Heading into the Charlotte, N.C., convention, President Barack Obama was in trouble with independent voters. But instead of winning them back with appeals to national unity and promises of compromise, he told them: You've got a stark choice - so choose.
He tossed them (us) a few rhetorical bones - a reference to the Simpson-Bowles debt commission he previously ignored, a bow to free enterprise as a jobs engine, acknowledgement that government can't do everything and needs reform.
But basically, Obama's acceptance speech was defiant, confrontational and contemptuous of Mitt Romney and Republicans, portraying them as heartless tools of millionaires, job-exporters, lobbyists, oil and insurance companies, toxic polluters, banks that break the rules - and as enemies of old people, students, women and gays, to boot.
His message was: "forward" with me or "backward" with them. There was no softening of it: It's war until Nov. 6 and, most likely, prolonged government gridlock after that.
Obama was characteristically eloquent, but this was no outreach speech - it was 95 percent base-mobilizing, with independents left to choose between "community" (directed and managed by government) and . George W. Bush.
Obama's agenda for the future? He listed a set of worthy "goals" - a million new manufacturing jobs in four years, cutting oil imports in half, recruiting 100,000 math and science teachers, using defense savings to build infrastructure, $4 trillion in debt reduction - but without any description of how he'd achieve them.
Obama certainly provided more information about his direction than Romney did in just five paragraphs devoted to domestic policy in Tampa, Fla., but Obama said more about what he wouldn't do than what he would do.
No new tax breaks for the highest earners: "I refuse to go along with that, and as long as I'm president, I never will." Tax reform, yes, but "I refuse to ask middle-class families to give up their deductions for owning a home or raising their kids to pay for another millionaire's tax cut. . I refuse to turn Medicare into a voucher" or turn Social Security "over to Wall Street."
Whether the stark-choice approach works with independents will partly decide how this election turns out.
The Sept. 4 CNN-ORC poll indicated Romney had made considerable headway with independents. Sixty percent had a favorable opinion of him, to just 46 percent for Obama.
Fifty-seven percent said Romney would do a better job handling the economy, to 35 percent for Obama. The two were tied on foreign policy, and Romney led, 51 percent to 40 percent, on Medicare.
By 51 percent to 36 percent, independents thought Romney was the stronger leader; by 47 percent to 38 percent, that he was more optimistic about the country's future; and the two were tied on who was more in touch with the problems of the middle class.
In 2008, Obama carried independents 52 percent to 44 percent over Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.). Last week, the CNN poll had Romney up, 52 percent to 42 percent.
In Charlotte, Obama's team sent out its most popular figures to repair the damage - his wife, Michelle, and President Bill Clinton, famous for turning centrist after Republican victories in 1994 and for making deals with Republicans despite their impeaching him.
The job Michelle Obama and Clinton did - and Vice President Joseph Biden and keynote speaker Julian Castro, too - was to recount Obama's accomplishments, including saving America from a Great Depression, adding 4.5 million private-sector jobs since 2010, passing a health care overhaul, saving the auto industry, killing Osama bin Laden, etc.
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