The Democratic National Convention, which begins today in Charlotte, N.C., has a different challenge from the one that faced Republicans. Mitt Romney had the duty to explain what he would do if he becomes president. President Barack Obama must answer questions about what he has done so far and what he would do in a second term.
Inevitably, that discussion requires a focus on the economy, still mired in unemployment in the midst of an anemic recovery. Stimulus spending, while dismissed as a failure by Republicans, arguably kept the country from toppling into the abyss of total insolvency. However, defensiveness about the Obama administration's record does not answer for the future.
What can be done now? And how can spending be curbed to address the deficit, which is unsustainable over the long run?
Clearly, tough choices need to be made and it's not enough to accuse the Republicans of being the ones who will wreck Medicare and Social Security. The multi-trillion-dollar question is this: How can President Obama pursue a progressive agenda when the nation has no ready money?
Other questions stalk the Democrats. For example, the war in Afghanistan continues to claim American lives and drain the treasury -- long after the rationale for it has evaporated. Although Mr. Obama has drawn down the troop strength there, the United States is still wasting blood and treasure on a hopeless case. Why?
Mr. Obama is accused, with justification, of continuing some of the national security policies of George W. Bush. What is his answer for this?
Although Osama bin Laden has been killed and the victims of 9/11 avenged, the use of unmanned drones continues to be prolific, raining death on terrorists and innocents alike. And what about Guantanamo Bay, a source of shame which remains open as a notorious holding pen despite Mr. Obama's earlier promises?
To be sure, Congress has resisted efforts to close Guantanamo, but that raises another question: How does Mr. Obama intend to lead the nation forward when the House and Senate have every chance of remaining bitterly divided? How can the president forge compromises with members of Congress who regard compromise as anathema?
Mr. Obama is not the post-partisan idealist whose eloquence captured the imagination of America four years ago. Instead, he has been diminished and made ordinary by circumstances, not all of them of his own making. His hope of change has turned out to be a few coins rattling in poor people's pockets
To be fair, arguably no president has come into office at a harder time, and few presidents have had to contend with such bitter political opponents, much of their criticism not only false but also unhinged from reality.
It is a wonder that this president has achieved anything at all, and of course Mr. Obama has had some successes. But is the best argument for voting him a second term the claim only that his opponent might be worse? That's a hollow campaign message.
The Democrats' challenge at this convention will be to give the voters positive, detailed and exciting reasons to vote for them. To that end, Mr. Obama's famed oratorical skills are needed as never before.
First Published September 4, 2012 4:00 AM