DENVER -- Sen. Barack Obama accepted the Democratic nomination for president on Thursday, vowing that its time for us to change America after what he called the failed presidency of George W. Bush 68.
Before countless Elis in front of their televisions and an energized crowd of tens of thousands at a football stadium here, the 47-year-old cast himself in sharp relief to the presumptive Republican nominee, Sen. John McCain of Arizona, on policy matters foreign and domestic.
Obama, the junior senator from Illinois, called on the American people to muster the courage to restore what he called an American promise fallen under siege by the Bush administration.
Change happens because the American people demand it -- because they rise up and insist on new ideas and new leadership, a new politics for a new time, he said. America, this is one of those moments.
Obamas stirring address was the pinnacle of the final evening of the 45th quadrennial Democratic National Convention, where Democrats from all over the country gathered to unite and, in the words of former vice president Al Gore, to rise, clear-eyed and alert, to the necessity of embracing change.
Obama, who made history this week as the first African-American to become the presidential nominee of a major American political party, embraced that challenge.
America, we are better than these last eight years, he said. We are a better country than this.
More than 80,000 people greeted Obama here with raucous applause on a nearly paragraph-by-paragraph basis, screaming Yes, we can! and booing mentions of McCain.
State Senator Martin Looney of New Haven, the Senate majority leader, is no stranger to conventions. But as he sat among the Connecticut delegation Thursday a few hours before Obamas speech, Looney said this week was like nothing he had ever experienced before.
This is just so much bigger -- in terms of a sense of this being a historical moment, Looney said. Well all want to tell our grandkids about it.
The McCain campaign had a different take.
Tonight, Americans witnessed a misleading speech that was so fundamentally at odds with the meager record of Barack Obama, said a statement released by the campaign. When the temple comes down, the fireworks end, and the words are over, the facts remain: Senator Obama still has no record of bipartisanship, still opposes offshore drilling, still voted to raise taxes on those making just $42,000 per year, and still voted against funds for American troops in harms way. The fact remains: Barack Obama is still not ready to be President.
Back in New Haven, meanwhile, it was standing room only in a packed Silliman College theater as the Yale Democrats gathered to watch Obamas speech -- or, as some said, to watch history be made.
The highly anticipated speech also had high expectations, said Professor Charles Hill, Yales diplomat-in-residence.
The consensus is that the Obama campaign has been primarily inspirational, based on the promise of change and hope, and fairly bereft of any but slight indicators of what specific policies he has in mind, Hill said before the address. The sharp-toned commentators will especially be looking to see whether the programs and policies he sets out will in any significant way differ from the standard liberal-left-progressive agenda of the past couple of generations.
Indeed, while Obama hewed to his message of hope, a message that prompted Gore to compare the Illinois senator to Abraham Lincoln, it never slipped into the kind of fustian oratory for which critics were on high alert. Instead, Obama ventured unflinchingly into policy positions, offering to spell out exactly what that change would mean if I am president.
And, based on the rapt faces of the transfixed Yalies, he certainly did inspire.
For 42 minutes the crowd watched silently and breathlessly, interrupted only by the occasional burst of laughter or spontaneous round of applause -- the longest of which came at the end.
Abby McCartney 10, a coordinator for the Yale College Democrats, said Obama is known for his soaring rhetoric and criticized for a lack of substance. But she said someone casually tuning in, someone who has not watched the election as closely as the students in the room, would have learned about his policy positions.
As much as you can in a speech, she added. He didnt want to be up there with a PowerPoint presentation.
Seth Extein 11 said for the first time Obama had the time and the audience to make the clearest case yet for his candidacy, covering both rhetoric and policy.
You couldnt hear this speech as an undecided voter and walk away with a lot of questions, he said. You can disagree, but you cant be left with questions.
More than 50,000 people descended on Denver this week for the convention, which Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean 71 set into motion with three heavy bangs of his gavel Monday. Democrats are energized, Dean said -- theyre strong, theyre unified.
And, he said, they cant afford to be anything less. America realizes we cannot have four more years of the same, ineffective approach to governing, he said from the podium.
And over the next four nights, speaker after speaker drove that point home.
Of course, there was much to see beyond the podium. Peddlers hawked Obama buttons in dozens of varieties. College Democrats gathered at their national conference to listen to a comedian make jokes about wanting to punch Bush administration officials in the genitals. The musician will.i.am waxed poetic about how Obama inspired him when the Black Eyed Peas star was feeling blue.
