A surprisingly long parade of Democrats and media commentators described the speech less as a failure than a fizzle — an oddly missed opportunity to frame his presidency or the nation’s choice in a fresh or inspirational light.
Even those who liked the president’s performance generally went no further than saying that he was effective in doing a job that needed to be done, in a tough-minded if prosaic style.
These shoulder-shrug reactions confront Obama with a question no one expected to be asking when the week in Charlotte began: How did a president for whom stirring speeches were the engine of his rise to power manage to give, at best, only the third-most compelling speech at a convention devoted to his own reelection?
The answer is not simply that Michelle Obama’s and Bill Clinton’s performances were especially strong.
It is that Obama made a seemingly deliberate choice to keep his remarks chained tightly to the politics of 2012 — a race that has been defined by relentless, almost mechanical efforts to motivate voters with narrow appeals to specific constituencies and to destroy the opposition as a credible alternative.