Obama's Nomination Reflects 'Evolution' of American Democracy

JIM LEHRER: Some closing thoughts now on this historic day.

We're joined in our second studio by presidential historian Michael Beschloss, Richard Norton Smith, scholar in residence at George Mason University, and Peniel Joseph, professor of history and African-American studies at Brandeis University, author of "Waiting 'Til the Midnight Hour: A Narrative History of Black Power in America."

Peniel, I used the word "historic" in introducing the three of you just now. It's a word that is used all the time. Does it really apply in a real way today, tonight?

PENIEL JOSEPH, Brandeis University: Absolutely. Forty-five years ago today, Martin Luther King, Jr., really introduced an expansive vision of American democracy.

King talked about the fierce urgency of now. King referenced Abraham Lincoln. King really has provided a context for Barack Obama's extraordinary run to the White House.

What's really important about the march on Washington is the fact that King argued that black equality was deeply rooted in a dream, but he said that it was an American dream.

So what's extraordinary about tonight and the fact that an African-American is going to receive the nomination of the Democratic Party for president is that it's really the successful evolution of King's vision of an expansive notion of American democracy that would really have a transformative effect on race relations.

JIM LEHRER: And, Richard, Cory Booker made reference to that very point, as well, when he — in his conversation just now with Gwen.

RICHARD NORTON SMITH, George Mason University: Yes. And, actually, Jim, I'd even step back a little further.

JIM LEHRER: OK.