In many ways, the Democratic Convention was as close to perfect as you can get.
The tone was upbeat and confident. All the main speakers were terrific. Everyone stayed solidly on message, equalling or exceeding their Republican counterparts, as Michelle Obama matched Ann Romney's sincerity, Mayor Julian Castro matched Sen. Marco Rubio's Hispanic success story, Joe Biden matched Paul Ryan's call to arms and Bill Clinton showed that the Big Dawg still has it – the best political communicator we've seen since Ronald Reagan.
And then came Barack Obama.
His speech had the same cadences, the same gestures, the same phrasing that made him famous in 2004 and got him nominated and elected in 2008. His problem was that it also had the same message, with only one difference. Instead of "Hope and Change," this time it was "Hope and No Change."
Indeed, "No Change" was the theme of the entire convention. Aware that the public has been turned off by all the negative ads that preceded the convention, there was relatively little personal bashing of Mitt Romney, who was discussed more in sorrow than anger. Instead, the mantra, repeated over and over, was, "We inherited a mess but we've stabilized it. We're on the path to prosperity. Because of Barack Obama, things are moving in the right direction and if we stay the course with him, standing firm for the middle class and investing in the future, everything will work out just fine. All we need is patience."
Not a bad pitch for an incumbent who finds himself in the midst of a bad economy. However, given the reality of the numbers we face, Obama's "hope" comes across as "hazy," to use The Washington Post's word, and a policy of "no change" doesn't meet Bill Clinton's test of arithmetic.
Look at the numbers. Speaker after speaker spoke of the last 29 months, during which GDP has grown to a point higher than it was before the crash and millions of new jobs have been created. Standing by themselves, that sounds very impressive. However, in context, these numbers fall woefully short.
Yes, GDP has grown, but at 2 percent per year or less. That cannot cover the entitlement costs of a growing and increasingly aging population. That's why the national debt keeps increasing at unsustainable rates.
Yes, new jobs have been created — not necessarily as a result of the actions of the Obama administration, but never mind — but at levels so low that they barely accommodate the number of new graduates entering the work force. Statistically, that means that there are no additional jobs being created to take care of those who have lost them. That's why the unemployment rate still remains stubbornly high.
The Washington Post is hardly a Republican house organ, and has been sharply critical of Romney. Its editorial said, "Mr. Romney has been inexcusably vague in outlining his program, fiscal and otherwise, and he did nothing to mend this deficiency in his acceptance speech." It praised what it called President Obama's "appealing, even a stirring, vision of shared citizenship and commitment to democracy." At the end, however, it spoke of "Mr. Obama's refusal to fill in any substance, his once again promising hard truths that he did not deliver," and concluded, "If Mr. Obama has a plan, Americans who listened Thursday don't know how he would achieve it."
Patience won't achieve it. Hope won't achieve it. Only change — a serious change in direction in the way we handle on the economy — will achieve it. The election will go to the candidate who offers the most realistic path to that goal.
Robert Bennett, former U.S. Senator from Utah, is a part-time teacher, researcher and lecturer at the University of Utah's Hinckley Institute of Politics.