Story of O

BW makes a pit stop on the campaign trail


On my way out to Mile High Stadium for the final night of the Democrats' party in Denver, a handful of youthful Republicans ran by me in togas. They joshed the crowd about the Temple of O, mocking the Greek columns that Obama's set designer erected as a backdrop to his epic, 50-yard-line podium. Six hours later, as 80,000 people filtered slowly out of the dry stadium and followed the crowds back to Denver's adolescent downtown bar district, I didn't see any more togas.

The Republican kids had made themselves scarce, perhaps swapping out the togas for polo shirts in the hopes of picking up youthful Obama field organizers. Or maybe they just went home to watch CNN, text the DNC and call their moms to tell them about the speech.

BW sprung for a ticket to Denver despite my better news judgment. What could the Boise Weekly possibly add to the barrage of news reports on the Democratic National Convention, on Barack Obama's historic race, on the race for the Western states besides my simple observations of the proceedings? I argued, half-heartedly, that we'd be better off going to St. Paul, Minn., to cover the GOP bash a week later. At least that trip would involve some Idaho power brokers and provide some good perspective on how Idaho conservatives may be preparing themselves for an increasingly likely Obama presidency (anger management, perhaps, or diversity training).

But, as usual, BW publisher Sally Freeman, a leader who goes with her gut, was right. Denver was a better choice given that as BW goes to press, Republicans are busy calling off their convention, or at least downplaying it. They blame the bust on a hurricane in the Gulf of Mexico, but part of the torment came from a blistering Thursday night speech from Barack Obama, which capped a historic, four-day Democratic love-in that garnered international headlines.

I sat in the stands during that Thursday speech, listening to Obama repeatedly put up the best face of McCain's campaign—his military experience, his independent streak, his integrity—and then proceed to shoot him down utilizing the Republicans' own jingoistic patrio-religio-fascist rhetoric to do it.

In his speech, Obama dropped a Tora Bora reference, marched out 20 retired military generals ready to salute him and introduced voters to a series of fat, unemployed Americans with mainly Anglo-Saxon-Mexican names who don't appreciate trickle down economics. Then he basically stole the whole "bring it on" thing from George W. Bush.

"I don't believe that Sen. McCain doesn't care what's going on in the lives of Americans," Obama testified. "I just think he doesn't know."

The refrain was that Obama gets it and McCain does not get it.

How did the GOP respond? McCain naming Alaska's citizen-governor his vice presidential choice the next morning was a valiant effort and a way to shift the debate.

But to the crazy-diverse, March-on-Washington mashup of constituencies that stood in unison at that stadium, hanging on the man's every word, Obama's "it"—the thing he gets—is deeply personal.

During the speech, I sat between a middle-aged, white Denver wine importer who was on his way to Idaho to fish the Middle Fork of the Salmon River after the convention and two younger black filmmakers from Atlanta who were blogging and making movies of the speeches.

The entire row beamed with a realization that something new had gripped America, as Obama attempted to reclaim the U.S. flag, the military, God and hunting rifles for these 80,000 people, and sculpted his image as a potential winner.

Even captains of industry were smiling on Obama in Denver, like the telecommunications captains, who profited from 30,000 text messages before he even took the stage. This was in response to a call from the campaign to give up cell numbers for a near-future candidate marketing blitz.

And the Coca-Cola captains who are now America's recycling company in the minds of thirsty, caffeine-crazed Democrats. And the Microsoft flacks who share office space with Democratic operatives in Washington, D.C., and got reporters drunk all week in Denver.

The sleaze in Denver was enough to drive a guy to the still-earnest Nader camp, which was in town all week as well. I spotted a six-man Nader rally at one point, that had been joined by a man holding a Jesus sign.

But Ralph Nader, though he's been in the trenches, does not signify as much as Obama signifies in this post-seatbelt century. While Obama may be moderating in order to win the election, Princeton Afrocentrist Cornell West has posited that once he gets in, his grassroots supporters will need to call on Obama to remind him where he came from.

