Obama Makes His Case Before Sea of Thousands Sen. Barack Obama gave an historic address last night before a record-breaking crowd of thousands, officially accepting the Democratic party's presidential nomination. In a final check in from Denver, NPR's Michel Martin and Cheryl Corley discuss last night's high notes.
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Obama Makes His Case Before Sea of Thousands

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Obama Makes His Case Before Sea of Thousands

Obama Makes His Case Before Sea of Thousands

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I'm Cheryl Corley, and this is Tell Me More from NPR News. Michel Martin has been in Denver all week covering the Democratic National Convention. Coming up, a news maker interview with House Majority Whip James Clyburn. The South Carolina congressman and civil rights figure fought for African-Americans to have the right to vote and yesterday watched as the first African-American accepted the Democratic party's nomination for president. We'll get Congressman Clyburn's reaction - Clyburn's reaction in a moment. But first...

Senator BARACK OBAMA (Democrat, Illinois, Presidential Candidate): With profound gratitude and great humility, I accept your nomination for presidency of the United States.

(Soundbite of applause)

CORLEY: And with that, Illinois Senator Barack Obama sealed a history-making moment with a speech that drew contrast with rival Senator John McCain and tried to clear any concerns about his ability to govern. Tell Me More host, Michel Martin watched the speech at Invesco field at Mile High stadium. And she joins us now for an update from Denver. Hi, Michel.


Hi, Cheryl.

CORLEY: Well, the estimate is that 84,000 people were in that stadium. What was it like to watch that speech with so many people?

MARTIN: I have to tell you, it was - I've never been to anything like it. I have to tell you I was a little - I was wondering whether they could pull it off. I'm always amazed by any kind of big movement of people. And 84,000 people, I couldn't ever really wrap my head around what that would look like. So to get there, to see the stadium fill up, you know row by row by row over the course of the day, and then to just - it was almost like a physical presence. I have to tell you, it was quite a remarkable evening.

CORLEY: Well, how did the crowd - those 84,000 - respond?

MARTIN: I'm having a hard time overstating it without sounding ridiculous, but so many tears, people on their feet, on standing on chairs, holding on to each other, riveted people who, you know, vendor as volunteers, kind of lining up in the hallways to watch the screens - because remember this is a football stadium, so of course, there always sort of screens, sort of all over the inside of the stadium - there are folks who had traveled from far-away states and volunteered to sell T-shirts just so they could be there...


MARTIN: For this day. So, it's very hard to overstate what it was like there.

CORLEY: Mm hmm. Well, Senator Obama talked about his upbringing during the speech and his life, and sort reintroduced himself to the people there and he paid tribute to his opponent John McCain's record as a Vietnam prisoner of war. And then he went on the attack. Let's listen.

Senator OBAMA: I don't believe that Senator McCain doesn't care what's going on in the lives of Americans. I just think he doesn't know. Why else would he define middle class as someone making under five million dollars a year? How else could he propose hundreds of billions in tax breaks for big corporations and oil companies, but not one penny of tax relief to more than 100 million Americans?

CORLEY: Now of course, that was just one of the jabs he threw at McCain. How important was his rhetoric heading into this - into what we expect are going to be debates between this two?

MARTIN: Well Cheryl, as of course you know, this is a very - this is very high stakes poker here. The speech is very important because it talks to a number of audiences, it talks to people who still may not know who Barack Obama is, really. So he has to tell his story, but he also has to make a case. It's like - it's kind of a biography and a legal brief in one. And the tone is very important because there are lot of people who really aren't committed. And if you see how close the race is, he's got partisans on either side of - you know, John McCain has people feel strongly about him. Barack Obama is people who has people who feels strongly about him. So if this race if going to be fought in the middle, you've got to be very careful to make your case without alienating people who may have a lot of affection or at least interest and appreciation for the other side.

So, somebody what he had to - he had to do enough to keep his own folks interested, he had to do enough to make his own compelling case. So what he did was very interesting, combining his own case with a criticism of McCain that was pointed but not so personal, not so offensive that it could offend people who were - who might be interested and have some respect for John McCain. He went on to say in this particular passage, you know, it's not that he doesn't care, it's that he doesn't get it. The other thing I found really interesting is the way he incorporated kind of the language of his generation into the speech. It wasn't the traditional kind of preachy, kind of you would hear from the pulpit. It was much more of a conversation, but a conversation with, you know, 84,000 people.

CORLEY: Well, throughout the campaign, you talk about how the senator was trying to work not to offend people while still being on the attack. And throughout the campaign, he's talked about bridging divisions. And I want to play another clip where he took on some of the nation's really hot button issues, but he made an appeal to find some sort of common ground.

Senator OBAMA: We may not agree on abortion, but surely we can agree on reducing the number of unwanted pregnancies in this country.

(Soundbite of applause)

Senator OBAMA: The reality of gun ownership may be different for hunters in rural Ohio that they are for those plagued by gang violence in Cleveland, but don't tell me we can't uphold the second amendment while keeping AK47's out of the hands of criminals.

MARTIN: So Cheryl, if I may, clearly the point here is to say that his message is he can change the poisonous partisanship of the last several years or last eight years of the Bush administration that has inhibited political progress. He's making a direct attack on those who would say that he is not a mainstream American with traditional values. He's saying that he is an agent of change, and he has an ability and a willingness to work with people from a variety of ideologist and backgrounds. And that he is a man who can get things done.

CORLEY: So, he also took a few moments to really spell out what he intends to do as president, too.

MARTIN: He absolutely did. And in fact, this is I think a very important part of the speech, a direct challenge to John McCain on taxes and a direct challenge to John McCain on foreign policy. He has a clear effort to tie John McCain to George Bush, saying that it's just a continuation of the last eight years. And he says, if you want more of that then vote for John McCain. And if you want a change, vote for me. And he also did not shy away from a confrontation on foreign policy, saying it's not about experience, it's about wise judgment and leadership. And as to the debates, he all but said, bring it on, but of course, he wouldn't say that because that was a line that George W. Bush made famous, eight years ago.

CORLEY: All right.

MARTIN: I went to Pennsylvania, Ohio and Michigan, key battleground states and that's where we'll be watching him there next week while we are in St. Paul at the Republican convention.

CORLEY: All right. Well, thank you so much Michele for that convention update.

MARTIN: Thank you, Cheryl.

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