The Widening Gyre: In Which the Candidate Obamarocks the Coliseum (and the Commentators on MSNBC and PBS).
Barack Obama sounded his trumpet tonight from a mountain in Colorado, and you'd think the walls of Jericho shook. The first African-American Presidential candidate from a major U.S. party accepted the Democratic nomination with an aggressive speech that sent the Convention crowd into a frenzy and kept it there for over an hour. Commentators on PBS (except for David Brooks who lauded the content of the speech but thought Obama underperformed in the delivery)and MSNBC (including Pat Buchanan) obviously and effusively thought the speech a wild success, maybe even historic. And most seemed impressed at how aggressively Obama spoke to and of Sen. John McCain.
For me, the speech was indeed arresting and grand, though the Senator did lose me a bit amidst the lists of 'ordinary Americans', which pushed the limits of credulity and patronization, and of all the things he has planned to accomplish once in office, in which he seemed to promise to make everyone happy, find a satisfying middle ground on just about every issue. He says he'll find a way to honor the alleged right to bear arms AND practice gun control. He gave a pretty brave mention of gay rights but still implied he supported only civil union benefits and not marriages.
And he said this: "Passions fly on immigration, but I don't know anyone who benefits when a mother is separated from her infant child or an employer undercuts American wages by hiring illegal workers." A expectedly simplistic note to be sure -- and a reference to the dubious charge that "illegal workers" are part of the reason for the economic woes of 'ordinary Americans'; but not really enough to judge from. For a former civil-rights lawyer and professor of Constitutional law, I want him to come out stronger on immigration and other issues of justice.
With this list of compromises, he made me wonder if he really thinks he can do it all. Is it campaign bluster? Or is it entrenching himself in a truly centrist and not liberal position -- as the excited Buchanan said afterwards? Or could he actually make these compromises happen? These questions the campaign and, perhaps, his Presidency must bear out.
His style was commanding -- and more than several of his turns of phrase whip sharp. For example:
"But the record's clear: John McCain has voted with George Bush ninety percent of the time. 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?"
He went after every charge against him specifically and with policy proposals and numbers and really worked to explain those specifics in his plans. Obama seemed to focus on economic issues for the working middle class and on the American spirit and fair treatment for veterans. About promise. And he rose to a preacher's intensity and cadence when he drew his speech through its crescendo. He did look strong and Presidential -- and in a way I've never seen before. At some points he sounded like he was about to challenge John McCain to a fist fight. I'm not sure I've heard a Democrat speak so strongly before.
The oration capped a well orchestrated evening that involved a great speech by Al Gore and -- perhaps the best of the night: Speeches from some of those oft-invoked 'ordinary Americans', including two life-long Republicans, who shared their stories of hardship and threw their support behind the Democratic ticket. Barney Smith's call for a President who "puts Barney Smith before Smith-Barney" was a lightning bolt of genius or luck for the Dems.
Sen. Obama made his full and total pitch for the Presidency between his aggressive and policy-driven speech and the personal, humanizing story told in the preceding film. The speech may well prove historic -- but my sense is it will prove historic more because of what it may come to represent than actually what it was.
Regardless, the Democrats have thrown down the gauntlet with their convention. Now eyes will turn to find out Sen. McCain's choice for his running mate and, starting Sept. 1, to Minnesota for the Republicans' rebuttal.
I end this post with the words with which the Democratic candidate for President left the stage tonight, phrases that brought him back from policies and campaign promises to his high-minded visions for the USA, visions that if he keeps them close at heart and alive in action could make him the improbable new leader we desperately need:
That promise is our greatest inheritance. It's a promise I make to my daughters when I tuck them in at night, and a promise that you make to yours - a promise that has led immigrants to cross oceans and pioneers to travel west; a promise that led workers to picket lines, and women to reach for the ballot.
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. Not with so much work to be done. Not with so many children to educate, and so many veterans to care for. Not with an economy to fix and cities to rebuild and farms to save. Not with so many families to protect and so many lives to mend. America, we cannot turn back. We cannot walk alone. At this moment, in this election, we must pledge once more to march into the future. Let us keep that promise - that American promise - and in the words of Scripture hold firmly, without wavering, to the hope that we confess.
Thank you, God Bless you, and God Bless the United States of America.
You can read and watch his speech here , among other places.
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