DENVER — Barack Obama accepted the Democratic presidential nomination Thursday night with a scathing assessment of John McCain and a blunt indictment of the Bush administration, promising to repair "the broken politics of Washington" and preside over a more prosperous and equitable America.
Speaking to a rapturous audience of more than 84,000 packed into a football stadium, Obama delivered a 44-minute address that was more sharply worded than his usual lyrical prose. He blasted President Bush with some of the harshest language of the campaign, painting a grim picture of economic hardship: rising unemployment, falling wages, plunging home values, and rising costs for gasoline and college tuition.
"America, we are better than these last eight years," Obama said, speaking from an elaborate stage on the floor of the Denver Broncos football stadium. "We are a better country than this."
Fending off Republican attacks on his judgment, experience and ability to understand middle America, Obama insisted it was Arizona Sen. McCain, his GOP rival, who "doesn't get it."
"For over two decades, he's subscribed to that old, discredited Republican philosophy: Give more and more to those with the most and hope that prosperity trickles down to everyone else," Obama said. "In Washington, they call this the 'ownership society,' but what it really means is 'You're on your own.'
"Well, it's time for them to own their failure," Obama went on, as the stadium erupted in cheers. "It's time for us to change America."
In closing out the Democratic convention, the Illinois senator seemed to address any doubts about his readiness for what promises to be a brutal fall campaign. He also sought to answer critics who say that his rhetoric, while perhaps captivating, is often vacant; that his message of hope and change, while inspiring, is platitudinous.
"Let me spell out exactly what that change would mean if I am president," Obama said.
He pledged "to end this war in Iraq responsibly and finish the fight against Al Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan," wean the U.S. from Middle Eastern oil within a decade, cut taxes "for 95% of all working families," and deliver "affordable, accessible healthcare for every single American."
Whatever happens in November, Thursday night's unprecedented scene was a testament to racial progress in America, a nation founded by slave owners and cleaved by civil war followed by a century of acrimony.
Less than 50 years after people with Obama's complexion were forbidden from voting in some states, Obama became the first African American to accept the presidential nomination of one of the country's two major political parties.
Far up in the stands, Lionel Washington, 24, passed his hand over his face as if he were in a dream. "I can't believe I'm here," said Washington, who is black and works for his Democratic precinct in Denver. "I'm going to cry," he said when Obama took the stage. "I can't cry," he said, as his eyes filled with tears. "Change is gonna come!" he screamed.
Adding to the historical resonance, Obama noted his speech came on the 45th anniversary of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" address.
"Let freedom ring from the snowcapped Rockies of Colorado!" King said that day; Obama's triumph, standing in the shadow of those mountains, suggested the country was closer to the colorblind society King saw from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.
For the most important speech of his political career, Obama chose a setting as audacious as his candidacy itself: a raised blue-carpeted platform at the center of the coliseum, with a backdrop of Greco-Tuscan columns and more than a dozen American flags.
Republicans mocked the spectacle, calling it further proof that the Democratic nominee was an empty-suited celebrity smitten with himself. Outside the Pepsi Center arena, where Democrats gathered for the first three nights of their convention, a small circle of demonstrators swathed in togas sarcastically chanted, "We're not worthy!"
McCain broke from a week of attacks to congratulate his opponent in a TV spot. "Tomorrow, we'll be back at it," McCain said, smiling into the camera, "but tonight, senator, job well done." He hopes to seize back a bit of the limelight today by announcing his vice presidential running mate at a rally in Dayton, Ohio.
Obama and his running mate, Sen. Joe Biden of Delaware, will set out today on a tour of battleground states, starting in Pennsylvania.
Linking McCain to Bush
Democrats had spent the first days of the convention introducing their ticket to America, stitching the wounds between Obama and Hillary Rodham Clinton -- who received a passing mention at the top of Obama's speech -- and attempting to lash McCain to the unpopular Bush legacy.
Former Vice President Al Gore, the party's 2000 standard-bearer, received a stadium-rattling ovation when he likened McCain to a Bush clone. "I believe in recycling," the environmental-minded Gore quipped, "but that's ridiculous."