Obama’s Grand Acceptance Recalls Past, Looks to Future

Posted August 28, 2008 at 10:40pm

Before a roaring crowd of 84,000 convention-goers at Invesco Field at Mile High Thursday night, Sen. Barack Obama (Ill.) accepted the Democratic Party’s nomination for president, delivering a speech that did little to diminish his star power, but sought to paint his candidacy as both a serious endeavor and a solid break from the last eight years of GOP dominance in the White House.

“With profound gratitude and great humility, I accept your nomination for the presidency of the United States,” Obama said to a sea of American flags, camera flashes accompanied by the cheers of tens of thousands who came to their feet in the stadium that hosts the Denver Broncos.

Obama used his remarks to remind Americans that he understood their stories, as he retold his own, one that was filled with struggles. He also used the speech to showcase his skills as a communicator and inspire the masses, while also using the biggest stage of his career to take on his Republican rival, Sen. John McCain (Ariz.), whom he charged as an elitist who would maintain course and hold firm to the policies of the Bush administration.

“Tonight, I say to the American people, to Democrats and Republicans and independents across this great line – enough,” Obama said. “This moment – this election – is our chance to keep in the 21st century, the American promise alive.

“Because next week in Minnesota, the same party that brought you two terms of George Bush and Dick Cheney will ask this country for a third,” he said. “And we are here because we love this country too much to let the next four years look like the last eight. On Nov. 4 we must stand up and say, eight is enough.”

Obama, 47, had hoped to use Thursday’s address not only to shore up unity in the Democratic Party and inspire the yet undecided voter, but also to prove he has the experience and policy prowess to serve as the nation’s top executive. The address had several prominent themes, including change and a promise to deliver, but also that of “eight is enough,” one he used to signal that two terms of Republican rule is far too long.

He also wasted no time trying to counter the criticism that he is more of a celebrity than serious candidate, turning the attacks on McCain, whom he charged isn’t ambivalent to Americans’ struggles, but rather doesn’t understand them. In one of his most well-received lines of the night, Obama charged: “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. Out of work? Tough luck. No health care? The market will fix it. Born into poverty? Pull yourself up by your own bootstraps – even if you don’t have boots. You’re on your own.

“Well, it is time for them to own their failure,” Obama said. “It’s time for us to change America. And that’s why I am running for president of the United States.”

Poking fun at the celebrity tag, which McCain has even used as a focal point of an attack ad that likens Obama to Paris Hilton and Britney Spears, Obama charged: “I don’t know what kind of lives John McCain thinks that celebrities lead, but this has been mine,” Obama said. “These are my heroes. Theirs are the stories that shaped me. And it is on their behalf that I intend to win this election and keep our promise alive as president of the United States.”

Obama seemed to have no trouble winning over the thousands in the massive football stadium, where attendees regularly waved American flags, stomped their feet and cheered to his words. If their response was any indication, Obama gave them what they came for, not only retelling the story of his upbringing and promising to deliver on change, but also offering up specifics on how he would look to act on energy, the economy and the war in Iraq.

He also questioned McCain’s judgment on many of those issues, saying his rival has continued to support policies that haven’t changed the nation’s health care or education systems and done little to strengthen the nation’s security at home and abroad. Iraq got its proper billing in the remarks, as well, promising to remove troops from the region and vowing to restore the nation’s credibility around the world.

Obama also used his remarks and the stage from which they were delivered to showcase his skills as an orator. Calling on Americans to come together and making clear that there is a choice in November, Obama said: “We meet at one of those defining moments – a moment when our nation is at war, our economy is in turmoil, and the American promise has been threatened once more.

“Tonight, more Americans are out of work and more are working harder for less. More of you have lost your homes and even more are watching your home values plummet. More of you have cars you can’t afford to drive, credit card bills you can’t afford to pay, and tuition that’s beyond your reach.

“These challenges are not all of government’s making,” Obama continued. “But the failure to respond is a direct result of a broken politics in Washington and the failed policies of George W. Bush.

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

Obama promised the nation he would end its dependence on foreign oil in 10 years by investing in energy-efficient vehicles, clean-coal technology and safely harnessed nuclear power. He also vowed to cut taxes on 95 percent of working Americans, end the war in Iraq “responsibly” and restore the nation’s credibility abroad.

“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,” Obama said.

The lead-up to the evening’s main event also brought a speech from former Vice President Al Gore and a surprise addition to the program in the form of the current vice presidential hopeful, Sen. Joseph Biden (D-Del.), who introduced a slate of speakers made up of everyday Americans supporting their ticket. In the end it was Obama’s Illinois colleague, Sen. Dick Durbin, who had encouraged him to run two years ago, who introduced the younger lawmaker.

As he took to the stage, featuring White House-style columns and American flags, Obama tipped his hat to Durbin, Biden and his family, and he gave particular thanks to his one-time Democratic rival, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (N.Y.), and her husband, former President Bill Clinton, both of whom delivered highly anticipated speeches of their own earlier in the week.

Obama needed to win over the ardent and vocal support of the Clintons this week as much as any voter, given the pair holds the key to thousands of voters who supported Sen. Clinton’s presidential candidacy. Audience reactions signaled the duo had succeeded, but Obama still must make up ground with swing voters as the polls show an increasingly narrow race between him and McCain.

On Thursday, Obama did his best to widen that gap, consistently attacking McCain’s record in the Senate supporting Bush’s policies. Saying that McCain has voted with Bush “90 percent of the time,” Obama questioned his opponent’s judgment “when you think George Bush was right more than 90 percent of the time? I don’t know about you, but I’m not ready to take a 10 percent chance on change.”

But it was the denouement of the speech and revelry thereafter, including fireworks and confetti drops, that brought the house down. As he closed out his remarks, Obama walked away from the attacks and the specifics of his platform, to do what he does best: use his gift at oration to energize the crowd.

Promising a break from the politics of the past and a new direction for the country, Obama said he was a different brand of politician, one who was running for them, not for himself.

“I get it, I realize that I am not the likeliest candidate for this office,” he said. “I don’t fit the typical pedigree, and I haven’t spent my career in the halls of Washington.

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