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Barack Obama is the real deal


WEDNESDAY, July 28, 2004 -- For a state senator from Illinois, Barack Obama has gotten a prodigous amount of press of late. In case you haven’t heard, the 42-year-old Harvard Law School grad -- whose father was an immigrant from Kenya and whose mother hailed from Kansas -- is seeking the US Senate seat formerly occupied by Carol Moseley Braun. For a while, his Republican opponent was Jack Ryan, best known outside Illinois as the ex-husband of Geri Ryan, the human Barbie Doll from Star Trek: Voyager and Boston Public. But then some awkward revelations came out about weird things Jack asked Geri to do in sex clubs, and Ryan exited the race. There was talk of Chicago Bears great Mike Ditka stepping into the race for the Illinois GOP, but Ditka took a pass. Now, barring some surprising twist, it seems Obama will soon be taking up residence in Washington, DC.

Problem is, with all the attention he’s been getting, some people -- mainly media types -- have started to experience Barack Obama Fatigue. Two colleagues I spoke with before Obama’s keynote address to the Democratic Convention Tuesday evening struck a skeptical tone; one complained about the "endless litany" of Obama profiles that have appeared in recent weeks. So Obama – who's already being described as a possible presidential candidate, for God’s sake -- carried the nearly impossible burden of meeting gargantuan expectations for Tuesday’s speech. Even as, it should be noted, most Americans have probably never heard of him.

No problem. Obama blew the convention away. He started off poised and confident, offering some of his own lesser-known biographical details (maternal grandfather a colonial servant to the Brits, paternal grandfather a WWII vet who fought under Patton) and looking like this was his fifth DNC instead of his first. And then he got better, becoming louder, more expressive, more passionate as he moved through the obligatory Tribute To John Kerry into as stirring a defense of liberalism as the convention’s seen so far:

Alongside our famous individualism, there’s another ingredient in the American saga, a belief that we are all connected as one people. If there’s a child on the South Side of Chicago who can’t read, that matters to me, even if it’s not my child. If there’s a senior citizen somewhere who can’t pay for their prescription and having to choose between medicine and rent, that makes my life poorer even if it’s not my grandparent. If there’s an Arab-American family being rounded up without benefit of an attorney or due process, that threatens my civil liberties. It is that fundamental belief -- it is that fundamental belief, I am my brother’s keeper, I am my sister’s keeper, that makes this country work.

After this soliloquy, which was interrupted with multiple bursts of applause, Obama remained in the oratorical zone:

Now, even as we speak, there are those who are preparing to divide us -- the spinmasters and negative ad peddlers who embrace the politics of anything goes. Well, I say to them tonight, there’s not a liberal America and a conservative America, there’s the United States of America. There’s not a black America and white America and Latino America and Asian America, there’s the United States of America. The pundits -- the pundits like to slice and dice our country into red states and blue states, red states for Republicans, blue states for Democrats. But I’ve got news for them, too. We worship an awesome God in the blue states, and we don’t like federal agents poking around our libraries in the red states. We coach Little League in the blue states and yes, we’ve got some gay friends in the red states. There are patriots who opposed the war in Iraq and there are patriots who supported the war in Iraq. We are one people, all of us pledging allegiance to the Stars and Stripes, all of us defending the United States of America.

Again, Obama was forced to stop repeatedly as the crowd thundered its approval. I know, I know -- some of you won’t like the "awesome God" line. But it worked perfectly in the broader context of Obama’s message. It may sound hackneyed, but the atmosphere in the Fleet Center during Obama’s speech was truly electric -- one had the sense of watching a landmark political moment. The audience was buzzing for minutes after Obama pointed triumphantly at the crowd and exited stage right; poor Jim Langevin, the Rhode Island congressman forced to speak next about stem cell research, had a hard time getting anyone to listen to him.

After Tuesday’s proceedings wrapped up, I ran into a friend in the media tent and asked him what he’d thought of Obama’s speech. "I wish Barack Obama was running for president," he replied.

He’s not the only one.

Issue Date: July 28, 2004
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