Obama Takes Off the Gloves

Thursday - The fourth night of the Denver Democratic Convention was the night Democrats had been waiting for. Each night had a theme: Monday's was that Barack and Michelle Obama are uniquely American. Tuesday's was Unity when Hillary Clinton implored Dems to support Obama. The theme Wednesday night was We're the Party that supports the troops, as flag-waving Democrats took back patriotism. And the theme of Obama's climactic Thursday night address was Enough! We're going to stop Bush-McCain from ruining the United States of America.

Obama's speech accomplished five things: it retold his story and linked it to basic American values. It established the central Democratic campaign theme, "Restoring the American Promise," and argued persuasively that Republican policies threaten this promise. The speech linked John McCain to the failed polices of George Bush that have jeopardized this promise. It showed what steps Obama would take to restore the promise. And it called for a renewal of bipartisanship that will enable Americans to solve our problems.

The speech began with a brief recapitulation of Obama's life. He had parents "who weren't well-off or well-known, but shared a belief that in America, their son could achieve whatever he put his mind to." Barack Obama mentioned his mother, grandfather, and particularly his grandmother: "She's the one who taught me about hard work... She poured everything she had into me." Recently, John McCain had demeaned Obama as a celebrity rather than a leader and Democrats had begged Barack to fight back by emphasizing his humble origins. In one of the epic barbs of the evening, Obama quipped, "I don't know what kind of lives John McCain thinks that celebrities lead, but this has been mine."

The Illinois Senator quickly moved to his central theme: "We meet at one of [America's] defining moments - a moment when our nation is at war, our economy is in turmoil, and the American promise has been threatened once more." After recounting our problems, Obama said, "the failure to respond is a direct result of a broken politics in Washington and the failed policies of George W. Bush." In a combative tone, he continued, "Tonight, I say to the American people, to Democrats and Republicans and Independents across this great land - enough!"

Obama linked John McCain to Bush's failed Administration. "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?" Amplifying his recent theme that McCain is out-of-touch, Obama cracked, "I don't believe that Senator McCain doesn't care what's going on in the lives of Americans. I just think he doesn't know... It's not because John McCain doesn't care. It's because John McCain doesn't get it."

Then Senator Obama turned to the meat of his speech: what is the America promise and what is he going to do - specifically - to restore it. "It's a promise that says each of us has the freedom to make of our own lives what we will, but that we also have the obligation to treat each other with dignity and respect." He detailed his specific policies: cutting taxes for working families, ending America's dependence on foreign oil, providing every child with a "world-class education," guaranteeing affordable healthcare, reforming bankruptcy laws, protecting social security, and providing equal pay for women.

The Illinois Senator observed that restoring America's promise, "will require a renewed sense of responsibility from each of us to recover what John F. Kennedy called our 'intellectual and moral strength.'" "Individual responsibility and mutual responsibility - that's the essence of America's promise."

Turning to foreign policy, Obama promised, "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." Mentioning Iraq. Afghanistan, and Al Qaeda, Obama criticized McCain's judgment: "We need a President who can face the threats of the future, not keep grasping at the ideas of the past."

Senator Obama concluded his speech with a call for restoration of America's sense of "higher purpose." Noting that this election is about civic engagement, Obama observed, "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." "It is that American spirit - that American promise - that pushes us forward even when the path is uncertain."

In conclusion, Barack Obama remembered Martin Luther King's "I Have a Dream Speech," forty-five years before: "'We cannot walk alone,' the preacher cried. "'And as we walk, we must make the pledge that we shall always march ahead.'" "We cannot turn back," Obama said. "We must pledge once more to walk into the future. Let us keep that promise - that American promise - and in the words of Scripture hold firmly, without wavering, to the hope that we confess."

It was more than a magnificent speech. Barack Obama showed Americans that he will fight for them, fight to preserve America's promise.