Obama’s Challenge: Defining Forward as More than Just a Slogan

The President's convention speech is his one real chance to tell the American people what they are voting for, not just what they are voting against. And the stage is the one he prefers

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Barack Obama is a man of big speeches, the sort that get named after cities: Boston in 2004, Berlin and Denver in 2008, Cairo and Prague in 2009. In Strasbourg, France, he addressed all of Europe, in Moscow the Russian elite, in Shanghai the youth of China. His Inaugural Address drew about 1.8 million people to the frozen National Mall, and his prime-time rhetorical interruptions since then have marked his presidency like a grandfather-clock chime: the joint sessions of Congress, the State of the Unions, the East Room announcements of the killing of Osama bin Laden and the debt-ceiling deadlock.

Bill Clinton was known for winning small rooms and street corners. George W. Bush had a knack for nicknames that made everyone feel like they were part of the gang. Obama tends to soar above, the prof who can also preach, drawing both from the rhetorical traditions of the civil rights movement and law-school lecture halls. As he famously (and immodestly) told Senate majority leader Harry Reid after one barn burner, “Harry, I have a gift.”

(MORE: Bill Clinton Makes His Case for Obama)

On Thursday, the President will count on that gift to give again. His speech in Charlotte, N.C., after 10 p.m. E.T., will probably be his last opportunity to lay out his plans for a second term in the format he most favors. With the polls showing him teetering on the knife edge of victory or defeat, the stakes are, as always, far too high. White House advisers say they don’t expect a big bump in the polls after the convention; the electorate is still too static. But they are counting on Obama to clear another campaign hurdle by clearly explaining to the American people why the next four years of his presidency will be better than the last. It’s a vision he has yet to present in full.

Cover Photograph by Brooks Kraft / Corbis for TIME

Obama set up his convention speech in May, when he officially launched his campaign in Columbus, Ohio. The question for the coming campaign, he said, was not whether the U.S. is better off than it was four years ago. “The real question — the question that will actually make a difference in your life and in the lives of your children — is not just about how we’re doing today,” he said. “It’s about how we’ll be doing tomorrow.”

(PHOTOS: The Democratic National Convention)

Since then, Obama has tried to frame the election as a choice between policies that will help the wealthy and policies that will help the middle class. That contrast will no doubt form the core of Obama’s address, much as it did in Denver in 2008, when Obama said of his opponent, John McCain, “It’s not because John McCain doesn’t care. It’s because John McCain doesn’t get it.” But contrast is not enough. Obama, advisors say, needs to make a positive case for his own presidency continuing. He needs to paint a vision of a post-crisis, post-dysfunction Obama presidency.

(PHOTOS: The Obama Brand)

In 2008, it was relatively easy to cast a positive vision. Obama was the newcomer who could promise change. “I stand before you tonight because all across America something is stirring,” he said. Today he is the incumbent who admits there is frustration that not enough has changed. To date, his campaign stump speech has leaned heavily on policy, offering warnings about the agenda of Mitt Romney on everything from student loans to Medicare, green energy and tax policy. His frame is simple: the U.S. can go forward or backward.

Expect those themes again. But a repeat of his stump speech will not be enough. Thursday will mark his one chance to share with the country his vision of what will happen if he wins a second term, to define forward as more than just a slogan. His grade for himself is incomplete, and his strategists are all too aware that many Americans have lost sight, and faith, in his ability to complete the job. Now is his chance to tell the American people what they are voting for, not just what they are voting against. And the stage is the one he prefers.

MORE: TIME’s Complete Coverage of the DNC

68 comments
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smooth edward
smooth edward

Most of the writers crtiical of Obama’s lack of specificity  just brush aside Romney’s lack of specificity. If both candidates aren’t specific enough for you then choose the one who’s got your back, at least you know, given the political and economic constraints he’ll be in there minimizing the damage to you.

