Obama finds Bill Clinton and Michelle hard acts to follow

Barack Obama addresses the Democratic convention in Charlotte, North Carolina

President fails to soar to the rhetorical heights expected of him at the Democratic convention

LAST UPDATED AT 11:19 ON Fri 7 Sep 2012

BARACK OBAMA urged Americans to stay the course and give him a second term in his speech to the Democratic convention in Charlotte, North Carolina last night.

"If you turn away now - if you buy into the cynicism that the change we fought for isn't possible... well, change will not happen," he said in a rare rhetorical flourish during a speech described by a number of commentators as "workmanlike".

The president, normally celebrated for his oratorical skill, fell foul of comparisons with his own high standards - and with Bill Clinton's rabble- rousing address the night before.

"As Obama speeches go it was plodding," writes Gary Younge in The Guardian. "As a man whose presidency was launched on a great convention speech, he can do better and we know it." 

But critics have in the past accused Obama of failing to live up to his "inspiring words" with "impressive deeds", says Younge: "He can talk the talk. Last night he had to show he could walk the walk.

"So fittingly it was a pedestrian address: a deliberate, methodical case for a second term. The best lines had been taken. Both his wife, Michelle, and his surrogate, Bill Clinton, had raised the bar in terms of oratory."

Obama did indeed offer more specific goals than did his Republican opponent Mitt Romney, notes The Washington Post in an editorial.

Doubling US exports, recruiting 100,000 maths and science teachers and creating one million manufacturing jobs "are laudable". But, the Post says, "Obama did not explain how he would achieve them... If Mr. Obama has a plan, Americans who listened Thursday don't know how he would achieve it."

Glenn Thrush on Politico thinks these policy goals "relatively modest". But they were accompanied by "hammer-blow attacks on Romney's foreign policy inexperience".

Referring to his opponent's visit to London on the eve of the Olympics, Obama suggested Romney might not be ready for diplomacy with Beijing if he "can't visit the Olympics without insulting our closest ally". This was firm electoral ground "for a seasoned commander-in-chief whose warm-up speakers relentlessly invoked the killing of Osama bin Laden", says Thrush.

But it was all a bit safe, says Ross Douthat of the New York Times. "This was a pure stay-the-course speech, workmanlike and occasionally somewhat distant.

"In the shadow of Clinton's performance, the president often felt flat, rote, and unconvincing - almost as though he wasn't quite convinced by his own arguments and promises, and felt a little awkward selling them to us."

Delegates at the Democratic convention nevertheless professed themselves pleased with the speech and the general opinion was that Obama would enjoy a poll boost as a result. But others were unsure that the president's speech will have chimed with independents.

Reuters finance blogger Felix Salmon tweeted halfway through the speech: "I simply don't believe there are any undecided voters who haven't flipped the channel by now."

And right-wing bloggers were unable to hide their delight at the uncharacteristically flat Obama speech. "The Romney camp will breathe a sigh of relief," writes one of them, Jennifer Rubin, in the Washington Post. "There is nothing in the speech we have not heard, nor is there any sense that Obama has grown in the job.

"He leaves the field wide open for Mitt Romney to be the adult in the race, the responsible leader. If Romney can fully embrace that role, the presidency will be his." · 

For further concise, balanced comment and analysis on the week's news, try The Week magazine. Subscribe today and get 6 issues completely free.