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Democrats in Denver V

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31 August 2008 13:08

This final note on the Democratic National Convention originates in Washington, DC – the difficulties of getting back to my hotel from Invesco Field on Thursday night prevented me posting from Denver. Judging by the scene in the car park an hour after Obama finished speaking, with crowds of frustrated Obamaniacs surging towards the few buses available, the Democrats’ transport policy this year is: ‘No we can’t’. Let’s just say it wouldn’t have happened at the Beijing Olympics.

The atmosphere for most of the final day, though, was terrific. Foot traffic on the streets of Denver doubled. Hawkers who were in town on Thursday will now be able to put their kids through college. The lady sitting next to me on the light rail was shaking so hard with excitement that she could barely attach her treasured credential to the lanyard around her neck.  

     

The signature dance of an American political convention is the Credential Shuffle, in which you hustle and pirouette madly in an effort to gain tickets to the best seats, or access to the best party. Anticipation about Obama’s acceptance speech drove the Shuffle to giddy new heights of madness.

In the stadium, warm-up acts included Stevie Wonder (my photo above) and Al Gore, whose prose was by turns brilliant (‘we're borrowing money from China to buy oil from the Persian Gulf to burn it in ways that destroy the future of human civilization. Every bit of that has to change’) and leaden (when he chose to quote Thomas Edison on solar power). The nature of his defeat in the 2000 election still stirs Democratic hearts, though: the man sitting behind me greeted his appearance on the stage by repeatedly shouting: ‘President Gore!’

Of course, everyone was there for one reason alone: to hear The Speech. Obama did not disappoint. His remarks were not as lyrical as those he delivered to the DNC in Boston four years ago – but he was wise not to try to repeat that speech, or compete with it. That was a speech by someone making their name; this was a speech by someone making a claim on the most powerful office in the world.

The most important line in Obama’s speech was this one: ‘with profound gratitude and great humility, I accept your nomination for the presidency of the United States.’ It’s hard not to feel optimistic about the US the week an African-American is nominated for president. Perhaps this kind of development could occur in Britain, or France, or even Australia – but so far it hasn’t. Sitting among the eighty thousand people at Invesco Field, I could only marvel at the speed of Obama’s rise. As John Dickerson of Slate has pointed out, at the 2000 convention Obama couldn’t even score a floor pass. Now this!

Politically, Obama did two important things in his Denver speech. First, he showed that he can take the fight up to the Republicans. Democrats were thrilled by the controlled aggression of the speech – and by the fact that he concentrated his fire on the Republicans’ strongest flank, national security. The most telling sentence was this one:

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.

Obama has criticized McCain’s judgment before, but as far as I know, this is the first time he has raised his opponent’s famous temper. This line of attack may prove effective: even Republicans have worried to me about the ramifications of having someone as impulsive as McCain in the Oval Office.

Second, Obama reached out to working-class voters. ‘Let me spell out exactly what that change would mean if I am elected President’, he said. Instead of the airy rhetoric of his stump speech, he offered a long list of crisp pledges, including tax cuts for working families, affordable health care, and sick days and family leave. He also took the unusual step of explicitly refuting McCain’s ad that compared Obama to various vacuous starlets, by speaking of his own family circumstances and concluding: ‘Now, I don't know what kind of lives John McCain thinks that celebrities lead, but this has been mine.’

Given the blanket of security covering the event at Invesco Field, I decided that my final Tribe of Denver should be the Agents. Many of the senior politicians in Denver arrived with their own security details, but only the true bigwigs were protected by the Praetorian Guard of the Agents, the Secret Service. You may have noticed that television shots of Joe Biden are now taken from a longer distance, and alert individuals with earpieces keep cutting in front of the camera. Barack Obama and John McCain have been living in this kind of bubble for some months now. It’s an integral part of presidential chic.

On Thursday night, uniformed Agents searched every bag and tested every digital camera. Men and women in suits patrolled the stairwells. Sharpshooters perched on top of the electronic scoreboard. Anyone who enjoyed the classic Clint Eastwood film, In the Line of Fire, would have loved it.

All in all, the Denver DNC was a splendid political show. True Believers, Peacocks, Activists, Eccentrics, Hacks, Hawkers, Celebs and Agents all played their part. Bill Clinton said during the week that the 2008 Democratic primary contest ‘generated so much heat, it increased global warming.’ The energy in Denver this week was certainly enough to power a small city from now until November.