Why Obama's Great Speech Fell Flat

The president achieved everything he wanted to Thursday -- but convincing voters he has a plan will be a long process.


With a poet's pacing, President Obama assured anxious Americans that "our problems can be solved" with his gauzy agenda for more jobs, lower deficits, and leadership they can trust. It was a great speech -- and yet, it fell short.

Obama still has work to do with the vision thing. Convincing voters that he has a credible, practical plan to turn the nation around is a process, not a speech.

Humbled by four tough years in office, the president asked for more time as he braced the country for more pain. "I won't pretend the path I'm offering is quick or easy," he said in a speech that drew sharp contrasts to the GOP agenda. "The path we offer may be harder but it leads to a better place."

"The times have changed," he declared, "and so have I."

Voters already knew Obama could deliver a stemwinder. His rhetorical skills were never in question. In fact, his lyrical promises of hope and change and a post-partisan in 2008 raised expectations so high that Obama was destined to fall short. Especially after the economy collapsed before he took office, forcing Obama to expend political capital on a salvage effort.

And so now voters should be expected to wonder whether the goals he laid out Thursday night will be -- or even can be -- achieved.

Knowing he faces a skeptical, hard-bitten electorate, Obama sought to cast GOP rival Mitt Romney as an empty-suit candidate without a plan. "They want your vote," he said of the GOP ticket, "but they don't want you to know their plan."

It is true that the GOP convention last week in Tampa lacked a specific battle plan to turn around the economy. And, yes, the Obama campaign released Thursday night a six-page agenda labeled "President Obama's Goals for America."

But it wasn't a blueprint as much as it was a collection of lofty goals and promises -- more than Romney put forward last week, less than voters may demand.

To be clear, Obama accomplished almost everything he set out to do Thursday night. And because the speech was so well delivered at the end of a smartly produced three-day convention, Obama now has two months to make the case that his agenda isn't built on mere hope.

He might want to consider offering more details in the debates, policy speeches, and ads.

For now, voters must settle for prose -- like this chestnut channeling both Abe Lincoln and John F. Kennedy:

Presented by

Ron Fournier is editorial director of National Journal.

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