History echoes all around as Obama steps up to big speech

McClatchy NewspapersAugust 28, 2008 

Barack Obama takes the stage.

CHUCK KENNEDY / MCT

DENVER — On a historic day echoing the dreams of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and John F. Kennedy, Democrat Barack Obama on Thursday became the first African-American to accept a major-party presidential nomination and immediately set a JFK-like goal: to end America’s dependence on Middle East oil within 10 years.

“For the sake of our economy, our security and the future of our planet,” he said, with a stern look on his face, “I will set a clear goal as president: In 10 years, we will finally end our dependence on oil from the Middle East.”

Critics slam Obama for being all rhetoric and no substance, but in a summer when Americans are paying nearly $4 a gallon for gasoline and fretting about high heating costs to come this winter, he vowed to end what he called “this addiction” to oil.

His 42-minute speech, delivered softly and seriously at one moment and reaching for lofty heights at another, also was steeped in historic allusions: The address at Invesco Field at Mile High stadium echoed Kennedy, who was the last person to accept his party’s nomination in an outdoor sports stadium. Kennedy pledged in 1961 to put an American on the moon by the end of the decade, a goal that was met.

Obama’s speech also came 45 years to the day after King gave his “I Have a Dream” speech at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, a historic oration that laid the spiritual foundation for the civil rights movement that Obama arguably culminates.

“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,” Obama said.

What people heard that day was that “in America, our destiny is inextricably linked. That together, our dreams can be one,” he said. As he spoke, his voice rose, the crowd stood and thousands waved American flags.

Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga., a veteran civil rights leader who was present when King gave his speech, put Thursday into historical perspective.

“For those of us who stood on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial or who in the years that followed may have lost hope, this movement and this moment is a testament to the power and vision of Martin Luther King Jr.,” Lewis told the crowd.

King’s son, Martin Luther King III, quoted from his father’s speech and made a direct link to Obama, who was 2 years old in 1963.

“We’re all children of the dream, and he is in all our hearts and minds,” King said of his father. “But not only that, he is in the hopes and dreams, the competence and courage, the rightness and readiness of Barack Obama.”

Edith Childs, a county councilwoman from Greenwood, S.C., called the scene “unreal,” and remembered how her husband took their children to Washington to see King.

She'd stayed home to work her shift as a nurse. Thursday, she made up for the absence. “I never dreamed I’d see a black president,” Childs said, getting ahead of herself by a couple of months even if Obama wins.

Obama’s address came a day after the 100th birthday of former President Lyndon B. Johnson, who signed two major civil-rights laws in the mid-1960s that also helped pave the way for Obama’s ascendance. LBJ was remembered at the convention Thursday in a video tribute.

Obama’s speech sought to achieve four goals: to make his life story familiar to Americans, to spell out specifics of what he hopes to achieve, to challenge presumptive Republican presidential nominee John McCain and to assure Americans that the Illinois senator has a foreign-policy vision and a grasp of national security imperatives.

He was introduced with a video about his life, a "childhood like any other," the narrator said. In his address, Obama talked about his mother, “who raised my sister and me on her own while she worked and earned her degree, who once turned to food stamps.” And he talked of his grandfather who “marched in Patton’s Army and was rewarded by a grateful nation with the chance to go to college on the GI Bill.”

The people who served, Obama said as his voice rose, “have not served a red America or a blue America. They have served the United States of America.” It was his most popular line, as people stood, roared and waved their flags.

As an estimated 84,000 people jammed the football stadium, Obama turned to the themes he’s expected to emphasize throughout the fall campaign.

He tied McCain squarely to President Bush.

The record is clear, he said: “John McCain has voted with George Bush 90 percent of the time. 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.”

Remember, Obama said, “The change we need doesn’t come from Washington. Change comes to Washington.”

He took on critics who say that McCain, a Vietnam veteran and four-term senator, is better equipped to handle national security.

“We are the party of Roosevelt. We are the party of Kennedy. So don’t tell me that Democrats won’t defend this country,” Obama said. “Don’t tell me that Democrats won’t keep us safe. The Bush-McCain foreign policy has squandered the legacy that generations of Americans _ Democrats and Republicans _ have built, and we are to restore that legacy.”

He devoted much of his speech to specifics, an attempt, as he put it, to “spell out exactly what that change would mean if I am president.”

“America, now is not the time for small plans,” he said.

First came taxes:

“Change means a tax code that doesn’t reward the lobbyists who wrote it,” he said, “but the American workers and small businesses who deserve it.”

He vowed to eliminate capital gains taxes for small businesses, to cut taxes for 95 percent of "working families" and to stop giving tax breaks to companies that ship jobs overseas.

His most specific promise concerned achieving energy independence.

“Washington has been talking about oil addiction for the last 30 years, and John McCain has been there for 26 of them,” he said. “In that time, he’s said no to higher fuel-efficiency standards for cars, no to investments in renewable energy, no to renewable fuels. And today, we import triple the amount of oil as the day Senator McCain took office.

“Now is the time to end this addiction, and to understand that drilling is a stopgap measure, not a long-term solution. Not even close.”

Obama addressed a packed stadium in which people had been waiting up to seven hours for his address. Renee Edwards, 45, of Dallas was hard to miss.

Her hat said “Obama,” her earrings were cut-out photos of Obama’s head, a bracelet featured his photo and she showed off a manicure and pedicure in which each finger and toe was painted with a letter of his name.

“My hat says Obama, my heart says Obama,” the information technology specialist said.

(Jessica Cherry contributed to this article from Denver.)

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