Obama’s Convention Speech: The Real Mission (September 6, 2012)

“But, mostly, I wish he’d be for something. I wish he’d rise above the petty tactical considerations that have shrunk him over the past two years. I wish he’d finally define what he stands for. A liberal populist? A Clintonian moderate? At some point, you have to choose.”

The quote above was pulled from “independent” New York Times columnist David Brooks’ latest effort. In a piece of commentary entitled “The Elevator Speech,” Brooks’ waxes nostalgically for the Obama before 2010, whereafter stymied by a do-nothing, Republican-controlled House, the administration’s agenda slowed to a virtual standstill. However, Brooks fails to recognize that this state of affairs was the albatross around Obama’s neck, referring to the post-2010 period instead as one where the POTUS’ “purpose did not survive contact with reality.”

Though I find myself frequently frustrated after a reading of Brooks’ punditry, headed into the main events of this week’s Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, NC, I was incensed. The continual reference to the first Obama administration as somehow lame duck boggles the mind, and it isn’t only independents and conservatives who are guilty of painting the President’s record in such broad strokes. The Facebook fan page “Liberals Against Obama” currently has 577 “likes” with the tag line “Take back the progressive agenda.” Postings from the group include gems such as this: “Looks like the Republicans are doing their best to scare people into voting for Obama :(” I only wish I were editorializing the sad face emoticon.

It’s hard to understand how Obama’s first term could constitute failure, especially viewed through the eyes of his liberal base. While it’s true that the last two years have been punctuated by debacles such as the debt ceiling debate, which ultimately saw the country’s credit rating downgraded, the left-leaning electorate’s only concern ought to have been a leader who failed to recognize that Speaker of the House John Boehner never intended to show up at the bargaining table. Yet it’s impossible not to admire Obama for the good-faith effort and for ultimately revolting against a Tea Party “compromise” that would have savaged the social safety net while doing precious little to generate revenue.

It’s tough to disagree with the impression that this week’s convention is a high-profile opportunity to reset the tone for Obama’s second term, as well as a chance to lay out a specific agenda that promises to address continuing social ills like the disintegration of the middle class. But compare this to last week’s Republican celebration which was light on specifics, high on crazy (Clint Eastwood) and factual gymnastics (the Paul Ryan speech) and created a partisan vacuum where the chosen Presidential candidate could not tout his greatest political accomplishments, seeing as they now sit too far to the left.

It is expected that the President will share his vision for job creation and revitalizing opportunities for the bottom 99 percent, while addressing other issues like immigration reform, climate change and a host of other challenges facing the country. But Obama’s address is also a ripe opportunity to do the one thing he has failed to do over the partisan screaming of the last few years: tout his MAJOR accomplishments. Interrupting the country’s financial free fall, rescuing the struggling auto industry, revamping the broken health care system in the face of dire opposition, advancing equality for GLBT citizens marked by the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” taking out public enemy #1 Osama bin Laden while displaying deft foreign policy skills in many other challenging situations and ending a pointless, costly war in the process. If this record represents failure, then sign me up for four more years of it.


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