Obama Closes the Deal, Finally

It's an almost unimaginable moment, filled with disbelief wrapped in amazement wrapped in euphoria.

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Barack Obama has clinched the Democratic nomination for president, and historic does not even begin to capture the sweep of the achievement.

"America, this is our moment. This is our time. Our time to turn the page on the policies of the past," Obama told a roaring crowd of 17,000 in St. Paul, Minn. "Our time to bring new energy and new ideas to the challenges we face. Our time to offer a new direction for the country we love."

I was there in Springfield, Ill. on that day in February 2006 when Obama announced his candidacy for president in the shadow of the Old State Capitol where Lincoln, 148 years earlier, had delivered his "A House Divided" speech. The temperature, with the wind chill, was well below zero, and Obama's chances of winning the nomination were widely judged to be only slightly above zero. Given the high production value and silly theatrics of such occasions, it is always difficult to judge the seriousness or the potential success of these nascent campaigns.

Strangely, the thing that stuck me, apart from the size of the crowd that had defied the weather to be there, was the size of the Obama campaign plane. I walked out of a hangar at the Springfield airport to see a huge aircraft, which would take the Obama campaign on its inaugural flight from Illinois to Iowa, looming at the far edge of the tarmac; something about the enormity of the aircraft struck me as serious; it screamed preparation and commitment.

Now, 16 months later, no one is flying higher, or faster than the junior senator from Illinois, who has made history by becoming the first black man to lead a major U.S. political party into the general presidential election, one of two men who will be the next president of the United States.

Bill and Hillary Clinton's grudging, not-quite exit from the national political stage Tuesday night, will provide an interesting plot point for historians and scholars for many years to come. They will sift through the questions about how a black man with an exotic name and limited national political experience could have knocked off a candidate who represented one of the most formidable political families of our time. There will be answers, I'm sure, but likely none that will quite answer the basic question looping through my brain as the evening unfolded.

"Are you shitting me?"

As historic as this is for many Americans, for a lot of black people, there is a surreal, unreal quality to the whole affair; it is a disbelief wrapped in amazement wrapped in euphoria. One black woman I know in Massachusetts got a call from her mother in California. "She was crying," my friend reported. It's a fair bet, she was not alone.

After his once and future opponents, Hillary Clinton and John McCain, delivered their speeches, Obama, speaking in St. Paul, the scene of the 2008 Republican National convention, claimed the nomination of his party. "Tonight I can stand here and say that I will be the Democratic nominee for president of the United States," he said, with all the understated drama that has marked his rise to prominence.

Obama was effusive in his praise of Clinton and the campaign she ran, and praised Bill Clinton presidency as a moment of great achievement. Change, he said, is "understanding that fiscal responsibility and shared prosperity can go hand-in-hand, as they did when Bill Clinton was president."