Ezra Klein is relatively upbeat:
If you looked past the rhetoric and focused just on the policy, this was a modest speech. It was a more humble vision. What President Obama offered the country on the final night of the Democratic convention was reminiscent of what Warren G. Harding offered almost a century ago: A return to normalcy after a long period of emergency.
Ross Douthat thought Obama played it safe:
This was a pure stay-the-course speech, workmanlike and occasionally somewhat distant, with a few inspired and moving passages standing out amid a litany of rhetorical moves that the president has made many times before. There was only the most general sketch of a second term agenda, only a relatively cursory defense of the president’s economic stewardship, and mostly assertions, rather than sustained arguments, to back up his claim that the country is headed (slowly) in the right direction.
Alex Massie agrees:
[I]t was mostly pretty familiar. Though he finished strongly there was less rhetoric than might have been expected and, frankly, the speech never quite managed to soar. On Twitter it was not hard to find people comparing it to a State of the Union address and that seemed a fair judgement. This is not a compliment.
Will Wilkinson’s verdict:
Mr Obama’s speech was a pastiche of highlights from speeches we’ve heard again and again for the past four years, and will have inspired few but true-believers. He failed to defend his record half as well as Mr Clinton, nor did Mr Obama sketch as concrete and compelling a picture of the choice facing voters. The president is playing defence, and it showed. As a whole, the Democrats threw a better convention than did the Republicans. It didn’t conclude on a soaring note, but neither did it end with a thud.
Daniel Larison focuses on the foreign policy section of the speech:
Some Republicans and conservatives bridled at Obama’s remark that Romney and Ryan are “new” to foreign policy. Of course, many of them made the same complaint against Obama, whose experience was indeed very limited. Obama and his supporters ignored it or sought to deflect it by appealing to good judgment. Regardless, one reason this jab irritates some Republicans so much is that it is a perfectly valid and fair criticism of the current Republican ticket, and it is one that they have used in the past and would have used if the roles were reversed this time.
Tomasky was bored:
Let’s be blunt. Barack Obama gave a dull and pedestrian speech tonight, with nary an interesting thematic device, policy detail, or even one turn of phrase. … This was the rhetorical equivalent, forgive the football metaphor, of running out the clock: Obama clearly thinks he’s ahead and just doesn’t need to make mistakes. But when football teams do that, it often turns out to be the biggest mistake of all, and they lose.
Kevin Drum felt Obama “phoned it in”:
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.
Josh Marshall suggests the speech was deliberately toned down:
The President’s advisors didn’t want that inspirational, rhetorical flourish avatar from four year’s ago. They wanted something steadier and more sober. But then it started to build, loftier and more aggressive. On balance, I think it was exactly the speech they wanted him to give.
Bob Wright wishes Obama hadn’t attempted to revive hope:
I thought he worked too hard to salvage the “hope and change” meme. (He reportedly said “hope” 15 times!) It felt strained and made him sound defensive and even, in a weird way, vain. Sure, people need to be persuaded that America is on the right track, and that he’s the guy who can sustain the momentum. But there were other ways to make that case (some of which, to be sure, he deployed). I guess I can see how he thought he had to directly confront the Republicans’ ridicule of his 2008 leitmotif, but sometimes discretion is the better part of valor.
And Noah Millman was “underwhelmed at best”:
I thought the speech as a whole was exceptionally weak. Not a sale closer – not by a long shot.