Four years ago in Denver he promised to change America and, in the process, the whole world. President Barack Obama’s speech in Charlotte, accepting his party’s nomination for the upcoming White House race, was far more sober and less ambitious. Vibrant rhetoric still plays a part in his quest for re-election, but, with the magic of 2008 having dispersed, he had to content himself with simply asking his compatriots for more time to turn around the economy and roll out his political program.
This time Obama has presented himself as the savior of the middle classes, avoiding visionary messages and instead concentrating on a defense of basic values in difficult times. Probably the standout section of his speech was his description of a government committed to defending the weakest and those who suffer discrimination, as opposed to merciless prescriptions provided by his rival, the Republican Mitt Romney, a preacher of profits and implacable critic of governmental intervention.
Like the insipid convention season as a whole, Obama’s speech by no means represents a watershed moment in terms of his re-election battle. Level in the polls with Romney, the president has two hard months ahead in which he must convince Americans to trust in his leadership — in particular those who enthusiastically gave him their support in 2008 and now feel disappointed by the immense gulf between what was hoped for and what has actually been achieved. There are today three million more people out of work, the US public debt grows inexorably, Guantanamo remains open, the health reform is not yet home and dry, immigration is still a troublesome issue, and the United States is viewed with the same hostility in some parts of the world as it was under George W. Bush.
The biggest problem for Obama is that this election is going to be decided on economic grounds, unless an international crisis of mammoth proportions should blow up between now and November. On that crucial terrain, the incumbent lacks a convincing strategy beyond his mantra of not punishing the middle classes with tax raises, his promises to reduce the deficit and a proven sense of social justice.
More than 60 percent of Americans believe that the country is being badly governed. The more cautious and mature Obama of Charlotte (“Times have changed and so have I”) appealed directly to an indeterminate centrist electorate, those undecided voters from both sides whose votes will decide the outcome in a race that the president would have little chance of winning were it not for the weaknesses of the rival before him.
Romney’s crude plutocratic vision, combined with his at times laughable take on foreign policy, does little for the chances of the radicalized Republican Party to return to the White House.