A moment in history

Thursday, August 28th, 2008

The BBC’s Justin Webb on the nomination by acclamation of Obama:

It was stunning – a moment of brilliantly produced political theatre and a moment to cherish forever. Television conveys something but to be there, to see a death and a birth; that was something else.

What made it was the chaos, the crowd, the press of bodies, the tears, the consequence of it all. It reminded me of the British parliament at its best, rowdy and physical yet serious of purpose and aware of its potency: consequence.

People died years ago for America’s right to be able to have these moments and their descendents have done them proud, though in a way most of the nation’s founders would have found impossible to imagine.

The roll call went state by state (Hawaii happy, talk of sunshine, Michigan miserable, talk of lost jobs in the Bush years) and all was proceeding with that ceremonial and genteel decorum that America is so good at (‘Guam, can you repeat your numbers please? Oh thank you Guam!’) – and then came New York.

What made it was the physicality of the moment – she swept in from a tunnel, on to the crushed, cramped floor, arm-in-arm with the governor of the state and its other senator. When she took the microphone, it was not at a distant podium with music and autocue and clocks to time the start and the finish.

There on the floor Hillary Clinton uttered the words that she needed to utter, in slightly courtly language (reminders of the Brits again) but clearly and with awareness of their consequence.

Then Nancy Pelosi called for the seconder to the motion that Obama be selected, and the roar was surely felt down the years. She did not pause for those opposed – they were crushed too. That, too, is politics. A reminder that all this is the exercise of power, of one group of human beings forcing others to accept their dominance.

As people cried and hugged each other and the music blared, I thought of the little black children stolen from their parents, the daily cruelty and humiliation suffered by black people in this country for so long in what one historian calls ‘America’s Original Sin’ and, to a lesser extent, the daily miseries they still endure. From slavery to the nomination of a black man as the leader of a major party. Sometimes it really does appear that our political evolution matches our physical progress…

(Via BBC NEWS | Justin Webb’s America.)

It certainly looked dramatic. Up until then the DNC had made even British parties’ annual conferences look like things of substance.

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