Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Obama Nation

Ladies and Gentlemen, the next President of the United States.

That’s sure what it felt like, anyway.

The difference between Obama and his opponent couldn’t have been more striking if you’d dressed them in red and blue.

First up was McCain’s speech, a haphazard screed completely built around Obama’s “Change We Can Believe In” slogan.

McCain would speak haltingly from the teleprompter about how Obama didn’t respect the American people’s ability to make their own decisions, and then pause to say, “That’s not change you can believe in,” which would be followed by this guttural snicker in his throat as if to say, “Oh, I got him that time!”

He looked a bit like a wax dummy, only moving left and right and unable to bend, his mouth a frozen and lopsided rictus. Sweat seemed to trickle down his face as he intoned for what seemed like the millionth time, “That’s not change you can believe in,” a statement, by the way, that openly acknowledges that Obama’s already framed the debate. Then the hehhehheh out of the throat again as the group of 70-somethings assembled would applaud at what they hoped were the proper times.

I have to admit, I’ve seen him do better. This was a train wreck.

Then Hillary was next and she spoke as if no sort of history at all was being made this night. Not only was there not any reference to the fact that Obama had won the nomination, there was no apparent understanding that she had, without a shadow of a doubt now, finally lost.

It felt self-absorbed and self-deluded, not to mention ungracious. Surely she could allow herself, now that it was over, to bend enough to…but, no. The consensus seemed to be that she was preparing to negotiate a place for herself on the ticket, which becomes an extremely sticky problem for the nominee. If he picks her for the VP slot but appears to have caved in to pressure, he’ll be seen as weak. If he doesn’t offer it to her, he risks offending her loyal constituency.

Then it was time for the main attraction. As the cheering started in the hall (the same hall that this year’s Republican convention will be held in), you once again felt that tingle go up your spine that said, “This is the crest of a wave – no one understands how big it is yet – but they will.” It reminded me of that line from Raiders Of The Lost Ark, that thing about how we’re passing through History, but this – this is History. It’s something you’ll get to tell the kids about years from now.

It doesn’t seem like so long ago that the wife and I walked down the street to a local Democratic rally to get out the vote. One of the speakers was Nancy Pelosi, while the other one was this Barack Obama everyone was talking about. Was he really the wunderkind everyone made him out to be? He was a wonderful and impassioned speaker, I thought, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see him go far.

But this far, this fast? I wouldn’t have taken that bet.

His speech last night made the others pale beside it: It was generous where McCain’s was miserly. And it was gracious where Clinton’s was mean-spirited. And, once again, it built and built until the crowd seemed overwhelmed by inspiration and the possibility that we could make our country into the country it used to be, was meant to be. You could tell he meant what he said. He walked right up to the line where he could express emotion, but not so far that his opponents could label him unstable. But he got it across anyway.

You believed him.

What a strange sensation that must be for a new generation of voters.

Not to mention the fact that he looks Presidential as all hell, his chin perpetually tilted upward as if he were always looking towards the future.

You can’t count McCain out on the basis of this one performance, but the idea of watching these two side-by-side when the debates start…well, he’s got a lot of work to do if he wants to stay in the game, let’s put it that way.

I don’t see him winning. The new guessing game is how wide a margin he’ll lose by.

Once the wave breaks, it might be bigger than anybody imagined.


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