Friday, September 7, 2007

Hangin' with the Cool Kids

Manchester, NH -

Monday was yet another sunny day in the Granite State. Sunny to the point of near-drought conditions across the state, but perfect for Labor Day weekend vacationers. Arguably just as perfect for outdoor campaign rallies, the second of which I attended Monday morning having trading the reigning superstar Clintons for the up-and-coming Obama family.

Highlighting the sunny scene was a group of high school aged girls in the back of the park standing on risers with letters cut out spelling the name of the candidate behind them. They were leading cheers for the crowd.

“Ready to go!”
“Fired up!”
“Ready to go!”
“Fired up!”

It was like all those storied I had heard about politics in the 60s and 70s. Sort of like a high school football game. How’s that for Americana.

Introducing the Obamas Monday morning was one of Barack’s highest profile endorsers here in the Granite State, Rep. Paul Hodes. Hodes himself is a rising star in the party as a first-term Congressman and an exciting speaker in his own right. He did the usual candidate intro, setting up the major themes of the speech and drumming up excitement for the principal, but he did it with far more flair than I have seen to date in 2007. Fitting for the candidate who is making his mark with passion and inspiration.

Hodes claimed that Obama “speaks a different language, the language of America.”
He challenged us to elect someone who would make “working in the US government cool again.” Interestingly enough, after hearing the speech I couldn’t help but agree with him. Well, I don’t know about the last part - the IRS will never be cool - but still, it was a good line.

Yet before Barack came Michelle. It was the first time I had heard her speak and she came across, as it is often considered a candidate’s wife should, in a way that softens and normalizes the candidate. She pulled it off in spades.

Michelle had a very girl next door quality to her, she seemed like someone who could just as easily fit in a community leadership role as well as just another mom on the soccer carpool phone tree. She spoke convincingly about her husband’s principles, told a good story about his connections to the South Side of Chicago, and even flubbed a line or two and prefaced her speech by saying she was still “silly” from vacation.

Mrs. Obama also laid out the reasoning for her husband’s Presidential ambitions, always an important piece in the puzzle of choosing a candidate. She said that he “knows we are so close to being united in this country” and wants to be the one who instigates the change in our culture from the bottom up through the government. He wanted to be the one, in other words, to catalyze cheerleaders all over the country. In the hoods and the ‘burbs and maybe even on K Street.

Then came the Senator.

“Are you fired up?”

Honestly, I wasn’t. Not compared to his appearance in Keene a few weeks ago, which had the crowd covered in goosebumps early and often. His speech focused on change, obviously, and honesty. One of Obama’s latest campaign themes stresses accountability and transparency in government. With that change and responsibility, he encouraged the crowd to summon their own sense of mission, to believe in themselves and their values, not to mention his campaign, in order to take control of the country.

He also spent a fair amount of time talking about the special interests and the game of politics. Obama stated his intention to end the current track of electing people who can play the game the best, and instead putting an end to the game plan itself. No more politics as manipulation and money, but rather politics as mission.

“I am my brother’s keeper.”

From here he told the story of his spend-a-day-in-SEIU’s-shoes event, where he scrubbed floors and cleaned sheets with a geriatric nurse in California. The most glowing memory from this day, he said, was that the woman he shadowed expressed that she was proud of her job, and “glad she could be of service to somebody.” She just wanted a little more certainty on health care and retirement. This, he implied, is the embodiment of the true spirit of America.

We are a country of workers and givers after all, we just don’t want to get screwed in the end. And I guess that is true. If we are more secure in our future, then in our day to day lives maybe we can be a little nicer to each other, maybe a little more helpful. Now if we can only stop worrying about terrorist attacks and immigrants.

But what I really came away with after this stop on the trail had little to do with rhetoric and stump speeches. The nuggets that keep bubbling up as the week goes on and I put off writing this article in the name of seeking a bigger and better angle, has to do with what Paul Hodes said. Obama speaks the language of America.

His second line of the morning was this: “Give it up for Michelle Obama!”

A few minutes later, “SEIU in the house!”

He ended the rally not by asking for our votes, but as I said earlier by asking us to “believe in this campaign.” Then just before he walked away from the microphone he left these words to float away into the sunny morning air as he simply said, “I love you guys.”

It may not be important for geriatric America to hear phrases like that. I also fully acknowledge that I am in the vast minority when I say that the words “give it up” are inexorably linked with Naughty By Nature’s Hip Hop Hooray in my mind. Furthermore, I’m sure some people in the crowd may never have even heard the term “in the house.”

But here in Quabbin Qountry, where we recognize realness, it meant something. If a candidate for President hopes to mobilize from the ground up, he has to speak the language of the streets. While Obama may be a decade or so late on that front, he is at least twenty years closer than any other candidate. Whether or not it translates into something on election day is something we will find out in four months. But to paraphrase Lloyd Christmas, I’m sayin’ there’s a chance.

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