President Barack Obama last night laid out his case for being re-elected to a second term by comparing himself to Franklin D. Roosevelt, who won an unprecedented three presidential elections and led America to recovery after the Great Depression.
He said: ‘And the truth is, it will take more than a few years for us to solve challenges that have built up over decades. It will require common effort, shared responsibility, and the kind of bold, persistent experimentation that Franklin Roosevelt pursued during the only crisis worse than this one.’
Obama formally accepted the Democratic presidential nomination, capping a week in which speeches from his wife Michelle Obama and Bill Clinton, the husband of his erstwhile rival, received widespread praise.
Roosevelt dominated American politics for the 12 years of his presidency and beyond. He is commonly recognised as the greatest Democratic president and, along with George Washington and Abraham Lincoln, one of the three greatest American presidents.
Not only did he bring America out of the depression, he oversaw the introduction of the New Deal social programmes, laid the foundations for the United Nations and led the country in the Second World War after the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor, dying just when victory was in sight.
Obama is attempting to frame the election not as a referendum on his four-year term, during which unemployment has risen to 8.3 per cent, leaving more than 23million Americans out of work, but as a choice between him and Mitt Romney, the Republican nominee.
‘On every issue, the choice you face won’t be just between two candidates or two parties,’ he said. ‘It will be a choice between two different paths for America. A choice between two fundamentally different visions for the future.’
This November’s election, he argued, will represent ‘the clearest choice of any time in a generation’ between two different visions.
‘Over the next few years, big decisions will be made in Washington, on jobs and the economy; taxes and deficits; energy and education; war and peace – decisions that will have a huge impact on our lives and our children’s lives for decades to come.
‘I won’t pretend the path I’m offering is quick or easy. I never have. You didn’t elect me to tell you what you wanted to hear. You elected me to tell you the truth.
‘And the truth is, it will take more than a few years for us to solve challenges that have built up over decades. It will require common effort, 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 diktat from Washington.
In a plea for four more years, he said: ‘But know this, America: Our problems can be solved. Our challenges can be met. The path we offer may be harder, but it leads to a better place.
‘And I’m asking you to choose that future. I’m asking you to rally around a set of goals for your country – goals in manufacturing, energy, education, national security, and the deficit; a real, achievable plan that will lead to new jobs, more opportunity, and rebuild this economy on a stronger foundation.
‘That’s what we can do in the next four years, and that’s why I’m running for a second term as President of the United States.’
Obama also laid out a series of ‘goals for America’ in a second term. These will include creating a million new manufacturing jobs by the end of 2016, doubling exports by the end of 2014 and cutting net oil imports in half by 2020.
On education, he pledged to help cut the growth of college tuition in half over the next 10 years, recruit 100,000 maths and science teachers over the next 10 decade and train two million workers for ‘real jobs’ at community colleges
He also pledged to ‘invest in the economy with the money we’re no longer spending on war’ and reduce ‘the deficit’ by more than $4trillion over the next decade – an apparent reference to the $16trillion national debt, not the annual federal spending rate.
In a statement, Romney said that Obama should report back on his previous promises, not offer new ones. ‘I actually think it will be interesting to listen to the President tonight. What I’d like him to do is report on his promises, but there are forgotten promises and forgotten people.
‘Over the last four years, the President has said that he was going to create jobs for the American people and that hasn’t happened. He said he would cut the deficit in half and that hasn’t happened. He said that incomes would rise and instead incomes have gone down.
It is not the first time Obama has compared himself to Franklin Roosevelt or other great American presidents. Last December, he told ’60 Minutes’: I would put our legislative and foreign policy accomplishments in our first two years against any president, with the possible exceptions of [Lyndon B.]Johnson, FDR, and [Abraham] Lincoln.’
This year, he conjured up the memory of President Ronald Reagan when he said that his so-called Buffett Rule raising taxes on those earning over $1 million a year was similar to a measure introduced by one of his predecessors.
‘This president gave another speech where he said it was ‘crazy’ – that’s a quote – that certain tax loopholes make it possible for multimillionaires to pay nothing, while a bus driver was paying 10 per cent of his salary,’ he said in May.
‘That wild-eyed, socialist, tax-hiking class warrior was Ronald Reagan…if it’ll help convince folks in Congress to make the right choice, we could call it the ‘Reagan Rule’ instead of the ‘Buffett Rule’.’
Back in 2008, Obama said he didn’t view himself as ‘some sort of singular figure’ but then invoked Reagan and John F. Kennedy.
‘I don’t want to present myself as some sort of singular figure. I think part of what is different is the times,’ he told the Reno Gazette-Journal. ‘I do think that, for example, the 1980 election was different. I think Ronald Reagan changed the trajectory of America in a way that Richard Nixon did not and in a way that Bill Clinton did not.’
He added: ‘I think Kennedy, 20 years earlier, moved the country in a fundamentally different direction. So I think a lot of it has to do with the times. I think we are in one of those fundamentally different times right now were people think that things, the way they are going, just aren’t working.’
Last year, Obama invoked America’s first president Washington when talking about ‘the problem’ of taxes. ‘George Washington grappled with the problem,’ he said. ‘He said, “Towards the payment of debts, there must be revenue, and to have revenue, there must be taxes. And no taxes can be devised which are not more or less inconvenient and unpleasant.’
‘But he understood that dealing with the debt is – his choice of words – ‘always a choice of difficulties’. He also knew that public servants weren’t elected to do what is easy; they weren’t elected to do what was politically advantageous. It’s our responsibility to put country before party. It‘s our responsibility to do what’s right for the future. And that’s what this debate is about.’
At a May 2011 fundraiser in New York, Obama compared how Martin Luther King had been treated with the criticism he had experienced since entering the White House.
‘There was a decade that followed the great successes of Birmingham and Selma in which he was just struggling, fighting the good fight, and scorned, and many folks angry. But what he understood, what kept him going, was that the arc of moral universe is long but it bends towards justice.’