 1 million new manufacturing jobs by the end of 2016
  • Double exports by the end of 2014


  • Cut net oil imports in half by 2020
  • Support 600,000 natural gas jobs by the end of the decade


  • Cut the growth of college tuition in half over the next 10 years
  • Recruit 100,000 math and science teachers over the next 10 years
  • Train two million workers for real jobs at community colleges

National security

  • Invest in the economy with the money we're no longer spending on war


  • Reduce the deficit by more than $4 trillion over the next decade
Jo Mannies has been covering Missouri politics and government for almost four decades, much of that time as a reporter and columnist at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. She was the first woman to cover St. Louis City Hall, was the newspaper’s second woman sportswriter in its history, and spent four years in the Post-Dispatch Washington Bureau. She joined the St. Louis Beacon in 2009. She has won several local, regional and national awards, and has covered every president since Jimmy Carter. She scared fellow first-graders in the late 1950s when she showed them how close Alaska was to Russia and met Richard M. Nixon when she was in high school. She graduated from Valparaiso University in northwest Indiana, and was the daughter of a high school basketball coach. She is married and has two grown children, both lawyers. She’s a history and movie buff, cultivates a massive flower garden, and bakes banana bread regularly for her colleagues.