Until Obama's Labor Day speech in Milwaukee and his statement of principles Wednesday near Cleveland, it was not clear how much heart he had in the fight or whether he would ever offer a comprehensive argument for the advantage of his party's approach.
In the absence of a coherent case, Republicans were winning by default on a wave of protest votes. Without this new effort at self-definition, Obama was a blur: a socialist to conservatives, a sellout to some progressives, and a disappointment to younger Americans who wondered what happened to the ebullient, hopeful guy they voted for.
That's why the Milwaukee-Cleveland one-two punch mattered. The first speech showed Obama could fight and enjoy himself in the process. The second speech spelled out why he has chosen to do battle.
The news headline was Obama's decision to draw the line on George W. Bush's tax cuts. He would continue the most economically stimulative cuts for families earning less than $250,000 a year but say no to extending the rest of the tax cuts that, as Obama noted, "would have us borrow $700 billion over the next 10 years to give a tax cut of about $100,000 to folks who are already millionaires." What do Democrats stand for if they are not willing to take on this cause?
And I almost forgot:
Yes, Republicans had better start defining themselves. If they don't, Obama, who labeled them the party of "stagnant growth, eroding competitiveness and a shrinking middle class," is happy to do it for them. That's what changed in Milwaukee and Cleveland.