Tony Dejak, AP
The following editorial appeared recently in the Miami Herald:
"You can only run on hope and change once," a top political adviser to Mitt Romney said last week. Therein lies the challenge for President Obama as Democrats begin assembling in Charlotte to nominate him for a second term in the White House.
With the nation gripped by joblessness and the fear that this economic decline is permanent, Mr. Obama and his party need to find a new message to convince voters that he deserves four more years. This is a far more daunting task than they faced in 2008, when the economy was entering a steep dive and U.S. combat troops were fully engaged in two wars that were sapping the nation's strength and morale.
At that time, the collapse convinced voters that a young newcomer to national politics could steer the nation back to prosperity. Today, the young, fresh-faced senator who vowed to deliver on a range of promises has become a battle-scarred incumbent, his inspiring theme of 2008 replaced by political rhetoric attacking Mr. Romney and his advocates in Congress. Even former supporters are disappointed with the president's performance.
By all means, Mr. Obama should defend his record. There's nothing wrong with bragging about getting bin Laden. It ain't bragging if it's true. He inherited a recession deeper than any since the Great Depression, and by any measure the economy is stronger today than it was in 2008, when 4.4 million jobs were lost during President Bush's last year in office, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. And, yes, his task has been made immeasurably harder by the unprecedented level of obstruction from congressional Republicans, whose leader in the Senate said his priority was to ensure Mr. Obama did not get a second term.
But there has to be more to a presidential campaign than blaming the other guys for everything. Americans are looking for someone who can inspire a sense of purpose and optimism, precisely what Mr. Obama did last time around but has failed to deliver lately.
Americans don't need to be told over and over who's to blame for the nation's political paralysis. They get it. That's why Congress' popularity ratings are so low. But Mr. Obama has not done a good job of communicating what he would do differently in a second term to make sure that the next four years are not like the last four. That's what skeptical voters want to hear.
Beyond offering a unifying message at the Charlotte convention, the president also needs to provide a new and bold legislative agenda. A laundry list of policy objectives doesn't have to be boring if it's persuasive. Mr. Obama's task should be to convince this week's audience that he's hit the reset button and has a practical plan to get Americans back on the road to prosperity.
He can start by making it clear that he understands what his own Treasury Department declared in the latest Financial Report of the United States Government: "Current policies cannot be sustained indefinitely." It's not enough to declare that the budget plan proposed by Rep. Paul Ryan, the GOP vice-presidential candidate, is a non-starter - he has to offer an alternative that improves the nation's fiscal condition without resorting to draconian cuts.
The president came to office with a promise to lead above the fray. The ultimate result, however, was political stalemate. This week, he must unveil a new approach, one that promises to yield more progress. No one wants a replay of the last four years.