Obama Does the Improbable (Again)

Last Thursday was a day full of surprises. Upon arriving at Invesco Field at Mile High, I was surprised to find a mile-long line (no exaggeration) of people waiting to see Barack Obama’s speech.

Once I was finally inside Invesco, standing on the media riser I was surprised to hear a FOX News employee lean over to his coworker and say, “You have to admit, this is pretty impressive.”

And as I listened to Obama’s speech, I was surprised to witness him do the improbable: forcefully draw a line in the sand between himself and John McCain, while at the same time maintaining the postpartisan unity message that helped launch him to success.

Before Thursday, I didn’t think these two elements were reconcilable. But after all the unexpected turns of the Obama campaign that have defied conventional wisdom, I should no longer be surprised when Obama, well, surprises me.

Without a doubt, Obama had some tough lines for McCain and the Republicans. In one of the most biting passages of his speech, Obama said, “It’s not because John McCain doesn’t care. It’s because John McCain doesn’t get it. For over two decades, he’s subscribed to that old, discredited Republican philosophy—give more and more to those with the most and hope that prosperity trickles down to everyone else. In Washington, they call this the Ownership Society, but what it really means is, you’re on your own.”

He also attacked McCain on the Republican candidate’s presumed strength: foreign policy, “John McCain likes to say that he’ll follow bin Laden to the Gates of Hell—but he won’t even go to the cave where he lives.”

Obama highlighted the specifics of his proposed policies, adding meat to what some have said is an empty call for “change.” In fact, Obama had never laid out a more clear and concise case for why he is the superior choice in November.

Addressing the current economic woes of many Americans, and invalidating the ad hominem charge that Democrats will raise taxes for most citizens, Obama stated, “I will cut taxes for 95% of all working families. Because in an economy like this, the last thing we should do is raise taxes on the middle-class.”

Despite defining the differences between himself and McCain, Obama was also able to effectively pay homage to the common ground that the vast majority of Americans are able to find, taking on what are often third rail issues when it comes to Democrats courting social conservatives, “We may not agree on abortion, but surely we can agree on reducing the number of unwanted pregnancies in this country.  The reality of gun ownership may be different for hunters in rural Ohio than for those plagued by gang-violence in Cleveland, but don’t tell me we can’t uphold the Second Amendment while keeping AK-47s out of the hands of criminals.  I know there are differences on same-sex marriage, but surely we can agree that our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters deserve to visit the person they love in the hospital and to live lives free of discrimination.”

Earlier this week, I wrote on this site, “[The] ability to see beyond party lines to reach a pragmatic conclusion… is the essence of postpartisanship.”

Obama did just that in his speech, embracing the conservative principal of individual responsibility, “Democrats, we must also admit that fulfilling America’s promise will require more than just money… we must also admit that programs alone can’t replace parents; that government can’t turn off the television and make a child do her homework.”

And in the most bipartisan line of the night, a line that should tug at the patriotic heartstrings of any American, Obama said, “Let us agree that patriotism has no party. I love this country, and so do you, and so does John McCain. The men and women who serve in our battlefields may be Democrats and Republicans and Independents, but they have fought together and bled together and some died together under the same proud flag. They have not served a Red America or a Blue America—they have served the United States of America.”

On the 45th anniversary of Martin Luther King’s Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech, I watched Obama change the landscape of American politics. But for me, this change had little to do with Obama’s race and much more to do with him raising the bar on what we can expect from our politicians.

My generation has come of age in an era of politicians that, although made up of many incredible men and women, has never had an inspirational leader of the caliber of JFK, MLK or RFK.

We finally have such a figure in Barack Obama, and after he masterfully laid out his vision for our country on Thursday, it is hard to argue that his inspirational rallying cry for change and a better America is an empty promise.

Obama fans: from Denver to Africa

The night that Sen. Joe Biden took the stage at the Democratic National Convention and was later joined by Sen. Barack Obama, I wasn’t in the Pepsi Center.

