Commentary: Obama Plays It Close to the Vest in Victory Speech

While inspiring and, yes, hopeful, Obama’s victory speech on election night gave little indication about what Americans can expect over his next term.

Posted: 11/08/2012 11:30 AM EST
Obama Plays It Close to the Vest in Victory Speech

After months and months of hard, expensive campaigning, Barack Obama has been re-elected as president. He took some much deserved time off on Wednesday, leaving the pundit class and the rest of America to bicker and speculate about what will be on his agenda the next four years. But if you're using Obama’s election night victory speech as a template, that speculation can be difficult.

Obama’s speech was passionate, poignant and well-written, as are most of his addresses. Besides that, the context in which it was given — America’s first Black president swaggering into his second term after a trying battle — made it an inherently rousing speech, and one that had some people in the audience weeping. Those things aside, however, Obama didn’t offer too many specifics about plans or policy decisions for his second term.

After customarily but graciously thanking the Romney campaign, Obama then thanked his daughters and wife (“Michelle, I have never loved you more,” he said, to ooohs and aaahhhs from the crowd). After that, it was mostly a lot of well-meaning platitudes designed to talk up democracy and, hopefully, pull together a nation that polarized itself during the election cycle.

That's why elections matter. It's not small, it's big. It's important. Democracy in a nation of 300 million can be noisy and messy and complicated. We have our own opinions.  Each of us has deeply held beliefs. And when we go through tough times, when we make big decisions as a country, it necessarily stirs passions, stirs up controversy.

That won't change after tonight, and it shouldn't.

But while much of the speech was standard, almost boilerplate stuff — albeit inspiring boilerplate stuff — there were a couple moments when the president seemed to hint at what lies ahead, like when he said, “We believe in a generous America, in a compassionate America, in a tolerant America, open to the dreams of an immigrant's daughter who studies in our schools and pledges to our flag.”

Obama’s mention of immigration in a country that’s been dragging its feet on immigration policy for years now was surely music to activists’ ears. Will Obama get serious on tackling immigration in this term? If he’d like to help secure the Latino vote for Democrats for years to come, it would be wise.

It was also nice to hear Obama say, “We want our children to live in an America that isn’t … threatened by the destructive power of a warming planet.” After both he and Romney avoided mentioning climate change in the presidential debates, it was good to finally hear him talk about it on election night.

Talking about these things is the easy part, of course. Actually walking the walk over the next four years, as Obama knows better than anyone, will be the hardest part.


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