Obama's Big Night

Scenes from INVESCO Field


We arrived at the gates of INVESCO Field an hour after paying $40 to park next to a nearby Denny's. On the walk to the press entrance, we passed vendors selling Barack Obama lapel pins, towels, and car flags. "Make your car sexy," that last vendor yelled. "You could get a date!"

No one was 100 percent clear on where the press was supposed to go. We knew we wanted to avoid the main line, which snaked around the stadium and down a closed-down chunk of I-25, patrolled by steel-thighed cops on bicycles.

"You can't head down there," one of them said, pointing at the place we'd previously been told to go. "You'll have problems."

After finally getting in, it became tough to remember why this speech was so controversial. Are NFL games elitist? School graduations? That's what this looked like. The crowd was decidedly normal-looking, overrunning the number of delegates, volunteers, and hacks who had populated the Pepsi Center for the three previous days.

The big pre-emptive attack on this speech, one that had been thought very effective, was the "celebrity" campaign to tar the Democratic nominee as an elitist. Since Obama returned from Berlin, fresh off a speech that was so powerful and moving that I dare you to name a line from it now, John McCain's campaign has pounded Obama with ads comparing him to wan celebrities such as Britney Spears and Paris Hilton. His celebrated speaking ability was credited to his lightness, arrogance, and hubris. It was that rare political attack that successfully turned an asset into something to apologize for.

In one way, Obama did apologize. He checked off a list of McCain attacks and answered them. "I don't know what kind of lives John McCain thinks that celebrities lead," Obama said, "but this has been mine." Cue recitation of his fatherless childhood.

In another way, Obama told McCain where he could stick his Straight Talk. The INVESCO rally was the most over-the-top political event I have ever seen—and ever hope to see—because to surpass it you'd need to re-enact a Roman pageant updated with T-72 tanks.

The temple that the Denver Broncos play football in was repurposed to sell Barack Obama, to sell "history." On the walk to the stadium, throughout the hall, and virtually anywhere outside, vendors were selling T-Shirts portraying Obama back-to-back with Martin Luther King, Jr. "The Dreamer and the Dream," said one. "Change is the New Black," said another. A vendor hocking a coffee tumbler celebrating "45 years to the date" of the "I have a dream" speech told me that the timing was "providential." "There's something happening here, but what it is ain't exactly clear. You know?" (Certainly, the ghost of Buffalo Springfield does.) A few steps further from his table you could buy an $8 beer or a similarly overpriced repast. "It's more crowded now than it is during a game," said Denver lawyer Danny Hahn, munching a $9.50 steak sandwich.

The enormous size of the field and its stage let Obama infuse everything with the sort of leg-tingling flag worship that Democrats used to make fun of Republicans for doing. The people who grumbled at Ray Charles' 1984 rendition of "America the Beautiful" sang along to Michael McDonald's update. Applause and cheers were spontaneous, mostly, but some were prompted by a God-sized YES WE CAN on a Jumbotron that alternately read BARACKOBAMA.COM and THE CHANGE WE NEED.

The Democrats were in the throes of full-throated populism. One of the "real Americans" tasked with introducing Obama was former Republican Barney Smith, who griped that his job had gone to a "foreign worker." Those foreigners! What won't they steal? Yet Smith's speech blew the doors off the place. He asked for a president who looks out for "Barney Smith, not Smith Barney," a little zinger that got the crowd spontaneously cheering "BARNEY! BARNEY!"

Those cheers weren't as loud as the ones that greeted attacks on McCain and Bush. Nothing could be. The connectivity of the positive applause lines was their focus on how much more America can and should do. When Obama promised to save the world from genocide and disease, the flags went up. Americanism, in this context, is the government doing whatever it can. Bushism has failed, so its opposite must be true. And it all ended with fireworks—what's more American than that?

David Weigel is an associate editor of reason.


NEXT: McCain Statement on Palin

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  1. On the walk to the press entrance, we passed vendors selling Barack Obama lapel pins, towels, and car flags. “Make your car sexy,” that last vendor yelled. “You could get a date!”

    How’d he know you were a libertarian?

  2. On the walk to the press entrance, we passed vendors selling Barack Obama lapel pins, towels, and car flags.

    See? They like capitalism, too.

  3. OK, the convention is over. Could Reason editorial staff please get back to doing what they do well, i.e. catch up on the Daily Brickbats!

  4. It must hose Obama to no end that McCain is shanghaiing the press with his surprise selection of Palin for VP. Another decent speech wasted.

  5. Pro Lib,

    Rolling out a novelty pick today is the best bit of political theater the McCain campaign has pulled off the entire election.

    Even if they ultimately take a hit on having a pick that stifles their main arguments, it would be better than endless reviews of the Democratic convention. Good strategy – having the fight you want where you want it, instead of the fight the other guy wants. Vice presidential selections rarely make much of a difference over the long run, but it’s a good way to control the media cycle.

  6. yaaaawwwnnn.

    so what was that about Sarah palin again?

