Obama convention speech promises broad government role in Americans’ lives

Neil Munro White House Correspondent
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CHARLOTTE, N.C. — President Barack Obama‘s 2012 Democratic National Convention speech asked voters to embrace a planned economy where government leaders would set goals for large swathes of the economy.

“I’m asking you to rally around a set of goals for your country — goals in manufacturing, energy, education, national security, and the deficit; a real, achievable plan that will lead to new jobs, more opportunity, and rebuild this economy on a stronger foundation,” he declared.

But Obama didn’t promise a rapid benefit from an expanded government.

“I won’t pretend the path I’m offering is quick or easy. … It will take more than a few years for us to solve challenges that have built up over decades,” he said, implicitly acknowledging the public’s skepticism about his government-focused economic policies after almost four years of record deficits and unemployment, declining wages and shrinking wealth.

In fact, he did not mention his greatest success in expanding government, the health care law, perhaps because of its continued unpopularity.

The latest unemployment data is slated for release the morning after his speech, Aug. 7, and may show another uptick from the official rate of 8.3 percent.

The president’s speech amped even up the tone of continued crisis by offering an alarming picture of the global climate.

“Climate change is not a hoax,” he said to a roar of applause. “More droughts and floods and wildfires are not a joke. They’re a threat to our children’s future. And in this election, you can do something about it.”

Obama’s introductory video pushed the same crisis-oriented themes, almost four years after his inauguration amid hype about “hope and change,” and promises about slowing the rise of the world’s oceans. (RELATED: Obama promises leadership like FDR)

“We’ve been through a lot together … but we’ve been through tough times before,” the narrator said, shortly before highlighting the successful killing of Osama bin Laden.

Americans “don’t quit, they don’t give up,” Obama declares in the video.

“That’s the incredible gift that the American people keep giving back to me at this point.”

The party’s 20,000 delegates cheered wildly for Obama, who came onto the huge stage after three days of buildup by various advocates for unions and gays, Hispanics and African-Americans, feminists, veterans and business leaders.

Obama’s progressive call was reinforced by his look backwards to President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, whom many progressives believe deserves the credit for the country’s emergence from the Great Depression.

Voters should pick, Obama said, a government that pursues a policy “of ‘bold, persistent experimentation’ that Franklin Roosevelt pursued during the only crisis worse than this one.”

That phrase came from a speech Roosevelt delivered in 1932, three years after the start of the depression in 1929, and a decade before the stalled economy began to grow rapidly amid World War II.

“The country needs — and unless I mistake its temper, the country demands — ‘bold, persistent experimentation,'” Roosevelt said then. “It is common sense to take a method and try it: If it fails, admit it frankly and try another. But above all, try something.”

Roosevelt coupled this demand for government intervention with a hint at revolution, saying in the next sentence that “the millions who are in want will not stand by silently forever while the things to satisfy their needs are within easy reach.”

He asked American citizens to “rally,” and said “teachers must inspire, principals must lead, parents must instill a thirst for learning.”

Obama’s offer of a planned economy was coupled with repeated invocation of the military. That theme was also used in a new video played shortly before the president’s speech.

The video showed Vice President Joe Biden lauding Americans for “bravery.” Biden, in his own prime-time speech, also described the party’s policy in military terms.

“We’re on a mission to move this nation forward — from doubt and downturn, to promise and prosperity. A mission we will continue, and a mission we will complete,” he said, shortly before praising Obama’s role in the May 2011 raid to kill bin Laden, the global leader of the al-Qaida terror network.

Like Obama, Biden also downplayed expectations of quick success. “You never quit on America,” he said. “And you deserve a President who will never quit on you. And one more thing that our opponents are dead wrong about: America is NOT in decline,” he said defensively.

The word “NOT” was rendered in upper-case letters in the prepared text the Obama re-election campaign distributed Thursday evening.

If Americans choose his proposal, Obama said, he promised benefits — although without a timeline or recognition of the private sector’s productivity.

“We’re offering a better path — a future where we keep investing in wind and solar and clean coal. … If you choose this path, we can cut our oil imports by half in 2020 and support more that 600,000 new jobs,” he said.

His long speech included a few complimentary references to the private sector. “We don’t think government can solve all our problems,” he insisted, before adding that “we don’t think the government is the source of all of our probems.”

Obama quickly returned the subject to government’s role.

“We, the people, recognize that we have responsibilities, that our destinies are bound together, that a freedom which asks only what’s in it for me … is unworthy of our founding ideals.”

The word “people” was capitalized in Obama’s prepared text.

He ended with a resounding — and wildly cheered — repeat of his basic theme of a bigger government pursing big goals. “I never said this journey would be easy, and I won’t promise that now.”

“Yes, our path is harder — but it leads to a better place. Yes, our road is longer, but we travel it together. We don’t turn back. We leave no one behind.”

“We pull each other up.”

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