With both parties' political conventions over, the war over the White House is on.
Speaking a week after the Republican Party held its national convention in Tampa, President Barack Obama made his case for re-election this past week before enraptured Democrats in Charlotte, N.C.
Gone were the "one America" theme from his famous keynote address at the 2004 Democratic convention and the post-partisanship appeal of his nomination acceptance speech of 2008. This time, Obama vilified his political opposition and put voters on notice that in November they have "a choice between two different paths for America" and "two fundamentally different visions for the future."
The Republicans, he said, offer little beyond tax cuts for the rich and hardship for everyone else. He and the Democrats, Obama said, will continue to make slow but steady progress in their efforts to remake the country.
Acknowledging that economic progress has not come as quickly as he had hoped, Obama promised that better days are ahead and pledged to continue his first-term practice of proposing more government action to boost the economy.
Some may have been surprised that Obama was so open about his plans for more government-based solutions, given the disappointments surrounding the $800 billion-plus economic stimulus program and the unpopularity of the his Affordable Care Act. But his intentions are unmistakable, to the point that Obama borrowed a line from a 1932 speech made by then-presidential candidate Franklin Roosevelt at Oglethorpe University in Atlanta.
The country then was in the depths of the Great Depression and, foreshadowing his proposals for an alphabet soup of government programs and an unprecedented expansion of federal authority, FDR spoke of the need for "bold, persistent experimentation" in devising solutions.
Eighty years later, Obama repeated the theme.
"The truth is that it will take more than a few years for us to solve challenges that have built up over decades. It will require common effort, shared responsibility and the kind of bold, persistent experimentation that Franklin Roosevelt pursued during the only crisis worse than this one," he said.
As he has in the past, Obama offered hope for a brighter future, pledging to create 1 million new manufacturing jobs in the next four years and cut oil imports in half by 2020. Unfortunately, he did not say how, and Republicans will be quick to argue that his future promises will prove as empty as his past ones.
To no one's surprise, Obama and his surrogates made political hay out of what surely is the most popular achievement of his first term, his decision to authorize a clandestine mission by Navy SEALs to kill 9/11 mastermind Osama bin Laden at his Pakistan hideout.
"Ask Osama bin Laden if he is better off now than he was four years ago," U.S. Sen. John Kerry declared, turning a favored GOP phrase back on Romney and the Republicans in a way that brought cheering Democratic delegates to their feet.
Identified more by his domestic problems than his foreign policy accomplishments, Obama cited his handling of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan as positives on his resume.
"Four years ago, I promised to end the war in Iraq. We did," he said, while noting that "we've blunted the Taliban's momentum in Afghanistan, and in 2014, our longest war will be over."
Republicans, of course, have a sharply different interpretation of Obama's first term as president. But that's what elections are supposed to be about — choosing from clear alternatives.
Despite Obama's lofty rhetoric, his 2004 declaration about one, united America and his 2008 emphasis on post-partisanship were never anything but empty appeals to the foolishly idealistic and the politically naive. Americans are united on general principles and goals, but always have been and always will be divided, sometimes deeply, on how best to achieve them.
Obama has acknowledged that reality, thrown down the rhetorical gauntlet and asked Americans to choose sides in the Nov. 6 election.