Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage on
 

Now it's up to Obama

By David Gergen, CNN Senior Political Analyst
September 6, 2012 -- Updated 1619 GMT (0019 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • David Gergen: Bill Clinton's speech added strength to a rousing convention
  • Gergen: Clinton was very effective in attacking Romney-Ryan budget plan
  • Gergen: Onus is now on President Obama to make a strong case for re-election
  • In his speech Thursday, Obama needs to explain why second term would be better, he says

Editor's note: David Gergen is a senior political analyst for CNN and has been an adviser to four presidents. A graduate of Harvard Law School, he is a professor of public service and director of the Center for Public Leadership at Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government. Follow him on Twitter.

Charlotte, North Carolina (CNN) -- After two big nights in Charlotte, more rousing than anyone expected, the Democrats now have a major opportunity: if President Obama can make it three-for-three Thursday night, they could possibly break open the presidential race.

Major caveats are in order. It is possible that the electorate is so severely polarized at the moment that even a smashing convention or a smashing first debate can't really move the needle. We will have to wait and see. It is also true, as John King emphasizes, that a bad unemployment number on Friday morning can persuade voters that the Obama team is actually incapable of reviving the economy.

But there is no doubt that the convention has already revived Democratic spirits. The roars in the hall have made it clear that the party has regained its fighting mood, newly confident they can retain the White House. While there have been stumbles, especially on the platform, the convention has been well choreographed and has had a string of successful speeches.

Opinion: Bill Clinton brings it for Obama

David Gergen
David Gergen
Sen. Durbin: Clinton 'is a great teacher'
Watch Bill Clinton's full DNC speech

On Tuesday night, Michelle Obama gave a testimonial on behalf of her husband that wasn't easy: her husband is so well known that it was a challenge to be fresh and inspiring. But obviously she did it, and Democrats around the country were thrilled.

Bill Clinton's speech Wednesday was at least as effective and probably far more so. Indeed, it is stunning that for more than 20 years, Clinton has been the best political orator in the country. Wednesday's talk was the best and most influential he has given since leaving the White House a dozen years ago.

Clinton did two things that were helpful for Democrats. First, he told the story of Obama's stewardship better than Obama has ever told it himself. Second, he did what no other Democrat has done well: he saw the vulnerable holes in the Romney-Ryan budget plan and drove a Mack truck through them.

Clinton strikes back at GOP

Thoughtful Republicans have worried for a while that Democrats may be able to turn GOP plans into a potent weapon for peeling away older voters as well as others; those fears just went up. Overall, it seems likely that if the electorate is still movable, Clinton moved it.

But even Clinton and Michelle Obama together, joined by many other forceful speakers, are not enough to close the final deal. Ultimately, Barack Obama is the only one who can do that. Others have set him up to succeed Thursday night, but only he can deliver.

News: Obama to speak after forceful Clinton endorsement

Among the major challenges facing Obama Thursday, two jump out. Obama has given numerous prime-time speeches now and his audiences have been shrinking. Voters more and more discount words; they want deeds. Solving that problem through yet another speech is no slam dunk.

Even more important, no one at this convention has given a sense of Obama having a compelling plan to propel us out of this economic mess. People won't be persuaded by half measures and bland assurances that sometime down the road, the economy will rev up. They want a road map that comes with some details. That's why success will rest on more than soaring rhetoric.

Obama's biggest test is to convince wavering voters that he can make the next four years better than the past four.

