The atmosphere of optimism and camaraderie was evident even before I had arrived at Denver’s Mile High Stadium: while most roads surrounding the stadium had been shut down, friendly ushers pointed us in the direction of the stadium. As we approached the stadium, we saw the usual vendors. But instead of hawking overpriced peanuts, they were handing out armfulls of free chilled bottled water (followed immediately by extra-large recycling bins).
The stadium experience was similarly pleasant. Everyone in the stadium was rooting for the home team, so doing the wave was particularly easy. Where ballparks usually charge for foam fingers or team paraphernalia, it was free here – an American flag and ‘Change’ placard for every attendee. Where electronic billboards usually working up the crowd by flashing ‘Charge!’, here they cried out ‘Change!’ or ‘America! America! America!’.
Even the crowds were nicer. Extremely patiently, they waited through hours of warm-up acts to get to the speech itself. The family sitting next to me had bought too much pizza and offered me some. Nobody seemed aggravated. Perhaps it was because there were fewer kids than at the average game.
I won’t dwell long on Obama’s speech, except to note its programmatic coherence. Political speeches usually work by pushing crowds’ buttons on a very emotional level. Caught up in the crowd, cheering for single phrases – much more than reading a speech or even seeing it on television, you remember the themes and high-points of the speech, but not its structured argument. This speech was different.
Obama’s core argument was simple and elegant: America’s promise has been its freedom and opportunity for all, that opportunity means we reward hard work and gumption not with frustration but with further incentives and opportunity, and that Republican social, taxation, and economic policies The Miracle at Mile High Obama’s speech, while misguided, was powerfully captivating. have retarded opportunity and the rewards of hard work for 90% of Americans. The argument may have its flaws, but the implication is clear: McCain’s campaign is about character and change in Washington, but Obama wants change for the American people.
This framing let Obama repackage the Democratic platform as the lynchpin of American opportunity: lower taxes for the middle-class, independence from Middle Eastern oil through massive government investment in renewable energy research, more money for teachers, health care for all (the kind Congress gets!), pensions before CEO bonuses, equal pay for equal work – all described as “individual responsibility and mutual responsibility.” I saw members of the crowd holding their hands up in exaltation, crying out “Yes! YES!”
Conservatives should be afraid. Obama’s appeal is not merely his race, his youth, his rock-star status. He has a Reagan-esque ability to make his specific domestic platform resonate with a broad and optimistic vision for America. His speech transcended the pomp and circumstance of Invesco Field or the Federalist columns of his stage to outline in simple language a Democratic version of sunshine in America. Whatever the outcome of this election, the Democrats have found their muse.
This muse managed to forestall the usual pragmatism of the crowd. Even though all 80,000 spectators knew the outcome of tonight’s match – Obama would ‘win’, fireworks would fly – nobody left early. To avoid large crowds and get home sooner, I cynically started left as soon as Obama’s speech ended. The path out of the stadium was empty. Even the vendors selling concessions had run out to see the final moments. Nearly nobody else was leaving. These were dedicated fans.