Obama makes history on King anniversary, promises to restore American dream, purpose

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Posted: 9:22 PM- DENVER -- Forty-five years after the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. dreamed of a nation where a man is not judged by the color of his skin, Illinois Sen. Barack Obama accepted the Democratic nomination to be president of the United States.

Amid a sea of more than 84,000 jubilant, chanting, and sometimes emotional supporters packed into the Denver Bronco's Invesco field, a beaming Obama became the first African American nominee from a major political party.

He emerged from beneath Greek columns, resembling the Lincoln Memorial on the steps of which King gave his famous "I Have a Dream" speech, to thousands of camera flashes and an ovation that lasted nearly three minutes.

Obama promised a new brand of American politics, led by hope not fear and practical solutions not partisanship.

"Part of what has been lost these past eight years can't just be measured by lost wages or bigger trade deficits," he said. "What has also been lost is our sense of common purpose -- our sense of higher purpose. And that's what we have to restore."

Obama spoke for 42 minutes, a mix of policy and prose, heard by the largest crowd at a Democratic Convention, surpassing the 80,000 people at John F. Kennedy's acceptance speech in 1960 at the LA Coliseum.

Utah's delegation sat about 100 feet to his left, with dozens of other Utahns scattered throughout the stadium.

They heard Obama say the nation faces a defining moment, where the American promise that through hard work each generation can pursue its dreams is threatened by wars abroad and economic turmoil at home.

"We measure the strength of our economy not by the number of billionaires we have or the profits of the Fortune 500, but by whether someone with a good idea can take a risk and start a new business, or whether the waitress who lives on tips can take a day off and look after a sick kid without losing her job - an economy that honors the dignity of work," he said.

If elected, Obama promised to reform the tax code to help small business, do away with tax breaks for corporations that outsource and eliminate the capital gains tax for small businesses.

He also promised a tax cut for 95 percent of working families.

He set an aggressive goal of ending the nation's dependence on Middle East oil in 10 years, saying he will invest $150 billion in renewable energy, far more than his opponent John McCain. He would tap natural gas reserves and support new nuclear power plants.

"Washington has been talking about our oil addiction for the last 30 years, and by the way, John McCain has been there for 26 of them," he said.

He vowed to reform health care, providing coverage to everyone, lower insurance premiums and vowed to stop insurance companies from "discriminating against those who are sick and need care most."

Obama also tried to counter polls showing voters believe McCain will be stronger on national defense, saying "I will never hesitate to defend this nation, but I will only send our troops into harm's way with a clear mission and a sacred commitment to give them the equipment they need in battle and the care and benefits they deserve when they come home.

He promised to end the Iraq war and "finish the fight" against al Qaida, but he also vowed direct diplomacy with countries such as Iran, which he believes will stop the Middle East power from obtaining a nuclear bomb.

"And I will restore our moral standing so that America is once more the last, best hope for all who are called to the cause of freedom, who long for lives of peace, and who yearn for a better future," he said.

Obama also sought to transcend traditional politics, saying people may not agree on abortion, gun rights, immigration or gay marriage, but there are common-sense middle positions. On abortion, he said "surely we can agree on reducing the number of unwanted pregnancies in this country." And on guns, he said the nation should be able to uphold the Second Amendment without allowing assault rifles to be in the hands of criminals.

"This too is part of the American promise - the promise of a democracy where we can find the strength and grace to bridge divides and unite in common effort," Obama said.

Two of Martin Luther King's children addressed the crowd to highlight the historic moment. So, too, did civil rights leader Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga., who said Obama's nomination "is making a major down payment on the fulfillment" of King's vision.

"We prove that a dream still burns in the hearts of every American, that this dream was too right, too necessary, too noble to ever die," he said.

Obama, the son of a black father and white mother, grew up in Hawaii. He barely knew his father and his mother made frequent trips to Indonesia. He was raised largely by his grandparents from Kansas.

He gained notoriety by becoming the first African American editor of the Harvard Law Journal. Obama became a law professor at the University of Chicago, with the recommendation of Chicago conservative professor Michael McConnell, who later taught at the University of Utah and is a federal appellate judge.

He won his first election to the Illinois Senate in 1996 and eight years later was elected to the U.S. Senate. His keynote address during the 2004 convention rocketed him to national prominence and paved the way for his historic White House run.

Initially considered an underdog in the Democratic race, Obama caught fire with his charisma and vision for change, surpassing his competitors, shattering fundraising records and eventually defeating the favored New York Sen. Hillary Clinton.

He and McCain were deadlocked in pre-convention polls, although a recent Tribune poll shows McCain with 62 percent support in Utah.

In a new ad, Sen. John McCain, who will accept his party's nomination next week, congratulated his opponent, calling it a "truly good day for America."

"How perfect that your nomination would come on this historic day," McCain said. "Tomorrow, we'll be back at it. But tonight, senator, job well done."

But campaign spokesman Tucker Bounds wasn't waiting till tomorrow.

"Tonight, Americans witnessed a misleading speech that was so fundamentally at odds with the meager record of Barack Obama," Bounds said in a statement. "Senator Obama still has no record of bipartisanship, still opposes offshore drilling, still voted to raise taxes on those making just $42,000 per year, and still voted against funds for American troops in harm's way. The fact remains: Barack Obama is still not ready to be President."

mcanham@sltrib.com; gehrke@sltrib.com