NEAL P. GOSWAMI
BENNINGTON -- Vermont's two Democrats in Congress are gearing up for President Barack Obama's national convention speech tonight, hoping he lays out a strong case to the country for another four years of Democratic control of the White House.
Sen. Patrick Leahy, a veteran of political conventions, noted the difference in tone between this year's convention in Charlotte, N.C., from when then-Sen. Barack Obama became the first African American to accept a major party's presidential nomination.
"Few presidents have ever inherited so many challenges. And these were not just problems, but full-fledged crises, and one after the other. The magnitude of those challenges was over the horizon and out of view at the time of the 2008 convention in Denver," Leahy said.
Obama has met stiff resistance from Republicans since beating Arizona Sen. John McCain in 2008, Leahy said. Many of the solutions Obama has tried to implement have been blocked by Republicans, slowing the country's economic recovery, he said.
"The hope America felt in 2008 has taken hits in the meantime from the steady barrage of obstructionism and negativism that the President has faced on every front. But now the president has a record of real accomplishment, even in that environment, and he has maintained a leadership style of steadiness, determination and goodwill. He still has a deep personal reservoir of hope, and hope is infectious," Leahy said. "It is still there to be harnessed for the good of the country, and you can clearly see and feel that in Charlotte. I expect the president to summon that goodwill in his convention message, for the many challenges that still lie ahead."
Rep. Peter Welch agreed there is a distinct difference between this year's convention and Denver. Then, Americans were looking for a fast break from the presidency of George W. Bush, Welch said Wednesday in a telephone interview from Charlotte.
"It is different. All of us were looking to move past the Bush years. Now we're dealing with the enormous challenges of reviving the economy and the middle class," Welch said. "We're engaged in the hard work of implementing long overdue reforms. It's in the face of just constant and withering attacks by a dysfunctional Congress."
Obama's first term has included highs and lows for Democrats. He signed health care reform into law, but also agreed to extend tax cuts first sought by Bush, angering many of his supporters on the left. The country has also experienced an economic recovery that has been much slower than the administration had hoped for. "The president's challenge is to use this as an opportunity to explain to Americans where we are, how we got here and the way forward," Welch said.
Obama must now lay out the case for "reviving America's commitment to economic policies that rebuild the middle class." "I think what's going to be more important than what he says is the tone," Welch said.
The Democratic convention has so far drawn a contrast with the Republican ticket of former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan, Welch said. The GOP convention in Tampa last week laid out the case for a return to failed Republican plans, he said.
"The Romney-Ryan plan is essentially the Bush policies on tax cuts and deregulation," he said. "What Obama has to do is speak to people's sense of dismay that their government is not functioning effectively."