The president, no stranger to momentous speeches, is preparing to deliver what might be his most important address yet. What should he say?
Bill Clinton, Michelle Obama, and a parade of other speakers have gotten Democratic convention delegates and liberals around the country fired up and ready to go this week. Ultimately, though, it's the speech President Obama delivers Thursday night, formally accepting his party's nomination for a second term, that will decide "whether this convention goes down as a success or a failure," says Michael Dawidziak at Newsday. Obama has pulled through before with big, stirring speeches, but facing a lousy economy and a neck-and-neck race with GOP nominee Mitt Romney, Obama will have to top all of his past stem-winders on Thursday, says Bill Plante at CBS News. Indeed, this "may be the most important speech of his life — the one convincing America to keep him on the job." Here, five pieces of unsolicited advice for the president as he prepares to wrap up the Democratic convention:
1. Obama must offer a vision for the future
Romney is doing everything he can to make the election "a referendum on the past four years," says Joe Frolik at the Cleveland Plain Dealer. "Obama needs to seize the future," and clearly spell out his goals for a second term in a way that makes the next four years look brighter under him than they would be on Romney's watch. To do that, the president has to offer up "a few big, but doable ideas — an all-out, all-fronts energy effort, perhaps." Maybe then he can "force disappointed voters to take another look and maybe recall why they liked him so much in the first place."
2. He has to make it clear what he stands for
Early on, Obama could sum up his purpose in "a short elevator speech," says David Brooks in The New York Times. First he "was here to heal our politics," then to avert financial disaster, then to expand health-care coverage. But the last two years of battling with the GOP have shrunken him, and now he seems "driven by fear" instead of a desire to tackle big problems. His policies are "bite-size." If Obama wants a second term, he has to "define America's most pressing challenge and how he plans to address it." If he throws himself behind the Bowles-Simpson debt reduction plan, for example, he could "galvanize a new center-left majority."
3. Obama should defend the role of government
Republicans have been attacking the role of government for decades, "with passion and zest," says Michael Waldman at The New Republic, and Democrats have offered hardly a peep in response. Obama's acceptance speech is "precisely the right time to set out a broad defense of government’s role," as Franklin Delano Roosevelt did with his classic 1936 acceptance speech. Speaking in Philadelphia, FDR said that just as the Founding Fathers fought political tyranny, the Democrats of the '30s were fighting "economic royalists," and using government to do it. Obama ought to make a similar stand.
4. He should start mending fences with the GOP
Four years ago, Obama took the controversy over his former pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, and turned it "into a discourse on how Americans can overcome differences" on race, says Robert Stein at Connecting the Dots. On Thursday, Obama needs to bring back that "healing Barack Obama." This time, he should reach across the aisle and focus on fixing our "bitterly prejudiced politics." If he does that, he'll be a candidate "worth working for and fighting for again."
5. Most of all, he should renew Americans' hope
To Democrats, Obama "won't be able to say anything wrong," says Michael Dawidziak at Newsday. It's the undecided voters in swing states who he has to win over. To that end, Obama "will try to cast the Republicans as not caring about the middle class. He will try to scare the American voters about what a GOP victory would mean." That's fine, but he needs more. He must spell out to skeptics "why they can have confidence that his re-election will lead the country to prosperity." Franklin Delano Roosevelt did it in 1936. Four years into the Great Depression, he convinced voters that "prosperity was right around the corner," and won in a landslide. Obama has to do that, too. In dark times, a little optimism goes a long way.
Other stories from this topic:
- Opinion Brief: Did Bill Clinton's convention speech boost Obama — or upstage him?
- Opinion Brief: Moving Obama's speech inside: Necessity or panic move?
- The Bullpen: President Obama is running scared from the Reagan Metric