“A century and a half ago, when America faced our greatest trial, the end of one era gave way to the birth of another,” said former vice president Al Gore last Thursday, August 28, at the Democratic National Convention in Denver. “The candidate who emerged victorious in that election is now regarded by most historians as our greatest president. Before he entered the White House, Abraham Lincoln’s experience in elective office consisted of eight years in his state legislature in Springfield, Illinois, and one term in Congress-during which he showed the courage and wisdom to oppose the invasion of another country that was popular when it started but later condemned by history.”
Gore was, of course, making a comparison between Lincoln and the man on whom Democrats have pinned their hopes-and pocketbooks-to take back the White House for the first time in eight years: Illinois Senator Barack Obama. Republicans have questioned the freshman senator’s experience and ability to lead the country, especially stacked against Arizona Senator John McCain’s 21 years as a senator and four as a representative. Those charges may be a moot point now that McCain has tapped Sarah Palin-a woman with only two years’ experience as the governor of Alaska-as his running mate. But even before the Palin announcement, Democrats were fully onboard for Obama, as witnessed during last week’s convention in Colorado.
Gore couldn’t have summed up Democrats’ thoughts more succinctly. While there are questions that remain, the hope and potential for change that Obama represents led to a spirited and energetic convention, giving momentum to the party for the fall campaign.
Obama first burst onto the national scene four years ago at the party’s convention in Boston, where his 17-minute speech electrified the crowd and the country. With his eloquent style, and ability to sweep people off their feet through his words, Obama’s 48-minute speech on August 28 had a lot of hype to live up to-and live up to the hype it did, electrifying the crowd again.
“Something is stirring,” Obama said to the stadium of 85,000 people on Thursday night, the largest crowd to ever witness a live nomination speech. Despite long lines, hot weather, and heavy security, the place was rocking from beginning to end, with appearances by will.i.am, John Legend, Sheryl Crow-she opened with “A Change Would Do You Good”-and Stevie Wonder, the national anthem sung by Oscar winner Jennifer Hudson, and the pledge of allegiance led by recent Olympic gold medalist Shawn Johnson. “This guy knows how to throw a party,” Santa Barbara delegate Tim Allison remarked to Representative Lois Capps at one point in the night.
Though the draw was big name politicians and celebrities, it was some of the normal citizens invited by Obama’s camp to speak who elicited some of the biggest cheers of the night. Indiana resident Barney Smith, who lost his factory job to overseas outsourcing and wasn’t quite as eloquent behind the microphone as Obama, told the crowd, “America can’t afford more of the same. We need a president who puts the Barney Smiths before the Smith Barneys.”
But even before Obama took the Mile High Stadium stage on Thursday, there was plenty of dramatic energy in Denver. On Tuesday night, at one of the convention’s most anticipated events, New York Senator Hillary Clinton-Obama’s opponent in the hotly contested primaries-led the charge in a unanimous nomination of the Illinois senator as the party’s presidential candidate. The moment was an emotional one for those inside the Pepsi Center, which throbbed with 20,000 people a night, its aisles clogged with media, delegates, politicians, and celebrities.
Outside the Pepsi Center and all throughout Denver, signs of Obama’s message of change were evident, with pins, buttons, bumper stickers, and shirts flying off the shelves. One man stood selling Obama bobbleheads next to another vendor selling Obama watches. “How you gonna know it’s time for a change without an Obama watch?” he asked passersby.
As energy and sustainability has become a focal point of this year’s election, it also became a centerpiece in Denver. Hybrid shuttles shuffled convention-goers up and down the city’s main corridor, while bicycles were available to anyone who wanted one for free. DNC offices were made to operate more efficiently, and education and outreach was done throughout the week in Denver. One of the pamphlets in the media swag bag could even be planted to grow into a sunflower.
While the week’s McCain attacks started out slowly, the bashing certainly picked up throughout the week, with hardly a speaker passing through the podium without joshing McCain for not knowing how many houses he owned. “McCain is not a maverick,” said Democratic Party Chair Howard Dean. “John McCain is a ‘yes man.’” Dean then gave a rundown of how Obama would look out for the middle class rather than the rich, keep jobs from disappearing overseas, and bring a “responsible end” to the war in Iraq.
During his nomination acceptance speech on Thursday, Obama himself laid into McCain. He connected the Arizona senator to the Bush administration, saying that McCain-who is trying to distance himself from the unpopular current president-has followed President George W. Bush’s vote 90 percent of the time. “Now I don’t believe that Senator McCain doesn’t care what’s going on in the lives of Americans,” said Obama in one of the speech’s most powerful barbs. “I just think he doesn’t know. Why else would he define middle class as someone making under five million dollars a year?”
“America, we are better than these last eight years,” Obama said. “We are a better country than this.”
As the energy began dissipating from Denver on Friday morning, all of the Democrats in Colorado and beyond were hoping that the rest of the country would agree.