At the Obama Rally: King, Rock Star, Religious Leader–Anything But a Politician

US Politics
on 11 Comments

Obama spoke at the Wynnewood train station, in suburban Philadelphia, this morning. I’m a suburb away, home for Passover with my family, and so I went at 10, feverishly excited.

The first thing you notice is that things are incredibly well organized. Obama has a million young volunteers. They are proud to be there, they take themselves seriously. It’s cool. They’re well trained, they don’t get thrown, they’re the Obama army. They’re a little hip, and they’re in control.

The next thing is the security. It’s a little scary. I went into the handicapped section at first because
my wife has a broken foot; I got patted down by a big cop, and wanded.
I left her to find my sisters in the general section, and there were
great crowds of people waiting to come through the metal detectors. For
the first twenty minutes after Obama got there, all I could think about
was how vulnerable he is. It’s sort of amazing we can get this close. I
kept looking around to see where someone who hated Obama could get to,
and wondered how many scores of people were being paid to do the same

Amazed that we could get that close… You can’t get
over the rock star/god/charisma stuff. People were there out of a sense
of history.

They roared when the train arrived, they seemed
disbelieving when he got off the back of the train. They held up their
cell phones to get his photograph, and a lot of women called out, "I
love you," or "We love you." I don’t imagine this happens with Hillary,
I’m sure it doesn’t happen with McCain. Obama wore an open blue shirt
and s big natural smile. There isn’t a lot of joking and you notice how
thin he is, reserved. He’s completely comfortable in the role of African-American king.

Senator Robert Casey introduced Obama and it’s
interesting to see a real live natural politician with the common touch
alongside Obama. Casey is a real person, Obama isn’t. Casey spoke
feelingly of Obama’s origins. "A life of struggle," he said.  But
Obama never spoke so personally in his speech. He’s not really a
politician. He’s something else, he’s above all that. Politicians are
people who wear flag pins. 

The best part of his speech was his anti-politics. It
was a stump speech, he’s giving it a dozen times a day, a little rote,
but when he says that Hillary offers herself as the most experienced
person to play the complex Washington game. "I’m not in this race to
play the game better, I’m in this race to put an end to the game play."
There’s some real sense in that. It’s arrogant, it’s superior, but
that’s Obama’s genuine sense of himself, and our sense of him, too, as
a great leader who has emerged from nowhere and has the capacity to
bring us to a whole new chapter of American life. America isn’t
perfect, he said, but "this country has always had the capacity to get
better and become more perfect, if the American people decide that they
want to bring about change." That is the sincere sense of who he is and
why we love him.

My three sisters all ended up being there, with their
children. That was part of the excitement for me, no one had to tell us
to go, we were drawn. I saw black kids in corrnows, Main Line Wasps
with golf tans, guys with yarmulkes and a guy in a Brit Tzedek t-shirt.
Obama’s claim that he can bring us together is again something that his
audience sincerely feels. My wife was sitting next to a black woman and
said she’d never had so open a conversation about race as she did,
waiting for Obama. The woman said, I keep looking inside for why I’m
supporting him, and it’s not because he’s black. Like she’d be
disappointed with herself if that was the case. It makes you want to
grow up too.

So Obama has already taken us to a new ground. That
postracial thing, it’s actually working. You see biracial people out
there, and you say, I’m not supposed to notice this any more.  As we
waited for him to arrive, volunteers handed out water bottles and
beautifull printed copies of his race speech from March, a brilliant
speech, of course, but oversized, on paper large as a menu, already
consecrated as a historic document. 

One of Obama’s workers, testing the microphone,
said, "We need to get you involved in the movement," and there’s no
question that it is a movement with a religious character. I’m in it,
sharing that feeling, shared by Obama himself, that he is being borne
along by a selfless and idealistic wave of fervor in the body politic,
a historic wave, a spiritual renewal of our vows as Americans. "He can
lead us, he can heal us," Casey said.