Follow @CNNOpinion on Twitter

Join us at Facebook/CNNOpinion

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of David Gergen.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
December 20, 2014 -- Updated 0242 GMT (1042 HKT)
Conservatives know easing the trade embargo with Cuba is good for America. They should just admit it, says Fareed Zakaria.
December 20, 2014 -- Updated 0112 GMT (0912 HKT)
We're a world away from Pakistan in geography, but not in sentiment, writes Donna Brazile.
December 19, 2014 -- Updated 1709 GMT (0109 HKT)
How about a world where we have murderers but no murders? The police still chase down criminals who commit murder, we have trials and justice is handed out...but no one dies.
December 18, 2014 -- Updated 2345 GMT (0745 HKT)
The U.S. must respond to North Korea's alleged hacking of Sony, says Christian Whiton. Failing to do so will only embolden it.
December 19, 2014 -- Updated 2134 GMT (0534 HKT)
President Obama has been flexing his executive muscles lately despite Democrat's losses, writes Gloria Borger
December 18, 2014 -- Updated 1951 GMT (0351 HKT)
Jeff Yang says the film industry's surrender will have lasting implications.
December 18, 2014 -- Updated 2113 GMT (0513 HKT)
Newt Gingrich: No one should underestimate the historic importance of the collapse of American defenses in the Sony Pictures attack.
December 10, 2014 -- Updated 1255 GMT (2055 HKT)
Dean Obeidallah asks how the genuine Stephen Colbert will do, compared to "Stephen Colbert"
December 18, 2014 -- Updated 1734 GMT (0134 HKT)
Some GOP politicians want drug tests for welfare recipients; Eric Liu says bailed-out execs should get equal treatment
December 18, 2014 -- Updated 1342 GMT (2142 HKT)
Louis Perez: Obama introduced a long-absent element of lucidity into U.S. policy on Cuba.
December 16, 2014 -- Updated 1740 GMT (0140 HKT)
The slaughter of more than 130 children by the Pakistani Taliban may prove as pivotal to Pakistan's security policy as the 9/11 attacks were for the U.S., says Peter Bergen.
December 17, 2014 -- Updated 1600 GMT (0000 HKT)
The Internet is an online extension of our own neighborhoods. It's time for us to take their protection just as seriously, says Arun Vishwanath.
December 16, 2014 -- Updated 2154 GMT (0554 HKT)
Gayle Lemmon says we must speak out for the right of children to education -- and peace
December 17, 2014 -- Updated 1023 GMT (1823 HKT)
Russia's economic woes just seem to be getting worse. How will President Vladimir Putin respond? Frida Ghitis gives her take.
December 17, 2014 -- Updated 0639 GMT (1439 HKT)
Australia has generally seen itself as detached from the threat of terrorism. The hostage incident this week may change that, writes Max Barry.
December 12, 2014 -- Updated 2020 GMT (0420 HKT)
Thomas Maier says the trove of letters the Kennedy family has tried to guard from public view gives insight into the Kennedy legacy and the history of era.
December 15, 2014 -- Updated 1456 GMT (2256 HKT)
Will Congress reform the CIA? It's probably best not to expect much from Washington. This is not the 1970s, and the chances for substantive reform are not good.
December 15, 2014 -- Updated 2101 GMT (0501 HKT)
From superstorms to droughts, not a week goes by without a major disruption somewhere in the U.S. But with the right planning, natural disasters don't have to be devastating.
December 15, 2014 -- Updated 1453 GMT (2253 HKT)
Would you rather be sexy or smart? Carol Costello says she hates this dumb question.
December 14, 2014 -- Updated 2253 GMT (0653 HKT)
A story about Pope Francis allegedly saying animals can go to heaven went viral late last week. The problem is that it wasn't true. Heidi Schlumpf looks at the discussion.
December 14, 2014 -- Updated 1550 GMT (2350 HKT)
Democratic leaders should wake up to the reality that the party's path to electoral power runs through the streets, where part of the party's base has been marching for months, says Errol Louis
December 13, 2014 -- Updated 2123 GMT (0523 HKT)
David Gergen: John Brennan deserves a national salute for his efforts to put the report about the CIA in perspective
December 12, 2014 -- Updated 1426 GMT (2226 HKT)
Anwar Sanders says that in some ways, cops and protesters are on the same side
December 11, 2014 -- Updated 1439 GMT (2239 HKT)
A view by Samir Naji, a Yemeni who was accused of serving in Osama bin Laden's security detail and imprisoned for nearly 13 years without charge in Guantanamo Bay
December 14, 2014 -- Updated 1738 GMT (0138 HKT)
S.E. Cupp asks: How much reality do you really want in your escapist TV fare?
ADVERTISEMENT