Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois accepted the Democratic presidential nomination Thursday night, declaring that Sen. John McCain of Arizona, his Republican opponent, was not up to the task of resolving America’s economic and foreign policy problems.
“Tonight, tonight, I say to the people of America, to Democrats and Republicans and independents across this great land — enough!” Obama declared as thousands of flash bulbs popped in the Denver Broncos’ stadium.
Obama wove the personal with the political in his 50-minute address to 84,000 supporters — and millions more at home — explaining how he would make a difference in their lives as president.
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Laying out what he characterized as the state of the union after eight years of Republican leadership, Obama painted an America “at one of those defining moments — a moment when our nation is at war, our economy is in turmoil and the American promise has been threatened once more,” he said.
“Tonight, more Americans are out of work, and more are working harder for less. More of you have lost your homes, and even more are watching your home values plummet. More of you have cars you can’t afford to drive, credit card bills you can't afford to pay and tuition that’s beyond your reach.”
The blame, he said, lay squarely with “a broken politics in Washington and the failed policies of George W. Bush.”
“America, we are better than these last eight years,” he said. “We are a better country than this.”
Praise, criticism for McCain
Obama praised McCain, who was held as a prisoner of war in Vietnam for more than five years, as a brave and distinguished American. But he said McCain was tied at the hip to Bush, who is scheduled to address the Republican National Convention on Monday.
“Senator McCain likes to talk about judgment, but really, what does it say about your judgment when you think George Bush was right more than 90 percent of the time? I don’t know about you, but I’m not ready to take a 10 percent chance on change.”
“I don’t believe that Senator McCain doesn’t care what’s going on in the lives of Americans,” Obama said. “I just think he doesn’t know.”
Foreign policy response from Obama
Obama also answered Republican attacks on his readiness to be commander-in-chief, signaling that Democrats would hit back hard at attempts to tar the party as weak on defense. Similar attacks helped torpedo the candidacy of Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., a highly decorated military veteran, in 2004.
“We are the party of Roosevelt. We are the party of Kennedy. So don’t tell me that Democrats won’t defend this country. Don’t tell me that Democrats won’t keep us safe,” Obama said.
Contending that “the Bush-McCain foreign policy has squandered the legacy that generations of Americans — Democrats and Republicans — have built,” Obama promised: “As commander-in-chief, I will never hesitate to defend this nation, but I will only send our troops into harm’s way with a clear mission and a sacred commitment to give them the equipment they need in battle and the care and benefits they deserve when they come home.”
Obama also promised to end the war in Iraq and to “finish the fight against al-Qaida and the Taliban in Afghanistan.”
“When John McCain said we could just ‘muddle through’ in Afghanistan, I argued for more resources and more troops to finish the fight against the terrorists who actually attacked us on 9/11, and made it clear that we must take out Osama bin Laden and his lieutenants if we have them in our sights,” he said. “You know, John McCain likes to say he’ll follow bin Laden to the gates of Hell — but he won’t even go to the cave where he lives.”
And he said he planned to undertake “direct diplomacy” with Iran to prevent it from obtaining nuclear weapons.
“I will restore our moral standing so that America is once more the last, best hope for all who are called to the cause of freedom, who long for lives of peace and who yearn for a better future,” he said.
Calling for a ‘common purpose’
Obama noted the deep partisan divide in America and laments that “what has also been lost is our sense of common purpose. And that’s what we have to restore.” He promised never to question McCain’s commitment to his country because “one of the things that we have to change in our politics is the idea that people cannot disagree without challenging each other’s character and patriotism.”
“I love this country, and so do you, and so does John McCain,” he said.
In that vein, he also called for a principled debate over domestic issues that divide the parties: abortion, gun ownership, same-sex marriage and gay and lesbian rights and immigration.
“This, too, is part of America’s promise — the promise of a democracy where we can find the strength and grace to bridge divides and unite in common effort,” he said.
