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.

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7 Responses to Cheers

  1. Jim says:

    Great post. I agree with every bit of it.

    If Obama loses, I don’t know if I can stand it. And I’m sure our country can’t withstand it.

  2. Jim says:

    Also, I forgot to mention that I agree with the overarching feeling about Obama that you discuss here–there’s not been a politician like him since Kennedy–Clinton flat out didn’t create the same craziness, despite the fact that he was a superstar politician. Obama is the man.

  3. Doug Hennessee says:

    That’s why I find it so hard to reconcile what’s happening among factions of the monolithic “Democratic” or even “liberal” communities. On the one hand, you clearly have most of both of those demographics that view this as a unique moment in time, a real transformation unlike any our country has seen since the 1960’s, coalescing around a unique candidate who has the rhetorical skill, savvy, and discipline required to actually change the way a primary, an election, or hopefully, a country, can be run.

    But on the other hand, you have so many people who were so traumatized by 2000 and 2004, or who simply have a very low opinion of the American populace, media, or whatever, that can’t escape their fear that it’s all a mirage, that the Evil GOP will once again find a way. They can’t quite allow themselves to buy in; they want Obama (or whoever the Dems were to send) to win, but they’d rather fret about HRC’s high negatives, or Jeffrey Wright, or Appalachian rednecks. Their glass may have been half-empty before 2000 and 2004, but now it will always be politically half-empty, even if the glass is really almost full.

    And on the third hand, you have bitter HRC supporters that believe a grievous wrong has been done to HRC, that the election of a man of any color is proof positive that something was “done” to HRC. Obviously there was sexism and racism throughout the campaign, on the part of the media, other candidates, spouses of candidates, voters, and so on. But time (and Obama) will melt away most of those sentiments for all but the diehards. And for them, well, good luck with your continued lifetime struggle against people who have it in for you, which in your minds is everybody who did not support HRC to the very bitter end.

    For everybody else in the Dem tent, it’s an exciting time, and there is much to be hopeful for. That would be true with even a generic candidate. With a dynamo like Obama–and everybody, even the GOP, is openly forced to refer to him as “impressive”–I think McCain will be the new Walter Mondale of Presidential elections.

  4. campk says:

    It all happened a lot quicker than i expected…. expected the superdels to be hanging on for a while longer while the HRC team made one last major push.

    He’s a big. big deal. I think those of us who were somewhat politically complacent were awakened the last 8 years about what a difference switching from mediocre to incompetent really means. Or at least i did.

    I also would pile on what a big job is. The last 8 years both here in the US and the rest of the world has left the worlds most difficult challenge. If anyone’s up to it, he is.

    I enjoyed your sports-politics comparison for enthusiasm. True words.

  5. Steve C says:

    I can’t think of another democratic candidate who generated this kind of grass-roots enthusiasm since RFK. Unfortunately, as I wrote about on my blog last month, that didn’t turn out so well. Let’s hope things are different this time.

  6. david says:

    I’ve come to think of Obama as the first “post-boomer” presidential candidate. I think for our generation, that’s a big deal. The boomers have either willfully or absently neglected most of the important issues domestically and retain a foreign policy approach that is still based in the sixties and seventies. Maybe some of the republicans will mock Obama’s interest in engaging pariah states, but we only have to look a few miles off the coast of Florida to see where isolation has left us. My biggest fear is that Obama will not be able to effect the kind of change that we really need with the major domestic policy issues, primarily because of the influence of the monied interests. we’ll just have to wait and see on that.

  7. Rae Anne says:

    Did you see the vanity fair article on Bill C?
    It’s pretty harsh. And yesterday NPR’s corespondent, and NPR is pretty careful to stay very neutral, said that he needs to spend the next few weeks burnishing his presidential image which has been badly tarnished by his behavior during the campaign. While he has behaved badly, I can’t help but agree with his staffer that republicans would never dis one of their own. All that said, when I saw him speak I found myself swept up in the crowd like he was Paul and Ringo combined. But Obama sure has that too, it’s just a little different – maybe more intellectual (which would normally make me walk away!)
    I don’t have a hope that Obama can or will make sweeping change in domestic policy. There is too much resistance at every level for that. All we can hope for are smart everyday decisions that will culminate in a new direction. I’m just sure that he’s capable of that. But I’m also afraid of counting our chickens before the republican attack machine unleashes its fury. Is my glass half full or half empty?

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