Barack Obama entered the annals of history last night when he claimed victory over Hillary Clinton in the long march to the Democratic party nomination. In a powerful speech pointedly set at the site of the upcoming Republican National Convention, a determined-looking Obama paid tribute to his rival before looking ahead to the general election. He then turned John McCain's potshots about visiting Iraq on back at McCain, asserting that the Republican had not spent enough time visiting laid-off workers, struggling farmers, and failing schools in the cities and towns of the United States. The first African-American to be nominated for president by a major political party placed his victory in the context of history, showing it as a step on a journey begun by the Civil War and that proceeded through the Civil Rights era.
The (presumptive, as the networks put it) presidential nominee then looked literally to the future, casting the November election as nothing less than a referendum on America's direction for generations to come. While he invoked the word "change" repeatedly, he stressed his belief that the upcoming election stands as a critical moment for Americans to seize the future by taking a step to transform our government and society. In Obama's vision, government is a tool at the service of all Americans, the best and most effective means of providing healthcare, moving the economy forward, improving educational opportunities, and reclaiming a position of world leadership based on diplomacy and not force.
Earlier in the evening, a pasty, wattled John McCain applied the word "change" to his candidacy no less than 33 times. In typical conservative fashion, the fourth-term senator -- who looked like nothing so much as a tortoise poking his head into the sunshine for the first time in years, gandering his head about uncertainly -- seems to subscribe to the belief that saying something enough times makes it true. In any case, he has a tough sell ahead of him: That his version of free -market, minimal government change is both different than what we have now and preferable to Obama's activist philosophy. It would be one thing if the electorate liked the direction the country has taken, but it doesn't.
Barack Obama's nomination in itself won't lift a single person out of poverty, bring health care to anyone who doesn't have it, or take us any close to ending the tragedy of Iraq. But nonetheless it is a moment that surely all Americans can take pride in, a notable step to realizing our collective belief that all are created equal.