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Obama: The Main Event.

For eighteen long months, you have stood up, one by one, and said enough to the politics of the past. You understand that in this election, the greatest risk we can take is to try the same old politics with the same old players and expect a different result. You have shown what history teaches us — that at defining moments like this one, the change we need doesn’t come from Washington. Change comes to Washington. Change happens because the American people demand it — because they rise up and insist on new ideas and new leadership, a new politics for a new time. America, this is one of those moments.

The end of the evening, of course, featured Senator Obama’s historic nomination speech and, as you all already know, he absolutely knocked it out of the park. [Transcript.] As I said in my first post, I thought it “powerful in its can-do faith in America and devastatingly effective in its evisceration of the GOP,” and I’ll stand by that. In fact, in a week of excellent speeches, I thought our nominee’s address was the one that came out on top.

Sen. Obama’s speech succeeded on several different levels at once: It worked as a lofty restatement of central American principles and a concise explanation of what differentiates Democrats from Republicans. It provided hard policy details for those ambivalent about the word “change,” and it threw red meat to the faithful — and food for thought to the undecideds — by going after John McCain on issues across the board. Speaking of which, Obama’s tone toward McCain was note-perfect: Polite enough to the man, Obama was utterly dismissive of his lousy ideas and his endless shilling for Dubya, and he fired a warning shot across his bow about any further attempt to wallow in the usual Republican “patriot games.” In fact, Obama’s speech preemptively made much of the GOP’s usual grab-bag of insinuation and slander, sure to be in full evidence next week in Minnesota, look patently ridiculous. When McCain announced his veep pick yesterday — more on that textbook case of bad judgment in short order — I noticed the podium read “Country First.” After Obama’s speech last night, that old dog’s looking a little lame.

Coming into Thursday night, I thought the best line uttered, in terms of the history books, had come from President Clinton’s Wednesday speech: “People the world over have always been more impressed by the power of our example than by the example of our power.” (The Ann Richards memorial runners-up: Bob Casey’s maverick-sidekick skewering of John McCain on Tuesday, and Al Gore’s recycling bit) But Obama’s speech was filled with great quotables. For example:

  • America, we are better than these last eight years. We are a better country than this.

  • [W]e are here because we love this country too much to let the next four years look like the last eight. On November 4th, we must stand up and say: ‘Eight is enough.’

  • Senator McCain likes to talk about judgment, but really, what does it say about your judgment when you think George Bush has been right more than ninety percent of the time? I don’t know about you, but I’m not ready to take a ten percent chance on change.”

  • Now, I don’t believe that Senator McCain doesn’t care what’s going on in the lives of Americans. I just think he doesn’t know…It’s not because John McCain doesn’t care. It’s because John McCain doesn’t get it.

  • For over two decades, he’s subscribed to that old, discredited Republican philosophy – give more and more to those with the most and hope that prosperity trickles down to everyone else. In Washington, they call this the Ownership Society, but what it really means is – you’re on your own.

  • Washington’s been talking about our oil addiction for the last thirty years, and John McCain has been there for twenty-six of them.

  • If John McCain wants to have a debate about who has the temperament, and judgment, to serve as the next Commander-in-Chief, that’s a debate I’m ready to have.

  • John McCain likes to say that he’ll follow bin Laden to the Gates of Hell – but he won’t even go to the cave where he lives.

  • We are the party of Roosevelt. We are the party of Kennedy. So don’t tell me that Democrats won’t defend this country. Don’t tell me that Democrats won’t keep us safe. The Bush-McCain foreign policy has squandered the legacy that generations of Americans — Democrats and Republicans – have built, and we are here to restore that legacy.

  • I’ve got news for you, John McCain. We all put our country first.

  • What the nay-sayers don’t understand is that this election has never been about me. It’s been about you.

  • And it is that promise that forty five years ago today, brought Americans from every corner of this land to stand together on a Mall in Washington, before Lincoln’s Memorial, and hear a young preacher from Georgia speak of his dream. The men and women who gathered there could’ve heard many things. They could’ve heard words of anger and discord. They could’ve been told to succumb to the fear and frustration of so many dreams deferred. But what the people heard instead — people of every creed and color, from every walk of life — is that in America, our destiny is inextricably linked. That together, our dreams can be one. ‘We cannot walk alone,’ the preacher cried. ‘And as we walk, we must make the pledge that we shall always march ahead. We cannot turn back.’ America, we cannot turn back.