JohnYuEsq
JohnYuEsq

Where are George W. Bush, Ms. I Can See Russia from Here, Mr. I'm Addicted to Pain Killers, and the Whole Lot of Ne'er Do Wells? Hidden from plain sight, as they should be. Only Truly GREAT AMERICANS like President Clinton need take the stage again.

Wrabble
Wrabble

 Of course we need Clinton back - there are plenty of women who need to be raped and he's REALLY good at that!

Shirley Gallagher
Shirley Gallagher

If more Americans' had read or watch what caused the Worst Economic Crisis since the Depression.  More Americans would know that we are better off  today, than we were 4 years ago.

Americans has stop reading like they once did, now they just listen to the Media and repeat what they say to others.

I know how and what caused the Economic Crisis,  i also know who and why they  invaded Iraq  with "No WMD"  where over  58,000 thousands U.S.  were  killed and who knows how many Iraq's were killed.

Some Americans are doing with Romney and Ryan just as they did with President Bush and VP Dick Cheney,  without knowing what Dick Cheney and Donald Runsfeld did to our county by invading Iraq. THE DARK SIDE".

Mitt Romney refuse to release his taxes, refuse to release 2002 winter Olympic and his earmark money. Repeal Regulations, why Off Shore  Bank Account, and how many American  lives he affected at Bain Capital due to Buyout, how many Jobs outsourced to China and India.  All  this seem to be "OK" ,  for some Americans' to put a Man with this many SECRETS  in the Highest Office in the Land.

Paul Ryan plan to cut Entitlement Programs, and lie about President Obama to Win the W.H., what else will Paul Ryan lie about and for what reason. 

Yeshuratnam
Yeshuratnam

When the country is facing deep economic recession, in handling foreign policy, Obama has demonstrated his impotence. Taking advantage of Obama's weakness, Putin is flexing his muscles, sending the Russian submarine to the Gulf. Obama is squarely responsible for  the bloodbath in  Syria. Cameron and Sarkozy intervened in Libya and saved thousands of lives. Obama could have armed Turkey and the rebels, if he is hesitant for direct involvement. Obama gave a loan of several billions of dollars to the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt. while America itself is drowning in loans. Already under President Morsi's first two months, Islamists have become more emboldened—whether by pressuring women to wear the hijab, by killing a Muslim youth for publicly holding hands with his fiancée, or by disseminating flyers that call for the total genocide of Egypt's Christian Copts. The flyers include the names and contact points for those Muslims who wish to collect their rewards for killing Christians.

KJak
KJak

Seriously? You do know that such (obviously blatantly dishonest) statements must be backed up with sources. So post them. Otherwise, try again Troll.  

Wrabble
Wrabble

I'm sure you apply similar standards in terms of demanding sources from people with whom you agree. 

I bet you could even provide a link to one of your posts where you demand supporting links from Dem supporters, lest you be perceived as hypocritical.

I hope this doesn't bring you to tears.

Glen Fiddich
Glen Fiddich

 Shorter Wrabble:

"WWWWAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!  "

theoldkathy
theoldkathy

To brush off one's own gifts is correctly known as "false modesty."  To correctly assess one's own gifts is not "immodesty."   You might think it unseemly, but it is not immodest.

MACDONALDBANK
MACDONALDBANK

Romney and Ryan; should be committed to an asylum --

for the religiously insane!

Romney has impaled himself -- with a bogus cross!

Romney as President; would mean the darkest amp;

meanest period in the United States of America’s history.  Homophobic -- witchcraft would rule the

government from Rome amp; Salt Lake City …!

 

MACDONALDBANK
MACDONALDBANK

The Tripoli Treaty of 1797 between the US and the Barbary States,

unanimously approved by the US Senate on June 10, 1797, specifically states

that the US is NOT a Christian nation. At that time, the US government was

still dominated by those who are referred to today as the "Founding

Fathers". ARTICLE 11: As the government of the United States of America is

not in any sense founded on the Christian Religion...

