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Democratic Convention Sets Historic Precedent for Party, Nation

Democrats capped the first night of their 2008 party convention with a speech by Sen. Barack Obama's wife Michelle. Guests analyze how the night went for the party and for the Obamas.

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  • JIM LEHRER:

    And that ends, with the exception of the benediction still to come, that ends this first night of the Democratic National Convention in Denver.

    We want to get some closing thoughts first from Mark Shields and David Brooks, who are still with us. And there are also still with us convention historian team of Michael Beschloss, Richard Norton Smith, and Peniel Joseph. Also down on the floor is Judy Woodruff.

    Mark, first, you go first.

  • MARK SHIELDS, Syndicated Columnist:

    Jim, it was a fascinating night, in the sense that, if one thinks of America as a WASP-dominated country — white, Anglo-Saxon Protestant — which, of course, has been 42 of our 43 presidents have been that, have been male and pale, in the phrase of Jim Leach tonight, I mean, this really was fascinating in the sense of — from the Italian-American speaker of the House, first woman, to Jesse Jackson, Jr., to Barack Obama's sister, to his wife, to Ted Kennedy, to his children, his brother-in-law.

    I mean, all of whom spoke well, each really an amazing tribute to what America is open to, what we produce, what — this country is welcoming, the opportunities it affords, and the opportunities that people have taken, I mean, in that sense.

    Politically, I'm not sure what it's — you know, I think David put his finger on it. People don't know Barack Obama that well. They've got a different feeling about him, I think, after tonight.

    This was a test run for Michelle Obama. She has become a controversial figure during the primary season as to whether she will be used as a political factor and force in the fall. I mean, they're obviously a very close couple.

    I think she did well tonight. But, of course, the judgment will be made.

    But I thought, in that sense of giving a sense of who he is and who, in fact, this man is that has achieved this remarkable accomplishment — I mean, in 19 months, going from a fellow we heard speak four years ago in Boston, and we were blown away by his gifts, but, I mean, to conquer the most formidable machine in the modern history of the Democratic Party, Bill Clinton and Hillary Clinton together, and to win that Democratic nomination as an African-American, you know, we still are learning who he is.

  • JIM LEHRER:

    David, what would you add to that?

  • DAVID BROOKS, Columnist, New York Times:

    Well, I would say, first, the Democrats had a good night. They had a good night because the spirit was good.

    I thought it was a continuation of the spirit of that speech that Obama gave four years ago, emphasizing one America, unity, how much we have together, not attacking, not divisive, but really hopeful and uplifting. So I thought the Democrats had a good night.

    There were some steps made toward defining who Obama was, giving the American people a sense of who he was. Michelle Obama gave a fine speech in many ways with many good touches, but I think it will be looked upon as a bit of a missed opportunity, because America has a sense of Obama as the messiah, as the great leader. They do not have a sense of the man in his everyday life.

    And I thought Michelle Obama was uniquely positioned to give America a sense of who he was normally, just day to day. And I don't think she really tried to do that; I don't think she really did that.

    I would have liked to have seen a little more of that, less messiah, a little more, "Here's the guy." And I think she missed that chance, but, nonetheless, it was a good night for the Democrats.

  • MARK SHIELDS:

    I think one of the reasons she didn't do that is because she's been criticized for — he doesn't pick up his dirty socks…

  • JIM LEHRER:

    Stuff like that, yes.

  • MARK SHIELDS:

    … that it had become too familiar. But I think it's a legitimate point David makes, but that's sort of a bookend, that criticism.

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