  7. joe,

    That’s the way I see it–good strategery, good timing. Whether she’s a good choice will only be known after the campaign. She may not be good on the national stage, and there’s always the possibility that something in her past will come back to bite her. I thought a while back that she’d be a good choice, but I doubted that McCain had the cojones to roll the dice that much.

    One thing that you have to be pleased about is that the U.S. will have either a black president or a female VP. I don’t care about such things, but I know that would be one consolation for some progressive types if McCain wins. Another is that she’d be unlikely to run for president if he leaves after a single term (due to age, health, whatever). Romney and some of the other choices would’ve been much more suited to the successor role.

  8. Whoever paid for Reason’s trip to Denver didn’t get their money’s worth. Unless, of course, their goal was the same sort of coverage as that provided by every MSM hack. One day, if they’re bad enough, Reason’s staffers might make it to the WaPo.

    Comments on the speech here. Was BHO EngagingInNLP?

  9. Obama did mention a few policy positions, would have been nice if Weigel provided some analysis, but c’est la vie.

  10. Obama had a speech? Did he say anything new? ‘Cuz after a year and a half of campaigning, I think it’s time for change…

  11. Poor poor democrats. They didn’t even get a full day of afterglow. Schadenfreude indeed.

  12. could you please cancel my membership to thi smagazine I thought I was going to get a logical and intelligent analysis of th epolitical scene from a libertarian point of view no more the the same partisan superficial crap I can read on other blogs or entertainment news. Please cancel my subscription quickly.

  13. Please cancel my subscription quickly.


  14. Please cancel my subscription quickly.

    No way Jose…. or in the alternative – DRINK!

  15. Can I have a bag to take mine home in?

  16. “Bushism has failed, so its opposite must be true. ”

    Do libertarians and reason really believe Obama is the opposite of Bush? All the libertarians I know don’t like either because they are too similar.

    both like big government and more military attacks…bush set new records on domestic spending and foreign spending…Obama wants to do more of the same. The only difference is some minor disagreements on the details.

    Why would you push this myth that Bush and Obama are opposites David?

  17. Holy crap.

    Barack Obama’s acceptance speech at the Democratic National Convention was seen by more than 38 million people.

    Nielsen Media Research said more people watched Obama speak than watched the Olympics opening ceremony in Beijing….

    Neilsen doesn’t measure PBS or CSPAN, so bump that up over 40 million.

  18. more people watched Obama speak than watched the Olympics opening ceremony in Beijing….

    Yay! I’m continuing my trend of not watching what the rest of you watch! Besides, transcripts are much more interesting. No visuals to get in the way of what’s actually being said.

  19. I apologize for being off-topic, but I thought you might enjoy this video from Joe Biden with *closed captioning for the bullshit impaired*.

  20. “Neilsen doesn’t measure PBS or CSPAN, so bump that up over 40 million.”

    Some of that PBS audience is measured by Nielsen. But many of the PBS stations don’t want to pay for the encoding equipment Nielsen needs them to have in order to measure them (why bother when you don’t rely on advertising money). The number of PBS stations that have the encoding is going up. Also, there are still many Nielsen homes that use older equipment that doesn’t use the audio encoding and thus are able to measure stations that don’t have it.

  21. “Do libertarians and reason really believe Obama is the opposite of Bush? All the libertarians I know don’t like either because they are too similar.”

    Of course libertarians know McCain and Obama are both different sides of the same big-government coin, however that doesn’t stop us from wanting to see the GOP shoved into the penalty box. The GOP tricked a lot of libertarians throughout the 90s into supporting them and the goals they supposedly shared with us. Instead of shrinking government though, they used our time, expertise and money to swell the debt, violate Americans more efficiently, and to build an empire. Yes the Democrats will also be less than satisfactory, but for now the GOP can hang.

  22. “to surpass it you’d need to re-enact a Roman pageant updated with T-72 tanks. ”

    Obama needs a secret service agent whispering in his ear “Remember, you are just a man.”.

  23. I was really hoping to see an actual breakdown of the issues, not of the vendor-scape.

    Anyways, I think that Obama’s speech contained certain undertones of libertarianism. He talked about how to pay for all of his “big ideas”. Slashing the bureaucracies of the 20th century: check! Maybe with a nudge from Obama, the democratic platform will be forced to accept social libertarianism and end this silly mantra of the moral right running the lives of the American people, rather than themselves.

  24. It turns out Barney was working in Marion for a FRENCH COMPANY. Thomson purchased RCA many years ago, and the decision to shut down his plant was made in Paris.

    It is true though that the Thomson tube TV plant was being moved to a foreign country. Since Americans now want LCD, DLP, and Plasma displays, there is little need for more tube TVs here, so it ended up in China where it could be made closer to the Chinese consumers (and also with cheaper labor so Chinese consumers can afford them).

  25. “silly mantra of the moral right running the lives of the American people, rather than themselves”

    This notion hasn’t been valid for a good while. The “moral majority” is extinct as the triceratops. Watch your pocketbook, boy, the “libertarian undertone” honey spilling from his mouth into your ear is going to undermine your pocketbook.

  26. Y’all need to stop using spell-check for copy editors. Unless the vendor was strapped for cash and in a pawn shop, he was not “hocking a coffee tumbler”.

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