    And so on. What’s more, Obama’s speech wasn’t only a address for progressives, but a progressive address. It didn’t just offer up a litany of policies and goodies aimed at buying off consumer-voters (tax cuts and free prescription drugs for all!), but called Americans to rally to their individual and collective responsibilities as citizens of the republic. It didn’t talk much of rights and choices, as contemporary liberalism so often does, but emphasized “the American promise” as a shared ideal that binds us all together. He didn’t get bogged down in the soul-deadening, technocratic rhetoric of policy proposals, but used American history and “the American spirit” as the unifying narrative and common tapestry of our entire national community. When it came to our most divisive and contentious issues — abortion, gay marriage, immigration — Obama’s speech didn’t just pick a side and lob grenades at the cultural opposition, but tried to engage and draw out principled conservatives onto neutral ground, without compromising on the positions themselves.

    I’ve made the case several times here that, for whatever reason (in part, I think, his background in community organizing — Jane Addams came to similar conclusions in her own time on the streets of Chicago; for another, I think the progressive ideals of the Social Gospel have survived better in the African-American church than they have in our secular democratic politics), Sen. Obama seems to understand and call back to real progressivism like no other presidential nominee we’ve had since RFK. This, thankfully, hasn’t been lost in the move toward the general election.

    So, in other words, I loved the speech. And, as I said the other day, actually being at Invesco Field for its delivery was an experience I’ll never forget. I know some people may just find this naive, but after listening to Obama on Thursday night, and after living through all the corruption and incompetence of the last eight years, I refuse to imagine an America that would in good conscience pick John McCain and everything he represents over Barack Obama in two months. That is not my country — We are better than that, and we cannot and will not turn back.

  • Profiles in Ordinary Courage.

    “America needs a president who will put Barney Smith ahead of Smith Barney.”/em> Before Obama came out — again, not sure if these were shown anywhere besides C-SPAN — we heard remarks from Susan Eisenhower (Ike’s granddaughter), witnessed a parade of Obama-supporting generals, and in a series of surprisingly good performances, listened as a handful of “regular Americans” like you and me explained why they’ll be voting Obama this November. Now, this latter set of speeches in particular could’ve screamed painful stunt. (I for one often get mightily annoyed by the practice, started by Reagan and honed by Clinton, of bringing in a grabbag of “Ordinary Americans” each year as props for the State of the Union — I think it’s lazy, opportunistic, and definitely serves to diminish the quality of contemporary speeches, making them less about universal ideas and resonant imagery and more about particular grievances and local color.)

    All that being said, every one of these “ordinary” speakers performed exceptionally well, particularly given a crowd of 80,000 here and millions around the world, and they really helped to bring a human face to the catastrophe that has been Dubyanomics. Probably performing best, in my humble opinion, were Pam Cash-Roper of NC and Janet Lynn Monaco of FL, both of whom found themselves on the wrong end of our health care “system.” But each and every speaker did a great job, and former Republican Barney Smith got in the best line (above.)

    Speaking of lines, If the speaker’s dais was noon on a clock, I was seated relatively low to the ground at around 1:30 pm. So, while my view of the speakers themselves was obstructed (I usually watched the big Jumbotron), I had a direct line of view to the large teleprompter across from the stage. So, more often than not — and, particularly during this section of the evening — I found myself reading along rather than watching the speakers, which definitely makes for a different experience. (It was also interesting to see what ensued when a given orator — the head general in his closing, for example — went off the reservation and tried to ad-lib…bad things, usually.)

    Gore: “I believe in recycling, but that’s ridiculous.”

    [T]he last eight years demonstrate that the special interests who have come to control the Republican Party are so powerful that serving them and serving the national well-being are now irreconcilable choices.

    So what can we do about it?

    We can carry Barack Obama’s message of hope and change to every family in America. And pledge that we will be there for him, not only in the heat of this election but in the aftermath as we put his agenda to work for our country.

    We can tell Republicans and independents, as well as Democrats, exactly why our nation so badly needs a change from the approach of Bush, Cheney and McCain.

    After they wrecked our economy, it is time for a change.

    After they abandoned the search for the terrorists who attacked us and redeployed the troops to invade a nation that did not attack us, it’s time for a change.

