Last week, President Obama formally accepted the Democratic nomination for president. Four years have passed since his last acceptance, and the differences between candidate Obama in 2008 and President Obama in 2012 were on full display during his acceptance speech.
In 2008, Obama told delegates in Denver, "we meet at one of those defining moments, a moment when our nation is at war, our economy is in turmoil." His solution to this turmoil was ambitious, promising to heal America from the trauma of the Bush years, by "[insisting] on new ideas and new leadership, a new politics for a new time." To this end, he declared that an Obama administration would pursue tax reform by closing unproductive loopholes, eliminate the capital gains tax for high-tech startups, and prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons while simultaneously stopping Russian aggression. For his opponent's campaign, Obama had some choice words, saying "If you don't have a record to run on, then you paint your opponent as someone people should run from. You make a big election about small things."
Four years later, our nation is still at war, our economy is still in turmoil, our tax code remains riddled with loopholes and exemptions and Obama's health care bill itself was full of them, with unions and other Democratic constituencies being protected from the law's more onerous requirements. Iran is closer to obtaining nuclear weapons than it was four years ago, and Russia remains as aggressive as ever. These failures are not the fault of Barack Obama alone, and he has not been the total, Jimmy Carter-esque failure that some conservatives want to paint him as. Killing Osama bin Laden and successfully implementing the most meaningful standards-based education reform since No Child Left Behind are successes Obama should be proud of.. Congress has been a failure these last four year, and the purposeless military cuts were a result of the disastrous debt ceiling fight last August -- a debacle where Congress deserves just as much, if not more, blame as the White House.
While Obama's failures are not his alone, Harry Truman's maxim, "the buck stops here," remains as true in 2012 as it was in the 1940s. The president, not Congress, is responsible for the success or failure of the government, and this has left Obama where John McCain was in 2012; without a record to run on and stuck making a big election about small things. At the convention, Obama bragged about what few victories he has had. The bailing out of the American car industry, the popular parts of Obamacare like mandating coverage for people with preexisting conditions, and most of all killing bin Laden, all of these successes were repeated time and time again by every speaker in Charlotte. But since his successes have been few and far between, Obama's convention was mostly about painting Mitt Romney as someone the voters should run from: a plutocrat who cheats on his income taxes and channels Gordon Gekko as a slash-and-burn CEO who put profits before people and corporate greed before human need. At its most ludicrous, this meant having Ted Strickland say, "If Mitt Romney were Santa Claus, he'd outsource the reindeer and fire the elves." Foreign policy was fair game, and Mitt Romney was attacked for having the same amount of foreign affairs experience that Obama had in 2008 -- none whatsoever.
Obama is not alone in smallness. Mitt Romney has run a completely sanitized and passionless campaign. There are no new ideas, just warmed-over Reaganism with its vague platitudes about free enterprise and tax cuts without any substance behind them. Tough issues such as tax and entitlement reform, meaningful health care policy beyond "repeal Obamacare," and a detailed approach to policies for economic growth have no place in the Romney campaign.
According to the news website Politco, Romney advisers defend these choices because "voters are moved by big ideas -- a bad economy or an impulse for change." The economy has been bad this entire election and Romney still trails. His campaign amounts to running a prevent defense when down a field goal. Romney needs what Obama offered in 2008 -- a vision of how America will change for the better as a result of his election. It isn't enough to say America will be better because a failed president is no longer in office; Romney has to include some narrative of positive change. Even if all Obama has to offer is scorched-earth attacks and minor successes, that small campaign will be enough to beat a candidate who stands for nothing.