Instead, I was in a taxi heading back to Regis University. After waking up at 5:00 a.m., it was time to go home, even though it meant I would miss the Vice-presidential nomination acceptance speech.

And you know what? I could care less, because I heard a much more interesting story. (No offense, Biden).

From Morocco-bama to Discobama, the Democratic nominee has a quite a versatile last name.

When I sat down in my taxi the Biden speech was on the radio. As we started to drive away from downtown, my driver suddenly said to me, “Obama has to win.”

Then he began to explain why. A native of the Morocco, my driver fled to the United States 23 years ago. While his roots are in Africa, America has been home. He has not returned to see his sisters, mother, or father since he left.

“America gave me a new life,” he proudly said.

But during his life in Africa, he claimed he could not sit by while government was corrupted. He joined a political party (the name was lost in translation) that fought to gain control along with at least 20 other parties and a king. In the end, he said many fellow politicians were jailed or killed, and he knows that would have been his fate as well. After 23 years of solace in America, he has seen the presidency of Ronald Reagan, George Bush, Bill Clinton, and George W. Bush.

Now, he said, it’s time for a change. It costs $120 to fill up his gas tank. He sees our economy dwindling. While either candidate will bring some form of change, my driver from “Morocco-bama” explained why he would cast his vote for the Democratic nominee.
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Ted Kennedy: Same Goose Bumps, Different Generation

The sights and sounds of the electrifying night flashed through my head as I pulled a golf cart up to the dark loading dock behind the Pepsi Center. The first night of the DNC had just concluded, and I was busy shuttling convention-goers to buses to return to their hotels.

From the shadows of a large media trailer, a stranger approached my cart and asked for a ride. Being in high spirits, I agreed to give him a lift.

As I navigated the security checkpoints and Secret Service agents surrounding the Pepsi Center, my passenger told me he was a writer for a cable news channel. When I asked how his night had gone, he replied with an air of boredom that he had been unable to find any good stories.

Taken aback, I wondered if he had been in the same arena as me.

Perhaps the seasoned reporter had grown pessimistic and disinterested from being around too many political conventions and speeches. I, on the other hand, was not going to let his indifference sway me. I knew I had just been witness to a night I would never forget, and of all the memorable moments, seeing the prowess of Sen. Ted Kennedy for the first time in person had been the most remarkable.

Earlier in the evening, when it was still uncertain if Kennedy was going to make an appearance, I got an excited call from my producer, “Tell all the reporters Kennedy is in the building. I just saw him walk by downstairs.”

Sure enough, a couple of hours later Kennedy staggered out onto stage assisted by his wife to a boisterous standing ovation and a sea of “Kennedy” signs being waved throughout the hall. One could see the toll that the brain cancer he was diagnosed with three months ago and his subsequent surgery had taken. From the media suite I was standing in, which was located to the side of the stage, a stool could be spotted that had been placed behind the podium in case the senator’s strength failed.

From the start, it was clear this was going to be one for the ages, and in an extremely emotional moment, Kennedy told the crowd that nothing would have prevented him from being there. With vigor and energy that belied his medical condition, he jabbed the air with his index finger and pledged to be on the Senate floor next January when Sen. Barack Obama was sworn in as president.

Invoking the spirit of his two slain brothers, Kennedy acknowledged the youthful wave of voters who have embraced the hope Obama offers for an era of postpartisan politics, by stating, “The torch will be passed to a new generation of Americans this November!”

As Kennedy spoke and the crowd roared, goose bumps shot up and down my arms.

For all of Kennedy’s flaws, which have been well documented over and again by the press, and for all the showmanship of his speech, one could sense that Kennedy understood all too well this moment was about something far greater than himself. It was about standing up for the underdog, a cause that has been the driving force of Kennedy’s 46-year political career.

After becoming disenchanted over the previous days with what I viewed as the superfluity of the convention, I was reminded once again of the power of politics to lift up and empower the most vulnerable in our society.

