Perhaps it was because it was a long speech delivered in the middle of a mid-week afternoon, with no prepared remarks distributed in advance (and no transcription available for quite some time). Maybe the White House overhyped it as a big turning point. Almost certainly the MSM, having manufactured a crisis in the Obama campaign over the last week, expected some dramatic departure or new catch-phrase. The speech did get a bit draggy in the sections on education and energy policy. And obviously anyone who doesn’t like Obama could easily find something to diss (several of my progressive acquaintances just completely lose it every time Obama refers to deficit reduction, ever).

But I’m still a little surprised by the generally negative reaction to Obama’s remarks in Cleveland yesterday, which provided his clearest-ever effort to frame the election as a choice not a referendum, with the path ahead offered by Mitt Romney not representing his “ideas” or his “experience” or his “skills” but a very old philosophy that in current circumstances woud have a savage effect on the people of the United States.

Whether or not the speech is rated a success, the message it contained is the right one. Mitt Romney will go to extraordinary lengths to talk about anything other than the actual agenda he has embraced at the demand of a conservative movement that would have otherwise found a way to deny him the nomination. He’s not going to point out for us that 90% of his economic talking points are identical to those of George W. Bush, or that the 10% variation involves issues on which he is distinctly to the right of W. He’s not going to wrap himself in the Ryan Budget–the enormous, disastrous package of legislation that would be enacted within a few months if Romney becomes president and Republicans control Congress–and won’t be honest about its content or implications when it does come up. And in general he won’t repeat much of anything he was talking about incessantly during the primaries, other than his alleged hatred of ObamaCare.

So the president is going to have to present both sides of the debate the election is actually about, even as Romney tries to pretend he’s just this mild-mannered patriotic technocrat who’s willing to “fix” the economy and then go back to his virtuous life. The Cleveland speech was a good start. But it will have to be repeated many times over until its essential points can be rattled off succinctly by surrogates and even, at some point, understood by the MSM.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore is a political columnist for New York and managing editor at the Democratic Strategist website. He was a contributing writer at the Washington Monthly from January 2012 until November 2015, and was the principal contributor to the Political Animal blog.