President Obama appealed Thursday to all Americans, including LGBT voters, to overcome cynicism about his 2008 message of hope and change and to work to finish the job with his reelection.
Republicans had used their convention to drive home the message that it's OK to fire Obama as president if you're disappointed with the results. But the president pushed back at the assumption that the change you could believe in from 2008 isn't still hard at work.
"If you turn away now, if you buy into the cynicism that the change we fought for isn't possible, well, change will not happen," he told the Democratic National Convention in formally accepting the party's nomination. "If you give up on the idea that your voice can make a difference, then other voices will fill the void — the lobbyists, the special interests, the people with the $10 million checks who are trying to buy this election, and those who are tying to make it harder for you to vote, Washington politicians who want to decide who you can marry or control health care choices that women should be making for themselves. Only you can make sure that doesn't happen. Only you have the power to move us forward."
The "forward" mantra was infused throughout the convention, with both Obama and Vice President Biden talking about the future. Biden, who was first of the two to voice his support for marriage equality earlier this year, in his acceptance speech spoke of a future for LGBT Americans.
"Barack and I see a future — it's in our DNA — where no one, no one, is forced to live in the shadows of intolerance," Biden said.
Both spoke of LGBT people as facing persecution — a fact clearly evidenced by a Republican platform that calls same-sex marriage "an assault on the foundations of our society." The night had already included several voices for LGBT equality, most explicitly from 20-year-old Iowan Zach Wahls, who defended his two moms from Mitt Romney's narrow view of marriage. "Mr. Romney, my family is just as real as yours," he said.
Wahls's speech was preceded by a video touting the many accomplishments the Obama administration has made on behalf of LGBT Americans — for example, repealing the military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy.
Then the president followed up by giving credit to voters for his legislative successes. "You are the reason," he told the audience, "why selfless soldiers won't be kicked out of the military because of who they are or who they love." Instead of taking credit, the president said, "You did that. You did that."
Obama said gays and lesbians had been scapegoated by the other side, just had been government more broadly. And he vigorously defended the role of government in Americans's lives and the importance of "citizenship" in our collective success.
"We don't think that government can solve all of our problems," Obama said, "but we don't think that 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."
The president said "love" is integral to our founding ideals.
"A freedom without a commitment to others, a freedom without love, or charity or duty or patriotism is unworthy of our founding ideas and those who died in their defense," he said.
Biden's speech was largely a testimony to Obama's decision making under pressure. And on Wednesday, President Bill Clinton's speech was a point-by-point answer to Republican attacks. And First Lady Michelle Obama's Tuesday speech connected the president's policies to his character and personal history.
But Obama's message wasn't soaring like his 2008 rhetoric and was perhaps best described as he described himself: "I’m no longer just a candidate. I’m the president."
Still, he assured the crowd that what they remember from 2008 has lasted. "As I stand here tonight," he said, "I have never been more hopeful about America."