Obama sets high goals for a second term

"We don't think government can solve all our problems," President Obama told delegates at the Democratic National Convention. "But we don't think that government is the source of all our problems."
"We don't think government can solve all our problems," President Obama told delegates at the Democratic National Convention. "But we don't think that government is the source of all our problems." (LYNNE SLADKY / Associated Press)
Posted: September 08, 2012

CHARLOTTE - President Obama spoke of tough choices on a difficult path that "leads to a better place" for the nation Thursday as he claimed the Democratic nomination, asked for more time to solve America's continuing economic problems and set ambitious goals for a second term.

Most of all, he said, voters need to choose between a vision of interdependence and the philosophy of Mitt Romney and the Republican Party, which Obama said amounts to slashing tax rates for the wealthy while cutting spending and tax deductions that help the middle class and rolling back regulations on business.

"We don't think government can solve all our problems," he said to rising cheers from a packed arena. "But we don't think that government is the source of all our problems any more than are welfare recipients, or corporations, or unions, or immigrants, or gays, or any other group we're told to blame for our troubles."

Americans "recognize that we have responsibilities as well as rights; that our destinies are bound together; that a freedom which only asks what's in it for me, a freedom without a commitment to others, a freedom without love or charity or duty or patriotism, is unworthy of our founding ideals, and those who died in their defense," Obama said.

The nation's first black president, Obama stood before the delegates and the nation without the aura that surrounded him in 2008 when he was seen as the transformative head of a movement by his more fervent backers. Now, his image is dinged and dented, the by-product of fighting monstrous problems for almost four years on the unforgiving field of battle that is Washington.

Once the avatar of hope and change, Obama on Thursday found himself needing to argue against change, asking for more time to build on the accomplishments of the first term. He made a point of saying that he had never promised the way forward would be easy.

Though the economy is recovering - at least, according to the technical measures economists use - it is still mired in a slump, with millions of Americans out of work and an official unemployment rate of 8.3 percent. Supermajorities of voters in opinion polls say the country is on the wrong track, and most also express frustration with continuing partisan gridlock. Obama, by the way, also promised four years ago to reduce the politics of rancor.

He avoided blaming others Thursday night for the economic problems and acknowledged more needed to be done, but said that the depth and complexity of what he faced is going to take more time to work on.

"I won't pretend the path I'm offering is quick or easy," he said. "I never have. 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 decades. It will require common effort, shared responsibility, and the kind of bold, persistent experimentation that Franklin Roosevelt pursued during the only crisis worse than this one."

The president's big night had been scheduled for the mammoth home stadium of the NFL's Carolina Panthers, but the reelection campaign canceled the show Wednesday, citing the threat of violent thunderstorms. Instead, the celebration unfolded indoors at the Time Warner Cable Arena.As it turned out, a torrential downpour hit the city in late afternoon; by the time Obama spoke at 10:30 p.m., however, the weather was hot but dry.

In a departure from tradition, no balloons cascaded from the ceiling after Obama finished speaking and soaked in the cheers of the crowd; convention planners did not have enough time to rig the netting.

Nobody at the Democratic convention had told the activists in the hall or the nation watching at home just what Obama would try to accomplish in a second term. He had perhaps the largest single TV audience of the entire campaign, and certainly it was his the last chance to talk about his plans without the media filter, or a live opponent to contradict him in the debates.

Obama pledged to create one million new manufacturing jobs by the end of 2016 and double exports by the end of 2014; to cut net oil imports in half by 2020 and support 600,000 natural gas jobs by the end of the decade; to cut the rate of growth in college tuition costs by half over the next decade; recruit 100,000 math and science teachers over the next 10 years, and train two million workers for jobs at community colleges.

Some of those goals were adapted from the campaign four years ago, and the president did not offer a detailed blueprint for accomplishing them.

Earlier, Vice President Biden ridiculed Romney's promise to go on a jobs tour as president, referring to the Republican's past as CEO of the private equity firm Bain Capital.

"Well, with all his support for outsourcing, it's going to have to be a foreign trip," Biden said.

The vice president aimed his words at the middle class, attacking Romney and his running mate, Paul Ryan, for a plan to replace the Medicare guaranteed benefit for those younger than 55 with vouchers for retirees to buy their own private insurance; and for proposing deeper tax cuts for the wealthy.

Military service was featured more prominently during the three days of the Democratic convention than it was during the GOP meeting last week, and Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry on Thursday tore into Romney as naive and unprepared on foreign policy issues.

Kerry extolled the president for bringing the war in Iraq to an end, managing the Afghanistan war, and making the tough call to send a Navy Seal team into Pakistan to kill the world's most notorious terrorist, who masterminded the 9-11 attacks. He contrasted Obama's experience with Romney's tough talk.

Said Kerry, the 2004 Democratic nominee: "Ask Osama bin Laden if he is better off now than he was four years ago."


Contact Thomas Fitzgerald

at 215-854-2718 or tfitzgerald@phillynews.com, or follow@tomfitzgerald on Twitter.

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