President Obama’s powerful acceptance speech gave no ground from his last acceptance speech. Despite the anti-government Tea Party spasm that occurred in between, Obama once again offered voters a vision of representative, responsive and responsible government that takes action to solve problems.
In 2008, the President said: “ours is a promise that says government cannot solve all our problems, but what it should do is that which we cannot do for ourselves: protect us from harm and provide every child a decent education; keep our water clean and our toys safe; invest in new schools, and new roads, and science, and technology.”
This time, Obama more directly conjured up a Reverse Reagan: “We don’t think the government can solve all of our problems, but we don’t think the government is the source of all of our problems.”
More importantly, the President made more pointed pledges on historically contentious topics:
Unlike in the 2008 speech, President Obama last night explicitly called for higher taxes on income over $250,000, and eviscerated Republican fealty to tax cuts no matter what the economic circumstances: “all they have to offer is the same prescriptions they’ve had for the last 30 years. Have a surplus? Try a tax cut. Deficit too high — try another.”
He made an even more urgent call to address climate change, confidently countering Romney’s attempt to mock him over the issue: “my plan will continue to reduce the carbon pollution that is heating our planet, because climate change is not a hoax. More droughts and floods and wildfires are not a joke. They are a threat to our children’s future.”
And he uttered a word left unmentioned in the 2008 speech, “regulation.” He wrapped up his tax cut joke with, “feel a cold coming on? Take two tax cuts, roll back some regulations, and call us in the morning.”
He then ties those big issues together to draw a stark philosophical contrast for November:
This is the choice we now face. This is what the election comes down to. Over and over, we’ve been told by our opponents that bigger tax cuts and fewer regulations are the only way, that since government can’t do everything, it should do almost nothing. If you can’t afford health insurance, hope that you don’t get sick. If a company releases toxic pollution into the air your children breathe, well, that’s the price of progress. If you can’t afford to start a business or go to college, take my opponent’s advice and borrow money from your parents. You know what, that’s not who we are. That’s not what this country is about.
And he deftly defused the Republican attempt to twist his words around about his belief that businesses succeed with the help of public investment in things like infrastructure and education.
We honor the strivers, the dreamers, the risk- takers, the entrepreneurs who have always been the driving force behind our free enterprise system, the greatest engine of growth and prosperity that the world’s ever known.
But we also believe in something called citizenship. Citizenship, a word at the very heart of our founding, a word at the very essence of our democracy, the idea that this country only works when we accept certain obligations to one another and to future generations.
There is nothing about the President’s short-term political needs that demand he push these arguments now.
These are the statements of a man asking from voters for an unmistakable, indisputable mandate so he can get things done.
Mitt Romney put a radical conservative vision on the table by picking Rep. Paul Ryan to be his running mate — even if they show little interest explaining the details of that plan now. Gut basic services, pledge specific tax cuts for the rich, pledge to cut the deficit, leave yourself with no other mathematical choice but to raise taxes on the middle class.
President Obama put a very different vision on the table: Publicly invest in infrastructure, clean energy, teachers and first responders. Help pay for it with taxes on the wealthy.
Obama chose not to blur the differences but to spotlight them. If he wins on that basis, he’ll be able to put great pressure on any surviving Republicans to get with the program, because the program won’t be going anywhere.