The speech in full (transcript here):
Chris Cillizza thought the speech “fit more neatly into the Obama of the 2008 campaign and the first term of his presidency — heavy on inspiration and imagery, relatively light on details and depth”:
It’s the sort of address Obama is both best at and most comfortable giving. The idea of what makes America America — particularly in the face of the unique challenges that the 21st century poses for the country on the domestic and international fronts — is something he has quite clearly spent significant time thinking about. The 2008 edition Obama we saw tonight is also, not coincidentally, the version most beloved by the base of the Democratic party. And, in truth, that’s who the speech was really aimed at. The politics of immigration are such that there were no words Obama could (or would be willing to) utter that would drastically reshape the coming fight over the issue.
Beinart argues that Obama “decided once again to trigger the hatred of defenders of the status quo because, I suspect, he knows American history well enough to know that real moral progress doesn’t happen any other way”:
Yes, Obama is a pragmatist. Yes, he is professorial. Yes, he wants to be liked by his ideological opponents and by the powers that be. But he also knows that were he in his twenties today—a young man of color with a foreign parent and a foreign-sounding name—he might be among those activists challenging the vicious injustice of America’s immigration system. When Obama talked about “the courage of students who, except for the circumstances of their birth, are as American as Malia or Sasha; students who bravely come out as undocumented in hopes they could make a difference in a country they love,” he wasn’t only comparing them to his daughters. He was comparing them to himself.
For progressives, this was always the real promise of Barack Obama. It was the promise that a black man with a Muslim name who had worked in Chicago’s ghettos—a man who had tasted what it means to a stranger in America—would bring that memory with him when he entered the White House. It’s a promise he fulfilled tonight.
Ramesh Ponnuru feels that, in Obama’s speech, the “policy and the rhetoric are at war with each other”: