CHARLOTTE, N.C. — President Obama made his case to voters Thursday on the final night of the Democratic National Convention in a speech that contained references to LGBT rights.
Obama formally accepted the Democratic nomination for president and encouraged voters to give him another term, but cautioned the road ahead wouldn’t be easy.
“I’m asking you to rally around a set of goals for your country — goals in manufacturing, energy, education, national security, and the deficit; a real, achievable plan that will lead to new jobs, more opportunity, and rebuild this economy on a stronger foundation,” Obama said. “That’s what we can do in the next four years, and that’s why I’m running for a second term as president of the United States.”
Nearly 6,000 delegates waived American flags and held up blue signs reading, “Forward,” the slogan for Obama’s 2012 presidential campaign. Chants of “Fired up! Ready to go!” came before and after the speech.
At one point, Obama rapidly ticked off several national security achievements of his administration, which ended with roaring applause.
“Four years ago, I promised to end the war in Iraq,” Obama said. “We did. I promised to refocus on the terrorists who actually attacked us on 9/11. We have. We’ve blunted the Taliban’s momentum in Afghanistan, and in 2014, our longest war will be over. A new tower rises above the New York skyline, al Qaeda is on the path to defeat, and Osama bin Laden is dead.”
Obama also criticized Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney for not articulating a clear plan for how he’d achieve economic growth, saying the GOP didn’t have much to say on how it would put the country on a better track.
“And that’s because all they have to offer is the same prescription they’ve had for the last 30 years,” Obama said. “Have a surplus? Try a tax cut. Deficit too high? Try another. Feel a cold coming on? Take two tax cuts, roll back some regulations, and call us in the morning!”
Obama unveiled ambitious policies that he pledged to work toward if elected to a second term in office. Among his goals were creating 1 million new manufacturing jobs by the end of 2016, reducing new oil imports to half their current level by 2020, cutting the growth of college tuition by half over the next 10 years and reducing the deficit by more than $4 trillion over the next decade.
Attendees gathered to see the president in the Time Warner Cable Arena, where they had gone for the previous days of the convention. The original plan was for Obama to speak at the Bank of America Stadium before a larger audience, but that was cancelled because of predictions of inclement weather. The skies ended up being clear on the night Obama delivered his address and many who hoped to see the president were turned away because of lack of capacity.
At three points during his address, Obama made references to LGBT people and struggles they face.
The first mention came when Obama praised Americans for being a people who don’t blame minority groups — including gays — for the trouble afflicting the country.
“We don’t think government can solve all our problems,” Obama said. “But we don’t think that 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.”
Obama also criticized “Washington politicians” who would prohibit the right of people to marry. Romney supports a Federal Marriage Amendment.
“If you give up on the idea that your voice can make a difference, then other voices will fill the void: lobbyists and special interests; the people with the $10 million checks who are trying to buy this election and those who are making it harder for you to vote; Washington politicians who want to decide who you can marry, or control health care choices that women should make for themselves,” Obama said.
Finally, Obama hit on legislative repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”
“You’re the reason a young immigrant who grew up here and went to school here and pledged allegiance to our flag will no longer be deported from the only country she’s ever called home; why selfless soldiers won’t be kicked out of the military because of who they are or who they love; why thousands of families have finally been able to say to the loved ones who served us so bravely, “Welcome home,” Obama said.
Gay delegates who attended the convention said they were thrilled with Obama’s speech and it made them more committed to making sure he wins re-election this fall.
Jason Rae, a gay 25-year-old delegate and political consultant from Wisconsin, said Obama laid out “a bold vision” for what he wants to accomplish over the next four years. In 2004, Rae became the youngest person ever elected to the Democratic National Committee at age 17.
“He briefly touched on a number of issues, including LGBT issues, but spent the time he had necessarily laying out a stark contrast between an Obama presidency and a Romney presidency,” Rae said. “During the entire convention, LGBT issues — ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ and marriage equality — were frequent points of his accomplishments. No where did this convention hide his unwavering support for our community.”
Richard Socarides, a gay delegate from New York City and former adviser on gay issues for President Clinton, called the speech “a great finishing touch to our convention” and said Democrats have realized support for LGBT rights is good for them politically.
“It was a very strong speech and I love the embrace gay Americans are now receiving from the Democrats,” Socarides said. “We have told them equality is good policy and good politics and now I think they finally believe us.”
But the head of one gay conservative group who came to the Democratic convention was unimpressed with Obama’s remarks.
Jimmy LaSalvia, executive director of GOProud, issued a statement following the address saying Obama failed to realize economic concerns are a priority for gays and not LGBT rights. GOProud has endorsed Romney.
“For many gay Americans this election is about survival,” LaSalvia said. “It’s about finding a job, about putting food on the table, about putting gas in their car — it’s about the basics. The Democrats had three days to talk about these issues and instead they decided to focus on divisive social issues.”
Vice President Joseph Biden preceded Obama with his own speech accepting the Democratic Party’s vice presidential nomination. Biden praised Obama for accomplishments such as restoring the automotive industry and bringing bin Laden to justice, but also fulfilled his role as a presidential candidate’s attack dog by going after Romney.
“I found it fascinating last week when Gov. Romney said that as president he’d take a jobs tour,” Biden said. “Well with all his support for outsourcing, it’s going to have to be a foreign trip. Look, President Obama knows that creating jobs in America, keeping jobs in America, and bringing jobs back to America is what being president is all about.”
Biden, who publicly endorsed same-sex marriage just days ahead of Obama, didn’t explicitly mention LGBT issues during his remarks, but offered a line that may have been a veiled reference to the LGBT community, saying Obama sees a future “where no one, no one is forced to live in the shadows of intolerance.”
Following the president’s speech, the Catholic Church’s Archbishop of New York Timothy Dolan performed the convocation. Dolan is known for his opposition to same-sex marriage, although no boos or objections were heard when the he went onstage.
“Show us anew that happiness is found only in respecting the laws of nature and of nature’s God,” Dolan said. “Empower us with your grace so that we might resist the temptation to replace the moral law with idols of our own making, or to remake those institutions you have given us for the nurturing of life and community.”
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that Jason Rae was from Minnesota. The Blade regrets the error.