When Bill Clinton spoke on Wednesday night at the Democratic National Convention, it seemed like 1992 all over again, with Fleetwood Mac's Don't Stop playing him in, taking Democrats back to a time when they prepared to unseat a Bush.
Thursday night, as cameras chronicled crowds filing into Denver's Mile High Stadium, and the preshow started with highlights such as a Stevie Wonder performance and an Al Gore speech that might've gotten him elected if he gave it eight years ago, it was clear that this was a bigger political event than anyone Barack Obama's age has seen before. The Democratic nominee set a huge stage for his acceptance speech at the DNC, creating an event that looked more like a Super Bowl, Live Aid or the just finished Olympics than an ol' political convention. As cable news and PBS cameras chronicled the evening, the major networks seemed silly staying away until 10 p.m. for things like CSI reruns.
There was one way the venue did hurt Obama a bit — sound. The crowd actually did sound louder for Clinton Wednesday, probably because the roof of the arena captured the cheers that went into the skies above Mile High — skies which were not an answer to Focus on the Family's prayers. It did actually give an aural feeling of detachment. But as the cameras panned the crowd, you could see they were excited, enthralled and moved by the man and the moment of seeing a brilliant orator who is the first African-American major party candidate for President. That it was the 45th Anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.'s I Have a Dream speech only added to the gravity of the event.
Of course, that will inevitably feed into Republican presidential candidate John McCain's charge that Obama is a merely a celebrity who can fill stadiums.
It is funny that is considered a liability. In most arenas, theatrical and athletic, being able to fill a stadium is considered an asset. Here, in Lexington, there is a pride that the University of Kentucky basketball team can pack more than 20,000 people into Rupp Arena even for exhibition games. We are fascinated with bands like the Rolling Stones and U2 that fill stadiums night after night. But, when it comes to the leader of the free world, this is a liability?
There are definitely debatable issues between Republicans and Democrats, but criticizing a candidate because tens of thousands of people want to hear him is strange.
But it is a charge that will probably be aired again, because as political theater goes, Obama has given McCain a tough act to follow.
Talking heads' reaction: Prior to the speech, MSNBC's Rachel Maddow seemed to be on the verge of tears having read it, and Keith Olbermann seemed to be in danger of stealing Obama's thunder reading passages. Meanwhile, at Fox, Sean Hannity was trying to re-air his talking-point criticisms of Obama. Afterwards, Fox's Brit Hume was grumbling a question about whether this was standard issue Democratic rhetoric while MSNBC's Olbermann and Chris Matthews were calling the speech "extraordinary." Last week, I contended, and stand by the contention that MSNBC is not ideaologically driven in its news coverage. But reaction to the speech clearly showed the differences in the pundits at MSNBC and Fox. It's a safe bet they'll have opposite reactions this time next week.
The final decision, of course, belongs to us, the voters.
Awkward: Clearly, surfing the channels this week, I've missed a few things like a testy exchange between Olbermann and Joe Scarborough, with an ellipsis from Chris Matthews. Then there was this one between David Shuster and Scarborough on Morning Joe. Wow. I'm not on the treadmill at the right time, though I did hear Scarborough mocking the MSNBC evening anchors for portraying everything as wonderful with Monday night's convention coverage. Hmmmmm. Makes me not want to surf and sit on the mini-Peacock, and maybe take an extra long walk on the treadmill tomorrow morning.
UPDATE: OK, no fisticuffs on Morning Joe today, but it was fun when Time's Mark Halperin came in reporting a charter flight had gone from Anchorage to Dayton last night, and suddenly Halperin and Mika Brezinski are sitting there on the air working their Blackberrys trying to see if Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin was McCain's vice-presidential pick. A few minutes later, they cut to Kelly O'Donnell in Dayton cradling her laptop in one arm and checking her Blackberry with the other hand while trying to report what the buzz was. Later, they were showing shots of Andrea Mitchell working the phones in the diner they were broadcasting from and documenting at the bottom of the screen who was out: Pawlenty, Romney, etc. Nobody was as overtly working this story on the air as MSNBC, and it was very entertaining.