Yes, introduce. Hard as it is to believe, most Americans are just getting to know him. And this is what they got to know Thursday night: He is a man who can master a moment.
He did a little inspiration, he did a little substance, he did a little attack, he did a little defense, he did a little everything except let his audience down.
Even when it sounded like he was going to lapse into old and tired political rhetoric — he talked about the struggles of ordinary, hardworking Americans — he gave it a new twist and managed to blunt the attacks of his opponent to boot.
“I don’t know what kind of lives John McCain thinks that celebrities lead, but this has been mine, these are my heroes,” Obama said as the enormous crowd at Invesco Field roared. “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’s speech soared many times, but it always came back to earth. And it usually came back to earth on John McCain’s head.
Obama mentioned McCain by name no fewer than 21 times, praising his service and patriotism, but attacking him not just on specifics, but on one, general point.
“McCain doesn’t get it,” Obama said. McCain is “grasping at the ideas of the past.”
Need a translation? Here’s one: McCain, who turns 72 on Friday, is old and out of it. His ideas are tired and he is tired, and this is no time in the history of America or the world for a tired president.
You can accuse Barack Obama of a lot of things — and no doubt McCain will do so next week at the Republican National Convention — but you can’t accuse Obama of being a cream puff. He is ready to get it on, high road, low road, or middle road, against the Republicans.
Their greatest sin? Well, much of what they have told us about fighting terror, Obama said, has been a fiction.
“For while Sen. McCain was turning his sights to Iraq just days after 9/11, I stood up and opposed this war, knowing that it would distract us from the real threats we face,” Obama said. “When John McCain said we could just ‘muddle through’ in Afghanistan, I argued for more resources and more troops to finish the fight against the terrorists who actually attacked us on 9/11, and made clear that we must take out Osama bin Laden and his lieutenants if we have them in our sights.”
And then Obama really lowered the boom. “John McCain likes to say that he’ll follow bin Laden to the Gates of Hell,” Obama said, “but he won’t even go to the cave where he lives.”
Obama sought to undo Thursday night what George Bush had done in 2004: convince voters that only a Republican administration could protect America from terrorism.
Wrong, said Obama. “Don’t tell me that Democrats won’t defend this country; don’t tell me that Democrats won’t keep us safe,” he thundered. “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.”
Nor is Obama cowed by the current success of the surge in Iraq, upon which McCain has staked so much. “John McCain stands alone in his stubborn refusal to end a misguided war,” Obama said. “That’s not the judgment we need. That won’t keep America safe. We need a president who can face the threats of the future, not keep grasping at the ideas of the past.”
The past, the past, the past. Old, old, old. Tired, tired, tired. That was Obama’s continuing line of attack as he stood on a vast stage in a vast footbal stadium looking young, vigorous and enthusiastic.
Enthusiasm is a concern for the Republicans this year. The most extraordinary sight in Denver Thursday afternoon was the line of people waiting to get into Invesco Field. It stretched not just for blocks, but for miles. People filled every inch of the sidewalks on main streets and side streets. They inched under viaducts and scampered across highway entrance ramps. They stood in line for hours to get into the stadium to wait in the hot sun for even more hours. All to see a man give a speech that they could have stayed home and watched on TV.
That’s enthusiasm. And, for John McCain, that’s going to be a challenge. McCain has another one: giving speeches is not his strongest point. And even though there will be debates and commercials and town hall meetings in the weeks ahead, presidential campaigns are still largely about giving speeches. They used to be done on stumps and now they are done on television, but they still have to be done.
And Barack Obama knows how to do them. All his speeches, however, can be summed up in one word. Those Americans who have not heard it before, will be hearing it a lot. It is his theme, his campaign, his promise.
“I believe that as hard as it will be, the change we need is coming,” he said. “Because I’ve seen it. Because I’ve lived it.”