In my humble opinion, Barack Obama did what he needed to do last night. For months both supporters and detractors of the Illinois senator have been waiting for him to get down to the business of closing the sale. The speech was strong on specifics — as specific as you can get in front of 80,000 people in a football stadium — and it showed that after a couple of months of letting the pundits and the McCain campaign beat up on him, he could turn around and hit back effectively, powerfully, but without rancor and over-the-top outrage.
I think what impressed me the most was that he made the case for not just an Obama presidency but for changing the direction of the country. Even though an overwhelming majority of the electorate indicate that they are convinced that the country is going in the wrong direction and that they are disgusted with the legacy of George W. Bush and the Republicans, the tightness of the polls show that they aren’t ready to cast their lot with the unknown. That’s human nature; most people are loath to change, even if it means sticking with an old and broken system, in exchange for something new. But last night Barack Obama made it clear that he believes we don’t have a choice; no matter who is in the White House next year, there are too many things that need to be fixed to continue on the same path, and he offered a clear choice between his vision and that of John McCain. He did it in very clear and specific terms, and he did it without getting personal or destructive. I suppose that’s one way of proving that he is truly ready for the job, because he knows that a true leader needs the help and advice of more than just the people who voted for him or sit on his side of the aisle.
He did not cast himself as the savior of the country. He gave that job to us, the American people. And he made the case very well that the age of the politics of petty bullshit and personal destruction that has sustained the Republicans — and by transference and reaction the Democrats — has got to end before it ends us. But he also made it clear that he will respond to the inevitable attacks and turn them back on themselves.
I’m old enough to remember, albeit vaguely, what it felt like when John F. Kennedy was president and how he redefined the Democratic Party and American politics in the 1960’s, turning away from the fear, loathing, shallowness and inequality that pervaded our country in the 1950’s. We turned that opportunity to dust and mud the last time, leaving the door open to the cynicism and smugness of the reactionaries on both the left and the right. After last night, however, and the combination of soaring hope and pragmatic realism voiced by Senator Obama, we can hope that this time we’ll keep the promises we keep making to ourselves.