There were no fireworks on Thursday night -- at least not of the literal variety. There were no Greek columns or open-air stadiums surrounded by majestic mountains. There were no calls for a new type of politics or for a turning of the page on the George W. Bush administration.
There was some glitz, some Hollywood stars and immaculate stagecraft. But the idea that a presidential candidate could himself become the embodiment of change was replaced with something less lofty but, perhaps, just as politically poignant. When President Barack Obama addressed the Democratic National Convention here at 10:25 p.m., both he and the crowd were animated by protectiveness for what's been accomplished so far in his presidency and hope to build on those achievements.
It was reflected not just in the tone of the week -- from a rousing and unexpected defense of the president's health care law on Tuesday night, to an invocation of the GOP-maligned clean energy subsidies, to a repeated reference to Vice President Joe Biden's favorite line "bin-Laden is dead and General Motors is alive" -- but in the arc of Obama's speech as well.
"I recognize that times have changed since I first spoke to this convention," Obama said. "The times have changed –- and so have I. I’m no longer just a candidate. I’m the president.
"I know what it means to send young Americans into battle, for I have held in my arms the mothers and fathers of those who didn’t return. I’ve shared the pain of families who’ve lost their homes, and the frustration of workers who’ve lost their jobs. If the critics are right that I’ve made all my decisions based on polls, then I must not be very good at reading them. And while I’m 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.'"
"America," Obama offered at the conclusion of his speech, "I never said this journey would be easy, and I won't promise that now. Yes, our path is harder -- but it leads to a better place. Yes our road is longer -- but we travel it together. We don't turn back."
By the admission of the president's fans and critics, it has been a long four years since then-Sen. Obama addressed the convention crowd gathered at Mile High Stadium in Denver, Colo. And it has left the campaign with a difficult juggling act: how to tout an America that is progressing without offending those who feel left behind. The speakers leading up to the president attempted to help him thread that needle, repeatedly invoking the achievements that they didn't want undone while pledging to fulfill the "promise of America" that Obama laid out four years ago.