When Barack Obama was elected in 2008, it was with the implication that his ascendancy would usher in an era of change that was desperately craved following George W. Bush's eight years in the White House.
Throughout his term, Obama has often been slighted by opponents and even his own party for not delivering on the "change" he promised four years ago. But in a moving speech Thursday night, the president closed out the 2012 Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C., by telling the American public that change may not be easy, and it may not be fast -- but, if he is elected to a second term, it will come.
"Know this, America: Our problems can be solved. Our challenges can be met. The path we offer may be harder, but it leads to a better place. And I'm asking you to choose that future. I'm asking you to rally around a set of goals for your country - goals in manufacturing, energy, education, national security and the deficit; a real, achievable plan that will lead to new jobs, more opportunity, and rebuild this economy on a stronger foundation," Obama said to applause. "That's what we can do in the next four years, and that's why I'm running for a second term as president of the United States."
This election, he said, is a "choice between two fundamentally different visions for the future." That message has been the overwhelming, endlessly repeated theme of the DNC: An Obama win means a victory for the nation's middle class, while the election of Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan would spell its decline.
"When you pick up that ballot to vote - you will face the clearest choice of any time in a generation. Over the next few years, big decisions will be made in Washington, on jobs and the economy; taxes and deficits; energy and education; war and peace - decisions that will have a huge impact on our lives and our children's lives for decades to come," Obama said.
The president asked the nation to rally around a specific a set of policy goals for his second term that he predicted will create jobs and jump-start the economy. Those include: creating 1 million new manufacturing jobs by the end of 2016, supporting the creation of 600,000 natural gas jobs by the end of the decade and reducing the federal deficit by more than $4 trillion over the next decade.
"We're getting back to basics and getting back to what America does best. We're making things again," Obama said, referring to the Detroit auto industry bailout as proof that the strategy can work. While the industry was on the brink of destruction only a few short years ago, Obama pointed to statistics that indicate the American automobile manufacturers are now producing more products than ever.
In a convention that took pains to appeal to youth voters (i.e. see special appearances by actors such as Kal Penn and Scarlett Johansson) it is perhaps no surprise that the president set aside a chunk of time discussing education, which he said had been the gateway to success for both him and his wife, Michelle. In particular, Obama pledged to cut the growth of college tuition in half and recruit 100,000 math and science teachers over the next 10 years, as well as train 2 million workers at community college for jobs that are desperately in demand.
"A government has a role in this. But teachers must inspire, principals must lead, parents must instill a thirst for learning and students - you have to do the work. And together I promise you we can out educate and out compete every nation on Earth," Obama said.
Despite the charges laid against him at last week's Republican National Convention -- that his economic policies have failed, that his investment in entitlement programs such as Medicare and Social Security will bankrupt the government -- Obama mocked his Republican opponents for failing to specify just how their policies would improve the lives of average Americans, particularly as they continue to fight for tax breaks for the wealthiest citizens while simultaneously threatening tax deductions for middle class families.
"They [Republicans] want your vote, but they don't want you to know they're plan. And that's because all they have to offer are the same prescriptions they've had for the last 30 years," he said. "Feel a cold coming on? Take two tax cuts, roll back some regulations and call me in the morning."
In the end, Obama -- who also pledged to continue his efforts to boost funding for veterans who are returning from overseas, end U.S. involvement in Afghanistan by 2014, invest in renewable energy resources and fight for the human rights of others suffering across the planet -- made it simple. The country, he said, was inundated with an unprecedented number of challenges when he took office, some of which have yet to be resolved. The question is, what kind of person do you want at the mantle to - hopefully - resolve them?
"If you reject the notion that this nation's promise is reserved for the few, your voice must be heard in this election. If you reject the notion that our government is forever beholden to the largest bidder, you need to stand up in this election," Obama concluded. "If you believe in a country where everyone gets a fair shot, and everyone does their fair share, and everyone plays by the same rules, then I need you to vote this November!"