Live blogging fell over due to battery failure and a debacle with Greyhound which meant I had no wifi access for the remainder of the afternoon.
1. Obama’s stump speech works far better in person than on TV. He is, simply put, an awesome orator up close. Also, the key metaphor at the climax of the speech — I have heard numerous versions before — only packs a punch in its full telling.
- Joe (Biden) and I arrived to find that the Republicans had driven the car into the ditch. We have spent the past 20 months pushing the car out of the ditch while our Republican opponents looked on, telling us to try harder. Now that we have finally got the car out of the ditch and on to even ground, they want the keys back.
Obama tell this beautifully, and suffuses it with great humor and memorable detail: the ditch is dusty and hot, the Republicans are drinking slurpees as they watch on, etc. It frames the set-up very well, but it suffers from requiring too much telling for telly.
2. There is no longer even a nod in the direction of bipartisanship. The best part of Obama’s speech was when he assailed the GOP’s Pledge for America by highlighting the tax cuts for the very rich in contrast with cuts to college loans. This works bloody well.
3. Joe Biden is a force of nature, a shining light, and he didn’t say “literally” once.
4. The Mayor of Philadelphia, who screamed his remarks at breakneck speed into the microphone, is loathed even by a partisan Democratic audience.
5. The resilience of black support for Obama is not a mystery. The African Americans in the crowd love the President and First Lady with an irrational exuberance that needs to be seen to believe.
4.15PM, Obama Rally, PA
Battery dead, despite buying a brand new replacement from T-Mobile. Lying bastards. Anyway, will update when I find some wifi.
3.55PM, Obama Rally, PA
Wouldn’t want to be anywhere else in the world, but Moving America Forward remains a shiteous slogan.
A local field organizer, Alice Rhys (sp?) is revving up the crowd with some pretty impressive campaign oratory. A name to watch.
Biden is here. Bonus. Woot.
3.40PM, Obama Rally, PA
False alarm! Got in, but only after security kindly determined my bag was not enough like a backpack to warrant my eviction. The man in front of me was not so lucky, and I left him looking very sullen at the perimeter. Hard to feel too sorry for him. He cut in front of me right moments before we reached the front of the line.
There is a DJ razzing up the crowd — Michael Jackson and Prince feature prominently — but the throng seems quite fired up on its own. When the DJ cut the music out at one point, I was stunned that the entire crowd seemed to be singing along. Except for me.
Black Eyed Peas’ I Gotta Feeling takes it up another notch again. Awesome atmosphere. Hamilton West this is not.
3.10PM, Suburban street, Germantown, PA
The line is moving but not convincingly. I am still worried that I may miss out on the rally because I wasted 30 critical minutes sitting in McDonalds blogging about how I am going to a rally.
2.20PM, Suburban street, Germantown, PA
The weather is spectacular, a boost for turnout no doubt. So
now I’m worried I won’t get in. I have joined the back of a line that goes for a very, very long way, snaking through the modestly appointed streets of Germantown, a suburb notable for the almost complete absence of Germans.
There is an added element of confusion brought about by the converging of two opposite oriented queues: one group facing up the street, another down. Gates open at 3PM, so my hope is that there is a definitive move on way or the other.
1.30PM, McDonalds Germantown, PA
In one of his rare slips of the 2008 election, Obama was caught on tape saying what he really thought about the white working class voters of Pennsylvania and elsewhere who were supporting Hilary Clinton in huge numbers at his expense. He told a bunch of wealthy donors on the West Coast that such voters are averse to the change he offered and instead “cling to guns and religion”. This gaffe — defined for the ages by Michael Kinsley as a politician getting caught saying what they actually thinks — forever torpedoed whatever hope the Obama camp may have had against Clinton in states with large concentrations of blue-collar, non-College educated white voters. The fear that this demographic problem would put the Presidency out of reach for Obama — by losing Pennsylvania as well as the key swing state of Ohio — did not come to pass. While Obama prevailed in both states in 2008 — remember McCain’s comically bad handling of the emerging financial crisis — antipathy towards Obama from this segment of the population remains a clear and present threat to the Democratic Parties fortunes in the mid-term elections (Nov 2).
The perception that Obama fails to ‘get’ the economic angst of the “middle class” (the American term for “working class”) is ubiquitous. The bank rescue package (which Bush initiated but Obama owns politically) and the stimulus plan, while fairly obviously successful in policy terms, has forever damned Obama among voters who regard both policies as anathema. The dogged application of reason to this debate has failed to date; indeed, both policies have provided extraordinary impetus to the tea party nonsense that pollutes the political well so completely today. How Obama frames this problem today will be interesting. Will he move beyond the lame “you would be a lot worse off without me” message that Gillard and Brown tried to no obvious benefit in Australia or the UK respectively? It doesn’t augur well that the Democrats seem determined to mimic Australian Labor’s widely derided “moving forward” slogan. Will he actually offer a plan for the future, or instead frame it as a contest between a bad reality and a hypothetical much worse case scenario? To me, this is the central communications challenge today, and for the remainder of the election campaign. Watch this space.
10.30AM, Reading Terminal Market, Philadelphia, PA
For US Presidential candidates, pandering to voters in Philadelphia most often takes the form of wolfing down a ‘Philly cheese steak’, a sandwich consisting of a thin slice of grilled beef drizzled with what Americans insist is cheese. I can see a notorious purveyor of said “delicacy”, complete with pictures of then candidate Obama pretending to enjoy it, from where I sit with my surprisingly passable latte. I stumbled on the Reading Terminal Market after arriving by bus in Philadelphia just moments ago.
Organizing for America, Obama’s permanent campaign machine, has been pestering me for days about a rally for (by?) the President in Philadelphia in the swing-state of Pennsylvania. Since I am based in Manhattan’s Upper West Side, the most overwhelmingly Democratic corner of a heavily Democratic city, it takes two hours by bus to find a competitive election. In this case, it is the Senate race between Pat Toomey (R) and Joe Sestak (D) where the Republican has been consistently leading in the polls. Sestak defeated the incumbent Senator from his own Party, Arlen Specter, in a nasty Primary fight. Specter, who had been a moderate Republican, jumped parties in 2009 after realizing that the far-right Toomey was about to clean his clock in the GOP primary, so his defeat from the Left was both ironic and delicious. Specter is a nasty and venal old coot (he is 80), but joy at his demise is tempered by the fact that (a) the seat is likely to fall to the Republicans and (b) Sestak is, well, a bit of a tosser.
A retired Navy admiral, Sestak’s campaign fuses political communication with military discipline to chilling effect. He is always, relentlessly, on-message. His sound-bites are finely calibrated and delivered with machine-gun efficiency. More disturbing still, there is the sense about Sestak that he is fulfilling a destiny he wrote for himself, aged eleven, under the heading “The Sestak Ascendancy”. He is the type whose focus and determination are less personality traits than pathological symptoms. He doesn’t blink often enough. He heart beats too slowly. He wouldn’t even wince under torture.
I prefer more humanity in my politicians, more improv. Sure, Obama is disciplined and focussed, too — often to his detriment — but I am drawn to him for another reason altogether: the remarkable boldness of his political strategy. His success, after all, relied on down-trouing conventional wisdom at every juncture. There was no room for error as his campaign laid bet after ballsy bet, raising the stakes each time: his unlikely coalition of blacks and college-educated whites; the grass-roots fund-raising and Internet strategy; the early focus on the caucus states; the electoral college wizardry.
Ambivalence about Obama’s Presidency, justified or not (mainly not, if you ask me) diminishes my awe at his 2008 victory not a jot. It’s why I’m here. I came for the hope, but I stayed for the audacity.