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Obama Wants 4 More Years To Fix Nation's Problems


It's MORNING EDITION, from NPR News. Good morning. I'm Renee Montagne.


And I'm Steve Inskeep.

As he accepted his party's nomination for a second term last night, President Obama said that building a better future will take him more time.

MONTAGNE: The president told his supporters at the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte that the progress he'd made so far would be reversed if Mitt Romney won the White House.

NPR's national political correspondent Mara Liasson has this report on the president's speech and the evening that built up to it.

MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: The final night's program reached its emotional height early with a simple recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance.


GABBY GIFFORDS: I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, and to the republic for which it stands, one nation under God, indivisible, liberty and justice for all.

LIASSON: Many in the crowd were moved to tears when Gabby Giffords led the pledge. She is the former Arizona congresswoman who was shot in the head as she met with her constituents, and she's still recovering from her wound.

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: (Chanting) Fired up. Fired up. Ready to go.

LIASSON: The delegates chanted the Obama campaigns rallying cry from 2008.

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: Fired up. Fired up. Ready to go. Ready to go.

LIASSON: Senator John Kerry - widely considered a candidate to replace Hillary Clinton as secretary of state in the second Obama term - praised the president for his foreign policy achievements, including ending the war in Iraq, beginning a drawdown in Afghanistan and killing the head of al-Qaida.


SENATOR JOHN KERRY: Ask Osama bin Laden if he is better off now than he was four years ago.

LIASSON: Joe Biden accepted the nomination for vice president with an attack on Romney for opposing another one of the president's main accomplishments: the auto industry bailout.


VICE PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: I don't think he understood that saving the automobile worker, saving the industry, what it meant to all of America, not just autoworkers. I think he saw it the Bain way. I mean this sincerely. I think he saw it in terms of balance sheets and write-offs. Folks, the Bain way may bring your firm the highest profits. But it's not the way to lead our country from the highest office.

LIASSON: Obama campaign officials said yesterday that the president's speech was not going to be about magic, about recreating the lightning-in-a-bottle phenomenon of his first campaign. So Mr. Obama began his speech last night by acknowledging how much had changed since he first gave the keynote address at the Democratic Convention in 2004, a speech about hope.


PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Eight years later, that hope has been tested by the cost of war, by one of the worst economic crises in history and by political gridlock that's left us wondering whether it's still even possible to tackle the challenges of our time.

LIASSON: Bill Clinton had provided a forceful defense of the Obama record on Wednesday, so last night, the president was free to focus on the future. He said the election was the clearest choice in a generation, between two different paths for America.


OBAMA: Now, our friends down in Tampa at the Republican Convention were more than happy to talk about everything they think is wrong with America, but they didn't have much to say about how they'd make it right. They want your vote, but they don't want you to know their plan. And that's because all they have to offer is the same prescriptions they've had for the last 30 years: Have a surplus? Try a tax cut. Deficit too high? Try another. Feel a cold coming on? Take two tax cuts, roll back some regulations and call us in the morning.

LIASSON: He asked for more time to solve the country's problems, saying it will require more than a few years to solve challenges that have built up over decades.


OBAMA: It will require common effort and shared responsibility and the kind of bold, persistent experimentation that Franklin Roosevelt pursued during the only crisis worse than this one.

And by the way, those of us who carry on his party's legacy should remember that not every problem can be remedied with another government program or dictate from Washington.

LIASSON: He offered a nod - but not much more - to those voters in the center who worry he is a big-government liberal. We the people, he said recognize we have responsibilities, as well as rights.


OBAMA: We know that churches and charities can often make more of a difference than a poverty program alone. We don't want handouts for people who refuse to help themselves, and we certainly don't want bailouts for banks that break the rules.

We don't think that government can solve all of our problems. But we don't think that the government is the source of all of our problems, any more than are welfare recipients or corporations or unions or immigrants or gays or any other group we're told to blame for our troubles.

LIASSON: Mostly, this was a speech aimed at the crowd inside the hall, meant to fire up the base of the Democratic Party in an election year where there are so few truly undecided voters. The president said he had a real achievable plan for the next four years, and he laid out five broad goals for manufacturing, education, national security, the deficit and energy.


OBAMA: And, yes, my plan will continue to reduce the carbon pollution that is heating our planet, because climate change is not a hoax. More droughts and floods and wildfires are not a joke. They are a threat to our children's future, and in this election, you can do something about it.

LIASSON: Last night, President Obama chose to play it safe, a reflection of his campaign's confidence that they have a small, but durable lead in the battleground states. On the big fiscal problems facing the country, Mr. Obama said there was a way to reduce the deficit without wrecking the middle class and that he wanted tax reform, but only if the wealthy were asked to pay higher rates.


OBAMA: I refuse to ask middle-class families to give up their deductions for owning a home or raising their kids just to pay for another millionaire's tax cuts. I refuse to ask students to pay more for college or kick children out of Head Start programs to eliminate health insurance for millions of Americans who are poor and elderly or disabled, all so those with the most can pay less. I'm not going along with that.

LIASSON: On Medicare, he pushed back against the plan supported by Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan.


OBAMA: I will never turn Medicare into a voucher. No American should ever have to spend their golden years at the mercy of insurance companies. They should retire with the care and the dignity that they have earned. Yes, we will reform and strengthen Medicare for the long haul, but we'll do it by reducing the cost of health care, not by asking seniors to pay thousands of dollars more.

LIASSON: But Mr. Obama didn't say how he'd reduce the cost of health care or describe any of the hard choices that might have to be made in order to achieve that.

Earlier in the day, President Obama had spoken by conference call to some of the tens of thousands of people who had tickets to see him speak in an open-air stadium, but they were turned away when the event was moved inside because of the threat of thunderstorms. That cost the campaign an opportunity to reward and motivate thousands of grassroots volunteers.

Speaking to the smaller crowd inside the arena, Mr. Obama seemed intent on rekindling as much enthusiasm as he could. The election four years ago wasn't about me, he said. You are the change.


OBAMA: You're the reason a young immigrant who grew up here and went to school here and pledged allegiance to our flag will no longer be deported from the only country she's ever called home, why selfless soldiers won't be kicked out of the military because of who they are or who they love, why thousands of families have finally been able to say to loved ones who served us so bravely welcome home, welcome home. You did that. You did that.

LIASSON: The crowd in the hall was energized, but the monthly jobs numbers just out this morning are a reminder of the economic forces that Mr. Obama can't control, but must overcome in order to win a second term. Mara Liasson, NPR News, Charlotte. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Mara Liasson is a national political correspondent for NPR. Her reports can be heard regularly on NPR's award-winning newsmagazine programs Morning Edition and All Things Considered. Liasson provides extensive coverage of politics and policy from Washington, DC — focusing on the White House and Congress — and also reports on political trends beyond the Beltway.
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