Charlotte, N.C.- Saying the nation faces the “clearest choice” of any time in a generation, President Barack Obama asked Americans to give him four more years to finish what he started, telling the American public, “you didn’t elect me to tell you what you wanted to hear. You elected me to tell you the truth.”
Drawing cheers from the crowd, Obama said, “If you reject the notion that this nation’s promise is reserved for the few, your voice must be heard in this election.”
Obama’s speech, like his Republican rival Mitt Romney’s convention speech in Tampa, touched on the issues Latinos care about the most, the economy and education. But Obama repeatedly laid down the philosophical differences between the two parties, stressing his belief in the role of government as an essential tool to better the economic prospects of working and middle class Americans, and rejecting the Republican proposal for less government and fewer services in order to reduce the deficit.
“I refuse to ask students to pay more for college, or kick children out of Head Start programs, or eliminate health insurance for millions of Americans who are poor, elderly or disabled — all so those with the most can pay less,” said President Obama to much cheers.
This message resonated with the Hispanic Democratic delegates, who said they felt energized to defend Obama’s achievements and vote against Republican proposals.
“He has made changes no other President has made, especially in health care,” says Sandra Mendoza, a delegate from California. “I’m from a middle to low middle-income household, so it’s really important to people like us,” she said. While Mendoza said the President’s speech was not as “poetic” as in 2008, “he was able to outline what he has done and what needs to be done.”
Another delegate, Cristine Rodriguez, says she is going back to California and talking to more family and friends about registering and voting. “Medicare is going to go away as we know it with the Ryan plan, and my own granddaughter, 23 years old, was able to get insurance coverage due to the Affordable Care Act under Obama,” she said. “That, plus the issue of social security and the Dreamers, is why I’m going to go out and get more people to register and vote,” Rodriguez added.
While recent polls have shown less enthusiasm among Hispanic voters than in 2008, Obama’s vigorous defense of the programs he instituted could resonate as he works to address the nation’s Hispanics. In a recent Latino Decisions/Univision national poll, 60 percent of registered Latinos thought it is the role of government to ensure that everyone has access to healthcare; only 25 percent thought people should get it on their own. And 55 percent of Hispanics thought the best way to help the economy grow is by government investment, while 31 percent thought the government should lower people’s taxes.
Obama stated “we don’t think the government is the source of all our problems — any more than are welfare recipients, or corporations, or unions, or immigrants, or gays, or any other group we’re told to blame for our troubles.” The President and Vice President also stressed their commitment to Dreamers, and highlighted the President’s deferred action policy.
“Passing the deferred action was big in the Hispanic community,” said Democratic delegate Eric Jiménez. “Also, it was repeated over and over how inclusive the Democratic party is when it comes to immigrants, when it comes to women’s rights, when it comes to all these issues that people care about,” said Jiménez.
Saying that it will take more than a few years to solve challenges and to do the kind of “bold, persistent experimentation” that Franklin Roosevelt had to do during the Great Depression, Obama told Americans to “choose the future” and rally around his goals in rebuilding the economy. Obama also touted his administration’s achievements, saying the U.S. is less dependent on foreign oil than any time in over two decades, the country has higher standards in education, and, in a line that drew loud cheers, “Obama Bin Laden is dead.”
In the end, though, Obama turned his 2008 message of hope into a different one. “Times have changed, and so have I,” he said. Then he said he still has hope — because of the American people. “If you share that faith with me, if you share that hope – I ask you tonight for your vote.”
But before the President spoke, Vice President Biden gave a sweeping, passionate defense of his boss, President Obama. “Day after day, night after night, I sat beside him, as he made one gutsy decision after another to stop the slide and reverse it… Most of all, I saw what drove him: his profound concern for the American people.”
Biden related how Obama ignored advice against bailing the auto industry. “He understood something they didn’t. He understood that this wasn’t just about cars. It was about the America who built those cars and the America they built.” Biden then went after Mitt Romney, saying, “he was willing to let Detroit go bankrupt. It’s not that he’s a bad guy — I just don’t think he understood,” said Biden.
The Vice President said the election was a choice between two sets of values. “Folks, the Bain way may bring your firm the highest profit. But it’s not the way to lead the country from its highest office,” said Biden to cheers. “This man has courage in his soul, compassion in his heart, and steel in his spine.” But perhaps the best line was when the Vice President said Obama “will not downsize the American dream.”
The night of speeches included various Latino Democrats, including actress and Obama for America Chair Eva Longoria. “I’ve been in a lot of stages, but none as important as this one,” said Longoria. The Mexican-American actress spoke of her modest childhood in Texas with her mother, father, and sisters, one of whom had special needs. Longoria said she made it through college with loans and many jobs, including working at Wendy’s. Longoria accused the Romney administration of having the wrong priorities.
“The Eva Longoria who worked at Wendy’s flipping burgers — she needed a tax break. But the Eva Longoria who works on movie sets does not,” she said to wide applause. Longoria said President Obama and is committed to the Dream Act and equal pay for women. And in a rebuttal to Republicans who argue Obama’s policies have been detrimental to small business owners, Longoria said the Obama administration had cut taxes for small businesses 18 times.
California Latino Democratic Congressman Xavier Becerra said his mother arrived as a newlywed speaking no English, but realized she and her husband’s “sueño americano” by being able to send their four children to college. “In any language, that’s what this election is about!” said Becerra. “Maybe Governor Romney has forgotten how we got into this mess that President Obama faced, but we haven’t — two wars, tax breaks for the wealthiest, the Wall Street bailout, Katrina!” Becerra added.
Toward the beginning of the evening, Alejandra Salinas, a gay Latina who is the president of the College Democrats of America, assured the convention crowd that young people would be a force in the President’s re-election. “Mitt Romney called my generation a lost generation,” said Salinas, who was an immigration activist in her teens and is currently going to law school. “We know exactly where we are going — we’re going forward not backward, we’re going to register voters, and on November 6th, elect our champion, Barack Obama.” Salinas said on immigration, college funding, health insurance access and LGBT issues, “President Obama has proven he cares about all of us.”
The Latino Democratic delegates leaving the convention center seemed energized and ready to roll up their sleeves to work for Obama’s re-election. “As our First Lady said, we have to work harder than we’ve ever worked before,” says Christine Rodriguez.