The McCain campaign hit back with an especially stinging response, issuing a statement that said:
“Tonight, Americans witnessed a misleading speech that was so fundamentally at odds with the meager record of Barack Obama. When the temple comes down, the fireworks end and the words are over, the facts remain: Senator Obama still has no record of bipartisanship, still opposes offshore drilling, still voted to raise taxes on those making just $42,000 per year and still voted against funds for American troops in harm’s way. The fact remains: Barack Obama is still not ready to be president.”
Obama all but ignores racial milestone
One topic Obama did not directly address when he accepted the Democratic nomination shortly after 10 p.m. ET was the historic nature of his status as the first black major-party nominee for president. Only once, late in his speech, did he obliquely refer to the speech in 1963 when the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his famous “I Have a Dream” speech.
“It is that promise that 45 years ago today brought Americans from every corner of this land to stand together on a Mall in Washington, before Lincoln’s Memorial, and hear a young preacher from Georgia speak of his dream,” said Obama, who did not even mention King by name.
After three days of a Democratic National Convention that has relentlessly focused on Obama’s leadership abilities and policy proposals, it was left to others to note his shattering of a centuries-old racial barrier in American politics.
Obama even said less about his milestone than McCain, who was airing a new ad in battleground states Thursday night. In the ad, McCain looks into the camera and says, “Senator Obama, this is truly a good day for America.”
“Too often, the achievements of our opponents go unnoticed. So I wanted to stop and say, ‘Congratulations.’ How perfect that your nomination would come on this historic day,” McCain says. “Tomorrow, well be back at it. But tonight, Senator, job well done.”
Jill Hazelbaker, the campaign’s deputy communications director, called the ad “very exciting,” adding in an interview on MSNBC: “I think that a lot of people are going to focus on it.”
Obama’s big night came on a day few might have imagined decades ago, when King fought for civil rights. Obama was just 2 years old when King addressed a sea of people on the National Mall in Washington on Aug. 28, 1963.
King “would be very pleased and proud of what the Democratic Party and our nation is on the brink of doing,” Martin Luther King III, the civil rights leader’s eldest son, said in an interview with MSNBC.
“I feel that he and my mother are looking down today with a great big smile on their faces.”
New Jersey Gov. Jon Corzine called it “one of those moments where, no matter how you assess it, America is moving far from where it’s ever been.”
Gore, Kaine go after McCain
Former Vice President Al Gore, the Democrats’ nominee in 2000, warmed up the crowd with an attack on McCain.
“Today, we face essentially the same choice we faced in 2000, though it may be even more obvious now, because John McCain, a man who has earned our respect on many levels, is now openly endorsing the policies of the Bush-Cheney White House and promising to actually continue them,” Gore said.
“The same policies all over again? Hey, I believe in recycling, but that’s ridiculous,” Gore said.
Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine, who was widely reported to have been on Obama’s vice presidential short list, called McCain a captive of “the special interests and Washington lobbyists.”
He said Obama would provide “leadership that answers to us,” saying Obama would “put middle-class Americans first again and reward companies who create jobs in America instead of shipping them overseas” and end the war in Iraq.
GOP readies ticket
McCain, meanwhile, was set to announce his running mate Friday , campaign officials told NBC News, in hopes of curbing any bump in the polls Obama might get as he and his running mate, Sen. Joe Biden of Delaware, begin a three-day bus tour of battleground states that starts in Pennsylvania.
McCain’s pick was expected to join him at a campaign appearance Friday in Dayton, Ohio, the officials said. Like Obama’s, the campaign also planned a rally in Pennsylvania, on Saturday; both campaigns see Pennsylvania as an important battleground.
McCain was keeping his selection a close secret, but speculation coalesced around Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney. Pawlenty was in Denver on Thursday morning as part of a Republican team criticizing Democrats, but later in the day, he canceled all media appearances and left town.
Pawlenty deflected all questions about the possibility of being McCain’s vice presidential pick. As to his immediate plans, Pawlenty said: “I am scheduled to be in Minnesota tomorrow to be at the State Fair.”
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