Ted Kennedy wasn’t expected to be in Denver this week. The man referred to by supporters as “The Lion of The Senate” has been battling cancer and it seemed that just when his party needed him for one last bout he wasn’t going to be able to get in the ring.

Could he do it?

To steal a phrase pretty popular in these parts — yes he can.

As he walked uncertainly to the podium at the Pepsi Centre, the folks downstairs in the Clocktower burlesque cabaret erupted in applause. This joint is usually ground zero for Denver’s drag queens and gay cowboys, but for this week Americans from all over the country sit at the tables and bars watching “gavel to gavel” coverage of the convention.

And they loved Ted.

The old lion roared once more. His voice rose in that quintessentially Kennedy tone. He spoke about health care and ill conceived wars. He mentioned the “G” word and promised that Senator Obama would end the prejudice against gays. He raised the spectre of his brother John and reminded Americans that when he was told that going to the moon was impossible, the President’s reply was “Yes we can”. And according to the Old Lion it was time to believe that “we can again”.

The floor of the convention erupted, and in the clock tower cabaret ordinary men and women were crying. This was one last great rhetorical flourish from the master.

But crying over a political speech? I can’t imagine it at home. Then again, the Americans have Ted as their father of the Senate, we had Brian Harradine. In that, there’s probably a whole other set of reasons to cry.

Seriously though, the idea of thousands of people crowding into local pubs at home to listen to four days of political speeches and grand theatre would have nearly everyone in Australia running for the exits.

We certainly don’t do the vision thing in speeches and our campaign launches have about as much pizzazz as an Amway conference. For most Australians politics is a job to be done and a thing to endure, if not a thing to ignore.

Here at the Clock Tower and out in the 16th Street Mall, politics is lived outloud. Being here, walking the streets and talking to the shop assistants, the bus drivers, the campaign organizers, the bloke who sells you one of Denver’s fine micro brewed beers like the one I’m having now, everyone has an opinion. Everyone talks about politics.

It’s as if in order to believe in America’s grand narrative they need to keep it running in some perpetual motion. If we talk about it, it is reaffirmed. And if the idealism is alive, then maybe we can after all.

Sure, anyone with a decent bull*hit detector, anyone with a healthy cynicism can see through the artifice of it all. Words don’t fix a hell of a lot. But somehow the folks around here still want to believe. And if there’s one thing America is still top of the charts in it’s believing.

Time will tell if all that belief will transform into relief for America’s least.

Peter Fray

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