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It wasn't the best speech of President Obama's career, but if his convention address didn't knock it out of the ballpark, it at least put the ball in play. It did what the speech by Republican nominee Mitt Romney did not: Fired up the base while appealing to independents and, just as important, giving the entire audience reason to feel impassioned.
That's theater, to be sure, but it's also more than that. Presidents lead, in no small part, by rallying Americans to their point of view. That requires a degree of eloquence. Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton had it in spades, and they won re-election. Jimmy Carter and George H.W. Bush did not. They served a single term each.
Eloquence alone does not mean Obama will or should win re-election. But it does mean that Obama reminded Americans that he has the necessary rhetorical skills to lead, should Americans decide to renew his lease.
Of course, having the skills doesn't mean you will use them, and one of the disappointments of Obama's presidency has been his failure to bring his speaking ability to bear as the Republican (tea) Party - a.k.a. The Party of No - worked to undermine him at every turn.
Nevertheless, those skills were much in evidence in Charlotte, N.C., on Thursday night. Drawing a sharp difference between himself and the party that Republicans have become, Obama said: "Over and over, we have been told by our opponents that bigger tax cuts and fewer regulations are the only way; that since government can't do everything, it should do almost nothing.
"We don't think government can solve all our problems," he continued. "But we don't think that government is the source of all 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."
Obama also alluded to a point that Bill Clinton specifically made the previous night: "In Tampa," Clinton said, "the Republican argument against the president's re-election was pretty simple: We left him a total mess, he hasn't finished cleaning it up yet, so fire him and put us back in charge."
On that question may turn the election. Will Americans accept Clinton's formulation - not only that Obama inherited an economic shambles, but that Republicans wanted no part of fixing the problem - or will their calculation be more basic: The economy is still weak; jobs are scarce; we need to try something new.
Obama's speech was also more rounded than Romney's, dealing not only with the economy, but with the military and foreign policy. In a startling omission, Romney didn't mention the war in Afghanistan and barely touched on foreign policy, for decades a strong suit in Republican presidential campaigns.
With the conclusion of the conventions, the candidates now begin the two-month sprint to Election Day Nov. 6. It is, of course, too much to hope that they will remain positive, focused on the issues and their plans for addressing them. The fact is that negative campaigning works, and we would even allow that it has its place. There's nothing wrong with making voters aware of an opponent's weaknesses.
But voters also have the right to evaluate the attacks for their honesty, their relevance and for what they say about the candidate leveling the charge. That approach won't mean much to the true believers in either party, but it could to the independents who will likely provide the margin of victory.
There is a lot on the line in this election. Not only jobs and the economy and all the other issues that a president must handle, but the very direction of the country. Today's Republicans and Democrats hold radically different ideas of the appropriate role of government. Neither has the perfect prescription for the future, but one or the other will hold sway in the White House. It's time not only for the candidates to focus on the issues, but voters as well.