Former President Bill Clinton basically won the election for Barack Obama Wednesday night with a point-by-point takedown of the Republican ticket, their policies and their attacks on the current occupant of the White House. Clinton appealed to middle-class women and working-class whites in the Midwest. At the end, aging baby boomers needed a cigarette.
So on the final night of the Democratic National Convention, after threats of weather, which never developed, forced the events from Bank of America Stadium to Time Warner Cable Arena, Obama wisely kept his remarks short and to the point. He covered major campaign themes in what was essentially a State of the Union speech with a live, partisan audience.
He did well to paint the contrast between himself and Mitt Romney without trying to run up the rhetorical score and risk fumbling the poll bounce that Bubba gave him the night before. He appealed to swing states and undecideds.
"If you're sick of hearing me 'approve this message' - believe me - so am I," Obama said, music to states like North Carolinia that have suffered through political commercials for months.
"I'm asking you to rally around a set of goals for your country," he said, reaching out to undecideds with boilerplate campaign rhetoric. "Goals in manufacturing, energy, education, national security and the deficit - a real, achievable plan that will lead to new jobs, more opportunity, and rebuild this economy on a stronger foundation."
But the first few minutes of his speech seemed to bore delegates, who expected the man known for his enlightened DNC rhetoric. Some of that energy - or lack thereof - undoubtedly came from his boring warm-up: Vice President Joe Biden.
Gone from the president's speech was the creative imagery of past conventions, like 2004's "slaves sitting around a campfire singing freedom songs" line that generated hope among his base and helped launch his national political career.
And though this speech symbolized the hardened realities of Obama's agenda, stuck in a divided and filibuster-prone Senate and wholeheartedly opposed in the House, there was still a taste of that hope and change from 2008. But he did well to acknowledge the realities of the past four years.
"While I'm proud of what we've achieved together, I'm far more mindful of my own failiings, knowing exactly what Lincoln meant when he said, 'I have been driven to my knees by the overwhelming conviction that I had no place else to go," Obama said. "But as I stand here tonight, I have never been more hopeful about America."
With the wars winding down and Osama bin Laden dead, Obama has owned foreign policy this cycle. But because of the recession, this presidential contest is centered on domestic economic policy. Those issues were the only real hard swings the president took at his opponent.
Obama confidentially announced exactly where he'd lead America if elected again. The signs in delegates' hands said it all: Forward.
"We draw strength from our victories, and we learn from our mistakes, but we keep our eyes fixed on that distant horizon, knowing that providence is with us, and that we are surely blessed to be citizens of the greatest nation on Earth."
The word Thursday morning was that Romney pulled his ads in Michigan and Pennsylvania, shrinking the contested map to Ohio, Colorado, Virginia, Florida, Wisconsin, Iowa and North Carolina - all states Obama won in 2008.
It's hard to deny that Obama kicked off the fall campaign better than the GOP, which received zero bounce from their convention in Tampa.
Well deserved. These guys are tops today.
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