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Category: Politics

August 28: We Watched History in the Making

| August 29, 2008

In a dramatically staged closing evening of the Democratic Convention in Denver—with fireworks in his speech and in the night air, persuasive endorsements from generals (men, women, white and black) and real people (women and men with compelling stories, well told)— Barack Obama took control of his campaign for the White House by reminding his supporters it’s about their lives, their children’s futures:

“I stand before you tonight because all across America something is stirring. What the nay-sayers don't understand is that this election has never been about me. It's been about you.”

The 85,000 people who filled Invesco Field roared their approval. They stood and cheered and wept. After months in a haze of uncertainty for the Democrats, the skies cleared in Denver this week. On Wednesday, Hillary Clinton put closure to her historic run for the presidency, when, from the floor of the convention hall, she interrupted the roll call of votes to ask for a nomination of Obama by acclamation. Before us now on Thursday night was for many a stunning, improbable, unexpected, and perhaps bewildering sight: a black man in America ever so close to becoming president of the United States. In the stadium, Jackie Hardriche was on the phone to her mother and sister, watching in New Jersey: ”Isn’t it just phenomenal?”

Forty-five years ago on this very date, Martin Luther King, Jr. took his “I Have a Dream” speech to the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. Kim Matthews of Maine, sitting next to me in the stadium—laughing and crying in disbelief—heard King’s dream in person as a child. She was now seeing its fruition. This trip was in honor of her late mother, who helped integrate movie theaters in Arlington, Virginia. In the sixties Arlington, a stone’s throw from the nation’s capitol, was considered “the deep, segregated south.” Shirley Matthews took her white, privileged children to picket every Sunday for nearly a year until the theaters were opened to blacks—and got arrested for her effort. This trip, said Kim, was in her honor.

While King had a dream, Obama talked about “America’s Promise.” In more acute specificity than he has offered before he promised health care for all, a 95 percent tax cut for working families, an end to dependence on oil from the Middle East within ten years, 150 billion spent on new energy. Jackie Chapman, who lives in Maryland, called it Obama’s “detail” speech rather than his “heart” speech, one crafted to demonstrate that he can handle the job.

And those supporters who worried recently that he—and his poll numbers—seemed adrift got something to hold onto. From the moment he stepped onto the stage it was evident he was laser sharp, fiery and commanding—and on the frontal attack against his opponent, John McCain:

“John McCain likes to say that he'll follow bin Laden to the Gates of Hell—but he won't even follow him to the cave where he lives. … 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.''

It was a speech that included an agenda for women. While leading McCain by some 12 points with women, Obama needs to improve those numbers. He said:

  • Now is the time to help families with paid sick days and better family leave, because nobody in America should have to choose between keeping their jobs and caring for a sick child or ailing parent.
  • And now is the time to keep the promise of equal pay for an equal day's work, because I want my daughters to have exactly the same opportunities as your sons.

These are huge promises to America’s women.

With Hillary Clinton enthusiastically giving her support to Obama, and former President Bill Clinton vouching for Obama’s commander in chief credentials, the Democrats leave Denver more unified than they came in. But there is still a significant contingent of women who still need to be convinced.

As Jackie Chapman, a supporter said: “Obama did what he needed to do, Hillary Clinton did what she needed to do. So did Bill Clinton. Now, it’s up to us.”