Obama gets defensive

September 7, 2012

President Obama spent a lot of time defending himself in his speech Thursday night at the Democratic National Convention.


In what was a pretty safe speech, the president weighed in on issues ranging from the economic progress being made, size of government, class, debt, Israel, and even his 2008 campaign’s “hope and change” message, all the while offering some pretty clear retorts to the charges being leveled against him by Republicans.

Here’s a taste:

On Israel, on which Democrats restored language to their platform this week amid GOP criticism: "Our commitment to Israel's security must not waver, and neither must our pursuit of peace."

On the Simpson-Bowles debt commission, which GOP vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan last week criticized Obama for ignoring: “I'm still eager to reach an agreement based on the principles of my bipartisan debt commission."

On the big goals of his 2008 campaign, which Mitt Romney poked fun at in his own convention speech last week, Obama clarified that his vision of hope is “not blind optimism or wishful thinking, but hope in the face of difficulty, hope in the face of uncertainty; that dogged faith in the future…”

On wealthy people, whom the GOP has accused Obama of demonizing: “We celebrate individual initiative. We're not entitled to success. ... But we also believe in citizenship."

And on GOP attacks on his view of government’s significant role in economic recovery: “We don't think government can solve all our problems, but we don't think that government is the source of all our problems.”

Obama added: “Those of us who carry on (Franklin D. Roosevelt's) party's legacy should remember that not every problem can be remedied with another government program or dictate from Washington.”

On those latter two counts, Obama was hardly the only one responding to GOP charges this week; in fact, several convention speakers offered very similar remarks assuring that Democrats don’t begrudge success and don’t think government is the answer to all of the country’s problems.

And those two issues just happen to be two of the major areas where Republicans are attacking Democrats in this campaign.

Now, it’s not entirely surprising to see Obama play some defense. After all, he’s running at a time when the economy continues to struggle, and that fact imperils his reelection hopes -- whatever his campaign's messaging.

And Obama played plenty of offense in the speech too, hitting the GOP ticket for its lack of foreign policy experience and for, in his words, wanting to return to the failed Republican policies of the past.

But much of Obama's speech suggests a man who is concerned about the traction Republicans are getting on a number of key attacks -- or at least is making sure they don't get away with unanswered accusations.

Republicans believe they've gotten plenty of traction by arguing that Obama doesn't believe in the free market and the American ideal of individual achievement -- see "you didn't build that" -- and Obama is clearly massaging his message in response to that.

Romney launches 'better off' ads: After about a week and a half of running no ads, Romney's campaign is going up with $4.5 million in ads in eight states, NBC News's Domenico Montanaro reports.

The eight states are: Virginia, Ohio, Florida, Colorado, Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada, and North Carolina. The one consensus swing state where the ads won't be run: Wisconsin.

The Romney campaign says it will be running 15 different ads in those eight states on a range of issues that revolve around a line from Romney's convention speech last week. The ads begin with video of Romney saying at the convention: "This president can ask us to be patient; this president can tell us it was someone else's fault; but this president cannot tell us that you are better off today than you were when he took office."

Separately, it has been reported that Romney's allies have pulled back and stopped running ads in two blue-leaning states: Michigan and Pennsylvania.

Romney's campaign itself has not run ads on its own in those states, and the campaign insists it's still campaigning hard in both. For now, though, TV viewers in those states won't be seeing pro-Romney ads, and the pullback by Romney allies suggests they see those states as less-than-ideal opportunities.

Fixbits:

Bill Clinton's speech got slightly better ratings than the NFL season-opener.

Turns out one of the Democratic convention speakers who was billed as a "former employee of a company controlled by Bain Capital" actually wasn't.

Former Michigan governor Jennifer Granholm draws comparisons to Howard Dean for her energetic -- and well-received -- speech.

Cory Booker sounds like a guy who sees himself as New Jersey's next governor.

Not to be outdone by Democratic convention-goers, Rep. Roscoe Bartlett (R-Md.) uses the Holocaust to make his case about student loans. Three Democrats have made comparisons between Nazis and Republicans this week.

Senate candidate Rep. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) was briefly sued for nonpayment of rent in 2003. Also this week, it was reported that Murphy faced foreclosure in later years.

Meanwhile, the Secret Service is looking into a woman who said, on video, that she would "kill" Romney if she saw him.

Must-reads:

"White Democrats in the South: An endangered breed" -- Ed O'Keefe, Washington Post

"Democrats’ risky play: Own ‘Obamacare’" -- Manu Raju and Joanne Kenen, Politico

"Tim Kaine Embraces His Ties to Barack Obama" -- Kyle Trygstad, Roll Call

"Democratic convention has new tone" -- Karen Tumulty, Washington Post

"For Ryan, Perks of Joining Ticket Can Be Weighty" -- Trip Gabriel, New York Times

Aaron Blake covers national politics and writes regularly for The Fix, the Post’s top political blog.
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Chris Cillizza | September 6, 2012