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DEMOCRATIC NATIONAL CONVENTION / CRITIC'S NOTEBOOK

Teary eyes all around

An ailing Kennedy and later Michelle Obama inspire the crowd.

August 26, 2008|Mary McNamara | Times Television Critic

One can only hope that someone had the foresight to hand out Obama/Biden '08 tissue boxes on the floor of Denver's Pepsi Center. Because between the cancer-stricken Sen. Edward M. Kennedy's surprising and heart-wrenching reassurances and Michelle Obama's graceful speech, the first night of the 2008 Democratic National Convention was punctuated as often by tears as it was by applause.

Even MSNBC's Chris Matthews seemed choked up, but James Carville on CNN shook his head over what he saw as a wasted evening that would have been better spent attacking Republicans.

But as any good dramatist knows, it's easier to rile a crowd that's been softened by righteous tears, and it would be difficult to find two people better suited to such a task than Kennedy and Michelle Obama.

The lone surviving son of the Democratic Party's royal family, Kennedy, with his still handsome face and silver hair, ignored his doctor's advice and traveled to Denver. Rumors of his actually speaking fueled the pre-convention coverage, and after Ken Burns' poignant mini-doc, his familiar head appeared and everyone was on their feet. He could have read the Denver phone book and the audience would have dissolved.

It was hard not to feel sorry for the Republicans; Kennedy rallying the weeping troops -- who could top such a thing?

And it was also hard not to wonder if somewhere in the bowels of the arena Michelle Obama was wondering pretty much the same thing.

That the next 45 minutes were filled with forgettable speakers and general pundit bloviating was, in fact, a wise use of dramatic pacing. Because by the time Obama's moment arrived, everyone had caught their breath enough to begin weeping once again.

She asked voters to create a world that would allow them to say to their children: "This time we listened to our hopes instead of our fears; this time we decided to stop doubting and start dreaming; we committed ourselves to building the world the way it should be."

If there was a dry eye in the house, none of the many camera operators seemed to find it.

--

mary.mcnamara@ latimes.com

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