Fineman: Obama Nomination Makes History

Wednesday was a historic day, the kind I got into this business to see up close, the kind of day that belongs in the history books. 

It began for me in my hotel lobby, where I had a morning chat with John Lewis, the famously brave civil-rights marcher turned Georgia congressman. "I haven't stopped crying for days," he told me.

My day ended after midnight in a hot but happy nightclub crowd, as I listened to Kanye West proclaim his "confidence" and "high self-esteem, steam, steam—I am so confident I am my own echo!"

Between those moments, I watched in the Pepsi Center as the Democratic Party nominated the descendant of African goat herders to be president of the United States. Is this a great country or what?

If you read me on a regular basis, you know that I do my best not to take sides. But I love politics, history and my country, and reporting about all three. And I couldn't help but be moved by what I am seeing here.

If you know American history, you know that Obama's nomination is the social equivalent of landing a man on the moon. And for that accomplishment all of us—but especially African-Americans—have every right to a teary, mile-high celebration.

There is another article to be rewritten—on another day—about the pitfalls and perils of self-referential, self-indulgent "identity politics" based on race, ethnicity, gender and sexual orientation. For decades, the Democrats have been obsessed with it, often to their detriment. And there has been plenty of that displayed to excess here. It is the special honor and burden of Democratic Party to be the engine of identity politics since the 1960s.

And dwelling on history for its own sake won't help the Democrats win. You can make history, but you can't eat it: acts of political inclusion, falling racial barriers—none of that necessarily puts food on tables.

Still, let's pause and give credit where it is due, to the party—which is truly diverse, no matter how fat the fat cats are—and to blacks who channeled their dreams and frustrations into the cause of gaining power through the system—and who have thus just renewed it.

When I shook hands with John Lewis, I knew that he was seeing this week through the eyes that had seen Selma. "So much history," he said to me. "And now I have no more tears left! I'm cried out!" He was laughing when he said this, but I didn't believe him.

In the hall, the roll call Wednesday ended when Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton graciously went to the floor so that she could lead the New York delegation in calling for Obama to be nominated by acclamation. It was a moment marked for only a few minutes, with cheers and music, but it was, technically and legally, the Rubicon of race.

Afterward, on the way out of the hall, I fell into a conversation with a law professor named Ron Sullivan. He was African-American and had gone to Harvard Law School with Obama. He practiced corporate law in Washington then returned to Harvard to teach.

He had his wife and their young son in tow. The boy, dressed for the occasion in an argyle sweater, wasn't quite 8. Smart and aware, he was surveying his surroundings—the Pepsi Center, the walkways leading to downtown Denver—with a precocious sense that he knew exactly where he was. For the boy, it was a political convention—nothing more, nothing less. It was his first, but I bet, not his last. He looked like he belonged there, every inch the young scion born to take his place eventually as a leader in America.

To quote Kanye, it's time to touch the sky.

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