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Soaring speech from Obama, plus some specifics

The Democratic nominee delivers strongest case yet against McCain campaign, prods Americans to change the direction of the country.

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"Tonight, more Americans are out of work and more are working harder for less. More of you have lost your homes and more are watching your home values plummet. More of you have cars you can't afford to drive, credit-card bills you can't afford to pay, and tuition that is beyond your reach,” he said. "America, we are better than these last eight years. We are a better country than this."

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He added that “now is no time for small plans.” And he pledged to “set a clear goal as president: in 10 years, we will finally end our dependence on oil from the Middle East." Obama berated McCain’s repeated calls to “drill more, drill now” as “a stop-gap measure, not a long-term solution. Not even close.”

That was just part of the sustained attack on the presumed Republican nominee, from his decision to support the invasion of Iraq to his overall support of the Bush administration’s policies.

“Senator McCain likes to talk about judgment, but really, what does it say about your judgment when you think George Bush was right more than 90 percent of the time?” Obama told the crowd, to cheers.

He also questioned whether McCain really wanted to follow Mr. Bush’s example of “tough talk and bad strategy,” but said it was “his choice.” Obama then tried to lay to rest the stereotype that Democrats are not as tough as Republicans on national security.

“We are the party of Roosevelt. We are the party of Kennedy,” he said. “So don't tell me that Democrats won't defend this country. Don't tell me that Democrats won't keep us safe. The Bush-McCain foreign policy has squandered the legacy that generations of Americans – Democrats and Republicans – have built, and we are to restore that legacy."

Thursday was the first time since 1960, when John Kennedy accepted the presidential nomination at Los Angeles’s Memorial Coliseum, that a major-party presidential acceptance speech has been delivered in a stadium. The move was viewed as potentially risky. In 1960, Kennedy’s campaign had a difficult time filling all of the seats in the Coliseum.

“They had to work very, very hard to fill that stadium,” says Stephen Hess, a presidential scholar and adviser to the Eisenhower, Nixon, and Ford administrations. “Kennedy wasn’t yet that superstar that he became in the fall campaign. But now we remember it as a great speech; it where he introduced the ‘New Frontier.’ ”

While Obama had no trouble filling Mile High stadium with more than 80,000 people, Republicans have ridiculed the decision as yet another indication of Obama’s shallow celebrity status.

“When the issues aren’t with you, go for celebrity and fanfare – 70,000 people in a stadium cheering, entertainers enthusing,” former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney told reporters at a Monitor-sponsored breakfast earlier in the week.

But that criticism may not yield the backlash the GOP is aiming for.

“It’s fascinating that the Republicans are spinning it into a liability. To me, that’s the most outrageous spin of the year – what politician wouldn’t be thrilled to have that kind of draw?” says Mr. Hess. “It’s fabulous if somebody thinks they can attract 75,000 cheering people – that strikes me as a plus.”

According to many of the young people in the crowd, a subset of voters that Obama and the Democrats are counting on to turn out in November in record numbers, the evening appears to have had the intended effect.

“It was really inspirational,” says Willie Neal, an 18-year-old delegate at large from Jackson Hole, Wyo., who found himself sitting in the front row. “The idea that politics has the power to do good, that it can really help people and make a better world, was displayed here tonight. Obama showed us that we can better individuals, we can work for a better future and bring out a common good and compassion in everyone.”

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