As we all know, history will be made in just a few hours. On the 45th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I have a dream” speech, an African-American will accept the presidential nomination of one of the two major political parties. As a student, I watched excerpts of that speech on the news and what I really remember is the constant refrain from the television commentators that there would likely be a riot in Washington DC that day.
I also remember another speech, an address to Congress given by the Democratic President Lindon Baines Johnson, introducing the civil rights act of 1965 (go here for a thoughtful discussion of that legislation by LBJ biographer, Robert Caro). That legislation put us on the path leading to tonight.
But, I believe there is another, equally important, reason Barack Obama is where he is tonight. It is the long, and for some, painful primary process. When I have friends tell me that say they are sick of the long, drawn-out primary season, I remind them of how political parties used to nominate Presidents- in smoke filled rooms with the party bosses making the decisions. I can promise you that no African American would have ever been nominated if that same process existed today. Obama is really the first Presidential candidate to run a truly grassroots campaign in my lifetime.
The pundits and talking heads of the networks complain that the convention has been just theater. Of course, the convention is theater. That is because the people have spoken and, after a hard fought battle, Obama won. The primary was not always pretty and the delegates had to work at building the unity necessary for the campaign ahead. The convention gives the delegates, and the American people, a chance to celebrate. And, like any good theater, the convention has been orchestrated. But, if you think the Democratic convention was orchestrated, wait until you see the Republican convention in St. Paul.
The right wing blogs and talk radio babblers have been wringing their hands about Obama’s speech being delivered in Mile High stadium against a backdrop that looks like a Greek amphitheater. From my perspective, it is the perfect symbolism for this campaign. Rather than restrict the celebration to the delegates at the convention, Obama is opening it up to the common citizen. I applaud him and just wish I were there to applaud his speech in person.
Let us all savor this amazing moment in our history!