CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Casting this year’s election as the clearest and most important choice in a generation, President Obama called on Americans to persevere toward a future where hard choices and shared sacrifice will lead to “a better place.”
The president, speaking before 20,000 delegates and guests at Time Warner Cable Arena, repeated a recurring theme of the three-day Democratic National Convention — that the path to recovery requires pain and a helping hand, compared with what Democrats assert is a “you’re-on-your-own” philosophy endorsed by Republican nominee Mitt Romney.
“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. 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 said.
“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,” Obama said. “And by the way, those of us who carry on his party’s legacy should remember that not every problem can be remedied with another government program or dictate from Washington.”
As he emerged onto the stage to accept the Democratic nomination, the president was embraced by his wife, Michelle, and enveloped by a roar of welcome. He smiled broadly, clapped, and waved to the energized crowd.
Obama mixed his trademark rhetorical flourishes with the numerical goals of a second-term agenda.
The president said he would work to reduce the deficit by more than $4 trillion over 10 years, add 1 million new manufacturing jobs by the end of 2016, and double manufacturing exports by the end of 2014.
In energy, the country would cut net oil imports in half by 2020 and add hundreds of thousands of natural-gas jobs, Obama said.
In education, the president set a goal of cutting the growth of college tuition by 50 percent and recruiting 100,000 math and science teachers over the next decade, and using community colleges to train 2 million students for the workforce.
“Know this, America: Our problems can be solved. Our challenges can be met. The path we offer may be harder, but it leads to a better place,” Obama said, describing his goals as “real, achievable plans that will lead to new jobs, more opportunity, and rebuild this economy on a stronger foundation.
“On every issue, the choice you face won’t be just between two candidates or two parties. It will be a choice between two different paths for America. A choice between two fundamentally different visions for the future.”
The president also countered Republican calls to balance the budget by shrinking the safety net. Instead, he called for broad national sacrifice that does not preclude compassion for the needy.
“We also believe in something called citizenship – citizenship — a word at the very heart of our founding, a word at the very essence of our democracy; the idea that this country only works when we accept certain obligations to one another, and to future generations,” Obama said.
The president roundly rejected a plan endorsed by Romney to turn Medicare into a voucher system, in which seniors would receive a set amount of government money to purchase health insurance.
“We don’t turn back,” Obama said as he concluded to a swelling ovation from delegates who stood for most of the 38-minute speech. “We leave no one behind. We pull each other up. We draw strength from our victories, and we learn from our mistakes.”
As the arena erupted in cheers, Obama was joined on stage by his family along with Vice President Joe Biden’s family as confetti fell from the ceiling and a simulated fireworks display lit up several large screens behind them. The sound system played “Only in America.”
Romney’s campaign was quick to criticize Obama’s speech.
“Tonight, President Obama laid out the choice in this election, making the case for more of the same policies that haven’t worked for the past four years,” Matt Rhoades, Romney’s campaign manager, said in a statement minutes after Obama’s speech.
“He offered more promises, but he hasn’t kept the promises he made four years ago. Americans will hold President Obama accountable for his record.”
Just before Obama’s speech, Biden accepted his renomination with a firm, fiery address that urged Americans to give the Obama administration another four-year term to implement its economic policies.
“We’re on a mission to move this nation forward — from doubt and downturn, to promise and prosperity,” Biden said. “A mission we will continue and a mission we will complete.”
Biden focused on two decisions — the bailout of the auto industry and the assassination of Osama bin Laden — as windows into Obama’s resolve.
“This man has courage in his soul, compassion in his heart, and spine of steel,” Biden said. “Osama bin Laden is dead, and General Motors is alive.”
Biden’s address was preceded by a parade of speakers who praised Obama’s record and ridiculed Romney’s proposals.
Senator John Kerry, the Massachusetts Democrat and 2004 presidential nominee, brought the crowd to its feet with a spirited defense of Obama’s foreign policy, saying he had inherited two wars, a military stretched thin, and a world that questioned America’s moral authority.
“He promised to end the war in Iraq — and he has — and our heroes have come home. He promised to end the war in Afghanistan responsibly — and he is,” Kerry said. “It took President Obama, against the advice of many, to give that order to finally rid this earth of Osama bin Laden.”
Then, Kerry said, “Ask Osama bin Laden if he is better off now than he was four years ago.”
Kerry’s barbs were relentless. “Sarah Palin said she could see Russia from Alaska,” Kerry said and, drawing attention to a Romney remark that Russia was the nation’s number one geopolitical foe, Kerry said, “Mitt Romney talks like he’s only seen Russia by watching “Rocky IV.’ ”
Gabrielle Giffords, the former Arizona congresswoman who survived a gunshot to the head in a shooting last year near Tucson, received an emotional welcome when she walked haltingly onto the stage to recite the Pledge of Allegiance.
Caroline Kennedy, an early Obama supporter in 2008, defended the president’s record on women’s issues and criticized efforts to ban and restrict access to reproductive services and programs.
“There is only one candidate in this race who is on our side: Barack Obama,” Kennedy said. “As a Catholic woman, I take reproductive health seriously, and today, it is under attack.”
Representative Barney Frank, who helped craft an overhaul of financial regulations after the economic collapse in 2008, warned that Romney was elected Massachusetts governor on a promise of job creation, similar to his pledge as a presidential candidate. That promise, Frank said, was never realized.
“I now hear about the great ability of this wizard of private-sector engineering, and I realized here is the problem: Our governor was Mitt Romney; what we should have had was Myth Romney,” said Frank.
In the hours leading up to Obama’s address, the arena was packed, with delegates dancing and swaying to performances from artists such as James Taylor and the Foo Fighters. They chanted “Fired up!” and “Ready to go!” They walked around the concourse, snapping pictures with complete strangers because they were wearing similarly outlandish Obama outfits.
A man had Obama stickers plastered on his shirt and shorts. A woman had a homemade ballot box attached to her head.
In the afternoon, Obama held a conference call with supporters who had hoped to listen to his speech in person at nearby Bank of America Stadium, which holds more than 70,000 spectators. The threat of bad weather prompted a relocation to Time Warner Cable Arena, organizers said, but Republicans speculated that the president’s campaign staff did not want to risk the sight of empty seats at the stadium.
After Thursday’s call to arms, Obama planned to embark almost immediately on a swing-state blitz.
Obama and his wife, Michelle, as well as Biden and his wife, Jill, were scheduled to fly to Portsmouth, N.H., for a campaign rally Friday at historic Strawbery Banke.
Later in the afternoon, the four were to fly to Iowa for an evening speech by the president at the University of Iowa.
globe.com; Matt Viser at firstname.lastname@example.org.