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ON THURSDAY NIGHT in Charlotte, President Obama asked America to hold on to hope because the change has just begun. Like his Republican opponent, Mitt Romney, he was fuzzy on the details. Still, the crowd at the Democratic National Convention roared its approval. One big job of the candidate is to energize the faithful. That Mr. Obama did.
But not without help. The consummate politician Bill Clinton had stirred delegates the night before with his folksy, savvy nomination speech. Mr. Clinton feels your pain before you even know you're hurt. Former presidential candidate John Kerry delivered a strong speech. Defining an "exceptional America" and chiding Mr. Romney for his lack of foreign-relations expertise and resultant dependence on advisers, the Democrats' 2004 presidential candidate said, "This is not the time to outsource the job of commander-in-chief!"
And Vice President Joe Biden spoke approvingly of Mr. Obama's courage, decisiveness, and faith in the American people. Only Bo Obama could have proffered a more loyal testimony.
Mr. Obama's essential message seemed to be "we've done better than you think." Saddled with a failing economy--see Friday's jobs report--and recalcitrant Republicans, what more could a country expect of any president? He was feisty and confident, sharply criticizing Mr. Romney and the Republican Party, and pointing to a future he envisions as one in which "our problems can be solved."
He just didn't quite say how.
"I'm asking you to rally around a set of goals for your country, goals in manufacturing, energy, education, national security, and the deficit; real, achievable plans that will lead to new jobs, more opportunity, and rebuild this economy on a stronger foundation. That's what we can do in the next four years," said Mr. Obama. If he has any blueprints for this grand renaissance, he, like his Republican rival, did not unroll them. How would he handle the looming Medicare crisis? Global warming? The $16 trillion national debt? What would he do to recruit (and pay for) "100,000 math and science teachers within 10 years"?
Gone were the dreams of 2008: the promises of post-partisanship, of finding "the strength and grace to bridge divides and unite in common effort." Absent was the lofty exhortation to together "brave once more the icy currents, and endure what storms may come." In their place were pugnacious thrusts at the Republicans and statements of determination to stand against GOP priorities. "I'm not going along with that," Mr. Obama said, speaking of Republican proposals to change the tax code and restructure Medicare.
Mr. Obama is at his most eloquent speaking from a prepared text, as he did stirringly on Thursday. He was correct when he said that, in November, voters "face the clearest choice of any time in a generation [a choice] between two different paths for America." Back-to-back conventions have presented two very different visions for America's future--and the role of government in shaping that future. The two parties are so divergent because, studies show, we the people are more evenly polarized than at any time since we perforated each other with Minie balls.
That's a problem, because truthfully we need both parties. We need the Democrats looking out for the little guy and the Republicans' business moxie (conspicuously absent during their last turn in the White House). We need voices for education and advocates for a strong defense; fiscal frugality and compassionate concern; and the push-me-pull-you system of checks and balances that keeps both parties strong yet neither unremittingly dominant.
With both conventions now finished, America faces 60 days of campaigning before the Nov. 6 election. May the spirit of wisdom haunt us assiduously in the days ahead.