John

F. Kennedy September 12, 1960, address to the Greater Houston

Ministerial Association: I believe in an America where the separation of church

and state is absolute--where no Catholic prelate would tell the President

(should he be Catholic) how to act, and no Protestant minister would tell his

parishioners for whom to vote--where no church or church school is granted any

public funds or political preference--and where no man is denied public office

merely because his religion differs from the President who might appoint him or

the people who might elect him.

Separation of church and

state was enshrined in the 1st Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which

states that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of

religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” 

What the religious radicals don't tell people, and what,

tragically, many Americans apparently don't know, is that when it comes to

determining what the laws of the United States mean, the only document that

matters is the Consti­tution. The Constitution, a completely secular document,

contains no references to God, Jesus or Christianity. 

 

Wrabble
Wrabble

I missed the keynote address by US Rep Kerry Gaughier (D-MN).  He was to be introduced by Floyd Corkins.  I hope YouTube has the video.

Both are true heroes of the Democrat Party.

Gwen Young
Gwen Young

We have to reinvent ourselves for the future.  Don't know how else to explain it.

Wrabble
Wrabble

 Are you that unhappy with who you are?

Sam Newman Carter
Sam Newman Carter

No she has a valid point. When Clinton passed NAFTA in the early 90s he radically changed the political landscape of the planet. Since the 90s we have seen the (re)emergence of Russia, China, Brazil, India, and Argentina. What you will see happen of the next fifty years a growing battle for regional dominance and eventually global dominance. Already you see China and Russia flex their muscles. But here is the kicker. The U.S is the largest buyer of oil in Russia. And we are the largest goods purchaser in China. Not to mention, US business have more that 1.5 Trillion dollars invested in China. Both of which play a role now. But over the next few decades I'd expect to Russia and China, and others grow beyond our influence.

Which is why the US needs to innovate and build into the 21st Century. We need to lessen our dependence on foreign oil and produce more alternative energy here at home. If a country of more than 700 million people can produce ethanol as 87% as the direct source of energy, why cant we. At one point, this nation was a beacon to the world for new ideas. A beacon for new creations. We created the internet, put a man on the moon, the first aircraft, the first car, and the interstate highway but we cant invest in new energies that'll probably create new jobs? 

This is why I reject the neo-republican philosophy. Not because they're conservative but that they no longer believe in american innovation. That government's main responsibility is too handle the tasks that businesses can't or won't. Many conservatives believe that business is the single and only remedy to many public issues. They want every main service ran businesses. I don't want public transportation, schools, hospitals, roads, police, ems, or firefighters ran like a businesses. That isnt the America, Teddy Roosevelt, Abraham Lincoln, JFK, or Ronald Reagan had in mind. 

Wrabble
Wrabble

 "When Clinton passed NAFTA in the early 90s he radically changed the political landscape of the planet. Since the 90s we have seen the (re)emergence of Russia, China, Brazil, India, and Argentina. "

And that the fault of NAFTA, which affects NONE of the countries you mention?  The agreement affected Canada, the USA, and Mexico.

We should never expect ANY country to voluntarily (China, Russia, India, etc.) take a back seat to the USA.  All countries will do their best to try to improve.

Wrabble
Wrabble

 " If a country of more than 700 million people can produce ethanol as 87% as the direct source of energy, why cant we."

Which country is that?

It's not Brazil, which is the BEST country there is at producing ethanol. 

Brazil offsets less than 15% of their energy needs with ethanol. They consume about 2,1ooKbbl/day in petroleum while consuming only about 300K/bbl in ethanol.

Brazil has unlimited sunshine, water, cheap labor and land.  And even with all that going for them, the best they can do is to replace about 14% of the energy with ethanol.

There is NO way that the USA can come anywhere near close to Brazil in terms of ethanol production.  We do NOT have an unlimited growing season nor is our labor cheap and we definitely don't have unlimited fresh water. 

Scientific American had a great analysis of energy about three years ago.  You might dig up a copy - and learn that biofuels are not the answer.

BTW, the UN is on record as saying that millions of poor people around the world starve to death every year because of the West's fascination with biofuels, which are forcing food prices to be out of reach for the poor.