Friday, May 23, 2008


After Sunday's Obama rally here, the bug bit me. I am getting junkie-like on the primary politics.

I saw John Edwards campaigning in San Francisco in early 2004 and was wowed by the sheer sparkling charisma he exuded. When you meet these people in real life, you realize why they thrive in public life--they have star power. So knowing that Obama is terrifically charming even via muddy YouTube video, I was prepared to be wowed in person.

I wasn't prepared for when, to the anthemic churn of Bruce Springsteen's "The Rising", the announcer said, "Welcome our next First Family, the Obamas," and Barack, Michelle, and the two little girls stepped up onto the stage, I would feel such a shock of emotion. I was glad I was wearing sunglasses, because behind them tears were filling my eyes. He hadn't even said a word. It was the kids. I pictured those little girls living in the White House and I lost it.

They waved and then Michelle hoisted the younger girl up into her arms and, after Barack hugged and kissed them, carried her off the stage, holding the older girl's hand.

My brother and his girlfriend had waited in line since 7:30 am, so we flooded in right at the front and took up at the side of the stage. For a few hours there I cursed my lot, wedged in tight, standing in the 90-degree sun. I managed to jam myself down into a sitting position to work on the Times crossword, pressed in on all sides by a canyon of legs. The Decemberists, whose stage was blocked from our view by Obama's stage, were reduced to a pleasant abstract floating sound. But once Obama took the stage, I forgot all about the four layers of sunblock sliming my neck and face and ear-tops, the smeary newsprint self-tattooed on my hands and legs, and the claustrophobia-induced ill will I had been accumulating toward my fellow ralliers. The guy makes Edwards look like a hack.

Not just because he's a superior speaker, utterly in command, utterly engaging, but because I felt it so deeply. I really just believed pretty much everything he said. Believed it not only as in, Yes, this affirms my core beliefs, but as in Yes, I believe you. I haven't felt that way about a politician since the singular Paul Wellstone (about whom, it turns out, I still get teary when I bring him up.)

Ann (head below) clutched his hand and said, "WE LOVE YOU."

I did not reach through the frantic grasping herd of arms, fearing the fate of some of the signs passed out earlier--

--but I felt totally satisfied and amazed to have seen him so close, and at such a massive and exhilarating event. I do not think I have ever been in a crowd of 75,000 people before.

To circle back to the start of all this: ever since this rally, and since seeing all over the news images and reports from this thing I had experienced myself, I have become obsessed with all things presidential-race. I have now bookmark-toolbarred the Huffington Post. I hit "refresh" on the New York Times front page every hour. I can't stop checking the Delegate Calculator, watching the little opposing bars slowly fill up and the slider click into place. The Onion's Election 08 guide provides necessary comic relief. ("Could Hillary Clinton Have What It Takes To Defeat The Democrats in 2008?")

And I can't help but read the comments that people make on these posts. I am dumbfounded by the feverish hyperbole there: I am a lifelong Democrat lesbian single-mother antiwar activist who's had three abortions and I would sooner vote for McCain than Obama!!!, is kind of the level people go to. Hillary basically just said she wants Obama assassinated!! Like that. Wild irrationality and ad hominem attacks better suited to Perez Hilton or The O'Reilly Factor. What is strange is that at this point, the commenters are attacking each other more than their favored candidates. The Hillary-supporters (excuse me, "Hillraisers," as her site previously roused them to become--a moniker that now seems to have vanished), having little concrete ammunition against Obama himself, revile "the Obama camp." The supporters hate the message-board versions of each other far more than they hate the candidate.

Who can blame them, really? Fallacy-ridden and inflamed with vitriol, they all make themselves odious. Fanaticism is ugly, regardless the cause.

I obviously love Obama, and have from the start. Hillary was never my favorite, anytime in her political career. But of course she would be a fine leader, and although I'm totally exasperated by her desperate politicking and her offensive (if cunning) invocation of civil rights and suffrage as she campaigns to get her votes counted from the states where Obama's name wasn't even on the ballot (shameless!), and her claim to such desirable support from, uh, white voters who consider race a factor in their voting (really? that's the demographic we want to focus on in this next election?)--all right, this sentence is sounding passive-aggressive, but I really do mean it when I say that although all of the above, I think she's important and ferocious and a barrier-breaker. I don't think she's the devil. But her tactics bum me out. Hard.

Meanwhile, my students are nuts for Obama. They cannot write a single objective sentence about him. When he comes up in class, they practically begin to glow.

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