First Lady Michelle Obama and daughters Sasha, left, and Malia join President… (Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles…)
CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Four years after riding a wave of optimism into the White House, Barack Obama offered a sobering message about the future as he asked Americans for another term to help complete the country's recovery from the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression.
Accepting the 2012 Democratic nomination Thursday night, Obama offered an updated version of the message of hope and change that brought him to office. He said that he'd been humbled by the burdens of office and told millions watching on TV that he feels the sorrows of ordinary Americans who have lost loved ones in war or their homes or jobs to the recession.
"While I'm very proud of what we've achieved together, I'm far more mindful of my own failings, knowing exactly what Lincoln meant when he said, 'I have been driven to my knees many times by the overwhelming conviction that I had no place else to go,' " the president said near the end of his 38-minute speech.
Reaching out to the relatively small number of voters who are still undecided, he framed the election as a choice between competing visions of the future, and between differing ideas about whether government is a friend or an enemy.
"We don't think government can solve all our problems," he said, "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." He contended that shared responsibility, rather than benefits "reserved for the few," would help solve problems that have been building for decades and "will take more than a few years for us to solve."
Mitt Romney, he said, was merely writing the same prescription that Republicans have offered since Ronald Reagan was president.
"Have a surplus? Try a tax cut. Deficit too high? Try another," Obama said, as the convention crowd greeted his mockery with laughter and cheers. "Feel a cold coming on? Take two tax cuts, roll back some regulations, and call us in the morning!"
He also pushed back against the Romney campaign argument that his administration is hostile to domestic energy production, arguing that the U.S. was less dependent on imported oil than at any time in nearly 20 years and setting a goal of even steeper declines by 2020.
And he highlighted an issue that had gone virtually unmentioned at either party's convention, declaring that "climate change is not a hoax. More drought and floods and wildfires are not a joke. They are a threat to our children's future. And in this election you can do something about it."
But in a presidential contest that may well be decided by which campaign has more success turning out its supporters, the president devoted much of his time to addressing the disappointment of those unhappy with a lack of progress addressing the nation's problems. He gave a quick review of his achievements, including a sweeping healthcare overhaul, protection against deportation for some young illegal immigrants, allowing gays to serve openly in the military and ending the war in Iraq.
"You are the change," he declared, to rapturous applause. "You did that!"
Still, Obama took pains to reprise his argument from 2008 that recovery would not be a quick or painless process.
"You didn't elect me to tell you what you wanted to hear," he said. "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."
At the same time, in a message tailored for the ears of his younger supporters, he offered an upbeat argument for staying involved in electoral politics.
"Our problems can be solved. Our challenges can be met. The path we offer may be harder, but it leads to a better place," he said. "That is why I am running for a second term as president of the United States." At that, the convention floor exploded in a sea of blue "Forward" signs being waved by delegates chanting "Four more years!"
The third and final night of the Democratic gathering featured a bevy of celebrity appearances and speeches by both names on the party's ticket. That was a departure from the tradition of providing the vice presidential running mate with his own night onstage. That role was taken by former President Clinton on Wednesday night.
Inside the hall, Vice President Joe Biden drew cheers with his response to the "Are you better off?" challenge that Republicans are posing to voters.
"Osama bin Laden is dead, and General Motors is alive," he said.
Playing the running mate's traditional attacking role, the 69-year-old Biden said Romney is not "a bad guy" but that, as head of the private equity firm he co-founded, Bain Capital, he became more concerned with "balance sheets" and "write-offs" than with people.