Is Barack Obama Talking Enough About the Future?

PHOTO: U.S. President Barack Obama speaks during a rally at Veterans Memorial Park, Oct. 18, 2012 in Manchester, N.H.
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To hear Republicans tell it, President Obama, the candidate of "Winning the Future," has struggled to lay out a plan for the next four years.

Indeed, Obama's stump speech has more to do with the past, defending what he's done in four years and safeguarding against a potential Romney presidency.

Obama argues that his policies are responsible for bringing the country back from the "worst economic crisis of our lifetimes," he kept his promise to end the Iraq War and wind down the conflict in Afghanistan, and he is protecting the country's economic security by boosting renewable energy and reducing oil imports.

But what comes next?

Some Democrats say that, now more than ever, Obama has to give voters more than a defense of his presidency, but a clear plan for economic growth if he gets a second term.

The problem for Obama has been exacerbated by a Romney debate strategy that has focused nearly exclusively on keeping Obama on his heels defending his record as president over the last four years.

Particularly in the first presidential debate, some Democrats believe that Obama missed a critical opportunity -- when he had a captive audience of millions -- to make his case for a second term.

"He certainly didn't do any of it in the first debate. But he did more of it in this [second] debate," said Democratic pollster Anna Greenberg, senior vice president of Greenberg Quinlan and Rosner. "People are looking for him to say something about how the future is going to look. There may be an opportunity in the debate and within the final bit of advertising to do that."

A Greenberg Quinlan and Rosner study conducted for Democracy Corps before the second debate by Stan Greenberg and James Carville, two veterans of President Bill Clinton's political operation, made the case that Obama should get bold and specific on policy. It highlighted an Obama campaign ad featuring actor Morgan Freeman that focused nearly exclusively on the past.

"Every president inherits challenges," Freeman said in the ad. "Few have faced so many. Four years later, our enemies have been brought to justice, our heroes are coming home, assembly lines are humming again."

By comparison, the report pointed out, Romney's ad focused on his plan to create jobs.

"Let me tell you how I'll create 12 million jobs when President Obama couldn't," Romney says to the camera.

"I don't think he has to have a 15-point plan, but I think he needs to have something," Anna Greenberg told ABC News. "It's reassuring and it has to have a sense of dealing with the cost of living, people's ability to get an education. It has to reflect and understanding of the struggles that they're experiencing."

The issue of who has a plan for the country's future has become an integral part of Romney's talking points.

Reflecting on Tuesday's debate at Hofstra University at a rally this week, Romney said that the debate exposed that Obama doesn't have a plan.

"I think it's interesting that the president still doesn't have an agenda for a second term," Romney said. "Don't you think that it's time for him to finally put together a vision of what he'd do in the next four years if he were elected? I mean, he's gotta come up with that over this weekend because there's only one debate left, on Monday."

In an editorial on Wednesday, the Wall Street Journal editorial board dug into Obama for spending more time at the debate attacking Romney's plans than laying out his own.

"The paucity of this promise, the difference between now and four years ago, was never clearer than in the president's response to the young man who said he'd voted for Mr. Obama in 2008 but is less optimistic now," it said. "Mr. Obama responded by reciting his achievements -- ending the Iraq war, 'health-care reform to make sure insurance companies can't jerk you around,' more Wall Street regulation, the auto bailout and more jobs."

Still, Bob Borosage, co-director of the progressive Campaign for America's Future, said that Obama's pitch is improving.

"I do think that given where people are, he would be benefited if, in fact, he were more clearly laying out the change he wants to see in the future," Borosage said. "I thought the debate dramatically advanced his effort in that regard, but I do think he has to keep going, he has to do more."

During Tuesday's debate and in the campaign speeches that followed, Obama laid out a second-term strategy focusing on outsourced job recovery, energy independence and education to counter Romney's five-point plan.

"We've got more work to do. That's why I'm running for a second term," Obama said at a rally in New Hampshire on Thursday. "I will not be satisfied until everybody who wants to work hard can find a job. And that means we've got to have a plan to grow not just the economy and create jobs, but create good jobs, and provide security for the middle class."

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