Obama breaks down historic racial barrier
August 28, 2008
DENVER ” Barack Obama was to accept his historic nomination Thursday as the first black to top a major U.S. political party’s presidential ticket, delivering on the closing night of the Democratic convention an impassioned call for change in a country where exactly 45 years earlier civil rights leader Martin Luther Kiing challenged Americans to embrace his “dream” of equality.
Obama, who has made little of his race in a so-far bruising run for the White House, was sure to include his personal story in his acceptance address before 75,000 fellow Democrats at a Denver stadium, and millions more watching on television. But he was to also talk about the U.S.’s many challenges today, from health care to international threats, campaign manager David Plouffe said on ABC’s “Good Morning America” news show.
His acceptance of the Democratic nomination comes on the 45th anniversary of the Rev. King’s Aug. 28, 1963, “I Have a Dream” speech, an exhortation about the frustration of blacks at a time when African Americans in many southern states were denied their voting rights more than 90 years after federal legislation guaranteed them that right.
Given America’s tortured racial history ” Obama was just 2 when King delivered his speech ” the candidate’s nomination is a gamble for the Democrats in the Nov. 4 election as they work to wrest the White House from the Republicans and their candidate McCain, a veteran Arizona senator and Vietnam war hero who turns 72 on Friday.
“This is a monumental moment in our nation’s history,” Martin Luther King III, the civil rights icon’s oldest son, told The Associated Press on Wednesday. “And it becomes obviously an even greater moment in November if he’s elected.”
The stakes were, of course, equally high for Obama, a relative newcomer to the national stage who rose to prominence after delivering the keynote address at the Democratic convention in 2004 and who is still in his first term in the Senate.
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While his speech four years ago was widely praised as inspirational, Thursday’s address was expected to convey a simpler message about what he would do for the country as president.
“I think what Sen. Obama wants to do is make sure everyone watching at home is going to have a clear sense of where he wants to take the country, that we’re on the wrong path and Barack Obama is going to put us back on the right track both here at home and overseas,” Plouffe said.
McCain offered mild criticism ahead of Obama’s speech, telling a Pittsburgh radio station Thursday that he admires and respects Obama but “I don’t think he’s right for America.”
“I think I’m more in touch with the American people as far as my policies, my proposals and my ideas,” McCain told KDKA News Radio.
The veteran Arizona senator, whose search for a running mate has recently been largely eclipsed by the fanfare surrounding Obama’s nomination, also told the station that he has not made a decision.
Still, he was expected to name his pick this week, possibly Friday, with the hope that he can generate new momentum for his party’s convention, which begins next Monday in St. Paul, Minnesota. He and his running mate are expected to appear together for the first time at one or more rallies, including one planned for Saturday in Pennsylvania.
Former Vice President Al Gore also will speak at the Democratic convention Thursday. Adding a touch of celebrity to the convention’s final night, singers Sheryl Crow, Stevie Wonder and will.i.am were scheduled to perform, with Academy Award-winner Jennifer Hudson singing the national anthem.
Obama had been campaigning in battleground states during the week before turning up on the Denver convention stage unannounced Wednesday night after running mate Joe Biden’s acceptance speech. Biden used his speech to laud Obama and to tear into McCain, even as he called the latter a “friend” whose “personal courage and heroism … still amaze me.”
Delighting the crowd with his appearance, Obama praised the one-time front-runner for the Democratic nomination Hillary Rodham Clinton, and her husband former President Bill Clinton, as well as his wife for their prime time speeches in support of him this week.
“If I’m not mistaken, Hillary Clinton rocked the house last night!” he shouted. Obama’s wife, Michelle, who delivered a tone-perfect address to open the convention could be seen mouthing the words “I love you” from her VIP seat in the Pepsi Center.
The long Democratic drama neared an end ” and the Obama campaign no doubt heaved a sigh of relief ” after rousing speeches on Obama’s behalf by the Clintons ” Hillary on Tuesday and Bill on Wednesday. They offered unabashed praise for Hillary Clinton’s one-time opponent, whom they had sharply criticized during the primary contest.
While healing the Democratic Party may still prove difficult after the grueling 18-month primary, the process began effusively Tuesday night when Hillary Clinton said Obama is “my candidate, and he must be our president.”
Bill Clinton echoed his wife’s words the night following, noting that she had told the convention she would do everything possible to get Obama elected.
“That makes two of us,” he said.
For months, the former president had made little secret of his disappointment over his wife’s primary defeat. During her campaign, he faced criticism for his outbursts of anger and deprecatory comments about Obama.
But his 1993-2001 presidency is warmly remembered by Democrats as a time of peace and prosperity, and Clinton was greeted with a huge and extended ovation as he took the stage. He was interrupted frequently by applause as he praised Obama.
While there were no surprises in the convention, drama was heightened as both Obama and Hillary Clinton’s names were put in for the nomination. Convention leaders were well along in a state-by-state roll call vote when the New York senator strode into the midst of her delegation as planned and stopped the process, calling for Obama’s unanimous nomination “in the spirit of unity, with the goal of victory.”
The delegates agreed with a roar and Nancy Pelosi, the speaker of the House of Representatives and titular head of the convention, pounded her gavel on the historic vote.
Clinton, who won nearly 18 million votes in the state primaries but could not overcome Obama’s delegate total, had wanted the pro forma roll call as a cathartic moment for her huge bloc of supporters.
Tensions between the two camps were aggravated last week by Obama’s decision to name Biden instead of Clinton as his vice presidential running mate. But in their speeches, both Clintons commended the choice.
Biden received the vice presidential nomination by acclamation Wednesday night, and in accepting he declared he had learned the quality of Obama’s mind and character while campaigning against him in the primary.
“I watched how Barack touched people, how he inspired them, and I realized he had tapped into the oldest American belief of all: We don’t have to accept a situation we cannot bear. We have the power to change it,” he said.