Sunday, Sept. 9, 2012 | 2 a.m.
In accepting the Democratic nomination Thursday night, President Barack Obama framed the campaign as a clear choice “between two fundamentally different visions for the future.”
That was never more apparent than by the end of president’s speech.
The week before, the Republican National Convention featured a dour vision, saturated in negative rhetoric in which speakers seemed more intent on maligning the president than in laying out a clear plan for America.
In contrast, Obama gave a positive pitch for a return to the American dream, a dream that would expand the middle class. Although many critics dismissed the speech because of its lack of rhetorical highlights, it was an important and serious moment in the campaign.
For the past four years, the president has been dogged by divisive critics who have branded him a “socialist,” trumped up phony controversies and created gridlock in Congress in an attempt to defeat Obama at every turn. The extremists on the far right have breathlessly claimed this election is about “liberty,” saying that the president has undercut American rights and is pushing the country away from its founding ideals.
That type of hyperbole is not only wrong, it has taken the focus off the real issues the country faces.
Obama and the Democrats brought the issue back to the people and our collective role as citizens. The Democratic convention served as a counterbalance to the Republican embrace of Ayn Rand’s philosophy of selfishness and their “we built this” theme.
First, Obama reaffirmed the American belief in individual rights that “no man or government can take away” and trumpeted “the strivers, the dreamers, the risk-takers, the entrepreneurs who have always been the driving force behind our free enterprise system, the greatest engine of growth and prosperity that the world’s ever known.”
Then, Obama noted that Americans have a responsibility as citizens. He said citizenship is “at the very essence of our democracy, the idea that this country only works when we accept certain obligations to one another and to future generations.”
The previous night in his stirring speech, former President Bill Clinton put it this way:
“We think the country works better with a strong middle class, with real opportunities for poor folks to work their way into it, with a relentless focus on the future, with business and government actually working together to promote growth and broadly share prosperity. You see, we believe that ‘we’re all in this together’ is a far better philosophy than ‘you’re on your own.’ ”
That sums up the difference in philosophy quite well. Are Americans part of something bigger than themselves?
In history, the best times come when Americans have rallied around a cause and worked together. The recession should have been such a time, but Obama’s opponents have been so insistent on defeating him and getting their way that they have slowed the recovery with false claims about government “takeovers” and government being the problem, not the solution.
Obama addressed the criticism, saying government wasn’t the answer to all the nation’s problems but it wasn’t the source of the nation’s problems, either. He called people together as Americans.
“We understand that this democracy is ours,” he said. “We, the people, recognize that we have responsibilities as well as rights; that our destinies are bound together; that a freedom which asks only, ‘What’s in it for me,’ a freedom without a commitment to others, a freedom without love or charity or duty or patriotism, is unworthy of our founding ideals and those who died in their defense.
“As citizens, we understand that America is not about what can be done for us. It’s about what can be done by us, together through the hard and frustrating but necessary work of self-government.”
The question for voters this fall is clear, and it will come down to Americans’ view of citizenship: Do we, as Americans, participate and find candidates who can work together, or do we settle in for four more years of a sluggish recovery and political divisiveness?