In the homestretch of his final campaign, President Obama has ditched the language of lower expectations once prominent in his stump speech, focusing instead on a repackaged jobs plan and adding a heavy dose of ridicule for Republican rival Mitt Romney.
When he embarked on his re-election bid more than a year ago, the president often sounded like he was on a mission to win back liberal supporters in a nonexistent Democratic primary. In his standard campaign speech, Mr. Obama would remind voters of the excitement generated by his candidacy in 2008, and would try to explain in apologetic tones why the pace of change was so slow in the four years since.
“That old ‘Hope’ poster is fading,” he would say in a typical speech, referring to the iconic campaign image of him from 2008. “My hair is a little grayer now. But I just want to remind all of you that we never said this was going to be easy. We never said that change was going to happen overnight.”
Even after Mr. Romney was assured of the Republican Party nomination, in mid-August, the president was criticizing the policies of his predecessor, George W. Bush, more than he was taking aim at Mr. Romney or explaining in his campaign speeches what he would do over the next four years.
“When I walked into office, we already had a $1 trillion deficit,” Mr. Obama said at the Iowa State Fair on Aug. 15. “And it all culminated in the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression. That’s the track record of the other party the last time they were in charge.”
But over the final weeks of the campaign, amid criticism that he lacked a specific agenda for a second term, Mr. Obama has sharpened his message about creating opportunity for the middle class. Nowadays, he doesn’t dwell on economic history lessons, telling audiences instead, “I’ve got a plan that will actually create jobs.”
“We have a message that we want to talk to voters about moving this country forward,” Obama campaign manager Jim Messina said Thursday in a conference call with reporters. “That’s what we should be doing.”
The Romney campaign has dismissed Mr. Obama’s “new” jobs plan that he outlines in his stump speech as recycled administration proposals of the past four years. For example, hiring more teachers was part of the president’s “jobs bill” that he proposed to a joint session of Congress in September 2011. But after Mr. Romney and even some of Mr. Obama’s supporters started wondering aloud what the president planned do in a second term, in late October the president began referring to his plan to recruit 100,000 math and science teachers as part of his “nation-building mission” to improve education and worker training.
“It’s in part to respond to the central criticism that Romney’s levied against him, which is that he didn’t get the job done,” said Simon Rosenberg, founder of the Washington-based New Democrat Network. “The Romney campaign is a very simple campaign. They have one argument — that Obama didn’t get the job done. So Obama’s responding in his close by saying, … ‘This is what I’m going to do.’”
Another feature that Mr. Obama has added to his stump speech, since his first debate with Mr. Romney on Oct. 3, is nearly nonstop mocking of the Republican. By even his own account, the president badly lost the first debate to his GOP rival, a loss he blamed in part on a shift in positions from Mr. Romney on various issues. Since then, in his campaign speech, he has been trying to get back at the Republican.
On Oct. 4, the president began talking about the difference between “the real Mitt Romney” and “the guy on stage.” The next day, he ridiculed Mr. Romney for undergoing “an extreme makeover.” The president started poking fun at his rival for wanting to eliminate funding for Big Bird and of “Sesame Street” and PBS, but dropped the reference when Mr. Romney began to criticize Mr. Obama for turning the campaign into a debate about “small things.”
At a rally at George Mason University in Fairfax on Oct. 19, the president revealed a mocking term for Mr. Romney that he has kept in his stump speech since: “Romnesia.” It’s Mr. Obama’s name for the alleged condition in which Mr. Romney is unable to remember his previously stated positions on the issues.
“If you say women should have access to contraceptive care, but you support legislation that would let your employer deny you contraceptive care — you might have a case of Romnesia,” Mr. Obama says, before adding a pitch for his own national health care law that he has become more open in defending.
The president’s punch line: “Obamacare covers pre-existing conditions. We’ve got a cure.” He never seems to tire of the joke, frequently laughing at it himself.
As the campaign has progressed, Mr. Obama also has reminded voters more forcefully about his accomplishments, instead of dwelling on the forces that have made change difficult and slow.
“Yes, we’ve been through tough times, but there’s no quit in America,” he said last week in Dayton, Ohio. “Our businesses have added more than 5 million new jobs over the past 2½ years. Manufacturing is growing faster than any time since the 1990s. Our unemployment rate has fallen to the lowest level since I took office. Home values are rising. The stock market has rebounded. Our assembly lines are humming again. Our heroes are coming home. We are moving forward.”
• Dave Boyer can be reached at email@example.com.
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