America’s political conventions may not be the pivotal moments of decision that they once were, but for all their staged predictability, they are still capable of making history. So it was in Denver on August 27, 2008, when the Democratic Party formally designated Barack Obama as its candidate for president. Obama promised change when he launched his campaign; in becoming the first person of color ever nominated by a major party for the highest office of the land, he has already delivered. Whoever wins the presidency in November, America will have turned a page in its history.
The achievement is a great one, both for the candidate and for the nation. Obama is a relatively young man, and yet the America where he was born, less than half a century ago, was still a place where black people struggled for the right to vote. It was a nation at war with itself, a place where people could be denied entry to a school, housing in a neighborhood or employment in a given workplace because their skin was too dark — or, let it be remembered, because they recited the wrong prayers and read the wrong Bible.
The struggle for civil rights was a struggle of black people and Jewish people to overcome rampant discrimination on the basis of race and religion. Obama’s victory, then, is a victory for blacks and Jews in our long, common battle against prejudice. The battle is not over, and it will not be over until all Americans are free to pursue their destinies. Racial discrimination is still America’s greatest demon, as it has been since this nation’s founding, The demon is not yet defeated. But we have come a long way.
No, skin color is not a reason to elect a candidate to office, any more than it is a basis for rejection. Americans have not yet gone to the polls to choose the president and the party to lead the nation for the next four years. That day will come in November. Right now, what we have is the setting of the stage and the offering of a possibility.
For all that, it is a moment in which all Americans can take pride. In Denver we told ourselves and the world that America is still a land of endless opportunity — that whatever our challenges, we can and shall overcome.