Obama: "We are a better country than this"
Friday, Aug 29, 2008 2:35AM UTC
By John Whitesides, Political Correspondent
DENVER (Reuters) - Barack Obama, preparing to take a historic step as the Democratic presidential nominee, launched a sharp assault on Republican rival John McCain on Thursday and promised to reverse the economic failures of the last eight years.
Obama, the first black White House nominee of a major U.S. party, said McCain had supported the policies of President George W. Bush that were responsible for the faltering U.S. economy and decline in U.S. global standing.
"We are here because we love this country too much to let the next four years look just like the last eight," Obama said in remarks prepared for delivery to the Democratic convention.
"On November 4th, we must stand up and say: 'Eight is enough,'" he said. "We are a better country than this."
Obama said McCain was out of touch with the day-to-day concerns of Americans and had been "anything but independent" on key issues like the economy, health care and education.
"It's not because John McCain doesn't care. It's because John McCain doesn't get it," said Obama, who has been criticized by some Democrats for not taking a tougher line against McCain.
"The Bush-McCain foreign policy has squandered the legacy that generations of Americans -- Democrats and Republicans -- have built, and we are to restore that legacy," he said.
Obama was set to deliver the biggest speech in a career filled with big speeches later in Denver's open-air football stadium before an expected 75,000 supporters on the 45th anniversary of Martin Luther King's "I Have a Dream" speech -- a landmark in the U.S. civil rights movement.
The televised acceptance speech by Obama, who was formally nominated on Wednesday, gives the first-term Illinois senator his biggest national audience until he meets McCain in late September in the first of three face-to-face debates before the election.
The speech kicks off a two-month sprint to the general election against McCain, who tried to steal the limelight with word that he has chosen his running mate and will appear with the choice on Friday in Ohio.
"Senator McCain likes to talk about judgment, but really, what does it say about your judgment when you think George Bush was right more than 90 percent of the time?" Obama asked, citing McCain's voting record in the Senate.
"I don't know about you, but I'm not ready to take a 10 percent chance on change," he said.
Former Vice President Al Gore, the Nobel Prize and Academy Award winner who lost a disputed election to Bush in 2000, said things would have been very different if he had won.
"I doubt anyone would argue now that election didn't matter," Gore told a stadium filled nearly to capacity with flag-waving Democrats, describing Obama as "a clean break from the politics of partisanship and bitter division."
Obama, an early opponent of the Iraq war, promised to "end this war in Iraq responsibly" but said he would finish the fight against al Qaeda in Afghanistan and would be willing to use U.S. military power when necessary.
"As commander-in-chief, 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," Obama said.
"I will also renew the tough, direct diplomacy that can prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons," he said.
Obama is running even with McCain in most opinion polls, although a Gallup daily tracking poll on Thursday showed him beginning to get an edge from the convention and moving out to a 6-point advantage, up five points.
Obama addressed criticism he has not offered enough specifics along with his sometimes soaring rhetoric, restating an ambitious domestic agenda that includes a tax cut for 95 percent of Americans and an end to dependence on Middle East oil in 10 years.
He said McCain's emphasis on new offshore oil drilling was a stop-gap measure and not a long-term energy solution. He promised to invest $150 billion over the next decade to develop affordable, renewable energy sources.
While Obama's policy proposals were not new, national conventions are often the first time voters pay attention to a presidential race. Opinion polls show many still unfamiliar with Obama and concerned about his readiness for the job.
Supporters were slow to make their way into the stadium, with many seats in the upper decks still empty as the sun set during performances by singers Stevie Wonder and Sheryl Crow.
McCain launched an advertisement on cable television in which he spoke directly to Obama through the camera.
"Too often the achievements of our opponents go unnoticed. So I wanted to stop and say, congratulations," said McCain, who has been scathing in his criticism of Obama.
"How perfect that your nomination would come on this historic day. Tomorrow, we'll be back at it. But tonight, senator, job well done."
The last presidential candidate to accept the nomination in an open-air football stadium was John Kennedy, who spoke to the Democratic convention at the Los Angeles Coliseum before 80,000 supporters in 1960.
(Editing by David Wiessler)