Before the convention started yesterday, Gus and I sat in the media pavilion outside the Pepsi Center watching the pundits on CNN. While previewing keynote speaker and former Virginia Governor Mark Warner and Hillary Clinton, the talking heads predicted that both Warner and Clinton not only would, but needed to draw blood. One ventured that “the Republicans had won round one” with their series of negative advertisements, and the Democrats needed to respond in kind, and attack the McCain-Bush machine.
Warner came first, and I felt he was a little flat. Previous convention keynote speakers had made a strong impression. Obama, for one, first came to national prominence as the keynoter at the 2004 convention. So there were high hopes for Warner. As the convention’s keynote speaker, many had settled their bloodthirsty yearnings in his speech. He took a few of the same old jabs at McCain; he spoke of unity and change; but mostly, he spoke of moving forward. Really I think he accomplished what he had to, well aware that although he bore the title of the convention’s keynote speaker, he wasn’t even last night’s headliner. He simply set the stage, he spoke of “the race for the future,” one that he seems quite intent on being a part of.
A few speakers later Montana Governor Brian Schweitzer came out in a pair of blue jeans and a bolo tie, and energized the Pepsi Center crowd. But again Schweitzer failed to offer the red meat that CNN had insisted on. Like Warner, he emphasized change over partisan politics. Instead of taking personal shots at John McCain, Schweitzer touched upon something far more urgent, and far more powerful.
“Can we afford four more years of the same?” Schweitzer offered to the crowd, returned with an overwhelming chorus of, “NO.”
“Is it time for a change?”
“When do we need it?”
“And who do we need as the next President of the United States of America?”
“That’s right. Barack Obama is the change we need!”
Maybe the pundits are right. As McCain runs ad after ad attacking Barack Obama, equating him with the Paris Hiltons of the world, maybe high-road politics just won’t work. But I think what the Democrats are banking on in this convention is that the last eight years have spoken for themselves, that Americans across the country are fed up and don’t need more reasons to hate McCain and Bush; they just need an alternative to believe in.
Then, finally, came Hillary Clinton. The podium sunk into the floor and the arena darkened. A video played with highlights of Hillary’s recent primary campaign, the same campaign that threatens to tear this current one apart. Again, blue signs rippled through the crowd, “HILLARY” on one side, and “UNITY” on the other.
I had never seen Hillary in person before, and I had never understood her particular pull. But as she walked onto the stage I watched the master at her craft. She covered every corner of the stage, even stopping to look up and Gus and me off in our nosebleed corner, then after waiting some time for the crowd to die down, she began.
She took her shots, commenting on the fittingness of the upcoming Republican National Convention being held in Minneapolis, bringing the twins (McCain and Bush) together in the twin cities. But her point of emphasis was unity. She used the political clout that she had mustered throughout the long primary season, and with all her might, she tried to put it behind Barack Obama. Again, she let the status quo speak for itself. She minimized the attacks on McCain, and let the Bush administration speak for itself. “Those are the reasons I ran for president,” she said, after reciting all the policies that need to change, “and those are the reasons I support Barack Obama for president.”
For me this signals a brighter day in American politics. Despite being predicted as a day of bloodshed, it was a day of hope and unity. It took the positive over the negative. And that’s really what this campaign is about, appealing to the best in people, and calling for a day where hope and unity can overcome the past.