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Obama refuses to make promises he isn’t sure he can keep

The president didn’t have much new to say in his convention speech.

President Barack Obama accepting the 2012 U.S Democratic presidential nomination during the final night of the Democratic National Convention.
REUTERS/Jim Young

President Obama’s Charlotte acceptance speech wasn’t one of the five best of the convention, and maybe not in the top 10. There was nothing particularly wrong with it, and it was far more honest and realistic than those of Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan from last week. But the president didn’t have much new to say last night. I never caught a thread running through the speech. I was listening hard for concrete proposals for the second term, and heard none.

He put out some numbers on things like the number of jobs he hoped to create and how much he hoped to reduce the deficit. But those are merely goals, subject to not only the unknowable political developments that will determine how much cooperation he will have in Congress but to the even more unknowable vagaries of the economy.

In a way, I could appreciate Obama’s unwillingness to make promises he isn’t sure he can keep. The latest Repub refrain —  Mitt Romney himself conveyed this Thursday during a brief appearance before reporters — is that Obama is a proven promise-breaker. Romney claims to have no interest in what Obama says he wants to do in a second term, because the country knows he won’t do it anyway.

This is a garbage argument. As anyone who watched the convention knows, Obama can cite a long list of 2008 pledges that he has fulfilled. And the ones he didn’t fulfill were not for lack of trying. It would be such a great thing for the country and for the rest of the campaign if Romney would limit himself to provable facts and honest arguments he can back up.

Perhaps the summary of the Repub case against Obama’s reelection was mockingly summarized by Bill Clinton Wednesday night. I quoted it yesterday but here it is again: “We left him a total mess. He hasn’t cleaned it up fast enough, so fire him and put us back in…”

Obama did have a little fun in summarizing the Republican prescription for all that ails you, thus:

Have a surplus? Try a tax cut. Deficit too high? Try another. Feel a cold coming on? Take two tax cuts, roll back some regulations, and call us in the morning.

Many analysts noticed that Obama constantly tried to frame the election not as a referendum on his first term but as a choice between what will happen in the next four years if he remains versus what will happen if the Repubs take over – or, as Obama put it last night, “a choice between two fundamentally different visions for America’s future.”

That works for me. Although the political niceties don’t permit this kind of candor, Obama is (and long has been) willing to acknowledge that the recovery is not as robust as he once hoped it would be. And that his plan for a second term apparently is to keep doing what he has been doing and prevent the Republicans from repealing everything he has done, as they keep pledging to do if they ever acquire the position to do so.

Other speeches

Sen. John Kerry, whom many analysts believe is auditioning to be secretary of state, gave a foreign policy address and got off perhaps the applause line of the night: “Ask Osama bin Laden if he is better off now than he was four years ago.”

Joe Biden’s speech was a minor disaster, mostly because it went on too long and went over the same ground (Obama saved the auto industry; Obama killed bin Laden) that everyone else had been talking about all night.

If it’s simple eloquence you want, take seven minutes out of your busy day and watch U.S. Rep. John Lewis, 72, who was a Martin Luther King disciple and one of the original Freedom Riders, talk about his first trip to Charlotte in 1961. Here it is: