Thursday, August 28, 2008

Barack Obama 2.0

Tonight, forty-five years to the day after Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. dared America to embrace a dream, Barack Obama dared America to actualize it.

In a speech that encompassed the lives and sorrows of people from Iraq to New Orleans, in a straight-up callout to Sen. John McCain on the best way to lead the nation, Obama accepted “with profound gratitude and great humility” the Democratic nomination for the presidency of the United States. The address was smashmouth, it was wonkish, it was red meat, it was an asskicking of the first oratorical order. And it left no doubt — to the 84,000 at Invesco Field in Denver or millions more watching at home — that Barack Obama is more than ready for the combat of the next sixty-seven days.

For Team McCain, the call to “general quarters” just changed to “battle stations.”

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“Tonight, I say to the American people, to Democrats and Republicans and Independents across this great land — enough! This moment, this election, is our chance to keep, in the 21st century, the American promise alive. Because next week, in Minnesota, the same party that brought you two terms of George Bush and Dick Cheney will ask this country for a third. And we are here because we love this country too much to let the next four years look like the last eight. On November 4th, we must stand up and say: "Eight is enough. …

“John McCain has voted with George Bush ninety percent of the time. Senator McCain likes to talk about judgment, but really, what does it say about your judgment when you think George Bush has been right more than ninety percent of the time? I don't know about you, but I'm not ready to take a ten percent chance on change.”

Obama drilled down into specifics, offering details on proposed policies ending tax breaks to corporations that outsource jobs, and creating tax cuts for the middle class and a new energy infrastructure including wind and solar power and “the next generation” of biofuels.

And finally, forthrightly addressing those who said he didn’t have the spine to take on McCain toe to toe, Obama threw down the glove, welcoming a national security debate with McCain.

“If John McCain wants to have a debate about who has the temperament and judgment to serve as the next Commander-in-Chief, that's a debate I'm ready to have,” Obama said.

“You don't defeat a terrorist network that operates in eighty countries by occupying Iraq. You don't protect Israel and deter Iran just by talking tough in Washington. You can't truly stand up for Georgia when you've strained our oldest alliances. If John McCain wants to follow George Bush with more tough talk and bad strategy, that is his choice, but it is not the change we need.

“We are the party of Roosevelt. We are the party of Kennedy. So don't tell me that Democrats won't defend this country. Don't tell me that Democrats won't keep us safe. … I will never hesitate to defend this nation."

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The Rev. Al Sharpton, one of MSNBC’s commentator crew, said “He took the gloves off but he never lost the smile on his face. That’s a dangerous opponent for John McCain.”

Jacob Heilbrunn, blogging at The Huffington Post, said: “Obama's performance tonight should silence the doubters about his candidacy. He came out fighting tonight. He showed that he fully understands that the best defense is a good offense and after weeks of absorbing punishment from John McCain, Obama went on the attack. His fluid, tough, and forcefully delivered speech indicates that he will be a formidable and potentially devastating opponent in the fall presidential debates. Anyone who can't see that just doesn't get it.”

Also speaking on MSNBC, Rev. Jesse Jackson (chastened from his most recent personal misstep, but no less forthright about speaking truth to power) put the speech in its legitimate historical perspective: not as a sequel to anything, but its own identity as oratory for this place and time.

“He didn’t make this a King Part II speech, he was smarter than that,” Jackson said. “I think a lot of us were waiting for a King Part II speech. They didn’t get King Part II, they got Barack Part I, and that’s a good thing.”

A slight quibble, though, with the ordinal number Jackson used: We’ve been getting Barack Part I for at least the last 566 days, in a variety of wise, streetwise, principled, passionate permutations.

What happened tonight was a restart, a reboot not of a campaign but of a sense of the vast national Possible, the moment when the software of a virally populist presidential campaign connected with the hard drive of millions of American people.

Tonight, amid fireworks both oratorical and literal, Barack Obama 2.0 went online. Do not expect this system to crash.
Image credit: Obama at convention, Invesco Field fireworks: Dtgwu2005 (public domain).

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