The Message That the Party Wanted to Hear

Sen. Barack Obama is joined onstage by his vice presidential running mate, Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr., on the final night of the convention.
Sen. Barack Obama is joined onstage by his vice presidential running mate, Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr., on the final night of the convention. (By Linda Davidson -- The Washington Post)
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Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, August 29, 2008; Page A01

DENVER, Aug. 28 -- Barack Obama's speech accepting the Democratic presidential nomination Thursday night was what many nervous Democrats were hoping for: a forceful challenge to John McCain and the Republicans, and a restatement of the message to change Washington and the nation that propelled him to the nomination.

Speaking to a nation fighting two wars, struggling with a weakened economy and growing doubtful about the future, Obama said he would make the fall campaign a choice between a continuation of eight years of Republican policies and a new direction aimed at ending the conflict in Iraq and easing the economic insecurities of working families.

"These challenges are not all of government's making," he added. "But the failure to respond is a direct result of a broken politics in Washington and the failed policies of George W. Bush. . . . I say to the American people, to Democrats and Republicans and independents across this great land: Enough!"

Criticism of McCain was the thread woven throughout the speech. For the past month, Obama has been under attack from his rival and the Republicans. On Thursday night, in perhaps the most important speech of his political career, he answered back.

McCain has charged that Obama is not experienced enough to protect the country. "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," Obama declared.

McCain and the Republicans have mocked him as an empty-suited celebrity enamored with the sound of his own voice, a haughty elitist who cares little about average Americans. In response, Obama cited the lives of his mother, who used food stamps at one point; his grandmother, who rose from being a secretary to middle management; and his grandfather, who fought in Gen. George S. Patton's Army.

"I don't know what kind of lives John McCain thinks that celebrities lead, but this has been mine," he said. "These are my heroes. Theirs are the stories that shaped me. And it is on their behalf that I intend to win this election and keep our promise alive as president of the United States."

To those who have questioned his patriotism, he sounded a call for a turn away from the partisanship that has marked politics for a decade or more -- and challenged his rivals to make this election about big and bold issues, not small and petty arguments.

"The times are too serious, the stakes are too high for this same partisan playbook. So let us agree that patriotism has no party. I love this country, and so do you, and so does John McCain."

And then in a reprise of one of the most remembered lines of his convention keynote address at the Democratic convention four years ago in Boston, he said the men and women who have fought and died for this country may have been of different parties but all died under the same flag.

"They have not served a red America or a blue America -- they have served the United States of America," he said. "So I've got news for you, John McCain: We all put our country first."

He also challenged McCain not to stoop to questioning his motives. "What I will not do is suggest that the senator takes his positions for political purposes," he said. "Because one of the things that we have to change in our politics is the idea that people cannot disagree without challenging each other's character and patriotism."

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