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Evaluation: Barack Obama’s Acceptance Speech

Now, it’s President Obama’s turn. As with Governor Romney’s acceptance speech, I’m not going to talk about the political issues or do any fact-checking. I’m just looking at how effectively President Obama gave his speech.

The challenge incumbents face in a reelection is that they start off on defense. They must convince voters to keep them in office. Their entire record for the past term is up for scrutiny, and every stumble is a target for attack. In contrast, their opponent is an unknown. If enough people are dissatisfied with the way things are, they will be tempted to get rid of the old and try something new. This is why in my lifetime, three presidents failed in their reelection campaigns (Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, and George H.W. Bush).

The best defense is a good offense, and that was the approach President Obama used in his acceptance speech.

He went after Governor Romney and the Republicans within the first few minutes. First, he went after their role as the offense by showing the flaws in their attack:

Now, our friends down in Tampa at the Republican convention were more than happy to talk about everything they think is wrong with America. But they didn’t have much to say about how they’d make it right.

In fact, Obama went after all of the criticisms that the Republicans had about him. That his policies aren’t showing results fast enough:

Now, 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’ll require common effort, shared responsibility, and the kind of bold, persistent experimentation that Franklin Roosevelt pursued during the only crisis worse than this one.

His policies will make government bigger and Americans more dependent on it:

…not every problem can be remedied with another government program or dictate from Washington.

…As citizens, we understand that America is not about what can be done for us. It’s about what can be done by us, together…

And he is an elite egotist:

So you see, the election four years ago wasn’t about me. It was about you. My fellow citizens — you were the change.

He also went after the disadvantages a challenger normally have in going after an incumbent. First, Governor Romney’s inexperience in foreign policy:

My opponent and his running mate are new to foreign policy…But from all that we’ve seen and heard, they want to take us back to an era of blustering and blundering that cost America so dearly…After all, you don’t call Russia our number one enemy — not al-Qaida, Russia — unless you’re still stuck in a Cold War mind warp…You might not be ready for diplomacy with Beijing if you can’t visit the Olympics without insulting our closest ally.

And as for the things the opponents have stated they want to do. President Obama went after those as well:

…all they have to offer is the same prescriptions they’ve had for the last 30 years. Have a surplus? Try a tax cut. Deficit too high — try another. Feel a cold coming on? Take two tax cuts, roll back some regulations, and call us in the morning.

…And while my opponent would spend more money on military hardware that our Joint Chiefs don’t even want, I will use the money we’re no longer spending on war to pay down our debt and put more people back to work…

He also went after one of the social conservatives’ favorite targets by appealing to the audience’s sense of decency and patriotism:

…selfless soldiers won’t be kicked out of the military because of who they are or who they love…thousands of families have finally been able to say to the loved ones who served us so bravely, welcome home.

Overall, President Obama did an excellent job defending his record and going after the weakness on the Republican side. He gave a convincing argument of why voters should keep him in and how his opponent isn’t the right choice to replace him.

Who gave the better acceptance speech, Romney or Obama? Looking at it strictly from a public speaking perspective, I give the first round to the President. Although Governor Romney presented himself as a reasonable, concerned, and respectful leader, President Obama gave a powerful case of why he should continue to keep his job. Barack Obama successfully turned the weaknesses that an incumbent faces in a reelection campaign into strengths.

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