CONVENTION SPECIAL: Obama’s Night—‘Change We Can Believe in’, or FDR, JFK, and LBJ Redux

By Christopher Krohn
Tuesday September 02, 2008 - 01:57:00 PM

Many in the media will be asking for a long time if Democratic nominee Barack Obama hit a political home run last Thursday night. However, if he didn’t completely leave Denver’s Mile High Stadium soaring majestically, then he hit an inside the park home-run. Either way he made it home.  

Combining the social programs of FDR and the vision and inventiveness of JFK he achieved lift-off with the 80,000-plus as they sailed with him to his 21st century new moon: children to educate and veterans to care for, fixing the economy, rebuilding cities, and saving farms. He outlined a nuts-and-bolts classic Democratic agenda but with a strong nod to the homeland security center-right within his party. The choreography and pace of the speech were typical Obama, rhetorical elegance.  

Nomination or coronation? It didn’t matter. As a two and a half minute standing ovation finally came to a simmer Obama declared, “With profound gratitude and great humility, I accept your nomination for the presidency of the United States.” The loud applause started again and he charged ahead offering an olive branch to his chief political rival throughout the campaign, Hillary Rodham Clinton. He also recognized others—Bill Clinton, Ted Kennedy, Joe Biden—ending with “the love of my life,” his wife, Michelle.  

He spent some time telling the packed football stadium who he is, how he got that way, and how he wants to use the education he received from America’s promise to “restore America’s greatness.” The theme he would come back to as the night wore on had a familiar moral ring, “Imagine what it’s like being in somebody else’s shoes.” This resonated with a crowd that was hungry to get involved in moving America towards increased fuel efficiency, investment in renewable fuels and creating “five million new jobs that pay well and can’t be outsourced.” This said in the face of a current President who has told Americans to go out and shop and not worry about the war in Iraq or the home mortgage crisis. Clearly, Obama would be a different kind of President. 

Obama said the country is not ‘a nation of whiners’ as one of the President’s economic surrogates, former Texas Sen. Phil Graham, said recently. The Americans Obama knows “work hard and give back and keep going without complaint.” The nominee introduced his “promise of America.” He said it was this promise that has allowed him to graduate from Harvard law school and to run for President. But this promise is threatened, Obama warned, by the Republican call for the now discredited ownership society—“give more and more to less and less and hope that prosperity trickles down to everyone else.” The country he knows engages in “hard work” and “sacrifice.” Respect, empathy, kindness, and faith are the values Obama says he grew up practicing. His grandfather told him along time ago, “We’re Americans, we can do anything if we put our minds to it.” 

The “promise” Obama has lived, and the America he knows, comes from seeing his mom work the nightshift, his family at times relying on food stamps, and reaping the economic benefits that his grandfather received while going to college on the GI bill. This Democratic nominee wants to make it clear he does not come from the privileged America of a George Bush or a John McCain. Obama said it’s not that John McCain doesn’t care, it’s that he doesn’t know. “He doesn’t get it,” Obama emphatically stated.  

Obama focused much of the night on an updated New Deal and Great Society-type agenda that included: reforming the tax code, investing in new schools, criticizing greed, moving people out of poverty, rebuilding roads, improving technology and creating “an economy that honors the dignity of work.” Perhaps what neither FDR nor LBJ would have recognized in the speech was the Democratic nominee’s call for ending America’s dependence on foreign oil in 10 year’s time. It was that clarion call which resulted in one of the night’s biggest ovations. 

Obama continued by outlining “the promise” and then stating what he would do to make that promise, the American promise he called it, come true. Individual and collective responsibility is at its heart and soul. Simply put, the people have the freedom “to make of our own lives what we will.” The market should reward initiative and innovation and businesses should create “American” jobs, strive to play by the rules and protect workers as well.” 

And what would be Obama’s job? Government should protect its citizens, he said, provide educational opportunities, invest in infrastructure, keep water clean and “our toys safe.” Briefly put, “government should work for us, not against us.” 

In the past, Obama has been criticized for being short on specifics. And now, he was more specific. Start with the tax code and reward workers, small businesses, and companies who create jobs here in the US and no tax breaks for any company that ships jobs to other countries. He also has a plan to cut taxes for 95% of “all working families.” Obama goes on to call for an end to the American addiction to oil, (or just foreign oil?) “and we must understand that drilling is a stop-gap measure, not a long-term solution.”  

On one hand he says he will invest in natural gas, clean coal technology and perhaps more troubling, “finding ways to safely harness nuclear power.” And on the other, he says he would like to see a significant investment, $150 billion, in alternative fuels, especially wind and solar. 

Another large ovation was heard when he warned that the “stakes are too high for partisanship” as he spoke of those serving in the military. “They have not served a red America or a blue America, they have served the United States of America.” Then he spoke directly to his Republican rival, “So let us agree, Patriotism has no party.” And, “So I’ve got news for you, John McCain. We all put our country first.” 

He also made an appeal to bring the nation together by de-emphasizing the historic differences between the two parties and looking for some common ground: abortion (“surely we can agree on reducing the amount of unwanted pregnacies”); gun control (“uphold the Second Amendment while keeping AK-47’s out of the hands of criminals”); gay marriage (“surely we can agree that our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters deserve to visit the person they love in the hospital”); and immigration (“I don’t know anyone who benefits when a mother is separated from the infant child”). 

He ended where he began, reminding his audience that they have much work to do. So many children to educate, veterans to care for, an economy to fix and cities to rebuild. “America, we cannot turn our back.”