By Toby HarndenHere in Chicago, a couple of things about President Barack Obama’s final appeal to the voters has been striking. The first is that he’s even campaigning in his home neighbourhood of Hyde Park, a liberal, university enclave on the South Side of the Windy City.
Illinois is a deep blue state yet Democrats could well lose both the governorship and Obama’s old Senate seat – a major symbolic blow to his personal prestige. At one point he pleaded: “Chicago, I need you to keep on fighting! I need you to keep on believing!”
If Obama is having to defend home turf at this stage of the election campaign, what does that say about his party’s prospects? It’s as if George W. Bush found himself having to give a stump speech in Midland, Texas.
The second striking thing is the extent to which Obama’s pitch to voters is, well, all about him. Despite Tim Kaine, DNC chairman, insisting that Tuesday’s mid-terms are not a “referendum” on the president, Obama himself clearly thinks it is. But I’m not sure that Obama’s almost mournful tone in looking back at 2008 will do Democratic candidates much good.
Now, Chicago, in three days, you have the chance to set the direction of this state and this country for years to come. And just like you did in 2008, you can defy the conventional wisdom, the kind that says you can’t overcome cynicism in politics, you can’t overcome the special interests, you can’t overcome the big money, you can’t overcome all the negativity, you can’t overcome the big challenges any more, you can’t elect a skinny guy with a funny name to the US Senate or the presidency.
The skinny-guy, funny-name shtick was sounding a bit old by August 2008, never mind now.
And I’m not sure that this kind of nostalgia is what this year’s embattled Democratic candidates need:
Some of the excitement of Inauguration Day, you know, Beyoncé was singing and Bono was up there and everybody was feeling good. I know that good feeling starts slipping away. And you talk to your friends who are out of work, you see somebody lose their home, and it gets you discouraged. And then you see all these TV ads and all the talking heads on TV, and everything just feels negative. And maybe some of you, maybe you stop
Click to view image: 'Toby Harnden'believing.
The speech was long – 33 minutes – and this self-referential riff seemed to me distinctly odd:
You know, in the introductions, I think some people mentioned a dear friend of mine who passed this past weekend. Bishop Brazier had a church right down the street. Michelle and I used to go to church at Apostolic sometime. And here’s somebody who knew me when I was a young lawyer, had just moved to Chicago. And I remember when I was making the decision to run for President, I called him. And I said, ‘You know, Bishop, I’m really not sure this is possible. I don’t know if I’m going to make it, but I think it’s worth trying’. And he says, ‘I don’t know what God has in store for you, Barack. But he did say you won’t know either unless you try’.
But Obama still, clearly, believes that he is ‘the One’ (my bolding):
And we had to abolish slavery. And we had to win women the right to vote. And we had to win workers the right to organise. We had to battle through depression and the war against fascism and the divisions in our own country to perfect this union. And we haven’t gotten there yet, but at every stage we’ve made progress because somebody stood up. And when one person stood up, then suddenly 10 people stood up. And then maybe a thousand people stood up, and then maybe 100,000 stood up. And then maybe a million stood up.
Hmm. So who do you think is that “one person” he’s referring to?
As Maureen Dowd writes in her column today: “In 2008, the message was him. The promise was him. And that’s why 2010 is a referendum on him.”
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