Barack Obama spoke yesterday at Boston Common. I expected to have a lot to say about him, but it was immediately clear that he was tired and worn out from campaigning, and that big outdoor rallies offer next to nothing by way of substance. Is he a good speaker? God yes - once he'd warmed up a bit and found his rhythm (in spite of the constant heckling from Ron Paul's chorus of idiots) he delivered a rousing speech. But it was very, very short on specifics, and if Obama dwelled on his differences from Hillary Clinton (archetypal 'Washington insider') in broad terms, he didn't drive home that the major differences between them, e.g. her eager support for the Iraq War back when it was politically safe, would be deal breakers outside of their respective cults of personality.
I liked Obama's first movement: he quickly and carefully made the point that though any Democratic candidate functions in part as a referendum on the failings of the Bush administration, and specifically of our Middle East misadventures, his candidacy had a positive progressive upside. What killed me was that he outlined that upside very broadly; it felt like a half-gesture. 'Well, it's early.' Yes but in three months he could be out of the race. Speaking of which: He spoke only elliptically about race but that's obviously a big part of his appeal: I suspect that with all her personal baggage and dynastic implications Clinton will muddy the abstract issue of women-in-power (along with husbands-in-waiting, ahem Bill) far more than she'll 'solve' it, but Obama's presidency would be an enormous immediate blow for civil rights in the U.S., in a way that would transcend politics. He doesn't make this a big part of his presentation, but it's a key narrative underlying his campaign in the eye of the public...
...as illustrated by the awkward parallels drawn last night between Obama and his warmup act, Governor Deval Patrick. I'd never heard him speak before, and he was superb. From the subway tabloids I hear about allegations of cronyism and such, but all I know is that his speech was a lot more detailed and lot more well-shaped than Obama's, even if he too needed five minutes to limber up. Just hearing the name of a local neighborhood in a politician's speech makes a world of difference, and unlike Obama, Patrick used the word 'taxes,' a notion Obama's gonna have to speak to directly if he wins the nomination. The previous speakers - several organizers and the super-deluxe awkward head of Obama's New England steering committee - laboured to draw links between Obama and Patrick, but danced awkwardly around the most obvious parallel between them, namely that their candidacies have only become imaginable in the last decade because of their (different) racial and cultural backgrounds. They have a good deal in common politically, but it was disingenuous for Steering Committee Guy to point out over and over that they're two peas in a pod without being willing to spell out exactly what he meant. Policy he wasn't talking about, sorry.
Well look, it was a rally, not a policy speech, and I'm glad I went; it was nice to get the full force of Obama's charisma and personal presence, and very nice to hear directly from Patrick. I see why people respond so strongly to them. My likely vote was not affected by this rally, not that I'm aware of. It was a good time, and lifted me up momentarily.
I kind of hope Gore enters the race. That could be interesting. I doubt he will, but...that could be interesting.