    After they abandoned the principle first laid down by Gen. George Washington, when he prohibited the torture of captives because it would bring, in his words, “shame, disgrace and ruin” to our nation, it’s time for a change.

    When as many as three Supreme Court justices could be appointed in the first term of the next president, and John McCain promises to appoint more Scalias and Thomases and end a woman’s right to choose, it is time for a change.

    I’m not sure if Tim Kaine (ok, a bit heavy on the God-talk for my taste) and Bill Richardson (looser and more likable than he ever seemed on the campaign trail) made it to TV. I’m sure Al Gore’s address got some coverage, though. [Transcript.] Now, longtime readers know I’m no fan of Gore’s, and when his speech began I had a reaalllly bad feeling about it. (“Today, we face essentially the same choice we faced in 2000“…Uh, hell no we don’t. Sen. Obama is at least thrice the candidate Gore ever was, and he has neither been running to the right all primary season, nor masking himself in the pungent odor of Republican-lite centrism all frickin’ election, like some Tennesseeans I could name. Two words, Al: Joe Lieberman.)

    That being said, I thought Gore’s speech picked up soon after its score-settling preamble, and, in the end — as with John Kerry — it was probably better-delivered, more honest, and more passionate than any address he delivered as the 2000 candidate. In effect, Gore gave the much-needed “Glenn Greenwald speech”: Of all the remarks I heard this week, it (and Richardson’s) drew most attention to the erosion of civil liberties and constitutional behavior by the executive that has marked the last eight years. There was a good bit of discussion of climate change in there as well, of course — that’s where Gore’s post-Nobel “controlling moral authority” lies. And, while it’s been going around for awhile, I enjoyed the many “Man from Springfield” comparisons of Lincoln and Obama. But it was as Defender of the Constitution that Gore’s speech most resonated with me, and, if I liked it with my exceedingly low tolerance for most things Gore-related, I have to think it played well out there to the undecideds as well. Good job, Mr. (Almost-)President.

    The Dream Continues.

    I was there that day when Dr. King delivered his historic speech before an audience of more than 250,000. I am the last remaining speaker from the March on Washington, and I was there when Dr. King urged this nation to lay down the burden of discrimination and segregation and move toward the creation of a more perfect union…

    [W]ith the nomination of Senator Barack Obama tonight, the man who will lead the Democratic Party in its march toward the White House, we are making a major down payment on the fulfillment of that dream. We prove that a dream still burns in the hearts of every American, that this dream was too right, too necessary, too noble to ever die.

    But this night is not an ending. It is not even a beginning. It is the continuation of a struggle that began centuries ago in Lexington and Concord, in Gettysburg and Appomattox, in Farmville, Virginia, and Topeka, Kansas, in Philadelphia, Mississippi, and Selma, Alabama.

    Democracy is not a state. It is an act. It is a series of actions we must take to build what Martin Luther King Jr. called the beloved community – a society based on simple justice that values the dignity and the worth of every human being.

    We’ve come a long way, but we still have a distance to go. We’ve come a long way, but we must march again. On November 4th, we must march in every state, in every city, in every village, in every hamlet; we must march to the ballot box. We must march like we have never marched before to elect the next President of the United States, Senator Barack Obama.

    For those of us who stood on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, or who in the years that followed may have lost hope, this moment is a testament to the power and vision of Martin Luther King Jr. It is a testament to the ability of a committed and determined people to make a difference in our society. It is a testament to the promise of America.

    I’m not sure if it made it to the networks, but Rep. John Lewis’ introduction to the MLK tribute was easily the most spine-tingling and moving moment of the day outside of Obama’s nomination speech. When Lewis spoke, it was still a bright, sunny afternoon in Denver, and it was easy to imagine — and even almost feel the tangible presence of — that August day in Washington forty-five years ago.

    I’m fully aware that this is just an illusion, that the two events were quite different in feel and tone, and that the former will always remain unknowable to me, outside of book-learning. But, as Lewis spoke with such emotion and conviction Thursday afternoon, it was a very powerful feeling, as if the space-time of American history was folding around us to fashion bookends, forty-five years apart. I felt extraordinarily lucky to be there to witness and experience it. “‘We’ve had disappointments since then, but if someone told me I would be here’ Mr. Lewis said, shaking [his] head. ‘When people say nothing has changed, I feel like saying, “Come walk in my shoes.”‘

    Celeb-Spotting at Invesco.

