2012 Democratic Convention: Obama: Hard Path 'Leads to a Better Place'

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In his DNC acceptance speech, the President tells delegates: "Our problems can be solved. Our challenges can be met. The path we offer may be harder, but it leads to a better place."

President Barack Obama accepted his party’s presidential nomination for a second time Thursday, evoking a rapturous response from the Democratic National Convention delegates gathered in Charlotte with a soberly eloquent address that urged his listeners to join him on a path of “bold, persistent experimentation” that “leads to a better place.”

“On every issue, the choice you face won’t be just between two candidates or two parties,” Obama told a primetime audience and a convention hall so packed that North Carolina fire marshals barred its doors. “It will be a choice between two different paths for America—a choice between two fundamentally different visions for the future.”

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Generally regarded as one of this era’s great platform orators, the president took the stage at the conclusion of a convention in which the quality of the speeches has been a kind of master class in contemporary political rhetoric. On the opening night, First Lady Michelle Obama emerged as a force in her own right; San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro’s keynote address—the first ever delivered to a national convention by a Latino—marked him as a rising Democratic star. Many commentators ranked former President Bill Clinton’s nominating speech Wednesday, as the finest of his long career.

High as the bar of expectations had been set, Obama did not disappoint. Time and again he brought the delegates to their feet with an address laced with somber poetry, wry humor and plain-spoken, challenging phrases—a plea for support, to remain steadfast and stay the difficult course to economic recovery.

“I know that campaigns can seem small, and even silly,” the president said. “Trivial things become big distractions.  Serious issues become sound bites. And the truth gets buried under an avalanche of money and advertising.  If you’re sick of hearing me approve this message, believe me – so am I.

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Before Obama took the podium Thursday, Vice President Joe Biden delivered an earnest and fiery speech accepting his own nomination for reelection. Referring to his close collaboration with the president, who Biden described as “a man with courage in his heart, compassion in this heart and a spine of steel,” Biden said, “We're on a mission to move this nation forward — from doubt and downturn, to promise and prosperity, a mission we will continue and a mission we will complete."

During a video preceding his address, Biden told his interviewer that unemployed American workers “aren’t looking for a handout. They’re looking for a shot.”

In a break with the conventional wisdom that holds presidential acceptance speeches should be long on soaring phrases and short on the kinds of real world specifics the other party can pick out to attack, Obama asked his listeners Thursday to join him in pursuing an ambitious set of concrete goals—complete with deadlines and numerical targets. Taken together, the president said, they amount to “a real, achievable plan that will create jobs, expand opportunity, and ensure an economy built to last.”

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Obama set new goals for education, including arresting the rocketing growth of college tuition by at least 50% over the next decade; using community colleges to train 2 million workers for real jobs; and recruiting 100,000 new math and science teachers over the next 10 years.

In the manufacturing sector, the president wants to create 1 million new jobs within the next four years and double the nation’s exports over the next 24 months. Obama set an ambitious goal of slashing oil imports in half by 2020 and expanding the domestic natural gas market to support at least 600,000 new jobs.

With the war in Iraq over and the U.S. involvement in the Afghan conflict winding down, the president vowed to shift the funds that have been going into combat into investment in the domestic economy.

Finally, Obama vowed to cut the federal budget deficit by more than $4 trillion over the next ten years.

The president’s detailed list of ambitious promises came as a kind of challenge to his Republican opponent, who thus far has been consistently vague on concrete pledges of his own—other than a vow to rollback health care reform on his first day in office—while attacking the president for allegedly failing to keep the vows he made in 2008. Referring to last week’s GOP convention in Tampa, Obama said the Republicans “want your vote, but they don’t want you to know their plan.  And that’s because all they have to offer is the same prescription they’ve had for the last 30 years.”

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Clearly, the president and his campaign advisors have decided that the possible benefits of luring Romney into specifics that can be debated, out weigh the risks of giving the GOP targets at which they can launch rhetorical missiles. (Nothing in politics engenders quite as much verbal abuse as a hard number or firm deadline.) Conventional campaign tactics would suggest the presidential reelection team’s calculation is risky, but 2012 is turning out to be anything but a conventional election cycle.

Polls show the national electorate essentially split down the middle and, with the Republicans’ decision Thursday to halt their advertising in Pennsylvania and Romney’s home state of Michigan, it increasingly appears that the election will be decided by a relative small number of voters in a handful of so-called battleground states, particularly Ohio and Florida.

In many of the other contested states—Colorado, Nevada and New Mexico, for example—the Latino vote promises to be critical, something the Democrats acknowledged again Thursday, when they had Eva Longoria among the speakers who proceeded the president to the podium. The actress, who is one of the campaign’s key liaisons to Hispanic voters, was one of the speakers whose presence highlighted the diverse nature of the convention’s delegates.

Earlier in the day Thursday, Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, the convention’s chairman, returned to the gathering’s week-long emphasis on diversity, describing this convention as the “most inclusive” in American history.

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Villaraigosa, a long-time advocate of gay rights, cited with particular force the platform’s endorsement of same sex marriage.

“This has been the most diverse, most inclusive convention ever held—a convention not just of symbolism, but of substance,” Villaraigosa told the delegates. “For the first time, a major party platform recognizes marriage equality as a basic human right.”

He also drew a sharp contrast to the two parties’ approach to immigration, noting—as speakers did Wednesday—that while Obama supports the Dream Act, which would help accomplished young immigrants regularize their legal status, Romney opposes it. Villaraigosa attacked the GOP nominee’s recent suggestion that withdrawing or withholding public services from undocumented immigrants would force many of them to return to their native lands.

“Instead of supporting their dream,” the LA mayor said, “Gov. Romney wants to make life so miserable, so oppressive, so intolerable for them that they would leave behind the life they've built, leave their children behind and ‘self-deport.’ How about that for family values?"