"He's got folk talking to him who warrant our distrust," West said a year ago. And on the night of Obama's acceptance speech, which lacked any direct mention of Martin Luther King Jr., on whose anniversary it was delivered, West said: "You can't think that somehow you're being American by holding blackness somehow invisible or subordinate ... Why is it that we have to engage in a disappearing act when you talk about America?"

On Obama's first Oval Office morning, West and thousands of Obama's supporters will be calling on Brother Barack to cash in their chips, but the big corporate hitters and interest groups will have their own direct line to his red practice phone during the next two months.

The 80,000 strangers at Mile High on Thursday night, who were not really the party faithful as much as the Obama faithful, had about 45 minutes to ponder that between the last "God bless America" and the first shot of Patron.

Their degree of hope rose dramatically as groups settled in to debrief at the numerous bars and restaurants in Denver's LoDo District and along the 16th Street pedestrian mall, but the route chosen back to town had a definite effect on moods. Some bused it back from Mile High Stadium, which is really named after a generic mutual fund company that is not as bad as Smith Barney to this crowd, but still not really PC. Scores of tour buses carried random groups of Obama fans to central drop points in town.

Some attendees walked back on the deserted, cordoned off highway, like urban refugees fleeing flooding or collapsing towers.

But the smart money was on the bike path, which wends its way along the Platte River, crossing into downtown Denver.

Thousands of people walked along in nearly total darkness, hoping they were headed the right way, texting friends to find out where the party was. A woman took off her shoes, scuffing feet tired from a week of standing and cheering against the cool concrete of the bike path.

I walked my bike, unable to navigate the throng of pedestrians.

People introduced themselves to their fellow travelers, as they had in the arena before, broke into spontaneous cheers and traded signs and other Obamaganda with one another.

Even walking to and from the stadium, normally a straight shot from REI for Bronco games, was complicated by the more than $50 million security apparatus that took over Denver during Convention Week. That other Bronco stadium is tucked into a hillside, a feature that the Secret Service exploited to turn this normally laid-back football palace into a fortress against whatever forces of darkness lay just beyond the security perimeter: medical marijuana advocates, demented abortion porn producers and a few bandana'd anarchists who secretly love Obama but felt unwelcome at his party.

The ubiquitous riot gear and blast walls around each of the convention venues served to reinforce Obama's other prime message in his Thursday night speech: Democrats are just as tough and willing as Republicans to blow $50 million policing their own, just in case.

But the dark walk back to town belied that message: Americans can still trust one another enough to walk along a river in the dark on their way to a bar.

Back under the lights of the medium-sized city, however, things got a tad dicier: A middle-aged black couple from Kansas scuffled with a few Idaho delegates and a horde of Coloradans for an outdoor spot at Appaloosa Grill, a fairly generic pub on the 16th Street pedestrian mall that was rapidly turning into a raucous Disneyland of Democratic love.

One woman grabbed a mike and Obama-scatted with a surprised jazz quartet. Obama signs went up on bar walls. Hawkers plied the outdoor seating areas with Obama-Biden buttons and hats.

The big speech did not change much. It had been anticipated all week and was taken by many as more of a sendoff—back to the 50 states to get to work for Barack.

Idaho Democratic Party Chairman Keith Roark, who announced Idaho's delegate votes in the spirit of Sacagawea, predicted that Obama would reach more Idaho voters in person than any previous campaign has.

"The Obama people have been absolutely masterful in their ability to play the ground game," Roark said.

Republicans in Idaho have had a lock on the ground game for a generation. Now Obama has actually changed the ground game.

Before Denver, I did not think this would be significant in Idaho. But Obama wants to win Idaho and other solidly red states, and thousands of people in Idaho will help him try.

As the Kansans, who ended up sitting next to the Idahoans in peace, remarked: "That whole table is Idaho? I didn't think Idaho would go for Barack."

I shot back: "You're not in Kansas anymore."

For more on BW's week in Denver see how we got the story.