BOSTON — Making his national debut, “a skinny kid with a funny name” brought Democrats to their feet with a call for unity and a message of hope.
Barack Obama, an up-and-coming Senate hopeful from Illinois, spoke from experience about the importance of diversity in American life, but reminded the Democratic National Convention of the nation’s motto: “E pluribus unum” — out of many, one.
Delivering the convention keynote Tuesday night, Obama argued against the “politics of cynicism” that divides America into liberal and conservative, black and white. And he urged the nation to reject the “spin masters and negative ad peddlers” who try to divide it.
“I say to them tonight, there’s not a liberal America and a conservative America — there’s the United States of America,” he said, getting a standing ovation.
Obama, the son of a white woman from Kansas and a black man from Kenya, was raised in Hawaii and became a community activist on Chicago’s South Side before going to Harvard Law School.
If elected this fall, Obama, 42, would become the Senate’s only black member, and just the fifth black senator in history. He has no opponent in the race because the Republican, Jack Ryan, dropped out after unsealed divorce records showed Ryan’s ex-wife had accused him of taking her to sex clubs.
The convention delegates gave Obama a standing ovation and wildly waved blue and white signs bearing his name. There was a sense in the arena that a new star of the Democratic Party was emerging.
“He’s got the ability to touch the hearts and minds of people in this country that just need hope,” said Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan.
Obama denounced President Bush’s handling of the Iraq war, without mentioning him by name.
“When we send our young men and women into harm’s way, we have a solemn obligation not to fudge the numbers or shade the truth about why they’re going,” Obama said, “and to never — ever — go to war without enough troops to win the war, secure the peace and earn the respect of the world.”
A state senator who teaches law at the University of Chicago, Obama urged parents to “turn off the television sets and eradicate the slander that says a black youth with a book is acting white.”
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This is the second convention in a row where Democrats offered the high-profile keynote speech slot to a black politician. Rep. Harold Ford Jr. of Tennessee spoke in 2000.
A bid for diversity
Obama acknowledges he was chosen partly because he is black and the Kerry campaign hopes to bring more minority voters to the polls. But Obama said he also was chosen because he won Illinois’ Senate primary with support that crossed racial and geographic lines.
He drew laughter and applause with a reference to himself as “a skinny kid with a funny name who believes that America has a place for him, too.”
Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. of Illinois called it “a line for the ages.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.