Those who came to Invesco Field on Thursday witnessed something they are unlikely ever to forget. Barack Obama gave an electrifying speech that silences—for the moment at least—doubts in the Democratic party that they have backed the right candidate. He commanded this vast sports stadium with calm authority, there were no false notes, and the attention of his audience never wavered. His listeners were enthralled, and they left believing they will win in November. After this, they were asking, how could the country fail to elect their man president?
The event started slowly, with enormous lines at security, a dreary succession of second-rate speakers, and a clutch of by-the-numbers political videos. Al Gore, Sheryl Crow, and Stevie Wonder raised the standard only a little, with dull renditions of their greatest hits, and the thought that this entire mega-production was going to backfire was impossible to suppress. Who in the world thought that the Greek temple stage-set was right? If the designer’s brief had been “low-budget hubris”, it worked; by any other standard it was a calamity. With the Republicans calling Mr Obama a vapid celebrity, this was outright self-parody. Yet none of it mattered when Mr Obama started to speak.
He began with a brief but seemingly sincere tribute to Hillary Clinton—who had given a well-received speech earlier in the convention. He wove vignettes of ordinary people’s struggles during the past eight years—the human element said to be missing from his campaign of late—into a statement of his own political philosophy. You cannot connect with people in a space of this size, but this was the next best thing. Part of his speech then crisply listed specific policy proposals, addressing the charge that he is too vague. He directly rebutted John McCain’s insinuation that he fails to put the country first: “We all put the country first,” he said with a touch of anger, to one of the loudest cheers of the night.
He attacked his opponent, but there was nothing vicious or vindictive in his criticisms. He said Mr McCain was for the wrong policies not because he did not care about people, but because he did not understand them and was out of touch. He gently contrasted his own modest upbringing with Mr McCain’s wealth. In that way, Mr Obama stayed true to the positive tone of his campaign, yet wounded his adversary as well. He closed by reiterating his earlier theme that this is not red America or blue America but the United States of America—in other words, with a renewed appeal to tolerance, moderation, and patriotism. More deafening cheers.
The costs of the policies he listed do not add up, of course: affordable college, affordable health care for all, subsidies for clean energy and every other good thing, and tax cuts for 95 percent of households. This is not exactly the count-every-dime accounting he claimed. Yet the measured force of Mr Obama in full flight is not to be denied. In modern American politics, he is peerless. How it looked on television will matter most for his campaign, but in the stadium it was a triumph.