When you are up to your neck in alligators, you might forget that your original intention was to drain the swamp.
The job of President Barack Obama Thursday night was to convince us that he knows the economic recovery he pledged four years ago is far from accomplished, that unemployment is still too high, that health care still costs too much, that the federal deficit is still far too deep.
But he also wanted us to believe, as civil rights leaders of the 1960s used to say, "We're not where we want to be. We're not where we ought to be. But, thank God, we're not where we used to be."
We aren't. We aren't. And we aren't.
The question now before the American voter, the argument that will continue to be made in debates, stump speeches and an interminable amount of TV spots, is whether the sitting administration has made enough progress, adopted the right policies, even holds the correct values, to dig us the rest of the way out of the hole we have found ourselves in after a long recession, a painfully slow recovery, two wars and one presidential term of severe partisan gridlock.
Or whether the Republicans, who last week chose former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan to lead their ticket, should be handed the power to attack those problems in a very different way.
Obama made a good and heartfelt case for his own re-election. He contrasted his own approach with those of his opponents in ways that an incumbent who was doing better in the polls might have found beneath him.
In Obama's favor were his argument that we are all in this together. His call for citizenship. His feeling of accomplishment at having rescued the American automobile industry. His respect for, and pledge to stand by, those who have served their county in combat. His willingness to face the fact, not the hoax, of global climate change.
The president cleverly turned around the controversial remarks he made, and that were taken out of context, about saying that businessmen "didn't build that," by crediting the whole of the American people for the progress that has been made, saying to them to us "You did that."
What remains for Obama and Romney to argue, and for the American voters to decide, is whether the progress made over the last four years has been enough, whether the degree of difficulty Obama has faced was so deep, that America would be wiser to stay the course, or try a new one.
Pay attention over the next few weeks. It is now in your hands.
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