Barack Obama accepted the Democratic nomination for president by giving a speech that managed to bring the head-in-the-clouds mood of the convention back to the grind of governing.

“I’m no longer just a candidate. I’m the President,” said Obama, and it wasn’t a boast but a reality check.

Obama talked just how humbling an experience being president is. “And while I’m proud of what we’ve achieved together,” Obama said, “I’m far more mindful of my own failings, knowing exactly what Lincoln meant when he said, ‘I have been driven to my knees many times by the overwhelming conviction that I had no place else to go.'”

That said, Obama made it very clear that the election is a choice about two different visions. (By contrast, the Republicans originally wanted the election to be a referendum on Obama’s job performance, but having Paul Ryan play the Brain to Mitt Romney’s Pinky scotched that idea.) Most of the time, Obama talked about the long road toward change, which is just starting. “I won’t pretend the path I’m offering is quick or easy. I never have. You didn’t elect me to tell you what you wanted to hear,” Obama said.  “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.”

Obama didn’t rely on the sweeping rhetoric of Bill Clinton or the emotional warmth of Michelle Obama, probably by design. He needed to impress upon voters that governing is more about hard labor than flourishes. It wasn’t quite the laundry list of accomplishments that people expected (although Obama did wedge in references to marriage equality the repeal of don’t ask, don’t tell). Pundits expecting Obama to knock it out of the arena with a barnburner found the speech lacking. (They also might be self-correcting themselves after two nights of effusive praise.) The speech certainly was a sobering ending to the convention. But the fact of the matter is, many voters feel these are sobering times, so perhaps Obama was right to reflect that mood. We’ll see after the post-convention polls how it played.

Nonentheless, the convention was an incredibly well-managed and well-messaged event. (Remember, we’re talking about Democrats here, the party of chaos theory.) There was demonstrably more energy among the delegates than there were among Republicans in Tampa. And the messages were consistent throughout: Democrats have a “we’re all in this together” vision of the future, while Republicans are focused solely on helping the wealthy. The Democrats also presented specific policy ideas, and as Joe Biden reminded the convention, pointed to Obama’s successes that offered reason to support those ideas. It was also a new, muscular party, one that showed no compunction attacking Republicans and boasting of its support of gays and lesbians.

Neither convention was a game changer for either party, but for Republicans that’s the problem. They really need to shake things up in the two months before the election. The election looks close, but it still looks better for Obama. Republicans need a compelling reason for voters to break their way, and they’ve yet to come up with it. The best they could hope for was that disappointment in Obama would dampen his turnout. But if the Democrats can stay as fired up as they were in Charlotte, that narrows Romney’s path to victory even further. Sixty days can be an eternity in politics, but for the Republicans, it may not be long enough to turn things around.

Photo credit: Barack Obama

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