As anyone who follows American politics knows, presidential elections are won by the people in the middle of the political spectrum. Estimates vary, but most analysts assume that the Democrat base is about 40% of the population, the Republican base is about 40% of the population, and elections are decided by the remaining 20%. Recent polling indicates that President Obama is in trouble with this middle 20%.
The president’s re-election strategy seems to be focused on shoring up his base – focusing on the gay vote, the black vote, the female vote, the Latino vote, etc. – and trying to make Romney look like an unacceptable alternative. But I think Obama could win the election with a strong, conciliatory speech at his upcoming convention that returns to the themes that got him elected in 2008. His current strategy is turning away the middle 20%, but a speech like this could bring them back to his side.
President Obama’s primetime address to the nation from the 2012 Democrat National Convention, September 6, 2012
“In 2008, I presented my vision for our country. It was full of hope and change and was a sharp departure from the path we’ve been put on by Republicans. It was a sharp departure from the politics as usual and, as an outsider, I had promised that I would change Washington.”
The Mea Culpa
“What we all know is that I failed in that promise. I didn’t change Washington; I didn’t make our political system less divisive. In fact, I contributed to the politics-as-usual that I swore to change four short years ago. I didn’t mislead you – I really believed that I could change this town and I could change our politics.
“But I was given a gift in 2008. I was given a Democratic Senate and a Democratic House of Representatives and, alongside Speaker Pelosi and Senator Reid, we decided to accomplish the big tasks, the important policy changes, that we’ve wanted enacted for decades.”
“You’ll recall that I came to office following one of the worst recessions in our history. We inherited an enormous mess and quick actions were necessary, including a very large economic stimulus. The first two years of my presidency were important years; we were able to implement several important policies that I’m proud of.
“Our stimulus plans were necessary to save the economy from sinking deeper into recession. The auto industry bailout plans were critical to saving an important American industry. And the Affordable Care Act will significantly reduce costs across the health care industry and ensure coverage for millions of Americans. While these policies are controversial, I stand behind them and am proud of what we accomplished.”
A Failure of Leadership
“But I did not do my part to work with Republicans and change the tone in Washington. Because I was given a broad mandate, with a House and Senate to match, I abused that trust you placed in me in 2008. I could have honestly approached Republican leaders, incorporated their ideas into the stimulus and health care act, but I chose to go it alone.
“In the past you’ve heard me claim that I tried to work with Republicans, that they were the ones obstructing the economic recovery. None of that was true; that was politics as usual. Since I didn’t need any Republican votes, I didn’t see the need to reach across the aisle. Even after the American people tried to change things with the 2010 election, I continued to demonize my opponents and was unwilling to work with them.
“Sure, there are examples where certain Republicans obstructed my plans and used political maneuvers to get in the way of my policy achievements, but you elected me to lead. In that, I failed. I should have taken the first steps; I should have shown that I was willing to cooperate; but I led in the wrong direction.”
A New Kind of Politics
“I hope by now you realize this isn’t a typical speech – for me, or for any other politician. In politics, we generally don’t admit when we’re wrong; we don’t admit to our mistakes. But this is an important time and this is an extremely important election. I need you to know that I’ve looked back at my own actions, and I’m not happy with where we’ve ended up.
“A few years ago, before I was elected to the Senate, I was warned that I couldn’t change Washington. Instead, I was told, Washington would change me. I didn’t believe it at the time but it turned out to be an ominous prediction. You elected me to come and change Washington; instead I let Washington change me. For that, I’m deeply sorry.
“But that’s all in the past. It’s time to look to the future and recapture the magic of 2008. I realize the mistakes that were made, and I’m prepared to do what I promised four years ago. From this day forward, I will be the president you thought you were electing in 2008. I will be the man of integrity, vision, hope, and change that you were promised.”
A Good Faith Offer
“As a gesture of my sincerity and good faith, I sent a bill to the Republican leadership this afternoon. You’ll remember that the tax cuts enacted by my predecessor are scheduled to end on January 1st, which will lead to the largest tax increase in our history. I have said before that I will veto any bill that extends these tax cuts for those making more than $250,000. But in an effort to work with Republicans, and as proof that we can change Washington politics, I have asked Harry Reid and Republican leaders to immediately extend all of the Bush tax rates. I withdraw my threat to veto an extension of the tax cuts.
“The bill I have asked the Senate and House to vote on will extend the current tax rates for a period of three years. This gives us enough time to come up with true, meaningful tax reform. It also moves the extension of the tax rates out far enough to give businesses some near-term certainty. Finally, in three years we will not have to contend with election-year politics when choosing what actions to take. Hopefully, a three year extension demonstrates my good faith, and gives both parties an opportunity to come together to truly reform our tax code.”
A New American Vision
“Some will claim that this is a political ploy designed to get me re-elected in a few short months. I understand that there is a lot of cynicism out there, and frankly I can’t blame them. My record of doing what I say isn’t what I intended it to be, but I know that I’m a man of my word and I will prove it. I’ll admit that the cynics are right about one thing: this speech tonight is designed to get me re-elected.
“That doesn’t mean I don’t mean what I say – I absolutely do! But I believe honestly that the Republicans do not have a good vision for America. Mitt Romney must not be our next president. I have looked back on my own presidency and I am not proud, but I still believe that I am the best choice to lead the country for the next four years. The Republicans did significant harm at the beginning of this decade, and we can’t return them to office so soon.
“In some ways, I’ve failed so far, but I see the mistakes that I’ve made and I won’t repeat them. I will not fail again, and together we can create the America that was envisioned a few short years ago. So tonight, I’m asking for your vote. Give me one more chance to create that vision we believed in four years ago. I will not let you down.”
I still wouldn’t vote for the guy, but I think a speech like this might actually win back enough independent voters to guarantee him a victory in November.