    Hey y’all. After a crack-of-the-morning flight out of Denver (which included a spry Mickey Dolenz and a tired-looking Hayden Panettiere), I’m back in VA now, have rested up, and have put up the rest of my Invesco pics over at Flickr. In case anyone’s interested, here are a few more thoughts about the milieu surrounding Thursday event:

    Imagine the DC Nationals playing Game 7 of the World Series at home, and you may get somewhere close to the strangeness that was the stadium environment at Invesco Field. It was definitely a NFL or NBA stadium atmosphere, with all the usual concessions open. But, amid the pretzel vendors, lines for hot dogs, and Obama t-shirt stands, the place was also obviously teeming with DC-types — pols, journalists, celebrities, and of course their many, many handlers. So, if you walked around the concourse a few times (as I did during the Sheryl Crow set, for example), you were bound to see tons of notable people waiting anxiously in the condiment queue, and/or one of the gaggle of C-level talking heads “trying not to be seen,” hoping to be seen. It was all quite bizarre.

    In lieu of a list of all the random people I saw wandering around, I’ll just give a few general impressions:

  • For whatever reason, I saw members of the MSNBC crew (Howard Fineman, Chris Matthews, Floyd Abrams) floating around a lot more often than the CNN gang, who seemed to stay ensconced in their assigned news-ghetto. (Matthews in particular was ubiquitous. He and Ron Brownstein seemed to live at The Tattered Cover.)
  • Gov. Ted Strickland had the exact same awkward look on his face in front of the Denver Broncos store that he did while Clinton harangued Obama a few months ago. Must be his tic.
  • Richard Dreyfuss was holding court over at the Air America nook, and — since someone had passed out promo cards for Oliver Stone’s W while we waited in line the requisite hour to get in — I asked “Vice-President Cheney” to sign it. I guess this shouldn’t be surprising, but he hadn’t seen the teaser poster image at all. (I sometimes forget that for the people involved, movie making is just a job — They don’t feel inclined to follow all the ins and outs of the pre-release like we do.)
  • Y’know, I guess I owe Washington a bit of an apology. I was complaining the other day about the careerist myopia and general rudeness of DC politicos, but in the end it was a NYC-based historian who most exemplified District-style asshattery to my face. I went up to say hi to a (non-Columbia) academic who writes for several progressive publications, and with whom I’ve shared many a dinner over the past few years, as part of a 20th Century Politics & Society Workshop that I served as rapporteur for. (“Rapporteur” is basically the three-dollar way in graduate school to say “The One who Brings the Food.”) When I said hello and held out my hand, he looked me up and down, gave me the cut direct, and — in true DC form — just turned away to find somebody more important. I guess such behavior comes with the territory sometimes…still, I thought it was pretty goddamned rude.
  • Word on the street was a lot of A-lister celebrities were out and about: Charlize Theron, Jessica Alba, Jennifer Garner, Oprah Winfrey, Brad and Angelina, and the like. I didn’t see anybody of that sort, but then again I didn’t go anywhere near the skyboxes.
  • I did run into Jim Clyburn, my old representative, and got in a shout-out for Flotown. (Florence, SC — his beat, and the place where I grew up.) He seemed nice, as always.
  • I also ran into Bill Press, the democratic pundit with whom I’ve worked on four books over the years. We got to catch up for a bit, as it turned out our seats were really close to each other.
  • Nothing against Sheryl Crow, but her set was the time I spent walking around to soak up the ambience. That being said, seeing Stevie Wonder perform “Signed, Sealed, Delivered” was great fun. And, if you’d had told me that one day I would willingly join a crowd of 80,000 to sing along with Michael McDonald, I’d never have believed you. Never say never, I guess. (I was very glad to hear we Dems roll with “America the Beautiful” rather than “God Bless America,” which we can expect in heavy rotation at the RNC next week, I’m sure.)
  • And, finally, the moment when I was probably the most starstruck at Invesco was when I was edging back to my seat and none other than Wendell Pierce, a.k.a. The Bunk, flew past me. Now, there’s a pic I’d like to have gotten (and I’d love to have picked his brain about David Simon’s forthcoming Treme, but ah well.) Denver ain’t Aruba either, I guess…but Thursday night, it sometimes felt pretty darned close.

  • Wow.

