What Are They Saying About Barack Obama's Big Speech?

Convention season came to a close last night with President Obama's second acceptance speech as the Democratic nominee. So how did he do?

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Convention season came to a close last night with President Obama's second acceptance speech as the Democratic nominee. So how did he do?

Well, the overall reaction from both conservatives and liberals is ... unimpressed. In contrast to Bill Clinton's barn burner the night before, or Joe Biden's emotional testimony a few minutes earlier (or even Jennifer Granholm's wild gesticulating before that), critics seemed to agree that the President's speech was safe, predictable, and mostly uninspiring. After leaving attacks to his surrogates — he barely mentioned Mitt Romney — and the policy details to Clinton, Obama chose to focus on his hopes for the future, driven by the American people who he says inspire him. There were some rhetorical flourishes, but nothing on par with the more celebrated speeches of his career.

Will he regret not going bigger or harder, or was playing it safe the right move? Only November 6 will tell. Here's more of what the pundits had to say:


Obama gives up on demand — Matthew Yglesias, Slate

President Obama's speech seemed like a very confident front-runner's speech.... There's a forward-looking economic vision here, but it's entirely a vision of structural transformation. A better health care system. Better schools. More domestic energy production, both renewable and natural gas. Better schools. Immigration reform. That's all good stuff, though I continue to find Obama's obsession with manufacturing to be a bit daft. But it's simply not responsive to the short-term jobs problem. If you're an unemployed adult, then reforming high schools or creating quality early childhood education isn't going to help you.

Why Obama's Speech Fell Short - Ron Fournier, National Journal

It was a great speech – and yet, it fell short. Obama still has work to do with the vision thing. Convincing voters that he has a credible, practical plan to turn the nation around is a process, not a speech.

A pedestrian speech greeted as a barn-burning sermon — Timothy Carney, Washington Examiner

I’m not alone in seeing President Obama’s renomination speech tonight as a bit pedestrian. It sounded like a regular stump speech. But in the Time Warner Center, the crowd treated the speech as a rip-roaring sermon. Any little applause line ignited a standing ovation.

Obama Phones It In For DNC Finale — Kevin Drum, Mother Jones

Overall, it was a decent wrapup. It was a decent defense of his first term. It was a decent appeal for votes. But there was nothing memorable, nothing forward looking, and nothing that drew a contrast with Romney in sharp, gut-level strokes. Obama was, to be charitable, no more than the third best of the Democratic convention's prime time speakers in 2012.

Obama's Convention Anticlimax — Molly Ball, The Atlantic

The president, that legendary orator, vaunted crowd-mover, well-known sweeper-away of audiences in general and political conventions in particular, gave a warmed-over rehash of his stump speech, right down to the exit music, Bruce Springsteen's "We Take Care of Our Own," that generally plays him out at campaign events.

Behind the Enthusiasm Gap, a War-Weary Obama? — Garance Franke-Ruta, The Atlantic 

That is the truth at the core of his oddly flat convention speech, and at the center of his technically skilled but strangely bloodless reelection campaign. Whoever Obama was when he was elected president has been seared away by two active wars, the more free-ranging fight against al-Qaeda, the worst economic crash since the Great Depression, and the endless grinding fights with Washington Republicans -- and even, I am sure, activists in his own party.

Obama’s Lame, Unconvincing Speech — Josh Barro, Bloomberg

Overall, the speech sounded really odd coming from someone who is already president. When you’ve been in office for four years, you have to tell us what you’ve done for us lately, and what you’ll do in the future. Obama should have taken some notes from Clinton on how to do that convincingly.

Three Quick Points on Obama's Speech — James Fallows, The Atlantic

On the speech overall: I thought it was not one of his best but that it did the job. "The job," in this sense, was having the party leave the convention feeling as if they had a case to present

Trading Places — Jamelle Bouie, The American Prospect

And so, to square this circle, President Obama has taken an unusual approach—he’s positioned himself as the challenger. He's not holding the line in hopes it won't break; he's mounting a charge against the other side. ... In the Democratic narrative ... Mitt Romney is a force for the status quo.

Obama's convention evolution complete — Ben Feller, Associated Press

On this night, gone was the excitement of someone new that was felt during his two previous convention appearances. And Obama, the graying incumbent, didn't try to recreate it.

Character, Not Audacity - David Brooks, The New York Times

There were parts of his speech that raised the old expectations. I liked the emphasis he put not on himself but on the word “you” — the idea that change comes organically from the bottom up. I liked his extraordinary self-awareness, his willingness to admit that often life on the campaign trail requires candidates to do silly things. I liked the sense of citizenship that pervaded his address, the sense of mutual obligation. But what I was mostly looking for were big proposals, big as health care was four years ago. I had spent the three previous days watching more than 80 convention speeches without hearing a single major policy proposal in any of them. 

The President Plays It Safe — Ross Douthat, The New York Times

I think that while this convention helped the Democrats overall, the president himself delivered one of the weakest major performances of his career.

Obama’s Convention — Yuval Levin, National Review

He surely could have done better than he did. He gave the fourth best speech of the Democratic convention, and the three better ones—Bill Clinton’s, Michelle Obama’s, and (rather surprisingly, at least for me) Joe Biden’s—weren’t spectacular. And he gave a speech that couldn’t rank near the top tier of his own presidential speeches.

Obama’s Fizzle — Rich Lowry, National Review

This wasn’t a speech that would have fit a stadium and barely fit the arena. It was mostly limp and tinny, and sounded very familiar. He has lost the capacity to surprise or interest.

A Recycled Speech of Failed Ideas and Many Straw Men — Erick Erickson, RedState

It was boring. It was unoriginal. And it was filled with promises when he hasn’t kept his past promises. Clint Eastwood’s empty chair could have given a better speech than what Barack Obama offered up. And to think he wanted to give that in a stadium.

Obama's convention speech no game changer — Douglas E. Schoen, Fox News

There was nothing aspirational, there was nothing really future-oriented in the president's steadfast defense of the path he's been pursuing for the past four years.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.