early and often

Waldman: The Euphoria of Witnessing Obama’s Speech

Photo: Getty Images

I promised you euphoria and that’s what you’re going to get from me. This was the third best day of my life, after my wedding and my daughter’s bat mitzvah. I am full of joy and expectation, and delirious at the prospect of this man being president of the United States, of Martin Luther King Jr.’s dream finally being realized.

After Wednesday night’s seating debacle I arrived at Invesco Field early and staked out some prime floor real estate. The first couple of hours were sort of typical of what we’ve gotten used to — a lot of change and hope and yes we can. We cheered, and waved our American flags, and took pictures of ourselves with the lady with the funny hat. (Oh wait. That was me.) I spent much of the first couple of hours alternating between my seat with the delegation and another one (oh, what a bounty of riches) next to my husband and the difference between the two locations was striking. On the floor, even when we found ourselves a little bored, we still took up chants and danced to the music and greeted one another with the kind of hysterical benevolence usually reserved for a Phish concert. Up on the “special guest” level (no “honored” this time) people weren’t dancing in the aisles. They sat in their chairs, half of them hunched over their BlackBerrys. They clapped, sure, but for the first couple of hours they were pretty stiff. Later on, however, they managed a series of downright stupendous stadium-wide waves.

Soon enough I abandoned Michael and his island of reserve for the festival going on on the floor. No way I was going to listen to Stevie Wonder without dancing on my chair. By the time he led us in “Signed, Sealed, Delivered,” I was pretty much doing back handsprings up and down the rows. And that was before Gore took the stage and showed us what we could have been doing for the past eight years. (A great big thank-you to the diabolical duo, Ralph Nader and Antonin Scalia.)

Next to me on the convention floor sat one of my dearest friends, Eleni Tsakopoulos-Kounalakis, former co-chair of Hillary’s national finance committee, Hillary delegate, and current co-chair of Greek-Americans for Obama. Over the course of the last nineteen months, Eleni and I managed, by dint of near superhuman effort on both our parts, to keep our friendship intact. Tonight we danced, and cried, kissed and hugged, and cheered together until we lost our voices.

When Will.I.Am took the stage, things really got going. His music video came out at a critical time for all of us. We had just been knocked on our asses by the crushing blow of New Hampshire, and here was this thing that somehow managed to encapsulate exactly why we were there, why we were working so hard. I used that video for inspiration constantly over the following few months. Whenever I got discouraged, whenever I got sick of making phone calls or sending out pleading fund-raising e-mails, I clicked on over to YouTube and reminded myself why I was in this to begin with. Hearing it tonight woke all that up again.

I had my worries about the stage set — the right-wing slagosphere was so consumed with it — but I think we all realized its genius when twenty generals were arrayed in front of it, mute testimony to Obama’s readiness to be commander-in-chief. Every mention of the members of our military got us up on our feet screaming, and while cynics might say that it was just a group of peace lovers trying to prove our tough national-defense credentials, I can tell you that it didn’t feel that way on the floor. In a stroke of stagecraft genius, the campaign didn’t distribute dozens of different signs today. Instead, they simply handed out tens of thousands of American flags. I’ve always had a certain ambivalence about the flag. I was that kid in seventh grade standing with her arms crossed over her chest during the pledge of allegiance, in mute protest of the military-industrial complex (I spent much of junior high playing Crosby, Stills Nash & Young, Pete Seeger, and Arlo Guthrie on my boom box). But not only did I wave my flag, but I was so wrapped in patriotic fervor that I found myself stooping over every three minutes to pick up flags that fell on the ground.

While on the previous three nights of the convention, I’d found the “real people” stories to be a little tiresome, contrived even, the speakers tonight were incredible. Not only were they absolutely genuine, but they spoke beautifully and rousingly. Is there a person in the country who isn’t going to remember Barney Smith for the rest of his life? What a find. I’m in awe of this campaign.

But of course, all this was just buildup to the real thing. My tears started rolling when they played the video of Barack’s life. His adorable, chubby baby pictures. The achingly lovely and sad pictures of his mother. It just breaks my heart, both for him and for her, that she died before she could see her son on that stage. I was still crying when he took the stage, from sheer joy, yes, but also because at that moment I came to the stunned realization that this had really happened. All that work, the fund-raising on MyBarackObama.com, the trips to Nevada, South Carolina, and Texas. The events and the essays and the knocking on doors actually worked. “Yes We Can” isn’t just a slogan. It’s true. What Barack has been telling us all along is true. When we set our minds to it, we can accomplish the impossible.

I’ll leave the analysis of the speech to the political pundits, and just say that out on the floor it pretty much rocked our world. When Barack sternly and firmly told John McCain and his smear machine, “Enough!” it sent chills down our spines. I can barely put into words how proud, how inspired, how delirious with joy I was, perhaps because I’m writing this at 3:15 in the morning and I haven’t slept more than a couple of hours a night in days. It’s hard to express a coherent thought. But the truth is, there’s no need for coherence. Barack gave us plenty of that. Tonight Barack Obama proved not that he’s the best choice to lead our country out of this shit hole Bush and Cheney have dug for us, but that he is the only choice. As he and Joe Biden and their families assembled on the stage, we roared and wept, and when it was over, we turned to each other and said, “Now the work begins.”

Waldman: The Euphoria of Witnessing Obama’s Speech