    Hey y’all…Well, I don’t know how it played on (a non-Jumbotron) television, but here, tonight, at Invesco Field, the experience of Sen. Obama’s nomination speech was unbelievable. Not only was Obama’s address both powerful in its can-do faith in America and devastatingly effective in its evisceration of the GOP, but I can’t remember any other event I’ve been to that felt so caught up in the sweep of history, from John Lewis invoking Dr. King and the March of 45 years ago during the afternoon to the final fireworks lighting up the Denver sky. It was a tremendously moving night — one of those tell-your-grandkid nights — and, while I’ve been enjoying myself here in Denver regardless, this definitely made the whole trip worthwhile.

    I have lots more pictures and minor anecdotes to share about the day, but unfortunately I won’t be able to do the speeches — and the night — justice until after I get back. (As it is, my very early return flight is only hours away.) So more tomorrow evening, once I’ve returned to EDT. For now, I’ll just say this: There’s no flippin’ way we’re losing this election.

    Good News and Bad News.

    The good news: An old college/DC friend of mine, currently busy on the other end of the 16th St. strip, has hooked me up with a pair of swanky passes to tonight’s speech at Invesco Field. So, assuming the crowds aren’t a total nightmare, I’ll be able to take in my second Obama speech of the fortnight this evening.

    The bad news: While traversing the 16th St. drag to pick up said tickets, my bag opened up of its own accord, and I seem to have lost my laptop cords…meaning I’m now blogging on borrowed (battery) time, and it’ll be next to impossible to update around here once the juice runs out. (There is an Office Depot a few blocks away, where I’ll try to score an emergency replacement.) Update: Belay all that: Apparently, I’d just left my cord here — I found it under the table. (Must be living right today.)

    Cavalier & K.

    Another happy fanboy moment this morning (See, I don’t only go gaga for character actors and Youtube starlets): While setting up shop for the final day here, I happened to notice author Michael Chabon (Wonder Boys, The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Klay, The Yiddish Policemen’s Union) taking a quick peek into the confines of our bloggerverse. (He’s set to sign books at The Tattered Cover, the very quality bookstore next door, in a bit.)

    At any rate, Chabon seemed like a very friendly fellow, and he entertained my sudden barrage of fanboy film adaptation questions without complaint. (We didn’t get to talk comics, alas, but then again I didn’t want to eat up all of his exploring time.) Regarding Kavalier & Klay, Chabon said that there’s no real truth to the Jude Law-Ben Stiller rumors that were circulating awhile back, and that the Stephen Daldry-directed version Chabon himself spoke of a few years ago, like the Sydney Pollack attempt before that, is now sadly moldering away in Development Hell. As for Yiddish, Chabon — who seemed really delighted that the Coens have grabbed the project — said they were writing it now (so, in other words, A Serious Man will definitely come first.) No word on casting yet, although I’m willing to bet dollars-to-donuts Frances McDormand is on the short list for Bina.

    In any case, Chabon seemed like great people, and it was a real kick to chat him up for a few minutes. (And, unlike a lot of the recognizable folks who’ve come through lately, there was no entourage of “boundary mavens” to negotiate with.)

    Biden: The Pugilist.

    “You know, my mom taught her children — all the children who flocked to our house — that you’re defined by your sense of honor and you’re redeemed by your loyalty. She believes that bravery lives in every heart, and her expectation is that it will be summoned. Failure at some point in your life is inevitable, but giving up is unforgivable…[W]hen I got knocked down by guys bigger than me — and this is the God’s truth — she sent me back out and said, ‘Bloody their nose so you can walk down the street the next day.’ And that’s what I did. You know — and after the accident, she told me, she said, ‘Joey, God sends no cross that you cannot bear.’ And when I triumphed, my mother was quick to remind me it was because of others. My mother’s creed is the American creed: No one is better than you. Everyone is your equal, and everyone is equal to you.”

    Closing out Wednesday night (give or take a brief visit from the man of the hour) was Vice-Presidential nominee Joe Biden’s acceptance speech [Transcript], a well-constructed yarn which began as a Jim Sheridan-ish tale of a scrappy Irish Catholic upbringing and segued into another full-throated endorsement of Barack Obama and evisceration of John McCain. (Its refrain: “John McCain was wrong, and Barack Obama was right.“) It’s getting late, so I’ll just note that I thought this was a better speech than Biden’s coming out last week (which was good too), and I’m definitely liking the Senator’s inclusion on the ticket. And now, on to the big show

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