Rather than taking advantage of Mitt Romney's failure in Tampa to provide specific details on what he would do to turn the economy around, Mr. Obama likewise fell short on any new approaches to break the stalemate. Instead, he called on the millions who put him in the Oval Office four years ago to trust the cards he has been holding all along.
As Bill Clinton did with more spark and detail the previous night, the president cited the immense challenge he still faces after years of fiscal neglect and policy calamities, pleading for more time to stay the course. It is a plea that could not save Republican President Gerald Ford in 1976, for the obvious reason that he struggled under an unlucky inheritance of his own in Watergate, plus his pardon of Richard Nixon upon succeeding him.
Mr. Obama, however, is not weighed down by any similar anchor, but rather by an intransigent Republican leadership in Congress, whose obstructionism persuades him to try again to rally public support. In that effort, too, he got a boost from Mr. Clinton the night before, arguing that Mr. Obama remains "committed to constructive cooperation" despite having had the door slammed on him repeatedly in his first term.
The president's apparent willingness to stand pat and not offer any striking new initiatives suggests that his chief strategists believe that, despite tight polling numbers nationally, he is on a course to re-election in November.
Such a reading is encouraged by voter surveys and evaluations of the scope of the Obama campaign's organizational efforts in key battleground states. Their electoral votes can give the president a more comfortable route to retaining the presidency than is available to Mr. Romney. It could well be wishful thinking, but Mr. Obama did not sound in Charlotte like a desperate incumbent ready to throw a Hail Mary pass to jolt the campaign, as John McCain did four years ago by plucking perky Sarah Palin from nowhere as his running mate.
The closest Mr. Obama came to hinting at any surprises ahead was when he told the convention that "it will take more than a few years for us to solve challenges that have built up over decades." He went on to observe that "it will require common effort, shared responsibility and the kind of bold, persistent experimentation that Franklin Roosevelt pursued during the only crisis worse than this one."
However, he said little of any such FDR-like rolling of the dice for the next four years to match the gambles Mr. Obama himself took in his first term -- the auto-industry bailout that arguably saved it from collapse, and his gutsy call on authorizing the Navy SEALs to deliver Osama bin Laden to another world. Those two calls remain his strongest sound-bite pitches, already capsulated with bumper-sticker economy by Vice President Joe Biden's line: "Osama bin Laden is dead, and Genera Motors is alive."
In addition, as he did with Bill Clinton, the president left it to Mr. Biden in his warmup speech to make the strongest appeal to middle-class America, pushing the emotional buttons that are his specialty as the son of a car dealer from gritty Scranton, Pa. As a package, the show in Charlotte outdid the one in Tampa on the intensity meter.
Whether that will be enough to carry Mr. Obama over the finish line first in November will, of course, be up to the collective "you" that the president so urgently appealed to. In openly placing his fate in the hands of the same folks who delivered for him four years ago, he is counting on them to retain the hope he so effectively stirred then.Jules Witcover is a syndicated columnist and former long-time writer for The Baltimore Sun. His latest book is "Joe Biden: A Life of Trial and Redemption" (William Morrow). His email is email@example.com.