CHARLOTTE, N.C. — What do you do after hope and change have failed?
This was the question Barack Obama needed to answer in accepting his party’s nomination for a second term Thursday night. Borne into office on the wings of those two words and their promise of a new “post partisan” nation, Obama saw that promise promptly swamped by Republicans who waged a fierce campaign of obstructionism.
Granted, this is not how Mitt Romney remembers it. At the GOP convention in Tampa, he spun a dewy-eyed fable about how Republicans were really, really rooting for the president to succeed but then, gosh darn, he up and disappointed them. But one need only recall Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell declaring it his party’s top priority to deny the president a second term to know what a fib that is. Contrary to wishing the president success, Rush Limbaugh, poet laureate of the GOP, said the exact opposite: “I hope he fails.”
So from the beginning, the GOP refused to do. Then, it used the resultant gridlock to blame the president for divisiveness and ineptitude. It was a cynical strategy of legislative malpractice that left Obama looking not unlike Peter Parker pre-spider bite, a hapless nebbish figuratively shoved into his locker, metaphorically robbed of his lunch money.
Thursday’s speech, then, was the coming-out party for the Obama 2.0 that has emerged over the last year, the one who no longer begs the GOP to play nice, the one who takes unilateral action, the one who stands up a little more readily for what he believes, and is not above the occasional cheap shot. It was not the best speech of the convention — Michelle Obama gave that. It was not the best argument for a second term. Bill Clinton made that. But it was a feisty, combative address — a metric of how the man who promised hope and change has, himself, been changed.
Obama needled the opposition at every turn and drew repeated lines in the sand: “I refuse to….” “I will not….” Obama even implicitly rebuked the patron saint of Republicanism, Ronald Reagan (peace be unto him) who famously said, “Government is not the solution to the problem. Government is the problem.”
Replied the 44th president to the 40th: “We don’t think the government can solve all of our problems, but we don’t think the government is the source of all of our problems any more than our welfare recipients or corporations or unions or immigrants or gays or any other group we’re told to blame for our troubles.”