At Democratic National Convention, Obama should lay out plan for a better second term.
President Obama and the Democratic Party have their work cut out for them at their convention, set to begin Tuesday in Charlotte. Last week, Mitt Romney and the Republican National Convention made as cogent a case for Obama's replacement as the GOP had offered through more than a year of presidential campaigning.
The Democrats have the advantage of getting the last convention word. But after last week, they are obliged to play both offense and defense. The GOP convention wasn't flawless. Vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan in particular gave fact-checkers a field day with a speech laden with distortions of the president's record and his own. But Ryan planted a question that's likely to linger in American minds: "Without a change in leadership, why would the next four years be any different from the last four years?"
Democratic convention theme-setters say they plan a confab focused on the future. They want to make plain to voters how their approach to securing peace and prosperity is superior to the path the Romney-Ryan ticket proposes.
About that, Obama and the Democrats have a good case to make. Republican ideas about job creation center on tax cuts, elimination of business regulation and shrinkage of the safety net for the poor. Those ideas don't add up to either a balanced federal budget or assured access to two vital keys to the 21st century middle class -- education and health care.
But in the wake of the GOP performance in Tampa, laying out an alternative policy path won't be sufficient for Obama and Co. They also must deliver a credible response to Ryan's question.
They must acknowledge the difficulties of the last four years in a way that both tells the truth about the intense GOP resistance Obama has faced and lives up to the presidential truism Harry Truman famously displayed on his Oval Office desk: "The buck stops here." A convention that goes over the top in demonizing Republicans will strike many Americans as buck-passing.
The Democrats need to be full-throated about the positive elements of Obama's record. To be sure, recovery has been disappointingly slow since the Great Recession hit in 2008. But it has not derailed -- despite Tea Party Republicans' willingness to risk knocking it off track during last summer's debt-ceiling fight. Far from being ineffective, as Republicans claimed, the 2009 stimulus bill that was Obama's first major initiative spared the nation from a full-blown depression, most economists agree.
The virtues of the much-maligned Affordable Care Act, a k a Obamacare, deserve ample air time. It remains poorly understood by many Americans. A question ought to be tossed back to Romney, who signed into law a similar plan as governor of Massachusetts but now wants to "repeal and replace" Obamacare: Replace it with what?
Obama's foreign-policy record is strong, and contrasts favorably with Romney's bellicose rhetoric about Iran's nuclear buildup and his vow to shield defense spending from reductions. Minnesotans who were drawn to Texas U.S. Rep. Ron Paul's presidential candidacy because of his objection to American military adventurism should be troubled by Romney's stance.
Four years after the Great Recession hit, Americans are rightfully worried about too little economic progress. And they increasingly question whether the nation's leaders are up to the task at hand. They see two major parties that have grown highly skillful at vilifying each other but seem unable to jointly govern this country. They are alarmed by the many problems that Washington is allowing to fester.
Part of Barack Obama's appeal four years ago was a sense that he could change all that. His reelection may ride on his ability to revive that sense, starting this week.
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