President Obama had a tough act to follow on Thursday night in accepting the Democratic presidential nomination -- himself, four years ago. At that point, he and the nation were in a swoon of possibility, justifiably proud of breaking the race barrier to the White House and lifted by his words of bipartisanship and a new way of governing.
At his inauguration, he warned that the road back from the economic abyss would be steep and hard.
How right he was. The recovery has been slow and rancorous. Thursday night, Obama owned up to the shortcomings, disappointments and challenges remaining.
What he did right, and in welcome detail, was delineate clear differences with his GOP opponent, Mitt Romney. He spoke out against intolerance, tax breaks for millionaires and vouchers for Medicare, and he defended government.
"We don't think government can solve all of our problems. But we don't think that government is the source of all of our problems -- any more than are welfare recipients, or corporations, or unions, or immigrants, or gays, or any other group we're told to blame for our troubles."
What he didn't offer was a surprise. He stuck with his State of the Union-like wish list.
The president had a lot of help in wooing the crowd and national audience. Former president Bill Clinton offered perhaps his best political speech ever, explaining Obama's policies in folksy, clear fashion, credibly arguing that Republicans left the Democrat a mess no president could dig out of in only four years. The opening night, Michelle Obama wowed the audience by weaving stories of family into a passionate endorsement of her husband's determination to help others through the door of opportunity.
The back-to-back national party conventions -- stuffed with heartwarming stories of difficult childhoods, family struggles and individuals overcoming disadvantages -- spoke to their bases and the nation in broad strokes.
Obama called on voters not to buy into cynicism and actively participate in the elections: "It's about what can be done by us, together, through the hard and frustrating but necessary work of self-government." Surely, on that point, both camps can agree. Bring on the debates.
-- The Kansas City Star