“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:
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.
“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.)
[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.
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.”‘“
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:
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.
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.)
“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…
“To those who still believe in the myth of a maverick instead of the reality of a politician, I say let’s compare Senator McCain to Candidate McCain. Candidate McCain now supports the very wartime tax cuts that Senator McCain once called irresponsible. Candidate McCain criticizes Senator McCain’s own climate change bill. Candidate McCain says he would vote against the immigration bill that Senator McCain wrote. Are you kidding me, folks? Talk about being for it before you’re against it!“
In the second of three solid orations tonight, an impassioned John Kerry laid into John McCain hard, and delivered arguably a better speech than anything he ever gave as our 2004 nominee. [Transcript.] Thanks to the Swift Boat ridiculousness of that cycle, Kerry has now taken on some of the resonance that Max Cleland had back then — that of the good patriot horribly wronged by the sheer scumminess of the Rove-wallowing GOP. Well, Kerry tapped into this costly gravitas with aplomb in tonight’s speech, using it to insist that we not let McCain and his new friends screw the nation over once again. (“How insulting to suggest that those who question the mission question the troops. How pathetic to suggest that those who question a failed policy doubt America itself. How desperate to tell the son of a single mother, who chose community service over money and privilege, that he doesn’t put America first. No one can question Barack Obama’s patriotism.“)
The anger of Kerry’s own experience seethed just below the surface in his remarks, and it lent his speech a fiery passion that seemed as AWOL as cokehead-Dubya during crucial stretches in 2004. (Not that the election should’ve come down to a question of passion anyway, but frankly every little bit would’ve helped.) In a perfect world, Kerry wouldn’t have to play the martyr right now, of course. But this isn’t a perfect world. As it is, it’s hard to think of anyone who could better remind us in 2008 that the GOP are all too often an adversary without any semblance of honor or dignity, and we’ll be damned before we let those bastards get away with their pathetic lies and hateful smears once again. Not this time.
“Everything I learned in my eight years as president and in the work I’ve done since, in America and across the globe, has convinced me that Barack Obama is the man for this job. He has a remarkable ability to inspire people, to raise our hopes and rally us to high purpose. He has the intelligence and curiosity every successful president needs. His policies on the economy, taxes, health care and energy are far superior to the Republican alternatives. He has shown a clear grasp of our foreign policy and national security challenges, and a firm commitment to repair our badly strained military. His family heritage and life experiences have given him a unique capacity to lead our increasingly diverse nation and to restore our leadership in an ever more interdependent world. The long, hard primary tested and strengthened him. And in his first presidential decision, the selection of a running mate, he hit it out of the park.:
And with that, President Bill Clinton, in his impressive throwback performance tonight, helped to rectify the most egregious lacunae in his wife’s speech the night before. [Transcript.] In some ways, the former President’s speech exhibited a classic Clinton dynamic: His remarks had many of the same issues as those of Sen. Clinton — they were often relentlessly self-aggrandizing, for example — and yet, as with so many other things, he’s often just better at getting away with it. “Vote for Obama, because he’s the Second Coming of Me in 1992” is an argument that’s almost breathtaking in the audacity of its self-absorption, and yet Bill Clinton — when he’s on his game, as he was tonight — is remarkably good at making such egotism seem more like a magnanimous benediction, kindly bestowed on his Democratic successor. It’s a neat trick, no doubt…and when he goes after the GOP, few in our party do it better.
That being said, I thought even President Clinton’s unparallelled powers of salesmanship and seduction couldn’t sell me a line like “If, like me, you still believe America must always be a place called Hope, then join Hillary, Chelsea and me in making Sen. Barack Obama the next president of the United States.” Not when you spend even a moment remembering anything Clinton had to say about “false hopes” or “fairy tales” over the first six months of this year. But that’s watching the magician’s hands move, isn’t it?
“Madam Secretary, on behalf of the great state of New York, with appreciation for the spirit and dedication of all who are gathered here, with eyes firmly fixed on the future in the spirit of unity, with the goal of victory, with faith in our party and our country, let’s declare together in one voice, right here, right now, that Barack Obama is our candidate and he will be our president.”
