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Obama's Big Fat Greek Setting

Retired Air Force Maj. Gen. J. Scott Gration takes the stage at the "Barackenon."
Retired Air Force Maj. Gen. J. Scott Gration takes the stage at the "Barackenon." (By Preston Keres -- The Washington Post)   |   Buy Photo

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By Dana Milbank
Friday, August 29, 2008

DENVER, Aug. 28 It was a ceremony fit for the gods.

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Fireworks exploded overhead. A skycam soared through the air the way it does during "Monday Night Football." Strobe lights flashed, spotlights circled. Eighty-four thousand adoring fans, after waiting hours to enter Invesco Field at Mile High, waved flags, tossed beach balls and undulated in a massive human wave.

And, in the middle of it all, stood Barack Obama, accepting the Democratic presidential nomination with "great humility." On a stage with an ancient Greek colonnade.

Well, maybe not so ancient: On closer inspection, the columns turned out to be made of drywall and laminated plywood, giving an overall effect that was more Cheesecake Factory than Parthenon. The 14 pillars, connected by a classical frieze, towered over the delegates, lending the impression that Obama was speaking in front of another classical structure -- like, say, the White House.

From the columns, garnished with two dozen American flags, a royal-blue peninsula led to the podium, tiered like a wedding cake. All that was missing were the laurel crown, the eunuchs and the sacrifice of the white oxen.

Republicans gleefully called it the "Barackopolis." (Technically, the columns were Doric, so a better name might have been the "Barackenon.") The McCain campaign sent out a memo advising people about "proper attire for the Temple of Obama," complete with pictures of togas and robes.

Calling it a temple was a bit over the top. But, then again, it was a night of excess all around.

The fireworks -- literally -- began when smoke and fire shot above the Jumbotron the moment Jennifer Hudson belted out the "rockets' red glare" line of the national anthem. Oprah Winfrey, Susan Sarandon and Anne Hathaway worked the crowd. Stevie Wonder and Sheryl Crow performed. High rollers sipped Stolichnaya in skyboxes. And many of the concession stands ran out of food and drink. Said the cashier at Mile High Pizza on the first level: "These Democrats are hungry."

They certainly are. Ravenous in their desire to reclaim the White House, they took a gamble by moving the last night of the convention to the massive stadium -- and a further gamble by creating the Olympian backdrop for Obama's acceptance speech. John McCain had already drawn blood with his ad likening Obama to a Britney Spears-style celebrity. Obama had invited the problem with a showy overseas trip and such displays of hubris as a faux presidential seal on his lectern. Since then, the Democrat has been laboring to prove that he is a common man.

"I don't know what kind of lives John McCain thinks that celebrities lead, but this has been mine," he said last night as he described his family and his modest upbringing. The conventioneers jumped to their feet.

But Obama's everyman efforts are unlikely to be aided by accepting the nomination in front of Greek-style columns in the middle of a football stadium. Privately, Democrats cringed. They had no John Ashcroft to cover the offending pillars with his famous blue curtains. Luckily, Democrats had the foresight to remove the Air Force One model, the presidential limousine, the full-size replica of the Oval Office and the inauguration gowns that had been on exhibit earlier in the week.

In the end, the stadium and the setting were probably unnecessary, as Obama's acceptance speech, coming on the 45th anniversary of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech, would have been an epic moment even if it had been held in a trailer. On this, even McCain agreed. He put out a magnanimous ad saying to Obama: "How perfect that your nomination [acceptance] would come on this historic day."


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