Thanks to the 2012 campaign and Mitt Romney, President Obama has found his voice. That gives him a big advantage over Republicans the next two years.
For all his writing and oratorical skills, Obama never found a way in his first term to effectively tell his story – and sell his message. That led to the 2010 electoral disaster.
But something has changed. It started election night. Democrats asked: “Where was this guy in that first debate?” It continued in his inaugural speech. And he showed it again last night in the State of the State.
Obama even looks different – looser, more relaxed, more confident. And he has figured out how to explain his vision of government in as strong and compelling a way as Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton did theirs.
Here was the key line last night: “They (the American people) know that America moves forward only when we do so together; and that the responsibility of improving this union remains the task of us all.”
Here’s how he said it at the inaugural: “The commitments we make to each other – through Medicare, and Medicaid, and Social Security – these things do not sap our initiative; they strengthen us. They do not make us a nation of takers; they free us to take the risks that make this country great.”
That theme set him up last night to draw this contrast with Republicans: “…we can’t ask senior citizens and working families to shoulder the entire burden of deficit reduction while asking nothing more from the wealthiest and most powerful. We won’t grow the middle class simply by shifting the cost of health care or college onto families that are already struggling, or by forcing communities to lay off more teachers, cops, and firefighters. Most Americans – Democrats, Republicans, and Independents – understand that we can’t just cut our way to prosperity. They know that broad-based economic growth requires a balanced approach to deficit reduction, with spending cuts and revenue, and with everybody doing their fair share. And that’s the approach I offer tonight.”
Of course, Obama might never have found that message without Mitt Romney. Romney set out an opposing vision, and Obama had to counter. And Romney gave Obama an opening that he seized with alacrity.
In 1996, remember, Bob Dole talked about “building a bridge to the past.” Clinton countered with “building a bridge to the future.” That became the theme of his second term.
In 2012, Romney and Republicans – sometimes deliberately and sometimes clumsily – talked about a nation of builders and a nation of takers, the “47 percent.” Now Obama has flipped their own message against them.
Marco Rubio is a prettier, more pleasant face than John Boehner, Mitch McConnell, Paul Ryan and Rand Paul. But Obama has him and the Republicans in a rhetorical box, hoist by their own words.