Milbank The Washington
August 29, 2008;
28 It was a
ceremony fit for the gods.
overhead. A skycam
soared through the air the way it does
during "Monday Night Football."
Strobe lights flashed, spotlights circled.
Eighty-four thousand adoring
fans, after waiting hours to enter Invesco
Field at Mile High, waved
flags, tossed beach balls and undulated in a
massive human wave.
And, in the
middle of it
Barack Obama, accepting the Democratic
presidential nomination with
"great humility." On a stage with an ancient
ancient: On closer
inspection, the columns turned out to be
made of drywall and laminated
plywood, giving an overall effect that was
more Cheesecake Factory than
Parthenon. The 14 pillars, connected by a
classical frieze, towered
over the delegates, lending the impression
that Obama was speaking in
front of another classical structure --
like, say, the White House.
garnished with two
dozen American flags, a royal-blue peninsula
led to the podium, tiered
like a wedding cake. All that was missing
were the laurel crown, the
eunuchs and the sacrifice of the white oxen.
called it the
"Barackopolis." (Technically, the columns
were Doric, so a better name
might have been the "Barackenon.") The
McCain campaign sent out a memo
advising people about "proper attire for the
Temple of Obama," complete
with pictures of togas and robes.
Calling it a
temple was a
bit over the
top. But, then again, it was a night of
excess all around.
literally -- began
when smoke and fire shot above the Jumbotron
the moment Jennifer Hudson
belted out the "rockets' red glare" line of
the national anthem. Oprah
Winfrey, Susan Sarandon and Anne Hathaway
worked the crowd. Stevie
Wonder and Sheryl Crow performed. High
rollers sipped Stolichnaya in
skyboxes. And many of the concession stands
ran out of food and drink.
Said the cashier at Mile High Pizza on the
first level: "These
Democrats are hungry."
Ravenous in their
desire to reclaim the White House, they took
a gamble by moving the
last night of the convention to the massive
stadium -- and a further
gamble by creating the Olympian backdrop for
Obama's acceptance speech.
John McCain had already drawn blood with his
ad likening Obama to a
Britney Spears-style celebrity. Obama had
invited the problem with a
showy overseas trip and such displays of
hubris as a faux presidential
seal on his lectern. Since then, the
Democrat has been laboring to
prove that he is a common man.
know what kind
of lives John
McCain thinks that celebrities lead, but
this has been mine," he said
last night as he described his family and
his modest upbringing. The
conventioneers jumped to their feet.
unlikely to be aided by accepting the
nomination in front of
Greek-style columns in the middle of a
football stadium. Privately,
Democrats cringed. They had no John Ashcroft
to cover the offending
pillars with his famous blue curtains.
Luckily, Democrats had the
foresight to remove the Air Force One model,
limousine, the full-size replica of the Oval
Office and the
inauguration gowns that had been on exhibit
earlier in the week.
In the end,
setting were probably unnecessary, as
Obama's acceptance speech, coming
on the 45th anniversary of the Rev. Martin
Luther King Jr.'s "I Have a
Dream" speech, would have been an epic
moment even if it had been held
in a trailer. On this, even McCain agreed.
He put out a magnanimous ad
saying to Obama: "How perfect that your
nomination [acceptance] would
come on this historic day."
history-making, Obama aides found themselves
answering questions about
the columns and the stadium from anxious
Democrats and from journalists
-- as when Obama campaign manager David
Plouffe was asked Thursday in
an interview with Washington Post reporters
and editors whether he was
concerned about the "Grecian columns" and a
replied. "The backdrop
is about exactly what President Bush used in
pillars behind Bush four years ago. But Bush
is also the guy who landed
in a flight suit on an aircraft carrier to
declare victory in Iraq
beneath a "Mission Accomplished" banner.
meant that the Democrats had to contend with
the daunting logistics of
putting more than 84,000 people through
security, and the effort
teetered on disaster. Attendees waited
upward of three hours in lines
estimated to extend for miles; empty seats
near the top of the stadium
suggested that some gave up.
between the columns, walked out to the
wedding cake and waved skyward.
He delivered a speech that soared to the
heights of Mount Olympus.
say to the
people, to Democrats and Republicans and
independents across this great
land: Enough!" he thundered.
some Greek mythology. "They claim that our
insistence on something
larger, something firmer and more honest in
our public life is just a
Trojan horse for higher taxes and the
abandonment of traditional
values," he said. "If you don't have a
record to run on, then you paint
your opponent as someone people should run
from. You make a big
election about small things."
say whether he
Barackopolis in mind.
heavenward, and red, white and blue
fireworks poured from the tops of
the columns. Streamers hung over the Doric
orchestral music played, and Obama, his
running mate, and his family
departed through the still-smoking Pillars
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