In the city that will play host to the Democratic National Convention this summer, Sen. Barack Obama, D-IL, today issued a clarion call for a new majority "of not just Democrats — but Independents and Republicans — to win in November."
In some of his strongest language to date, Obama used his speech before an estimated crowd of 18,000 at the University of Denver's Magness Arena, including two overflow areas, to make the case against his only remaining rival for the Democratic nomination, Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-NY.
At times the applause was deafening.
Obama argued that the Democratic race is a contest of "the past versus the future," and he challenged Democrats to redefine the way politics is practiced — not out of altruism but practicality. "Not by nominating a candidate who will unite the other party against us, but by choosing one who can unite this country around a movement for change."
"We can be a party that tries to beat the other side by practicing the same do-anything, say-anything, divisive politics that has stood in the way of progress, or we can be a party that puts an end to it," he said.
"I know it is tempting — after another presidency by a man named George Bush — to simply turn back the clock, and to build a bridge back to the 20th century," Obama said, paraphrasing an old slogan of President Bill Clinton.
"There are those who will tell us that our party should nominate someone who is more practiced in the art of pursuing power, that's it's not yet our turn, or our time." But, Obama said, "It is time for a new generation of leadership, because the old politics just won't do."
Clinton campaign spokesman Phil Singer took issue with the Illinois Senator's remarks. "Senator Obama doesn't sound like he's ready to practice the new politics he so often talks about."
"Today's speech was a greatest hits collection of all of the attacks Senator Obama has advanced against Senator Clinton throughout the campaign," Singer said.
Obama tried to shape a vision for the future today while also reaching back to a more idealistic past. Joining the candidate on the stage was Caroline Kennedy, daughter of the former president.
Introducing Obama, Kennedy said: "It's rare to find a leader who can inspire us to believe in ourselves, to tie that belief to our highest ideals, and to imagine that together we can do great things. And when that kind of leader comes along, we need to put aside our plans and reach for what we know is possible."
Without mentioning Clinton by name, Obama noted their differences over votes to authorize the Iraq war and other issues.
"I will end the mentality that says the only way for Democrats to look tough on national security is by talking, acting and voting like George Bush Republicans," he said. "It's time to reject the counsel that says the American people would rather have someone who is strong and wrong than someone who is weak and right — it's time to say that we are the party that is going to be strong and right.
"The way to win a debate with John McCain is not by nominating someone who agreed with him on voting for the war in Iraq, who agreed with him in voting to give George Bush the benefit of the doubt on Iran, who agrees with him in embracing the Bush-Cheney policy of not talking to leaders we don't like, and who actually differed with him by arguing for exceptions for torture before changing positions when the politics of the moment changed," Obama said.
Turning Clinton's own campaign slogan against her, Obama said: "It's not enough to say you'll be ready from Day One — you have to be right from Day One."
Even before Obama took the stage, the Clinton campaign had already issued a response to the speech. In it, the campaign accused Obama of "misleading attacks" on Clinton's record on Iraq, Iran, diplomacy and torture, among other issues.
In bold, capital letters, a Clinton spokesman emailed reporters: "SEN. OBAMA LAMENTS THIS KIND OF POLITICS IN HIS BOOK, AUDACITY OF HOPE: 'FOR THAT IS HOW MOST OF MY COLLEAGUES, REPUBLICAN AND DEMOCRAT, ENTER THE SENATE…THEIR WORDS DISTORTED, AND THEIR MOTIVES QUESTIONED.' [PAGE 133]"
In his speech, Obama argued against the politics of divide and conquer, without pointing the finger directly at the Clintons.
"We've faced forces that are not the fault of any one campaign — forces that open American wounds," Obama said. "The politics that uses religion as a wedge, and patriotism as a bludgeon. A politics that tells us what we have to think and even vote within the confines of the categories that supposedly define us."
"But," he said, "Our party — the Democratic party — has always been at its best when we rose above these divisions; when we called all Americans to a common purpose, a higher purpose."
Summing up, Obama said: "There is a moment in the life of every generation, if it is to make its mark on history, when its spirit has to come through, when it must choose the future over the past, when it must make its own change from the bottom up."