DENVER -- By the time Barack Obama took the stage to accept the Democratic Party's presidential nomination, so many people had gathered in Denver's Invesco Field that to call the noise the crowd made merely a roar wouldn't do it justice. For those inside the press box, it was as if the crowd were making the stadium itself shake. Eighty-five thousand people were there to hear Obama speak, one of his spokeswomen told Salon, and he didn't disappoint them.
Those stadium-shaking bursts of enthusiasm had been sweeping through the crowd all night, but the crowd of course saved its loudest cheers for the man they'd come to see. When he came onstage, the crowd erupted. Signs bearing the signature word of Obama's campaign, "Change," went up throughout the stadium, and the whole place seemed to be filled with waving American flags. Every so often, another rumble built and shook the press box. And just when it seemed the audience might let Obama speak, the familiar chant of "Yes, we can" began, and the stadium seemed to shake again.
Obama, though, was always composed. He remained firmly in control, delivering with his usual command a speech that deftly wrapped the different points he needed to hit into a single coherent narrative.
The newly official nominee's first task was to define himself, not just to humanize himself for those who still fear him but also to fight back against the way he has been defined by his opponent. He did so in the context of what he called "that fundamental promise that has made this country great -- a promise that is the only reason I am standing here tonight." And he illustrated that through the story of his own family and his own life, saying:
In the faces of those young veterans who come back from Iraq and Afghanistan, I see my grandfather, who signed up after Pearl Harbor ...
In the face of that young student who sleeps just three hours before working the night shift, I think about my mom, who raised my sister and me on her own while she worked and earned her degree ...
When I listen to another worker tell me that his factory has shut down, I remember all those men and women on the South Side of Chicago who I stood by and fought for.
Then, in one of the best lines of his speech, Obama turned those stories back on what has been one of his opponent's most successful lines of attack against him recently. "I don't know what kind of lives John McCain thinks that celebrities lead, but this has been mine," Obama said.
That was the kind of jab Obama succeeded in landing on McCain several times during the course of the night, lines that hit their intended target with no small force but without making the candidate himself seem angry or negative.
"Now, I don't believe that Senator McCain doesn't care what's going on in the lives of Americans. I just think he doesn't know. Why else would he define middle class as someone making under $5 million a year?"
"When John McCain said we could just 'muddle through' in Afghanistan, I argued for more resources and more troops ... John McCain likes to say that he'll follow bin Laden to the Gates of Hell -- but he won't even go to the cave where he lives."
"If John McCain wants to have a debate about who has the temperament, and judgment, to serve as the next commander in chief, that's a debate I'm ready to have."
And, taking the opportunity he was granted by having so many eyes upon him, Obama also pushed back against those who have worked to portray him as un-American and unpatriotic. Indeed, this was the central thread that held the speech together. It was a thesis about what Obama called the "promise that has always set this country apart -- that through hard work and sacrifice, each of us can pursue our individual dreams but still come together as one American family."
"That's why I stand here tonight," Obama told the crowd. "Because for 232 years, at each moment when that promise was in jeopardy, ordinary men and women -- students and soldiers, farmers and teachers, nurses and janitors -- found the courage to keep it alive."