This piece represents a journalistic first for me: it’s the first article I’ve ever written in shorthand and then transcribed for public consumption. Next stop Hansard.
“I don’t belong to an organised political party; I’m a Democrat.”
– Tom Paxton
I guess you’d have to call it a Reich-roll: until a moment ago, if you typed ‘Obama’ int Wikipedia, it redirected you to the page for Adolf Hitler. Ha bloody ha. I can’t figure out if it was the work of a McCain supporter, a Clinton aficionado, or a canny Obama staffer, but the idea that someone would be redirected to the Hitler page and think “Oh my God! The black liberal really is just like the most racist, right-wing jerk the world has ever seen (well – not necessarily the worst, but if there were a premier league of genocidal arseholes, you’d expect him to challenge for at least a Champions League place)… no. They’d think “Another of our many enemies is sabotaging our champion” and redouble their efforts – I hope, at least.
In any case, we went to see Barack Obama speak at the Fieldhouse this evening. The speech was impressive; the organisation, not so much. I can understand giving out more tickets than the 7,000 places available in the main arena, kind of. However, I can’t understand the lack of a plan for what would happen if and when they all showed up. Yes, there was an overflow room in the gym – good enough, in a pinch – but you have to tell the throng that’s just been rudely shut out of the main event where the need to go, you need to tell them clearly, and you need to have the other venue expecting the crowd, rather than, say, closing the door. Also, is it really unreasonable to ask for a screen in the overflow room? I know you probably haven’t organised such a big event before, being red-state Democrats and all, but people, please.
Well, what did he say? He played up not being George Bush a lot, displaying his anti-war credentials, and pretty shrewdly differentiated between the war against Al-Qaeda and the war in Iraq. He made it clear that he would associate McCain with Bush at every opportunity. He was almost dismissively polite about Clinton, mentioning his respect and admiration for an ‘incredible public servant’, but focussed very quickly on party unity. The best joke was about “my cousin, Dick Cheney” and how he was so embarrassed when that came out.
He made a big thing about the environment (stressing the huntin’-n-shootin’ benefits of clean water and clear air), at one point promising to employ billions of people in the search for new forms of energy – a stretch, I think, even for the world’s most powerful man. He talked of healthcare, of the economy, tried to put things simply and relevantly, keeping things local, speaking like a preacher at times: making people enthusiastic by telling them about a future, an after-election, that he believes in, that he can make them believe in, but that looks a bit far-fetched for cynics like me.
He talked of tuition credits in exchange for volunteering or community service, but most of all about the power of ordinary people (people, in politicians’ speeches, are never people, but Americans, or even better: hard-working Americans. If you can mention family in there too, the sustained applause might give you time to fly out to another swing state for a photo-op and back to finish your speech). Where was I? Ah, Iowa. The power of ordinary hard-working-American-families to change things for the better. He wants to kick special interests out of Washington; I think that’s another big ask.
He’s a charismatic man, a man whose chief quality may be making people feel good about themselves, making people feel powerful, hopeful. He ended with his family history, and emphasised that he had live the American Dream – coming from relative poverty to become a teacher, a lawyer, a senator. He left unsaid that McCain and Clinton both come from relatively privileged backgrounds.
It’s difficult to dislike Obama, and almost anywhere else in the world he’d be a shoo-in. In the US, though, it’s tough to know whether the excitement he generates among young people and normally apathetic HWAFs will be enough to overcome the barriers of racism, conservatism and anti-intellectualism that prevail across the country. I like to hope he can.