If President Obama’s speech at the National Action Network gala last night is a preview of his reelection campaign, we can expect it to be dismayingly similar to 2008–a lot of vague promises and a few mentions of substantial achievements.
Even though this was the first address to his political base since announcing his candidacy for reelection, Obama spent little time discussing what he has accomplished in office. The president glancingly alluded to Wall Street reform, health care, and Race to the Top, but then told the audience to go to his website for a “long list” of other successes.
Instead, most of his speech consisted of talk about the problems facing America, and reminders that change “comes slowly.”
“[T]oo many of our schools are failing our children, too many of our kids are dropping out of school, that’s not a black or white or brown problem—that is an American problem,” said Obama. “We’re going to have to solve that problem.”
America has to “rebuild our crumbling transportation networks with high-speed rail, upgrade our communications networks with high-speed Internet,” he said later.
And how will these problems be tackled, when Obama has yet to keep many of his campaign promises from 2008? Well, the president says we all just need to bear down or work harder or something.
“If we’re serious about opening up opportunity and making sure America prospers in the 21st century, we’re going to have to up our game as a nation,” he said. “Well, we have to do that in classrooms, we have to do that in the workplaces, we’ve got to do that in our communities and our neighborhoods. Our fathers got to up their games.”
Obama also spent a lot of time trying to rationalize the disconnection between his soaring campaign rhetoric of 2008 and his lack of concrete accomplishments in office.
“So we’re making progress, but we’re not there yet,” he said at one point. He argued that “some folks have amnesia” about how bad the problems were when he was running for office.
“I told you at the time I wasn’t a perfect person, I wouldn’t be a perfect President, but what I could commit to was always telling you the truth even when it was hard, and I would spend each and every day thinking about you,” said Obama. Americans may be flattered to learn that the president is thinking about them, but most probably expect a little more out of him than that.
Obama concluded by asking the audience to keep hoping for change—and look to him as an example. “I am asking you to draw inspiration from the fact that we know change is possible,” he said. “I am living testament that change is possible.”
While Obama may yearn to recapture the magic of his 2008 campaign, running on “change” is obviously a flawed strategy for such an unaccomplished incumbent.