09/14/2012 07:15 pm ET Updated Nov 14, 2012

Conventional Thinking


The Republican and Democratic Party conventions are now behind us, and we might ask ourselves, "Are we better off now than we were two weeks ago?"

The Republican Party tried to paper over the nastiness of their primary season with empty and abstract rhetoric about jobs and the economy. The Democrats, fortunate enough not to have a primary season to cover up, instead had to counter a sense of disengagement by the public.

It does not appear that either of them succeeded. I won't bother discussing the Republicans. I don't trust them, they scare me. Jon Stewart's The Daily Show did a great job covering their convention, and exposing Fox News' Janus-faced coverage of the Republican and Democratic conventions.

Stewart also covered one of the two aspects of the Democratic Convention that I think worth further discussion. Stewart noted the point in President Obama's speech where he declared, "the election four years ago wasn't about me. It was about you. My fellow citizens, you were the change."

Stewart joked that he had missed that one during the 2008 campaign, and during Obama's presidency.

Obama went on to describe a number of health, education and other achievements: "you did that," he said.

I'm with Stewart on this one. I didn't feel involved in any of those things, unless by simply electing someone we can take credit for the policies he or she puts into place. During his first term, Obama, despite his community organizer's background, surrounded himself with political professionals who gave the larger citizenry little opportunity to play a role at all. Political insiders and lobbyists "did that."

And that brings me to the second point, which Stewart did not cover. Earlier in his speech, President Obama declared, "It'll require common effort, shared responsibility, and the kind of bold, persistent experimentation that Franklin Roosevelt pursued during the only crisis worse than this one."

About that.

First of all, while Obama claimed in his acceptance speech that we could all take the credit for his achievements, he did not suggest we should share the blame for the places where he fell short. Like job creation. (That's a point Stewart did make.)

But isn't that what responsibility means? The difference between Obama and FDR is that Roosevelt created a sense that we were all in this together. Where are Obama's fireside chats? We only get that kind of access when he's campaigning.

From the First Lady's convention speech, and from CNN's "Obama Revealed" interview, we learn the president is a private person, who gives a lot in official and campaign settings, but only his family and inner circle really know who he is.

I totally get that, because I am very much the same way. But I'm not an elected official. In fact, I have avoided politics for precisely this reason.

I am certainly going to vote for Obama. But in his second term, I would like something other than "more of the same."

Taking a page from FDR's book -- how about a weekly address that everyone can hear? President Obama publishes a weekly video address every Saturday morning on the "white" website, but not everyone has a computer, not everyone has Internet access.

And you access the address as an individual. You're not making connections. The address should be something families and friends can experience together. Maybe TV is too expensive, but FDR managed to go on the radio in the 1930s. Obama needs to create a sense of community around what he's doing.

Secondly, how about a vehicle for shared responsibility? How about reviving the tradition of shared agency as well as responsibility that has been a signature item of the great Democratic presidencies of our time? FDR's Civilian Conservation Corps and Works Progress Administration, Kennedy's Peace Corps, or Johnson's War on Poverty? Clinton's AmeriCorps? The First Lady has signature programs. Why can't the president?

We need to hear about what we can do in addition to voting for you, Mr. President (or respond to fundraising emails). And we should hear it from you now, while you're campaigning. While we still have access.