I just got back from Obama's first visit to the Pacific Northwest since becoming an official candidate — and at this point, the front-runner — and he was all I hoped he would be in that venue. I already know he is intelligent and literate; not just that he's written two books, but that he's written books that are interesting, compelling, and just plain good reads. I know he is dedicated to the issues he represents. He's served his community as an activist, a teacher and a state representative. He didn't turn his Harvard law degree into big bucks; he sought ways to continue his public service.
These things I knew. I committed to his campaign after reading "The Audacity of Hope," and everything I've heard him say since has reaffirmed that my decision was the right one. But I had not seen him in person, and after having missed on Howard Dean's visits to the Northwest four years ago, I didn't want that to happen again. I wanted to see and experience for myself what there is about Barack Obama that makes him such a compelling candidate.
And there simply is no way to explain it other than to say he has "it" — charisma, a calm presence before a screaming crowd, a command of his message, and a delivery that while undeniably practiced comes across as if he's speaking extemporaneously. The speech he's probably given now dozens of times sounds fresh because it's real. Obama is saying what he truly believes, and that's what comes across and is exciting.
In 1988, I was part of the student government at PSU, and I got to sit on stage when Jesse Jackson came for a GOTV rally. It was late in the campaign, and he had been going all over the country speaking two, three, four or more times a day — just as we saw from Howard Dean in 2004 as he worked tirelessly for Kerry. It was an amazing honor to be so near this great man, and yet his speech started so tired, so obviously rote. But then the magic happened. As he got deeper into the words he had repeated for weeks, the meaning emerged. Not only did it touch the full hall, it touched Jackson. The power and passion that makes him one of America's great orators filled his entire being, and the speech ended with as triumphant a ringing as any I have ever heard. It's still one of my most cherished experiences.
This is the passion and belief Barack Obama brings to every speech. While not quite at Jesse Jackson's level (few are), his own personality comes through brilliantly. What he has honed through practice and repititon gives him the ease and confidence to let what's in his heart flow out. That's what I wanted to experience, and I wasn't disappointed.
If I wanted a wonk for president, there are many good ones out there. There are experience, competent public servants. That are many Democrats who share my beliefs and are more in keeping with my left coast progressive politics than even Obama. But there is no one in the nation right now who can inspire hope as can Barack Obama. Four years ago, Howard Dean opened the door by preaching this great truth that Obama has taken to heart: "You have the power!" The crowd in Seattle today responded with joy to his words and his presence.
Let's get him to Oregon soon. The people of our state need a chance to meet the next president in person, too.
(And for more opportunity to talk about the campaign and what we can do in Oregon, come visit OregonforObama.net. Sign up to blog, join in a forum, or read and listen to more reasons why Barack Obama can, and will, be our next president.)
June 01, 2007 | T.A. Barnhart |