President Barack Obama, transformed from inspiring hope-and-change candidate into struggling stay-the-course incumbent, promised Americans wary of giving him another term that "our problems can be solved" if only voters will grant him four more years.
"Know this, America: Our problems can be solved," he told thousands of delegates to the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C. "Our challenges can be met. The path we offer may be harder, but it leads to a better place. And I'm asking you to choose that future."
His appeal aimed to build on a rousing speech from Michelle Obama and former president Bill Clinton. The first lady assured disenchanted voters who backed her husband in 2008 but are wary or wavering today that four years of political knife fights and hard compromises had not stripped her husband of his moral core. And Clinton cast the current president as the heir to the policies that charged the economy of the 1990s and yielded government surpluses.
"I won't pretend the path I'm offering is quick or easy. I never have," Obama told the cheering crowd in the Time Warner Cable Arena and a television audience expected to number in the tens of millions. "You didn't elect me to tell you what you wanted to hear. You elected me to tell you the truth. And the truth is, it will take more than a few years for us to solve challenges that have built up over a decade."
Obama's main vulnerability is the still-sputtering economy with a stubbornly high unemployment rate at 8.3 percent nearly four years after he took office vowing to restore it to health. In Charlotte, he ridiculed the Republican approach championed by Mitt Romney.
"All they have to offer is the same prescriptions they've had for the last thirty years: 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!" he said, to laughter and cheers from the crowd.
And it was with ridicule, too, that he portrayed Romney and vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan as heirs to George W. Bush's foreign policy, and unfit to manage America's relations with the world.
"My opponent and his running mate are new to foreign policy, but from all that we've seen and heard, they want to take us back to an era of blustering and blundering that cost America so dearly," he said.
"After all, you don't call Russia our number one enemy—not al Qaeda, Russia—unless you're still stuck in a Cold War mind warp, he said. "You might not be ready for diplomacy with Beijing if you can't visit the Olympics without insulting our closest ally. My opponent said it was "tragic" to end the war in Iraq, and he won't tell us how he'll end the war in Afghanistan. I have, and I will." (In fact, Romney has supported an Obama-endorsed, NATO-approved timetable to withdraw the alliance's combat troops by the end of 2014.)
The speech reflected Obama's drive to convince voters to see the election as a choice, and not as a referendum on an embattled incumbent whose job approval ratings are below the 50-percent mark, a traditional danger zone.
"On every issue, the choice you face won't be just between two candidates or two parties. It will be a choice between two different paths for America. A choice between two fundamentally different visions for the future," he said.
At the same time, he did not spell out in detail his plans for a second term should he get one--even as he acknowledged that he is not the candidate he was when he pursued his history-making 2008 drive for the White House.
"You know, I recognize that times have changed since I first spoke to this convention. Times have changed—and so have I," he said. "If you turn away now—if you buy into the cynicism that the change we fought for isn't possible, well, change will not happen."
Obama's speech came after an evening studded with stars, from Hollywood's Scarlett Johansson, who pressed young voters to register and cast ballots in November, to James Taylor, who quipped: "I'm an old white guy and I love Barack Obama" in between renditions of his folksy classics. And he was preceded onstage by Vice President Joe Biden, who gave a long-form version of this memorable reelection slogan: "Osama Bin Laden is dead, and General Motors is alive."
In addition to the economy, the president highlighted his support for access to abortion, and offered his longest remarks on the fight against climate change in recent memory.
"Yes, 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're a threat to our children's future. And in this election, you can do something about it."
Obama had moved his speech from nearby Bank of America Stadium into the Time Warner Cable Arena citing concerns about the weather. Republicans charged he merely feared not being able to fill the 74,000-seat space. Democrats countered that they had more than 65,000 ticket holders.