President Obama could have begun his address at the Democratic convention Thursday night with a well-justified report on all of his admirable achievements. There are plenty to support his re-election, including:
• Economic recovery, from the depths of deepest recession in 85 years and 8.8 million lost jobs, to 30 consecutive months of job growth and 4.5 million new private-sector jobs.
• Health care reform that paves the way, beginning in January 2014, to guaranteed, flat-rate, affordable, comprehensive insurance and health care for all comers, ending the fear of pre-existing conditions, unaffordable care and possibly premature death.
• Banking reform that had to overcome the vehement, relentless opposition of Wall Street lobbyists, who want another round at the speculative casino of derivative trading that brought us to the precipice of a global recession.
• An end, finally, to the absurd fakery of "don't ask, don't tell" -- a mockery of equal rights that took advantage of military service from valorous, patriotic gays, as long they were willing to hide part of their lives.
• A successful rescue and rebound of the automobile industry, saving more than a million jobs and keeping America manufacturing competitive in a most critical global market.
n Unassailable national security and foreign policy achievements, including the elimination of al-Qaida's top three leaders, termination of the Iraq war, and strengthening of international opposition to Iran's nuclear ambitions.
But Obama didn't boast about his significant achievements or his principled leadership. Nor did he dwell on the fact that his administration has been wrongly resisted at every turn by stone-cold ideological, excessively partisan and often racist opposition from Republicans and their rabid extremist supporters.
Instead, he emphasized a larger, more important point: The achievements of his administration, he said, simply reflect the values and support of Americans who embrace their citizenship in our democracy — the people who understand the "basic bargain at the heart of America's story — the promise that hard work will pay off, that responsibility will be rewarded, that everyone gets a fair shot and everyone does their fair share, and everyone plays by the same rules, from Main Street to Wall Street to Washington, D.C."
His administration's policies, he told his audiences, "is not about me; it's about you." Few presidential candidates would say so, but in fact, that is true. Obama's presence in office, and the goals he has sought, mirrors the values and the hope and promise of meaningful change that he campaigned on four years ago.
Like any other great challenge, that path is a journey, not a quickly achieved destination. The most meaningful of Obama's goals — improving education and making college more affordable, reversing the offshoring of jobs and nurturing innovation and domestic job creation, strengthening the middle class and workers' wages and protecting their earned entitlements and safety net programs, shoring up Medicare instead "voucherizing it," improving tax equity for ordinary citizens instead giving more tax cuts to the richest Americans, helping the poor advance out of poverty, protecting our environment and finite resources, and a balanced approach to deficit reduction — are simply not the core values of Republicans' agenda.
Ultimately, the argument for re-electing Obama is what he said: a clear choice of values. Democrats' core values aim to strengthen the broad middle class and protect earned entitlements and the country's safety net. Republicans use wildly exaggerated wedge issue positions (gun rights, gay rights, women's' reproductive rights) to distract voters from the party's core focus on more tax cuts for the wealthy and big corporations, at the cost of shredding programs that help ordinary working families.
The great irony in this campaign is that President Obama, for all he has achieved in the past three-and-a-half years, still has to prove that his impressive record of progress toward a better future beats a vaguely articulated Republican agenda that, at its core, would take the country back to the last Bush administration's immense failures.