Taylor Bates couldn’t take his eyes off Michelle Obama. Standing just feet from the massive Democratic National Convention stage in the Pepsi Center during Obama’s closing address Monday night, with a clear view of the first lady wannabe from his Vermont delegation’s good seats in a first section to the left of the stage, the 18-year-old delegate was soaking in his first taste of the political big time … and loving it.
“You see, Barack doesn’t care where you’re from, or what your background is, or what party, if any, you belong to,” Obama said near the end of her speech. “He knows that thread that connects us — our belief in America’s promise, our commitment to our children’s future — is strong enough to hold us together as one nation, even when we disagree.”
Bates, who will be a freshman at Tufts in the fall, has already logged more time in the political trenches than most of his fellow Green Mountain state compatriots. In addition to being in charge of managing the carbon offsets for the Vermont contingent, Bates is the Facebook president for all the young delegates at the convention and was an intern for Senator John Kerry’s failed Democratic presidential campaign in 2004, as well as a U.S. Senate page in 2007.
Like many at the convention, Bates was inspired by Senator Obama’s stirring 2004 DNC speech. In fact, while Michelle was telling the story of her late father’s struggles with multiple sclerosis, Bates recalled how he turned to his father during Barack’s speech in 2004 and predicted, “He’s going to be president some day.”
Signing a petition to nominate Obama, Bates listened as the candidate’s spouse spun her tale of growing up in a blue-collar family on Chicago’s South Side. “Each one of us also comes here tonight by way of our own improbable journey,” Michelle said, echoing the oft-told story line of her husband’s rise to the Democratic candidacy for president. “I come here tonight as a sister blessed with a brother who is my mentor, my protector and my lifelong friend,” she said of her 46-year-old sibling, Craig, who introduced her.
“I think she’s really connecting to a lot of people who don’t necessarily know her as well,” Bates whispered, keeping one eye on the teleprompter so as not to miss any of the address. “The more people get to know them, the better they like them, so I think this is really effective.”
The young Democratic booster was in good company among Obama boosters in the building Monday night, who felt that something unprecedented was in the air. Wandering the concourse just moments before Michelle took the stage, filmmaker Spike Lee said there was only one reason he had booked a ticket to Denver this week. “To witness history … history. … That’s what I’m here to see that we haven’t seen before, history.”
At a convention where the sometimes raw feelings of disappointed supporters of Senator Hillary Clinton can quickly and loudly rise to the surface — such as the woman walking down 15th Street on Monday who busted into a shout of “Hillary!” when a bus touting Obama drove by — Bates said Michelle Obama’s shout-out to the former first lady in her speech was a sign of the already-gelling party unity.
Speaking of the sacrifices of Americans from all stripes, the senator’s wife praised “people like Hillary Clinton, who put those 18 million cracks in the glass ceiling, so that our daughters and sons can dream a little bigger and aim a little higher.”
“People are already coming together,” said Bates, beaming up at the multiple images of Michelle on the big screens around the room and clapping hard in all the right places. “I think that the fact that she’s talking about the 18 million breaking the glass ceiling — she’s just acknowledging that [Clinton supporters] have really made a difference and that they’re already really behind us all the way.”
As the presumptive Democratic candidate closed the night chatting with his wife and daughters via satellite link on the big screen in the main room, Bates huddled in a hallway deep within the Pepsi Center and gave his instant take on how Mrs. Obama did.
“I think it was really great how she emphasized her own background, how she really tried to reach out to the Americans in the audience instead of just kind of repeating her husband’s point, or instead of attacking the McCain campaign,” he said. “She just built up her own story and let people connect with it, because she knows they will. And it’s really impressive how she chose to do that when she had some different alternatives.”
Don’t miss out on the action: MTV News and our Street Team ’08 will be on the ground at both conventions to sort through all the speeches, streamers and ceremony to find the information you need to choose our next president. And head to Choose or Lose for nonstop coverage of the 2008 presidential election. And after history is made in Denver, MTV News will help you make sense of it all in “Obama Decoded,” premiering Friday, August 29 at 7:30.