x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Obama: Follow me to a better place

With his customary eloquence, the US president said he was making progress “after a decade of decline”. Only he could build on that progress, he declared.

Barack Obama is joined on stage by his family at the conclusion of his address to the final session of the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, North Carolina. In his speech, the US president criticised his rival for lacking experience in the foreign policy fold.
Barack Obama is joined on stage by his family at the conclusion of his address to the final session of the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, North Carolina. In his speech, the US president criticised his rival for lacking experience in the foreign policy fold.

WASHINGTON // With just 60 days left before the US elections, it was with a sense of urgency and a plea for patience that Barack Obama, the US president, made his re-election pitch to the American people on Thursday night.

"I need your vote," he said. "I never said this journey would be easy, and I won't promise that now. Yes, our path is harder, but it leads to a better place."

He now has two months to convince Americans that another four-year term will improve the sluggish US economy and create more jobs.

Unemployment is coming down - US job figures released yesterday showed that 96,000 jobs had been added in August bringing the rate down to 8.1 per cent, news Mr Obama said was "not good enough". While the unemployment rate dipped, it was bad news for the US economy because the decline was largely from more Americans giving up the search for work. Mr Obama's Republican rival, Mitt Romney, was quick to pounce on the numbers.

"If last night was the party, this morning is the hangover," Mr Romney said.

No president since Franklin Roosevelt in the mid-1930s has been re-elected with an unemployment rate of more than 8 per cent. While Mr Obama will be comforted that trends tend to be more important than figures, he needs to convince Americans that the country is on the right track.

That is what he tried to do with his speech on Thursday that brought the Democratic Party's National Convention to a close and some 20,000 delegates to their feet.

The US, he said, with his customary eloquence, was making progress "after a decade of decline". Only he could build on that progress. A Romney presidency would reverse it, he said.

"If you turn away now, if you buy into the cynicism that the change we fought for isn't possible, well, change will not happen."

He also sounded what is becoming a familiar theme of these elections: Americans face a clear choice, "the clearest in a generation".

"It will be a choice between two different paths for America," the US president said. Unlike their rivals, Democrats, he said, believe in "citizenship … the idea that this country only works when we accept certain obligations to one another, and to future generations".

He made a point of paying tribute to the US military, a glaring omission from Mr Romney's own speech last week at the Republican convention in Florida. And he pounded home what his campaign sees as one of his clear advantages: he now has four years of foreign policy experience where Mr Romney has none.

"You might not be ready for diplomacy with Beijing if you can't visit the Olympics without insulting our closest ally," the US president said in one of his sharpest lines of the night.

But the election will be fought and lost on the economy, and Mr Obama was scathing about his opponents. Voters, he said, can choose between his deficit-reduction and tax plan or they can opt for a Republican approach based exclusively on cutting taxes and government programmes.

"Have a surplus? Try a tax cut. Deficit too high? Try another," the president said.

"Feel a cold coming on? Take two tax cuts, roll back some regulations, and call us in the morning!"

He even referenced America's civil war, quoting Abraham Lincoln's reaction to losing the Second Battle of Bull Run in late August 1862, almost exactly 150 years to the day Mr Obama was speaking.

"I have been driven many times to my knees," Lincoln said then and Mr Obama said on Thursday, "by the overwhelming conviction that I had nowhere else to go."

Lincoln had realised that the war would not be won quickly. But - and as Mr Obama might have wanted to remind his audience - it was won eventually, and with it came the industrialisation of the South and emancipation for slaves. The stakes may not be as high this time, but Mr Obama's chances of re-election may depend on convincing a less enthusiastic electorate that the consequences could be as significant.

okarmi@thenational.ae