"This is a defining moment in our history, all of you are here because you feel it," Obama said, and kept invoking the
Declaration of Independence. "More than 200 years ago a group of
patriots gathered to do something that no one thought could be done… This election is our chance to declare independence…" Why
would he ever want to be a politician?

11 Responses

  1. Richard Witty
    April 19, 2008, 4:08 pm

    I haven't seen Obama personally. I probably won't get to.

    One of the disadvantages of living in a confidently democratic state, is that the politicians don't come to your state, and when they do, they're not seeking your vote, but your money. If you're one with money that they seek, you probably get to ask more questions than just being one of the mass.

    I hope that when Obama becomes president, he does better than his friend Deval Patrick is doing in Massachusetts. Not a lot is happening there, even with a democratic governor and a democratic state house and senate.

  2. Charles Keating
    April 19, 2008, 4:49 pm

    "Why would he ever want to be a politician?"

    Precisely, given the attributes you admire in him, Phil, which I grant you his competition lacks utterly, even if he's more grand rhetoric than grand–as even Michelle points out. I'm leaning towards voting for him, since Ron Paul has no chance, but your echoes other stories I've read; they sounded exactly the same– about another knight who came to save the day: Adolph Hitler. It's a little creepy. All the ladies swooned then too. Goebbels in his diary did too. Who's going to pay Obama's piper if he takes the throne? Just all the people who deserved to?

  3. LeaNder
    April 19, 2008, 6:53 pm

    "…but your echoes other stories I've read; they sounded exactly the same– about another knight who came to save the day: Adolph Hitler. It's a little creepy. All the ladies swooned then too. Goebbels in his diary did too. "

    Adolf was a failed artist. Obama is an overachiever. Now this is the first time I understood what these Messiah stories could possibly mean. Good atmospheric report. Hmmm? How will he deliver?

    Hitler and women is a slightly more complex story. I think the swooning ladies are a bit of an exaggeration. Power/money and attractiveness are sometimes confused. First he looked for elder ladies who could support and clothe him, later the ladies were younger and stupid (a necessity) so they wouldn't interfere with the work on his ultimate bride: Germany.

    But Goebbels adoration, especially his despair when he cannot deliver what the Fuehrer demands, no doubt is absolutely irritating, bordering on the grotesque.

    link to

  4. patrick
    April 19, 2008, 9:01 pm

    Phil, take a deep breath and calm down. Bill Clinton was from Hope as well, look at how he turned out.

    Obama is just another slick pol who crafted his rise; community activist (what the hell is that?), joined a hate whitey church because of political expediency and a political base, worked a sweet real estate deal with a sketchy dude named Tony Rezko, cavorts with Weathermen, and trashed his grandmother for political points.

    Obama's mother hated America, it's people, and all it stood for. Having her son as President should scare the shit out of everyone.

    John McCain is tired, old, and wants to expand the war.

    I'm sitting this election out.

  5. syvanen
    April 20, 2008, 1:11 am


    I love your enthusiasm. The cynicism is getting tiresome and I know it well because that is me.

  6. serena1313
    April 20, 2008, 6:06 am

    Thank you Phillip for sharing your experience.

    *** patrick,

    What in the world makes you believe Obama's mother hated America? There is nothing to base that on. She was a single white mother with 2 children. It took Ann, his mother, two decades to get her Ph.D. or doctorate as an archaeologist. She died of breast cancer or ovarian cancer. Ann was from Kansas.

    *** syvanen, I agree the cynicism is tiring.

    Obama's supporters (or at least the majority of us) know Obama is not a saint; he is a politician. Obama is imperfect (like the rest of us). Even he admits that.

    Is he an elitist? No! But Obama is part of the elite.

    Obama's beginnings were humble and meager. He, his sister and mother had to resort to living off food stamps for awhile. He mostly grew up in a single family house. Furthermore Obama & Michelle just recently paid off their college tuition loans. They were able to do that due to his book royalties.

