Thoughts on Obama’s speech tonight? I had a couple.
I only watched on TV; my wife Jane was there. At times, the crowd was so into the speech that it seemed more like a sporting event, with people rising and actively cheering throughout entire sections of the speech rather than just the usual applause lines. There’s something about being in a large crowd that gets caught up in excitement and begins physically and spontaneously cheering for a prolonged period of time. My only exposure to that has been sports, and even then only when there’s an important game and the stadium is full. When combined with the emotional absurdity of sports team fandom, it can really be pretty intense to be part of a wildly cheering crowd.
And then I had the thought: What would it be like to be cheering like that for something that actually mattered? Like, say, the future. Or, the U.S., and not just the U.S. Olympic team, but the actual country. I’ve never been a hardcore patriot, but seeing the last eight years has given me a new appreciation for what the range of possibilities can be, good and bad, in how our country is governed. Put simply, I never realized we could suffer such incompetent leaders for eight years.
So to hear a candidate speak that can provoke that kind of excitement–actual prolonged and spontaneous cheers–by declaring a need for emphatic change from the last eight years, is powerful. You can see that power reflected in the enthusiasm of his crowds, a crescendo that will only build as he gains more credibility, and he gets more time to speak, and more people hear what he has to say.
Granted, that presumes a faith in politics and government, that it really can make a difference in people’s lives. But it turns out I do believe that. I mean, who knew? Who knew that having people who know how to govern and understand the potential of government would be better than having people who didn’t understand or like the government and then became the government?
And, of course, it presumes a faith in Obama. But I have that, too, as does Jane. Sure, he’s just getting started; he’s light on experience and accomplishments compared to some, but certainly not all, previous candidates. If he’s a fraud, all flash with no plan, we’ll know soon enough and the hard work of rebuilding this country gets even harder. But what is undeniable is the way his supporters respond to him. Compare it to McCain’s response, or Hillary’s since New Hampshire. Barack Obama is Bill Clinton Rock Star material, and then some. Clinton was wildly popular during a time of great prosperity in our country and a true star, but at no point did he represent anything as historically significant or face down anything as daunting as Obama’s task in righting this country from where it is now. Obama, to Obama supporters, represents so much more than just having a Democrat back in the Oval Office. I suppose it’s that way for every True Believer, same as it is for me and Jane with Obama.
I tried to think of the most fired up, cheeringest crowd I was ever a part of, probably Doug Mientkiewicz’s home run at the Dome in the 2002 playoffs against the A’s. I cheered my ass off when he hit it, because my team, the Twins, who had only even been my team for seven years at that point, was coming back from a 2-1 deficit in the AL Division Series. I cheered harder and louder for that than anything else in my life that I can recall. In part, that is because we don’t give throaty, mob mentality-fueled cheers when we see our children born, or get a promotion, or make a nice bundt cake.
But mostly, it is because the only things that large groups of people find cause to cheer with all their heart about are sports teams or concerts. But the Scorpions aren’t going to fix U.S. health care, and the Timberwolves aren’t going to get us out of Iraq.
There’s more on the line than a Division Series. It had to feel pretty good, cheering in the crowd tonight.