“Thank you, thank you,” he called above the roar, from the circular podium, as the noise continued rolling back and forth like a wave “thank you, thank you”.
Sounded like it would never stop, a creature awakened. Finally “with profound humility and gratitude, I accept the nomination.” And the roaring was off again. On the anniversary of MLK’s ‘I have a dream’ speech, Barack Obama was speaking to his destiny.
The crowd had begun forming hours earlier, snaking back from the stadium through the railyard hinterland which separates it from the city proper. The tickets had long ago been spoken for, but with the usual chaos that is essential to online distribution, rumours abounded of an open access, and then counter-rumours and it all went round and round. There being no wifi there, the press drew straws and the unlucky ten percent had to stay behind and watch the thing on TV.
Watching the live feed from the stadium had the usual hypnotic effect of random TV, the spectacle of roadies setting up that can fill up the odd ten or twelve hours. Here we got our first chance to see the much talked about ‘Roman’ set, which the Drudge Report had built up as some sort of Caligulaesque extravaganza, but turned out to be a single curve with a few columns and a couple of fauxman tv banks — it looked like the carpark of an Olive Garden restaurant. Yet cable news, right on cue, built the non-story into a rolling debate point.
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Me I could have watched people plugging in speakers until Obama was ready to speak, but they put on some musicians instead, and also Will.I.Am, intermixed with another roll call of Democratic hacks, including the shadowy Obama campaign manager David Plouffe, and Nancy Pelosi seemingly for the sixth time.
By now we’ve had the rundown eight million times — my grandfather a slurry worker from Waxahachie, I taught myself to read from old billboards which got me to Harvard, and I know for a fact that Obama was sent here as a baby in a rocket when his own planet was dying. Could it get more low key?
Yes it could. Not only because Al Gore came on with six new depressing statistics but because he was followed by Michael McDonald ex of the Doobie Brothers, the only rock musician who can slow down ‘America, the Beautiful’. Then a vaguely Maoist self criticism session of former Republicans who’ve lost their jobs, cars, health insurance corneas etc and have come round to the Obama vision. We had about eight generals up on the stage, making you wonder who was running the military store until you remembered that of course no-one has been.
By now the place was packed to the rafters, the delegations down on the ground, spectators up in the stands, a sea of flags, mountain twilight setting behind the high stadium walls. Then, at around eight pm, with Senator Dick Durbin making the intro — chosen I presume because he is as effectively featureless a human being as it would be possible to invent, against which Obama’s singularity shines like a blood diamond — and with another of these set-up films which always sound like the biography of John the baptist by Jesus Christ — suddenly the man was there and we were launched into it.
“We meet at one of those defining moments — America we are better than this. We are better, more honourable, more compassionate.”
He went through the usual spiel of anecdotes of work and health horror stories, before getting to: “Enough! This moment we must say, enough!”
He launched into the now familiar one two attack on McCain — great guy, hero, political sack of sh-t — and then detailed the failures of republican policy. He segued into the different ideas that dems and republicans have about what constitutes a good society, and then back into the people in his life who had inspired him to — and this will be the title of the speech in retrospect — the “American promise”.
What was the American promise? That everyone pursues their individual goals but that the nation rises and falls together. Living up to that promise took him some concrete goals — tax cuts for the 95% of working families, ending oil dependency in 10 years, with $150 billion in funding. A promise of universal college education, of ending insurance discrimination against the chronically ill. America’s promise at home segued into America’s promise in the world, and the toughest attack he’s made in republican foreign policy to date. And from there he jumped into a magnificent riff about the “last best hope of man”, really jacking it up to another level.
The final part brought us back to the notion of promise. “I stand before you tonight because something across the country is stirring — this election is not about me, it’s about you — change comes not from Washington it come to Washington. The change we need is coming — I’ve seen it, I’ve lived it.”
“In America our destiny is inextricably linked — we cannot walk alone — we cannot turn back — we cannot turn back. Let us keep that American promise and hold firm to the journey we are making.”
And then with another roar from the crowd he was off the stage, and then back with his family and the Bidens.
There ain’t a doubt in hell that we have just seen one of the great American speeches, renewing old themes while tapping into the nation’s deepest roots. But will it be enough to take all the people with him — and does it mark the renewal, in fire and iron, of a flagging campaign?