Barack Obama, whom few outside Illinois had ever heard of before last week’s speech, electrified both the convention and the country. I heard it on the radio while I was at work, and a couple of minutes into it I actually stopped working to move closer to the speakers in order to hear it better–something I didn’t do with Kerry or Edwards or any of the other speakers. It was a visceral reaction to a talented orator who was saying things I had desperately wanted to hear a Democrat say for almost 20 years, and saying them passionately, hopefully, and forcefully, but it was also an intellectual reaction: he made sense, and he did it without the usual political promises and cliches.
I knew who he was, vaguely, but only because Bert at ThatColoredFellasweblog, who lives in Chicago, had his picture up and is a big supporter. I knew very little about him and reserved judgment on a lot of Bert’s raving because he’s an obvious fan and fans are rarely terribly objective; some aren’t even rational–Dean ran a smart campaign most of the time but he isn’t the Second Coming of FDR by a long shot, and you wouldn’t know that listening to his still-angry fans. After hearing Obama for myself, however, I can see where Bert is coming from. The guy’s intriguing–smart, personable, knowledgeable, and yet with a connection to ordinary people and their problems that seems to go a lot deeper than something he thought he would throw into the speech that night because it sounded good.
So is this guy for real? Maybe. MoJo loves him.
Make no mistake, an Obama victory in his Senate race would be a major victory for progressives (and with the Republicans still unable to find a challenger, that outcome is all but assured). He opposed the Iraq war from the start, supports universal health care, wants to renegotiate tariff-free trade deals to include environmental and labor standards, supports affirmative action, supports importing prescription drugs from Canada, supports civil unions, and opposes George Bush’s tax policy. In the Illinois state Senate, he supported tax credits for low-income families and has called for business tax incentives to reward only companies that create jobs in the U.S.
What he emphasized [in his speech] was another theme of this conservative convention: that the country must and can unite. It’s a brilliant maneuver to pose as (and exemplify, in some cases) a force to overcome the divisions within the country, divisions that make all of us frayed and often testy in a time of grave danger. America is deeply thirsty for a black leader who is first and foremost an American leader; and for any leader who can reach out to both sides of the culture war. Obama struck many conservative notes: of self-reliance, of opportunity, of hard work, of an immigrant’s dream, of the same standards for all of us.
You have to stop and take note of a guy who can impress MoJo and Sullivan with the same speech. He’s being compared to Paul Simon for his policies and his integrity, which is a hell of a comparison if you know anything about Paul Simon, the legendary liberal Senator and one of my favorite politicians of all time.
I still don’t know if Obama is for real, and probably only time will tell for sure, but so far it’s looking good.