National gatherings of Democrats often seem to have been scripted by writers of afternoon TV soap operas. From the pre-convention squabbling, it was hard to imagine that the Democratic National Convention in Denver would be different.
Consider these potential dramatic conflicts, all gathered in one big room. The powerful woman spurned. The patriarch seething in a young rival's shadow. The popular but relatively untested leader of the insurgency. The hostile tribes bloodied by months of bitter fighting. The roving squads of nattering commentators eager to spread gossip and incite discord.
Explosive mixture, right?
In Denver, however, the Democrats wrote a new script. Instead of brawling, they buried their differences and united behind Barack Obama. On Thursday night, before a Denver Bronco-sized crowd in a football stadium, he accepted his party's nomination and gave a preview of the next two months. He pledged allegiance to traditional Democratic goals, told his life story, embraced former party rivals and delivered a few verbal smacks to opponent John McCain, thereby reassuring Democrats who feared he might bring a thesaurus to a slugfest.
Sen. McCain's campaign is in trouble, and not solely because of John McCain. He is the candidate of George W. Bush's party, and President Bush is woefully unpopular for a lot of good reasons: the unpopular war in Iraq, the staggering economy, the high prices of food and fuel, and so on. Under such circumstances, any Republican would be an underdog.
In addition, there's the burden of history. As William Kristol points out, since the FDR-Truman administration voters have had five opportunities to change parties after a two-term presidency. Four times (1960, 1968, 1976, 2000) they've done so. The one time they didn't was 1988, when Republicans held onto the White House after Ronald Reagan's two terms. But President Reagan's approval rating then was close to 60 percent; George W. Bush's now is around 30 percent.
Sen. Obama is a smart, eloquent, charismatic politician, but his resume is thin. In his 44-minute speech to 80,000 jubilant fans, he acknowledged that he has work to do. “I realize that I am not the likeliest candidate for this office,” he said. “I don't fit the typical pedigree, and I haven't spent my career in the halls of Washington.
“But I stand before you tonight because all across America, something is stirring. What the naysayers don't understand is that this election has never been about me, its been about you.”
That's true in this regard: Most Americans are fed up with the nation's political leaders. They know we have serious problems, and they're convinced that men and women of good sense and good will can solve them if they'll put the public's welfare ahead of narrow political interests.
But Sen. Obama must persuade voters that he can do it – that what he lacks in experience he more than makes up for in skill, intelligence and determination. That's not impossible, but it won't be easy.