The whole point of the Democratic National Convention seemed to be, in the words of Washington Post business writer Steve Pearlstein, "to expose that Mitt Romney is smaller than the job he aspires to."
Take the claim by Romney's running mate Paul Ryan that he and Romney "will not duck the tough issues. We will not kick the can down the road. We will lead. We will not blame others for four years; we will take responsibility and fix this country's problems."
Speaker after speaker at the DNC rose to expose the fact that the Republican ticket's idea of standing tall and meeting problems head-on is to propose a budget that doesn't add up and which hides its painful and unpopular cuts inside a morass of bureaucratic legalese.
Or take the political mileage Romney has cynically tried to gain by pandering to religious conservatives after Democratic drafters temporarily dropped the word "God" from the party's platform.
"The pledge says 'under God,'" Romney piously intoned. "I will not take God out of the name of our platform. I will not take God off our coins and I will not take God out of my heart. We're a nation that's bestowed by God,"
In contrast, President Obama accepted his party's nomination for president for the second time by quoting another president who reminded us, in a speech that was the closest thing to a public homily an American president has ever offered to the American people, that "the Almighty has his own purposes."
While Romney was playing shallow and superficial word games, Obama was baring his own soul by letting us see a president confronting the tragedies that go with the job so as to better understand what Abraham Lincoln meant when he said: "I have been driven to my knees many times by the overwhelming conviction that I had no place else to go."
"Times have changed, and so have I," said Obama. "I'm no longer just a candidate. I'm the president. And that means I know what it means to send young Americans into battle, for I've held in my arms the mothers and fathers of those who didn't return. I've shared the pain of families who've lost their homes, and the frustration of workers who've lost their jobs. If the critics are right that I've made all my decisions based on polls, then I must not be very good at reading them."
Obama's convention speech has been widely panned by the critics, even the friendly ones, for being flat and dull and failing to measure up to the moment.
Yet, what was striking about its construction and tone was how much it resembled Lincoln's own Second Inaugural -- a speech which drew the same chilly reviews as did Obama's, and for many of the same reasons, though Lincoln's speech is now considered by many to be among his finest.
Like the convention audience that Obama spoke to last week, the Union Lincoln addressed on March 4, 1865 was in a triumphant mood. General Sherman had made his famous March to the Sea, hacking and burning his way through Georgia. And while Sherman had the rebels on the run, General Grant had them holed up around Richmond.
"The audience was surely waiting to hear the re-elected president give voice to their feelings of victory, with the end of the war in sight," writes historian Ronald C. White in his retelling of Lincoln's Second Inaugural, Lincoln's Greatest Speech. His supporters also hoped that Lincoln "would speak of the personal vindication of being re-elected."
Yet, with soldiers in uniform everywhere and in the highly charged, blood-lust atmosphere of wartime Washington, Lincoln seemed to go out of his way to lower expectations, to suppress enthusiasms and to deliberately disappoint -- if not depress -- his audience, writes White.
The audience wanted to hear about General Sherman and "the progress of our arms," but Lincoln reminded them that now was not the time for gloating or victory laps, writes White.
Unlike Lincoln's first inaugural or his Gettysburg Address, where he opened with "creative stylistic flourishes," White says the opening words of the Second Inaugural almost come off as awkward - "At this second appearing, to take the oath of the presidential office, there is less occasion for an extended address than there was at the first."
Talk about a buzz kill.
But leave it to Frederick Douglas to fathom Lincoln's true intent.
Both sides read from the same Bible, prayed to the same God and invoked His aid against the other, Lincoln began. And though "it may seem strange that any men should dare to ask a just God's assistance in wringing their bread from the sweat of other men's faces" let us not judge others that we not be judged in return.
"Fondly do we hope, fervently do we pray, that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away," Lincoln continued. But if God wills that the war rage on "until all the wealth piled by the bondsman's two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said 'the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.'"
Hearing Lincoln's call "to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation's wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan," and to do all that with "firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right," with malice toward none and charity for all, the great civil rights leader grasped instinctively that Lincoln intended his famous oration to be "more like a sermon than a state paper."
As he later wrote about the inauguration, Douglas reached the Capitol and took his place in the crowd "where I could see the presidential procession as it came upon the East Portico, and where I could hear and see all that took place."
Douglass also wrote: "The whole proceeding was wonderfully quiet, earnest, and solemn. From the oath, as administered by Chief Justice Chase, to the brief but weighty address delivered by Mr. Lincoln, there was a leaden stillness about the crowd."
Later, when Douglass attended the Inaugural ball at the Executive Mansion (it was not called the White House until later), he was seized at the door by two policemen who tried to throw him out a window.
Douglas implored a passing guest to "Just say to Mr. Lincoln that Fred. Douglass is at the door." The guest did as Douglas requested and he was immediately invited into the East Room.
"When Mr. Lincoln saw me, his countenance lighted up, and he said in a voice which was heard all around; 'Here comes my friend Douglas. I saw you in the crowd today listening to my inaugural address. There is no man's opinion that I value more than yours; what do you think of it?'"
"I said: 'Mr. Lincoln, I cannot stop here to talk with you, as there are thousands waiting to shake you by the hand.' But he said again: 'What did you think of it?' I said: 'Mr. Lincoln, it was a sacred effort,' and then I walked off. 'I am glad you liked it,' he said."
Douglas said that this "was the last time I saw him to speak with him."
President Obama may have disappointed some of his supporters last week when he remembered, soberly, another presidential candidate from Illinois "who spoke about hope, not blind optimism, not wishful thinking but hope in the face of difficulty, hope in the face of uncertainty, that dogged faith in the future which has pushed this nation forward even when the odds are great, even when the road is long."
That hope had been tested by war, by economic crises and and by political gridlock "that's left us wondering whether it's still even possible to tackle the challenges of our time," the President said -- especially when serious issues become sound bites "and the truth gets buried underneath an avalanche of money and advertising. If you're sick of hearing me approve this message, believe me, so am I."
But I have to believe President Obama had Honest Abe in the back of his mind when he told the Democratic convention, and us: "I won't pretend the path I'm offering is quick or easy. I never have. You didn't elect me to tell you what you wanted to hear. You elected me to tell you the truth. And the truth is, it will take more than a few years for us to solve challenges that have built up over decades. It'll require common effort, shared responsibility, and bold, persistent experimentation"
Those who carry on the Democratic Party's legacy, Obama continued, must also remember "that not every problem can be remedied with another government program or dictate from Washington."
In its seriousness of purpose, and manful humility and candor, Obama's grossly under-appreciated address last week was a "sacred effort" all its own.
So, let Mitt Romney prattle on about "In God We Trust" on America's nickles and dimes, the sincerity of President Obama's own public confession will ably serve to reinforce that trust which the American people already have in him.