DNC Dispatch: Obama's Tough Task This Week

President Barack Obama delivers a speech at the University of Indonesia in Jakarta on November 10, 2010.

It's easy to laugh at the Republican Convention. Paul Ryan's outright misrepresentations…Chris Christie's rebuttal of Ann Romney…Rick Santorum's big, strong, hands. Then, of course, there was the empty chair.

But the Democrats this week need to prove that they can do more than laugh, and they should take Clint Eastwood's challenge seriously: Prove to us that the president's second term would be more than an empty chair waiting for a new occupant.

Second terms are hard, and messaging a reelection campaign can be harder. You want to run on "We can do better," but find yourself chanting, "We can still do even better than the gradual improvements we've already made." The cadence isn't as rousing as "Fired up and ready to go."

President Clinton's reelection was famously about small bore issues, designed to bore the electorate. He was intentionally flash-less as he sought four more years. The Obama team can't go that route. They need to inspire the faithful, and put on enough of a show to remind independents why they voted for him in the first place.

And the show isn't just about moving montages and our own line-up of Olympians. It has to be about the substance of what a second term can offer. How will we see relief for homeowners, students and the armies of debtors in America? How will we transition our returning soldiers, graduating students and laid-off workers into a new economy? How will we make sure the 1 percent pays their fair share.

Then, of course, there's the toughest question: why didn't we take these steps already? What will Obama-Biden do differently?

I don't expect that all to be answered in this Convention. This is about boasting and inspiring, not about nuance and tactics. But we do need some substance from the President about what America could look like four years from now. President Obama has taken a backseat at times on crafting legislation, leading from behind as Congress put out initial proposals. He has had to be reactive to the economy, defensive against the Tea Party.

He's accomplished a lot, especially given his position at the starting bell; and he's done it while often being against the ropes. But now he needs to show us what it looks like when he comes out swinging. He might be able to win without doing that. He could sit back -- like the imaginary character in Eastwood's empty chair -- but we'd rather see the President speak up, speak loudly, and stand up for what he believes.

It's why we elected him the first time. And if this convention shows that Democratic leaders can leap out of their seats, then they might get voters leaping up and electing them again.