Inquirer Editorial: Making a case for reelection

President Obama and Bill Clinton.
President Obama and Bill Clinton. (CAROLYN KASTER / Associated Press)
Posted: September 10, 2012

Casting the election as a battle for middle-class survival, declaring that economic healing is slow, and promising a future that lifts up all Americans, President Obama made a strong case for a second term.

His Democratic convention was a political success because he reenergized or, as the fluttering placards in the Charlotte, N.C., arena told television viewers, "Fired Up" dispirited party activists. Their job is to widen Obama's slim margin over Republican candidate Mitt Romney by convincing voters that Obama deserves a chance to finish what he started.

Outside the Time Warner Cable Arena, though, Obama still suffers from an "enthusiasm gap" among Americans falling behind on their bills. Even voters less harmed by the financial crisis see neighbors move out of foreclosed homes and coworkers join the ranks of the unemployed. They worry if they are next.

The president's cause was helped by the party's great communicator, former President Bill Clinton. His speech was more direct and convincing than Obama has been.

Democrats last week showed they have found party discipline as they pounded the same themes of economic opportunity over and over again. They claimed as their base workers, women, minorities, gays, employers, and everyone else identifying as an American.

On the domestic front, they argued that Obama halted the economy's nosedive. He bailed out the auto industry, lowered health-care costs, and pushed through a stimulus package. On foreign policy, he ended the irrational war in Iraq, posted a pullout deadline from Afghanistan, and killed Osama bin Laden, who was responsible for the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

Linking the two in sound bites and bumper stickers, Democrats declared, "Bin Laden is dead. GM is alive."

But clever phrases won't help Obama get past criticism that he hasn't been able to win over congressional Republicans, some of whom vowed to hold him to a single term. They refused to compromise on the budget, engineered a debt crisis, and filibustered appointees to agencies responsible for settling labor-management disputes and protecting consumers from unfair lending practices. Obama showed an ability to play hard when he made recess appointments, but voters need to see more of that commanding style.

The candidates offer dramatically different visions of the future. Romney says government has to get out of the path of innovation. Obama says government's purpose is to enable innovation while ensuring that the vulnerable don't become roadkill on the path to prosperity.

Voters will find good reasons to go with either candidate, and that's reflected in recent polls showing a close race. The task for each is to prove he can keep Americans safe in a world of turmoil and help them thrive in an uncertain economy.

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