CHARLOTTE, N.C. - The Greek columns of 2008 were gone. That year, Barack Obama accepted his party's nomination in a Denver football stadium busting with an ebullient crowd. Four years later, he downsized from a 70,000-seat football stadium to accept the nomination in a packed, 20,000-seat basketball arena.
Threatening rain prevented him from speaking at the planned venue of Charlotte's Bank of America Stadium, but the location change seemed an apt analogy for the downsized expectations of President Obama's second term.
In Obama's 2008 nomination acceptance speech, he said, "The greatest risk we can take is to try the same old politics with the same old players and expect a different result. … At defining moments like this one, the change we need doesn't come from Washington. Change comes to Washington."
At the Democratic National Convention's closing night Thursday, Vice President Joe Biden adjusted expectations in setting the table for Obama. "The cause of change is not fully accomplished, but we are on our way," said Vice President Biden.
The president, in his prime time speech to accept the Democratic Party's nomination, said it would take "more than a few years" for the country to recover.
"I won't pretend the path I'm offering is quick or easy," he said. "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."
The crowd of Democratic delegates roared with adoration, but the Obama campaign will be analyzing how a recession-worn population responds. The unemployment rate was 7.6 percent when Obama took office in 2009, and is now 8.3 percent. As of August's numbers, 12.8 million Americans are unemployed, 40 percent of whom have been unemployed for more than six months. This year the national debt outgrew the entire economic output of the United States. One economic glimmer is that the stock market has recently climbed and climbed, reaching the highest levels since Obama took office.
On the streets outside Time Warner Cable Arena, where Obama delivered his speech, vendors sold much of the same souvenirs from 2008: paintings of Obama alongside Martin Luther King Jr. and T-shirts with the iconic "Hope" image of Obama by Shepard Fairey. But one item for sale acknowledged the struggle of the last four years: a sign with Obama's face that read, "Tough times don't last, tough people do."
That's exactly the message Obama tried to communicate Thursday night: That things are bad, but he deserves more time - and voters can be more confident leaving problems in the hands of someone who's handled the presidency for four years and, by the way, eliminated Osama bin Laden. (Almost every speaker mentioned the assassination.) Sen. John Kerry, the Democratic chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, slammed Republican nominee Mitt Romney for not mentioning Afghanistan once in his speech last week accepting his party's nomination for president.
Earlier in the evening, a video played of Obama's accomplishments in his first term: healthcare reform, the assassination of Osama bin Laden, stem cell research funding, and the "Don't Ask Don't Tell" repeal among other items. Unmentioned were his broken promises, like closing the military prison at Guantanamo Bay, or making sure all of his legislative plans were fully paid for. But the video noted one further accomplishment: "contraceptive coverage, guaranteed."
Cardinal Timothy Dolan, the head of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, which has had very public clashes with the Obama administration over the contraceptive mandate, delivered the convention's benediction. In praying for the country Dolan deftly referenced abortion and religious freedom.
"We ask your benediction on those waiting to be born, that they may be welcomed and protected," he prayed. He also prayed for "those who are persecuted for their religious convictions." But he didn't emphasize those issues, rather offering a broader prayer for the nation. The crowd appeared mostly silent and respectful.
Then Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, the convention chairman, moved that the 2012 Democratic National Convention be adjourned, and delegates and press filtered out onto the streets of Charlotte, where at least one vendor had cut the prices on his Obama T-shirts.