A changed Obama reins in the rhetoric

Gone is the voice of the idealistic senator of 2004

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President Obama’s partisan tone on the campaign trail these days is a far cry from his idealism of 2004, when the fresh-faced Illinois state senator introduced himself to the nation with his keynote speech at the Democratic National Convention.

Eight years ago, Mr. Obama enthralled delegates who were gathered in Boston to nominate Sen. John F. Kerry of Massachusetts for president, issuing a memorable call for unity among “red state” conservatives who befriend gays and “blue state” liberals who worship an awesome God.

“There is not a liberal America and a conservative America — there is the United States of America,” Mr. Obama said in 2004. “There is not a black America and a white America and Latino America and Asian America — there’s the United States of America. That’s what this election is about.”

Four years ago, to a stadium packed with adoring supporters at the Democratic National Convention in Denver, Mr. Obama asked voters to embrace his call for a new kind of Washington politics, and they responded by powering him to office.

Changing message

As keynote speaker at the 2004 Democratic National Convention in Boston, Barack Obama enchanted his audience with a message of hope, change and unity. In 2008, as a young, energetic and charismatic presidential candidate, he won over voters with his call for a new kind of Washington politics. (The Washington Times)

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As keynote speaker at the 2004 Democratic National Convention in Boston, Barack ... more >

On Thursday, Mr. Obama is back for yet another convention speech — this time moved out of Charlotte’s Bank of America Stadium and into a covered arena to avoid potential rain showers — but he seems a changed candidate, and he will have a tougher time sounding those unifying themes.

On the stump last month, the president spoke as if he recognized that there is indeed a conservative America, but he has grown tired and contemptuous of it.

“You’ve got another party that thinks compromise is a dirty word, and that believes the only way we can move forward is to go back to the same top-down economics that got us into this mess in the first place,” Mr. Obama said at a campaign rally. “We’re not going to go backwards and re-fight the same fights we had over the last three years.”

Said Republican pollster Whit Ayres, “Is that the same person? You’d certainly never recognize the Barack Obama of 2004 on the campaign trail today. The candidate of unity and hope and change has become the candidate of division and animosity and wildly irresponsible charges.”

Obama campaign officials did not respond to requests for comment for this article.

Thomas Mann, a senior fellow at the left-leaning Brookings Institution in Washington, said the bipartisanship that Mr. Obama espoused in 2004 and in his 2008 campaign for the presidency simply didn’t reflect reality.

“His speech in 2004 and campaign in 2008 were wildly unrealistic in promising a post-partisan future,” Mr. Mann said. “Our parties are ideologically polarized and intensely tribal.”

More than three years into Mr. Obama’s presidency, Mr. Mann said, the Republican Party has proved to Mr. Obama how wrong he was.

“Republicans have openly embraced a political strategy of complete opposition to all of Obama’s initiatives, even those modeled on Republican ideas,” he said. “They are waging all-out political war, and Obama would be foolish not to reciprocate in kind.”

Unchanging goals

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