Thursday, August 28, 2008

Democrats have grand finale in Denver with Obama's theatrical speech; "personal responsibility" is hit hard

The Democratic National Convention put on a grand finale tonight at Invesco Field at Mile High in Denver in front of 75,000 people. The grand stage was built to look like a monument. Much of the speech text is at the PBS Newshour website here. PBS stations covered the evening sessions of the convention, whereas major television networks broke in only for the most major speeches.

Hillary Clinton had spoken Tuesday night in the Convention Center, as had Joseph Biden on Wednesday, introduced by his son, who told a story of Biden’s giving up a chance to serve in the Senate to care for his family when there was a serious automobile accident when the son was four years old.

Al Gore spoke early, and warned that we were borrowing money from China to buy oil from the Arab countries and pollute the planet. He said that global warming presents the greatest crisis the planet has ever faced. He also said that we have a culture in which marketing (personal manipulation of the potential customer) is more important than the quality of the product or service.

Later commentators from NewsHour mentioned that Al Gore started in politics young but quit after the 2000 election Florida fiasco (with the Supreme Court’s unwelcome intervention) in order to make movies (“An Inconvenient Truth”), and helping stir up environmental activism in Hollywood (as with Leonardo Di Caprio, who made a similar film, and now CNN news anchor Anderson Cooper, who is making a series “Planet in Peril”). .

Bill Richardson mentioned explicitly the loose nuclear materials in Russia and the former components of the Soviet Union as perhaps our greatest national security threat.

A number of retired generals, some of them female, appeared, and ratified Barack Obama as a potential commander in chief.

Several ordinary citizens gave testimonials. One woman from North Carolina told of a successful career, until her husband’s job was offshored, with loss of health insurance for them both. Then both of them needed coronary bypass surgery. Doing without health insurance is fine if you’re healthy, she said.

Another “citizen” made a great quote, about putting “Barney Smith before Smith Barney.” All the citizens were great public speakers.

The climax of the evening was, of course, "Rock Star" Barack Obama’s speech, which hit the moral issues. (No Justin Timberlake or Janet Jackson as half-time entertainment, please.) Obama criticized George W. Bush’s “ownership society” as meaning “you’re on your own.” He spoke for “personal responsibility” but said that it needed to be understood in our being in it together as a nation. “You are your brother’s keeper” he said, “and your sister’s keeper.” But the emphasis on Biblical charity seemed to emphasize more public spending rather than just personal service and personal restraint (the Internet comes to mind). He did say that young people who volunteered for national service should receive tuition and college expense assistance or scholarships later.

Obama did not specifically target oil companies as the "evil enemies" or working people (because they aren't). His restraint on that matter was welcome. But Friday John McCain named Alaska Governor Sarah Palin as his vice-presidential running mate, silently playing the domestic oil industry card (assuming that most Americans really want cheaper gasoline and agree that we need to drill a lot more at home, which we do). McCain did this from a stage in Dayton, Ohio with some fanfare. The "female" card (since Hillary Clinton is not on the Democratic ticket) almost seemed like an afterthought. Also, the efforts of blogger Adam Brickley seem to speak to the effectiveness of one blogger in promoting a particularly political candidate (his blog is here).

Actually, the tone of Obama's speech reminds me of a quote from Bill Clinton in his 1996 State of the Union address, after his having to battle Newt Gingrich: “The days of big government are over. But we’re not going back to the days of fending for yourself."

On social issues, he said that we could disagree on abortion but should agree on reducing teen pregnancy and single parenthood. He said we could disagree on the terminology of gay marriage but could agree that same sex couples should have all the legal rights they need. He spoke for an end to all discrimination against LGBT people but did not specifically mention ending “don’t ask don’t tell” but it’s pretty easy to read between the lines. Gore also called for an end to discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.

I had attended the old Mile High Stadium on Aug. 5, 1994, to see the Los Angeles Dodgers beat the Rockies on an oversized field. The next day, while driving north in a stickshift rental car with much cheaper gasoline (and stopping for lunch in “cattle mutilation country”), I would have a personal epiphany that I should describe in more detail some day. That year a strike would end the baseball season, and then Denver would get new stadiums. Later that week I would drive Pikes Peak and visit a friend in Colorado Springs, in a state then preoccupied with Amendment 2 and the local gay paper was “Ground Zero News.” The are has changed a lot since I was there last.

Obama's speech apparently marks the 45th Anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King's "I Have a Dream" speech at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington in 1963. That was not a good time for me. I was 20, living at home and working at the old National Bureau of Standards (now the UDC campus), going to GW part time at night, not having a normal young man's social life because of what had happened in 1961. The "new" Washington Senators baseball team suspended play (at the "new" RFK stadium) for two days during the march, and then got whacked by the Minnesota Twins in a doubleheader that Thursday (14-2, 10-1). In 1993, there would be another, but very different, March on Washington.

Picture: Grade school drawing (mine) of a Rocky Mountain scene in Colorado.

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