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Obama's Speech: Defining Liberalism and Upping the Ante

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Obama Convention 2012

By Ben Cohen: I live blogged Obama's speech last night and was left a little underwhelmed by it and couldn't quite put my finger on exactly why. Jonathan Chait has a very insightful piece in the New York Magazine that sums up my feelings on the speech that was a bit of a let down but still did what was necessary to define the election in terms favorable to the Democrats. He writes:

The speech came, by and large, as a disappointment to political journalists and other campaign junkies. We have heard almost all of it before. The speech was probably aimed at undecided voters, who spend almost no time following politics. They received the paint-by-numbers outline of the election choice.

And I think this was pretty much exactly the strategy - a calculated play that aimed to cash in on the Obama of 2008.  But while the speech contained a lot of flowery rhetoric, it was a little less than four years ago and there were bolder definitions of the struggle most Americans face on a day to day basis and the choice they have this election - and that was a good thing. Obama basically told Americans: You are not alone, you can make a difference, and you decide how you want your government to operate. He said:

You’re the reason there’s a little girl with a heart disorder in Phoenix who’ll get the surgery she needs because an insurance company can’t limit her coverage. You did that.

You’re the reason a young man in Colorado who never thought he’d be able to afford his dream of earning a medical degree is about to get that chance. You made that possible.

You’re the reason a young immigrant who grew up here and went to school here and pledged allegiance to our flag will no longer be deported from the only country she’s ever called home; why selfless soldiers won’t be kicked out of the military because of who they are or who they love; why thousands of families have finally been able to say to the loved ones who served us so bravely: “Welcome home.”

The President rammed home this theme over and over again, highlighting the stark difference in philosophy between the Republicans and the Democrats. He basically offered a full throttled defense of the philosophy of liberalism with no apologies. And it seems to me that this is a crucial measure needed to box Romney in over the coming months. Writes Chait:

Obama poured vast swaths of American society and history into the communitarian frame – soldiers, teachers, public-spirited business owners, and so on – all in some sense emblemizing shared responsibility.....This theme appeared in Obama’s rhetoric four years ago, too. If there’s a difference between now and then, it is this: During his first campaign, Obama saw the blend of individual and communal responsibility as the obvious, shared belief of the entire country. Now he has come to see it as the belief of an embattled half of America.

Look, there's not a huge amount of policy difference between the candidates or parties - enough to make a difference in the real world, but its not as if it's socialism vs capitalism. It's basically unfettered capitalism with no safety net vs slightly regulated capitalism with a bit of a safety net. There is however a serious divide when it comes to the underpinnings of their philosophies, and the Democrats clearly feel that this can make or break the election. As Bob Cesca writes:

This might not have felt like the Iowa speech from 2008, but it will be remembered as an historic one because it defined the new Democratic Party — it defined the composition of government and the significant role it can take in American life.

It was basically a beliefs speech that drew a line in the sand between Liberalism and Conservatism, and it dared Romney to up the ante over the coming months. This, I think, was an excellent strategic move because Romney has chosen to denounce literally everything Obama believes in and present himself as a stark alternative to the President's 'socialistic' ways. This means Romney has to present a nastier, meaner vision for America, and the Democrats are betting on voters not buying into it. Obama laid out a vision for an inclusive America where citizens help each other and government does good rather than bad - a brighter future for a country ravaged by the excesses of corporations and banks that cannot afford to go back to its old ways.

And it seems like a good bet to me.

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