Obama answers his critics

September 7, 2012, 3:10 PM UTC

FORTUNE — President Obama accepted the Democratic nomination by finally getting specific about some of his long-term goals for a second term.

He wove the policy aims into a 40-minute address blending his hallmark soaring rhetoric with this season’s newly sharpened edge. Among the targets he named tonight: He wants to add one million manufacturing jobs by the end of 2016, double exports in two years, halve oil imports in eight, and cut the growth in college tuition in half over the next decade.

Those goals should answer critics, many in his own party, who’ve complained the President hasn’t yet articulated a direction for the next four years.

Obama’s economic team has been heavily focused on a much shorter-term game, playing out scenarios for the high-wire act coming at the end of the year. The White House believes the so-called fiscal cliff — the one-two punch of the Bush tax cuts expiring as deep defense and domestic spending cuts kick in — will give them leverage to strike a major deficit-cutting deal with Congressional Republicans (Obama re-upped his goal of trimming $4 trillion in spending over the next decade in his acceptance speech.) And they’ll be looking to jam new stimulus and possibly a framework for a tax-code overhaul into that package.

Their aim is to help the economic recovery finally achieve escape velocity by pumping up consumer demand while meeting long-deferred needs, like rebuilding our crumbling infrastructure.

Those fixes may be necessary, even past due. But they’re also prosaic. Campaigns need to offer voters some moon-shot ambition to inspire them. Do Obama’s new goals meet that need? It’s a subject pundits didn’t wait for the end of the speech to start engaging on both sides.

I caught up briefly with Matt Bennett, a c-founder of Third Way — a center-left think tank that has called for more specificity from Obama — and he declared the speech a success on this score.

“If he had been any more specific, it would’ve been too much. And he offered some detail, but more importantly some vision about what the future would look like if he’s reelected. That’s what he needed to do,” Bennett said. “It was as detailed as a convention speech could be and still be effective, so we were very satisfied with it.”

Neera Tanden, president of the Center for American Progress, emailed after the speech saying the President still has some work to do. “I think the goals are both ambitious and clear. In the days and weeks ahead, I hope the President and his team will spell out how he would reach these goals,” she wrote. “In some cases, he has already; for example he has a plan already to reduce the debt by $4 trillion. But in some areas these are new promises.”