America Met Barack Obama 10 Years Ago in Boston

The Senate candidate gave a keynote speech at the 2004 Democratic Convention.

Ten years ago on July 28, 2004, those Americans who don’t watch national political conventions in primetime woke up to hear about a newcomer to the Democratic political scene: Barack Obama.

The Democrats hosted their national convention in Boston that year and offered the keynote address to a relatively unknown candidate for Senate in Chicago. On a night with speeches from more familiar faces like Ted Kennedy, the keynote offered Obama the chance to drastically raise his national profile. He succeeded.

The address offered a message of unity with lines like, “There’s not a liberal America and a conservative America; there’s the United States of America.” His speech presented an “us versus them” narrative that didn’t put Democrats against Republicans but the audience against those who wanted to divide them. “Now even as we speak, there are those who are preparing to divide us, the spin masters and negative ad peddlers who embrace the politics of anything goes.”

Obama didn’t even know the half of it back in 2004, but that night the pundits were, for a brief moment, united on one point. Obama nailed the speech. On MSNBC, Chris Matthews declared, “Barack Obama—tomorrow, everybody’s going to know who he is.” And indeed, if they weren’t watching that night in the crowd or on TV, they found out.

“Meanwhile, the Democrats offered a glimpse of what they said may be the future of their party,” The Boston Globe declared in a front-page story, “presenting Barack Obama, the Democratic nominee in the Illinois Senate race, in their keynote speaking slot.”

And though it seemed ridiculously premature, people already began making predictions about his future in national politics. “Yes, I do believe we are looking at Hillary Clinton’s running mate for 2008,” National Review’s David Frum wrote (rather amusingly, in retrospect.) In a letter to the editor of the Boston Globe the next day, a Medfield man wrote, “On Tuesday night, I saw the future of the Democratic Party, and his name is Barack Obama.”