As I reflected on Kennedy’s speech, I thought about the elderly black lady I had seen earlier being pushed in her wheelchair through the halls of the Pepsi Center. She was dressed in her Sunday best and had a look of serene contentment on her face. She was about to witness a major political party nominate an African-American for president, something she probably never believed possible in her lifetime. For nearly the last half century, Kennedy has been fighting for progressive policies that would help bring this moment to fruition.

I thought about the veteran Washington Post reporter T.R. Reid, who a few days earlier had told a group of students and myself that one of his favorite moments covering politics had been watching Kennedy deliver his “The Dream Will Never Die” speech at the 1980 DNC. Twenty-eight years later, here I was at a different DNC sharing Reid’s awe in the oratorical skills and passion of Kennedy.

I thought about how lucky my generation had been to have this chance to witness the greatness Kennedy offered, to be inspired by him like so many Americans of past generations have been, before he left us for good.

And finally, I thought about the stool that had been placed for Kennedy behind the podium. The ailing 76-year-old senatorial lion, in a demonstration both literal and symbolic, had showed the strength the Democratic Party is capable of by never once sitting down.

Sports references find their way into politics

People in politics sure love their sports metaphors.

Last night, Michelle Obama’s brother, Craig Robinson, described Sen. Barack Obama in terms of his basketball game: “He’ll take the shot if he’s open. He’s a team player who improves the people around him and he won’t back down from any challenge,” he said.

Earlier this week, Sen. Dick Durbin compared the presidential race to a basketball game. (Click here for the blog entry.)

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Pro-Lifers and their Abortion Trucks

Starting on Sunday, the day that is commonly referred to as the Sabbath, pro-life supporters began driving box trucks around the Denver metropolitan area. These weren’t just any box trucks though. On the sides and backs of these trucks were some of the most grotesque images I have ever seen. These pro-lifers thought it would be appropriate to deck on their rides with pictures of aborted fetuses and a little, bloody, baby arm draped over a quarter. The images look obscenely real and obviously affect everyone they pass.

Now pro-life or pro-choice, it doesn’t matter to me. It’s the single toughest issue to debate in American politics and in human society as a whole. They have to have limits. And what bugs me the most about these generally deeply religious pro-lifers is that these are the same people who want to rid the public airwaves of anything they deem offensive. So it’s indecent for their children to see a woman showing too much cleavage or hear the “d-word” on a television show, but it’s perfectly okay for Denver’s children to see the horrific image of a bloody, aborted fetus on the side of a truck? Things just don’t add up for me.

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More photos…

If you want to see more photos, you can check out my shutterfly website. I’ll be updating it as the week goes on, so don’t forget to check back!

The countdown is over…

Denver is in a frenzy. I can hardly imagine how residents feel about today, the start of the convention. After all, they have been preparing for this all year. We’ve only been here a week, but I’ve already noticed changes around the city.

Every souvenir shop has these, as well as shirts, buttons, flags, shot glasses, etc. Basically anything you can think of is made for the convention.

Every souvenir shop has these, as well as shirts, buttons, flags, shot glasses, etc. Basically anything you can think of is made for the convention.

First, there’s the road blocks. On Monday night a group of us walked right up to the Pepsi Center. We snapped a few pictures and let it sink in that in a week what we had been waiting for all summer would begin. The CNN Express bus had just arrived and we hopped on board to take a peek. There were no barriers anywhere.

That night downtown was relatively quiet. Sure there were lots of people out enjoying the weather, but on the whole it was calm. We did not have to waited to be seated at a Mexican restaurant, even though there were ten of us. No one had lanyards around their neck, proudly displaying their credentials. And I did not see a single glittered red, white, and blue hat.

Not so last night. The delegates are here! They are exploring the streets of Denver, flocking to restaurants, catching free rides on the bus that goes along the 16th Street Mall (where many shops and restaurants are located) and experiencing all the city has to offer. I saw several patriotic hats last night. A week ago everyone I talked to was from Denver and last night I was hard pressed to find a Denver resident. The convention is upon us.

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