The moment the musician decided to back the Illinois senator, and create a now-famous music video to help his cause, he sent a one-line message to a confidante. Speaking to the DNCs Youth Caucus, he asked young Democrats to join the same effort.
That message? Lets make history, he said.
And thats precisely what the Democrats gathered here this week vowed to do. In 96 hours of living history, the Clintons showed why they are the Clintons. Malia and Sasha Obama showed their cuteness. And Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman 64 LAW 67 of Connecticut didnt show at all.
I have a lot of respect for Sen. Obama. I like him, Lieberman said Monday, according to the Hartford Courant. But I simply dont think he is ready to be our president now -- maybe sometime in the future, but not now. Certainly not compared to John McCain.
No matter. All left-leaning eyes in this mountain city were focused on one person, and one person only -- the one whose visage was plastered on so many buttons of so many designs sold on so many street-corners.
Barack Obama, forme president Bill Clinton LAW 73 said Wednesday night, is on the right side of history.
Delegates, party activists and volunteers had crowded into stairwells to see his speech at the Pepsi Center. They waved American flags in a conflagration of made-for-telvision patriotism. And when Clinton said those words, blessing the star of the Democratic Partys next generation, the thousands in the Pepsi Center erupted.
He hit it! a man screamed from his crouch in an upper-deck stairwell, looking at a reporter. Write it down -- he hit it!
Of course, the week here in Denver did not pass without any drama. There was the constant talk of a divide -- an irreparable, emotional divide -- between supporters of Sen. Hillary Clinton LAW 73 and Obama. And there were the Republican interlopers, like former presidential candidates Rudy Giuliani and Mitt Romney, who swooped into town -- and into the Pepsi Center -- to talk up McCain.
But as the week went on, and Obama clinched the nomination without a messy floor fight in the process, the bitterness was forgotten -- or at least pushed beneath the surface. Delegates in the Pepsi Center waved placards proclaiming unity. The Clintons delivered their highly anticipated addresses -- and, by all accounts, took the high road in doing so.
Meanwhile, Democrats -- several Elis among them -- trained their fire on McCain. Senator Amy Klobuchar 82 of Minnesota said she traveled to Washington after her election to the Senate in her familys Saturn. Unlike the senator from Arizona, she said, my family doesnt have a private jet.
Candidate McCain now supports the wartime tax cuts that Senator McCain once denounced as immoral. Candidate McCain criticizes Senator McCains own climate change bill. Candidate McCain says he would now vote against the immigration bill that Senator McCain wrote, Kerry said. Are you kidding?
Then the punch-line. Talk about being for it before youre against it, he said.
A few minutes later, Clinton campaign chairman Terry McAuliffe stood outside a luxury box in the Pepsi Center, smiling for photographs and shaking hands with supporters, the weight of the long campaign seemingly dissolved.
Were all coming together today because you know what, the issues are too important, McAuliffe said in an interview with the News. Were going to stick together.
So did the Clintons speeches unify the party? I think they went beyond that, he said. If those two speeches didnt do it
So as a crowd of 84,000 gathered Thursday at Invesco Field, where lines to enter the stadium crawled along for hours and delegates baked in the afternoon sun as they awaited the main event, there was nevertheless nary a complaint to be found among the Democrats.
Martin Dunleavy, a delegate from New Haven and a former city alderman, has attended every convention since 1968. But he said the energy here this week was unprecedented. Its been an amazing convention, he said. Theres been a real sense of unity.
And that united crowd came alive as Obama took the podium here to U2s City of Blinding Lights. After paying homage to the Clintons, Obama wasted no time in assailing what he called broken politics in Washington and the failed policies of George W. Bush -- broken politics, Obama said, of which McCain is intrinsically a part.
While painting McCain as a continuation of the Bush White House, Obama promised to end the warin Iraq, wean the U.S. off its dependence on foreign oil in no more than a decade and cut taxes for more than nine in 10 American families.
Now is not the time for small plans, Obama said.
In fact, the entire convention was one of unprecedented scale. Obamas speech came on the 45th anniversary of the famous address by the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., and no American presidential candidate has accepted his partys nomination in an outdoor venue since John F. Kennedy at the Los Angeles Coliseum in 1960.
When Obama was finished, as fireworks soared overhead and confetti and streamers alighted on the flag-rimmed podium, the masses on hand erupted in an ovation that almost seemed sempiternal.
Isaac Arnsdorf contributed reporting from New Haven.