Obama knew how to make it look easy, even though it wasn't. When he spoke at the past two Democratic conventions, he was a challenger. "I'm no longer just a candidate," Obama declared. "I'm the president."
On the political front, Obama has some impressive victories. "Four years ago, I promised to end the war in Iraq. We did," Obama said. "I promised to refocus the war 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."
Those are popular accomplishments. What impressed me Thursday night was that he didn't run away from his unpopular decisions.
I do not suggest that this speech proposed anything specific in terms of reforming the federal government or tax code -- the heavy lifting that lies ahead. The president gave lip service to deficit reduction but nothing more. His heart isn't into it.
Obama operatives frequently boast that the president is the guy who makes "tough choices." The campaign had hinted that the president would deliver a substantive speech with lots of specifics. Instead, the president offered up "goals" -- doubling U.S. exports over two years, halving oil imports by 2020, curbing the growth of college tuition -- that have as much force as a New Year's resolution.
And though the president argues that he wants more tax fairness, he doesn't sell his belief that raising taxes on high-income earners actually would spur the economic growth America needs.
But Obama truly did stick out his neck in defending his Affordable Care Act and social issues. He rightly said, "If the critics are right that I've made all my decisions based on polls, then I must not be very good at reading them."
The president stuck out his neck on gay rights. Some 30 states have banned same-sex marriage in their constitutions. Every time states have put a referendum on same-sex marriage on the ballot, voters have affirmed heterosexual marriage.
The people of the Tar Heel State voted against same-sex marriage by a 61-39 percent vote this year. North Carolina is one of 11 swing states. Obama won by 14,000 precious votes four years ago. Undaunted, the day after the state's same-sex marriage vote, Obama endorsed same-sex marriage.
On Thursday night, a young man named Jason Crow introduced himself to the Time Warner Cable Arena as "an Eagle Scout" who "was raised by ... two moms, Jackie and Terry."