The shouting and the tumult die, at least for the weekend, and the captains and the king depart. Where do we go from here?
Well, some of us to Minnesota, and another coronation ceremony, to listen to more politicians talk endlessly about themselves and, if Denver is a guide, to watch them bask in the feverish adulation of celebrity.
Barack Obama never looked more like the American Idol than last night, standing before the Athenian columns of his Golden Temple of Obama the Anointed. Television viewers were no doubt puzzled that there were no telephone numbers crawling across the bottom of the screen, urging them to cast their votes now at a dollar a pop.
The columns behind the Idol were constructed not of marble from the quarry of Zeus but of industrial-strength cardboard, plaster and paint from Home Depot, and what could be more appropriate? A goodly portion of the crowd of 70,000 or so in Invesco Field ("Invesco" is either an insurance company or a patent-medicine mustard plaster; nobody here seems to know for sure) waited patiently in the expectation that Indiana Jones would drop from the sky just in time to introduce the new nominee. Indiana Jones should live so long.
The senator's speech, billed as "the oration of a lifetime," continued the theme of the Obama campaign: "I'm not George W. Bush, and aren't you glad?" He accused John McCain, who gets similar coronation treatment next week in St. Paul, of supporting the president 90 percent of the time. "I don't know about you," he said, "but I'm not ready to take a 10 percent chance on change."
After a week of unrelenting biography, we still don't know who Obama really is, and he seems puzzled, too. In addition to not being George W. Bush, he suggests he might be Martin Luther King, without the martyrdom. "Had it not been for that ['I have a dream'] speech," he told the Rocky Mountain News, "I very likely wouldn't be standing in Invesco Field to accept the nomination from my party." The man reduces everything to a speech, forgetting that Martin Luther King did more than make speeches, and the sacrifice of a lot of men and women got him to the Temple of Obama.
Nevertheless, it's a story line that played well this week in Denver, particularly among the black delegates who made up about a third of the convention. About a third of that third say Mr. Obama's race is the most compelling reason why they think he should be president. About 25 percent of the white delegates, so the white folks told pollsters, say that's why they, too, are for him. This is testimony to the enduring relevance of race in America, if not necessarily an enduring testament to the man we're only beginning to know.
Juan Williams, writing in the Wall Street Journal, calls him "a stealth candidate" because in posing himself as "trans-racial," which pleases white voters eager to put the past in the past so everybody can shut up about race, he has been AWOL on the issues most important and most relevant to black voters.
"Mr. Obama is nowhere man when it comes time to speak out on reforming big-city public schools, with their criminally high dropout rates for minority children," he writes. "He apparently refuses to do it for fear that supporting vouchers or doing anything to strengthen charter schools will alienate vote-rich unions. His rare references to the critical argument over affirmative action - an issue on several state ballots this fall - give both opponents and supporters reason to think he might be on their side. He has had little if anything to say about the persistent 25 percent poverty rate in black America."
Only after he speaks as a King-like moral conscience on race, he argues, will Mr. Obama be entitled to talk about how he would settle accounts in Iraq, revive the economy (which shows the first signs of reviving already), and fighting the war on terror.
But the Obama campaign was not built for substance, only speed. There was no attempt here this week to deal with national security, worldwide terrorism or how to do the actual hard work of putting race behind us. It was all hot dogs, cotton candy, bellywash, booing Bush and shouting "hurrah for the American Idol." Two more months of that and we'll all want change.