Framing the coming election as a choice between fundamentally different visions, President Obama offered himself to the country Thursday as a fire-tested leader ready to finish the job he started.
“Our problems can be solved,” Obama said. “Our challenges can be met.”
It was an older, battle-scarred nominee who faced his party in Charlotte, N.C. This message of hope was tempered and longer-view — a good distance if not a full turn from the vision he offered four years ago when he accepted the nomination in a thundering Denver stadium.
The rah-rah rapture was yesterday. Today’s hope had a hard edge, and the president did too, issuing a message of responsibility and a warning that while things are improving, the tough times that cascaded over him and the country as he took office are going to take a while to recede.
“I recognize that times have changed since I first spoke to this convention,” he said, his face holding its determined set. “The times have changed — and so have I.”
“I’m no longer the candidate. I’m the president.”
The crowd cheered; he did not break a smile.
It was a stark moment in a serious speech. Obama was a man acknowledging the trials of the presidency, as well as his own failings. And knowing, he said, “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.’ “
At times so stern he seemed to verge on angry, Obama launched a clipped defense of his accomplishments, from the auto bailout to hunting down Osama bin Laden, and argued for government as part of the foundation that keeps communities strong.
“We’re making things again,” he said.
He offered a bordering-on-derisive assessment of GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney’s foreign policy credentials, mocking him as stuck in a “Cold War time warp” for calling Russia America’s No. 1 enemy.
“My opponent and his running mate are new to foreign policy, but from all that we’ve seen and heard,” he said, “they want to take us back to an era of blustering and blundering that cost America so dearly.”
And he mocked Republicans’ approach of using tax cuts to deal with surpluses, and deficits.
“Feel a cold coming on? Take two tax cuts, roll back some regulations, and call us in the morning,” he said. He may have cracked a smile on that one.
Obama’s speech capped a night of orchestrated reminders — of the collapsing state of the economy when he took over four years ago, of a health care bill passed, of a Latina named to the Supreme Court, a war ended, and an auto sector revived.
And of a secret military mission that found and killed bin Laden.
And while Obama himself seemed transformed, he sounded many familiar themes of fair shots and being part of something bigger than oneself. He was short, if not absent, on specifics. But offered a new definition of hope.
“As I stand here tonight, I have never been more hopeful about America,” he said. “Not because I think I have all the answers. Not because I’m naive about the magnitude of our challenges. … I’m hopeful because of you.”
Hopeful, yes, but with an attitude. A kind of a make-my-day attitude.