To the strains of Stevie Wonder over the loud speakers ("Here I am, Baby. Signed, Sealed, Delivered, I'm yours."), Barack Obama made his way through a throng of adoring (mostly female, it seemed) supporters. Flanked by a few very serious-looking and humourless secret service body guards, the presumptive nominee of the Democratic Party basked in the glory of the moment -- the culmination of 16 months of intensive campaigning, and a marathon contest against the Goliath of political machines (the Clintons).
John McCain opened the evening from New Orleans, throwing down the gauntlet to Obama. A low key and less than inspiring speech, perhaps. But McCain did seize the opportunity to define Obama's weaknesses and issue the challenges going forward. If Obama's campaign is about change, then Obama's record on change is now open to scrutiny. The first unofficial salvo of the presidential campaign '08 has officially been fired.
Hillary Clinton, for her part, addressed supporters in New York. She gave what was probably her best speech in weeks. True to form, she did not formally concede, but rather said that she is making "no decisions tonight." Still, it all had the whiff of a swan song, not a rallying cry. And in that respect, she did speak with humility, dignity, and a not so subtle air of resignation and acceptance.
But the night belonged to Barack Obama. Before the counting was done in South Dakota, Obama crossed the delegate threshold needed to secure the Democratic nomination. By the time Montana's delegates were folded in, the victory appeared more convincing and consolidated.
So, with a raise-the-roof, barn-storming stump speech -- the most dramatic and dynamic speech that he has delivered in quite some time -- Obama capped off the "Hopey-Changey Tour '08" in St. Paul, Minnesota. "From the snow of Cedar Rapids to the sunshine of Sioux Falls," Obama shouted, reflecting on the 54 primaries and caucuses that had ultimately brought him to this stage.
I have to admit that Barack Obama may well be one of the most effective (and affected) political orators in a generation. This is key to his success in inspiring a new and untapped reservoir of voters (particularly young voters) in the American body politic. But, as a Canadian observer of U.S. politics, I can't help but reflect on Trudeau-mania in 1968 (and on some of my lingering resentments of the Trudeau legacy), and thus feel just a little uneasy about Obama-mania in 2008.
Of John McCain, Obama repeated his oft-cited hommage to his adversary's honourable service to the United States, and his status as a bona fide American hero: "I respect his accomplishments, even if he chooses to deny mine," Obama said. Of Hillary Clinton, Obama praised her tenacious fight for the nomination, and her commitment to the people and the party. And then of course there was "hope" and "change." By my humble (and unofficial) count, Obama said "change" 21 times in the course of his speech, whereas he only said "hope" twice. However, this count does not reflect all of the synonyms and proxies for "hope" -- such as "faith," "future," "inspire," "believe," etc., etc., etc. It also doesn't include all of the "hope" and "change" messages on the signs being waved by the faithful.
As Obama wrapped up his remarks (and wrapped up his presumptive nomination), the throng began to chant: "Yes we can!" (I've always been a little uneasy about this too, seeing as it's a clear appropriation of the slogan -- Si, se puede! -- of Cesar Chavez and the United Farm Workers.)
So, I suppose the U.S. presidential campaign will unofficially begin. With any luck, it will turn on greater substance -- something more substantial at least than the "Hopey-Changey Tour '08 Redux."