When Barack Obama steps to the microphone tonight in Charlotte, N.C., to accept the Democratic Party nomination for president for the second time, it will be a momentous time for him personally and a notable one for the nation.
That he will give a rousing, perhaps even soaring, speech, we have no doubt. Even his staunchest critics acknowledge that the man can speak.
He likely will charm us as well. Obama's blessed with an endearing smile, a gentle and sometimes self-deprecating sense of humor. And, no question, his Al Green impersonation has a melodic sophistication that Mitt Romney's somewhat off-key rendition of "America the Beautiful" lacks.
All of this is well and good. We like our leaders to be likable. And all of us want to be inspired.
But tonight, Mr. President, must be about more than style. Tonight, the words matter more than how they are said.
We offer two pieces of advice:
Give us good cause to restore our confidence.
Bring us together.
Above all else, those two aims have been the biggest disappointments of your first term.
They must be the absolute aims if you are to have a second.
A wonderful piece Saturday in The Economist accurately described the primary argument in defense of Obama's first term as "it could all have been a lot worse." The British international affairs magazine went on to say, "But this does not amount to a compelling case for re-election."
So far, the Obama campaign has tried to make the election about Romney, a negative campaign that tends strategically to demonize the wealthy and to emphasize his opponent's flaws.
Mr. President, if you run a campaign built around what's wrong with the other guy, you will do a disservice, we think, to your re-election chances but even more so, you will do a disservice to the nation.
Tonight's speech, and the fall campaign, need to be built around the promise of America. Both need to be built around constructive things.
Tell us how you intend to close the massive debt that threatens to destroy the economy and the country's future.
Tell us how you plan to get the private sector working and growing again.
Tell us how you plan to get the public sector under control and shrinking.
Tell us how you're going to reduce the cynical partisanship that corrodes the American spirit and makes Washington ineffective. Don't just blame the Republicans or conservative broadcasters for it. Tell us what you're going to do to change it.
America's been through four tough years. As a nation, we are weary. In our view, there is enough blame for that to spread around. Neither Democrats nor Republicans get off the hook.
The point is, what are we going to do about it? How is America going to get moving again?
That's what we want to hear tonight.