    Although do note, too that Obama, having graduated Magna Cum Laud from law school had lucrative job offers, but instead chose to become a community organizer for an annual salary of $8,000.

    Obama has spent his entire adult life working for social justice. He realized in order to get things done he needed power to do so. Thus he got involved in politics.

    Additionally Obama was a Constitutional law professor, a civil rights attorney and a community organizer prior to being a state senator for Illinois and now a US Senator.

    Obama believes in the people. Instead of governing from the top down he has promised to govern from the bottom up. That is why millions are donating to his campaign on line. That means Obama is beholding to us not the special interest groups.

    He believes in ideas not power. Obama has our best interests at heart.

    We know the old ways no longer works. Our government is broken. Obama offers a fresh approach to get things done.

    One only needs to look at the way he built his campaign and the way he has operated since he began campaigning to know he is capable. Even though he lacked experience in running a presidential 50-state campaign, Obama has successfully organized and applied the necessary resources to execute a complicated campaign strategy. That in and of itself is quite a feat.

    Equally important Obama articulates a compelling vision which we all share. He believes in American values and traditions our country was founded. He believes in us, we, the people.

    A leader's oratory skills are necessary in order to motivate the people. Obama has demonstrated both leadership skills and oratory skills. Moreover his words are followed with actions.

    This is the kind of person I believe, given the chance, will move America forward. While Obama may only be able to do so much, I have faith, that he will do what he can and as much as he is able to accomplish.

    Pennsylvania Good luck Tuesday. I know y'all will make the choice that is best for America.

    A vote for Hillary is a vote for Hillary and the status quo.

    A vote for McCain is a vote for a third term Bush only on steroids.

    A vote for Obama is a vote for America.

  7. Protest Obama
    April 20, 2008, 10:25 am

    It is getting dangerous: The Obama Army will merge with the Nation of Islam Army and we need our intelligence to defend ourselves against the Obama fascism.

    Vote McCain!

  8. Charles Keating
    April 20, 2008, 10:27 am

    Yeah, well, Hitler was a failed artist, alone in Vienna–at the age of 19. Where was Obama at age 19? Subsequently, both developed speaking/rhetoric skills. Both developed charisma. Both learned which political words to use, and how to say them.
    Both became viewed by many as the knight on the horse, come to save the day. We know where one led his true believer following, then nation. Obama's intent and the results of it remain to be seen.

    Obama usually parses things carefully, and I like what he says about the issues, incuding his take on how to implement Affirmative Action (real means testing), for example, and on Education, CEO pay, and a less unilteral approach to the Middle East, etc. Some say he reminds them of the OJ trial's Mark Fuhrman, every button, word, and gesture perfect–until he fell for the standard trial lawyer ploy, which, in his case, turned his perfect response into an absurdity, thus demolishing his earned character, hence credibility. In Fuhrman the question related to
    perceived bigotry, and in Obama's case (so far) perceived bitter white workers. The Karl Roves will be watching him closely, stirring up character doubts. The general election is many months away.

  9. Bill
    April 20, 2008, 11:44 am

    To the folks who listened to the Karl Rove negativity and voted for Bush (endless war, decimation of the middle class, and tax cuts for the rich) what have you got to lose by voting for change? Albeit a Herculean task, maybe Obama can pull it off?
    However, if you want more of the same…vote McCain!

  10. Charles Keating
    April 20, 2008, 4:15 pm

    Right or wrong, like it or not, Bill, those peeps listening to the manipulative Karl Rove think they are standing up for their dignity. Like those loyal to Obama's mentor's church, no?

  11. Jim Haygood
    April 20, 2008, 10:26 pm


    We were in Bucks County over the weekend. Half a dozen Obama volunteers, who looked to be college students, were on two corners of the main intersection in New Hope, waving their signs. Hillary supporters were invisible, other than a couple of yard signs.

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