by Dave Clark
WASHINGTON, Sept 7, 2012 (AFP) – First lady Michelle Obama was enthralling, former president Bill Clinton inspiring and Vice President Joe Biden endearing — but President Barack Obama’s speech brought observers down with a bump.
On Friday, reaction from experts and pundits of both right and left to the US leader’s underwhelming re-election pitch — the supposed climax of his nominating convention — was marked by widespread disappointment.
And it wasn’t just the predictable scorn of supporters of the Democratic incumbent’s Republican rival Mitt Romney — many on the left were wondering what had happened to the renowned orator who blew them away in 2008.
“This was the rhetorical equivalent, forgive the football metaphor, of running out the clock,” wrote Michael Tomasky, a political correspondent for the Daily Beast news website and left-wing British daily The Guardian.
“Obama clearly thinks he’s ahead and just doesn’t need to make mistakes,” he surmised, warning: “But when football teams do that, it often turns out to be the biggest mistake of all, and they lose.”
On the website of news monthly The Atlantic, staff writer Molly Ball said Obama appeared to be on the defensive: “The speech was so befuddlingly flat as to make you wonder whether its lameness was intentional.
“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,” she complained.
Expectations were high, perhaps explaining some of the disappointment.
Obama has won himself a reputation as an arresting speaker. In 2004, the then junior senator gave a speech to the same forum, the Democratic National Convention, that is credited with launching his rapid rise to power.
In 2008, running for president himself, he inspired hopes of a generational change in US politics with a stirring campaign promising voters hope and what his campaign dubbed: “Change you can believe in.”
Then he was confronted by the reality of the global economic crisis and, when his party lost control of Congress, with two years of political trench warfare with a Republican majority determined to thwart his plans.
With joblessness persistently high and economic growth weak, many expected greater humility from Obama as he went back to the people to ask for four more years to carry through his program, but even they were surprised.
Observers noted that he had been outshone by the Democrats’ starry line up in the warm-up to his speech over three days this week at the nominating convention in Charlotte, North Carolina.
The popular first lady, Michelle Obama, gave a moving and compelling account of the Obama’s personal character on Tuesday night, and then on Wednesday former president Bill Clinton brought the house down.
No one could match Clinton’s star power, but on Thursday failed presidential candidate Senator John Kerry mocked Romney’s limited foreign policy experience and Vice President Biden warmed up the hall for his boss.
Then came Obama, reworking his “hope” theme, but when he humbly gave credit to the American people, he did so in the past tense: “You were the change.”
The CNN news network’s star anchor, Anderson Cooper, was unimpressed, comparing the speech to one of the president’s annual State of the Union addresses “in terms of hoing down a checklist.”
Veteran political chronicler Joe Klein of Time magazine noted that Obama had still outperformed Romney, whose own uncharismatic speech at the Republican convention last week had done nothing to shake off his stiff persona.
But Klein echoed many, when he lamented the lack of policy propositions or fresh vision in Obama’s offering, which did little to flesh out his plans for economic recovery beyond pleading for more time.
“He acknowledged mistakes. But he did not close the deal. The speech disappointed me, and I’m not quite sure why. Perhaps it was the absence of detail,” he wrote.
“I wanted him to say: here’s what we did that worked, here’s where we need to work harder, here are a few things we’ve learned we have to do differently, here’s what I hope we can do.”
Obama’s supporters at the Charlotte convention appeared to leave the event on a high — or in the words of their slogan: “Fired up, ready to go.”
But polls remain tight with just 60 days to go before polling on November 6, and both Romney and Obama returned to an intensive campaign schedule Friday, hitting the key swing states which will decide the election.
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