In a choice bit of stagecraft that helped to partially salve the memory of her speech last night, Sen. Clinton shut down the official roll call and called for Barack Obama’s nomination by acclamation. In terms of a show of unity, I thought this was nicely done all around, and it went over like gangbusters on the floor. “Another Clinton advisor told me Wednesday morning that the negotiations that were being reported were never really that involved — basically, the roll-call vote was handled as Obama’s aides wanted.” If so, well-played.
While I’m getting all the “look at me — I’m embedded!” links out of the way, here’s a Conde Nast Portfolio report on the Big Tent, filmed Monday, that features me briefly. Judging from the questions I keep getting asked, numerous mainstream media groups seem to be doing variations on this same sorta puff-piece story (“Who are these crazy “bloggers,” and (gasp) will they take over everything?), although — at least so far — I’ve spent most of my own interview-time talking to foreign press.
Alright, put yourself in my shoes: You’re in Denver, occasionally surrounded by various poobahs of the political and DC-journalism worlds, and you already got as close to the candidate as you’re gonna get. Would you rush up to Mark Shields of The Capital Gang or National Journal‘s Ron Brownstein and beg for a pic? Would you brave the throngs of fellow blog-types and get all up in Joe Trippi’s grill? Or would you sidle over to the free-drinks area at an opportune time and snap this?
Sigh…yes, I am weak. At any rate, eat your heart out, Mike Gravel.
“To my supporters, to my champions — to my sisterhood of the traveling pant suits — from the bottom of my heart, thank you. Thank you because you never gave in and you never gave up. And together we made history.” Have you ever heard Chris Rock’s stand-up riff about folks who want massive props from everyone for doing things they were supposed to do anyway? (“I take care of my kids! I’ve never been to jail!“) This, in a nutshell, was my impression of Sen. Clinton’s guilt-trip call to her remaining supporters last night, which — I doubt few will be surprised — I found mostly self-centered wallowing, and all in all a missed opportunity. [Transcript.] Following the address, the media were mostly sent into paroxysms of adulation for the Senator’s remarks, with my old employer leading the charge on CNN. I’m not sure we watched the same speech. OMG, she tepidly endorsed the winner of the Democratic nomination? She’s supposed to.
Now, if you’re here, you probably already know my feelings about Senator Clinton’s candidacy this past spring, how it went negative early in a fit of panic and poor planning, how it was distended beyond all proportion well after the fight was already over, how it appropriated GOP talking points for its own purposes and needlessly gave the McCain campaign all manner of soundbites (which it is now happily having the media play for them.) I just can’t take Sen. Clinton seriously as some tribune of the working class, particularly given she’s had someone waiting on her hand and foot since 1978, when she became First Lady of Arkansas. Nor do I buy into her recent “I’m Every Woman,” Shiva, Shatterer of Glass Ceilings routine: Even notwithstanding her behavior amid the various bimbo eruptions over the years, it was Sen. Clinton’s campaign who was the one trafficking in stale, sexist notions of “testicular fortitude” all the time. And it was she, among the candidates for president, who felt the dangerous need to dangle her phantom cajones by talking of “obliterating” Iran and/or Iraq. In all honesty, I think it’s safe to say that many of the suffragettes she’s now taken to invoking would blanche at her campaign’s behavior over the past year.
All that being said, now was the time for unity, yadda yadda yadda, so I went into Clinton’s speech with a relatively open mind. But then, true to form, she started talking about herself…again…and she just wouldn’t stop. The line people are keying into as some massively impressive act of self-abnegation is this: “I want you — I want you to ask yourselves, were you in this campaign just for me, or were you in it for that young Marine and others like him?…Were you in it for all the people in this country who feel invisible?” Now, I know I’m not one of the um, hundreds, of Dems who are finding it so hard to get over Sen. Clinton’s inability to manage a campaign this past spring that I’ll vote for McCain as a result. But this, to me, is a grossly self-absorbed way of endorsing Barack Obama for president, one fully in keeping with what we’ve come to expect from the Senator from New York.
Meanwhile, Sen. Clinton said nothing to atone for her lamentable, injurious, and unnecessary commander-in-chief digs of a few months ago. She praised John McCain’s personality without saying much, if anything, nice about Barack Obama. Basically, the sum total of her argument last night was “Barack Obama is the lesser of two evils, and he almost’s as good as me, so get behind him.” Forgive me for not finding that much of a rousing call to unity.