Saturday, September 8, 2012

President Obama’s Second Chance


President Obama’s dilemma has always been that he has been far more successful a president than his opponents claim, but far less successful than he needs to be at making voters see that. Powerful speeches by former President Bill Clinton, Vice President Joe Biden and others did a lot to fix that impression during the convention. But it was up to Mr. Obama to make the case for another term, with a speech that was every bit as fraught with uncertainty and risk as his 2008 convention address.

Just as he did then, Mr. Obama rose to the occasion. 

He could have sold some of his best lines with more passion, but gone was the maddening coyness of recent years in which he has avoided candidly talking about the mess that President George W. Bush dumped into his lap and shied away from the rumble of politics. He didn’t hesitate to go after Mitt Romney. “You might not be ready for diplomacy with Beijing if you can’t visit the Olympics without insulting our closest ally,” he said. 

And he clearly laid out a vision for governing squarely at odds with the one that Mr. Romney has, but was hidden from view at last week’s Republican convention in Tampa, Fla. He promised deficit reduction “without sticking it to the middle class”; to enact a reformed tax code that raises rates on income above $250,000 to where it was under Mr. Clinton; to preserve middle-class deductions; to “never turn Medicare into a voucher.” 

Mr. Obama explicitly shifted from his 2008 appeal of hope and change to talk of tough choices and tough paths. “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.” 

Mr. Obama went into this convention with an actual record at governing — not just the Republican posture of saying “No” to everything. He has far better ideas about how to create jobs, make Americans’ tax burdens more equitable and improve ordinary Americans’ economic prospects than the tired, failed trickle-down fantasies served up by Mitt Romney and the Republican Party. 

He ended the war in Iraq, tried to rescue the Afghan war that Mr. Bush bungled, stepped up the offensive on terrorists far beyond Mr. Bush’s vision and rallied the world to ratchet up pressure on Iran. 

He blunted the extreme message of the Tea Party by offering an alternative vision of government’s obligation to help the neediest, provide everyone with the basic structures of society and the economy and end unconscionable discrimination against gay and lesbian Americans. He has protected women’s constitutional rights and liberties, despite his own misgivings about abortion. He ordered the killing of Osama bin Laden — an act that was mentioned repeatedly on the last night of the convention. 

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