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Saturday, May 10, 2008

Re-introducing Himself

posted by on May 10 at 10:45 AM

“We are going to bring this election to a close right here in Oregon,” Barack Obama told a huge crowd on the quadrangle at the University of Oregon last night. It was an echo of something that one of his senior advisers told The Politico just a few days ago, and a signal that the party in Oregon on primary night, May 20, is going to be about a lot more than just another state in this long nomination process.



The most interesting part of Obama’s speech, I thought, came toward the end. After a lot of lines that I’d heard before, Obama segued into a new re-introduction of himself (or a newish re-introduction; he first rolled out this new section of his stump speech after his win in North Carolina on Tuesday).

Obama was candid about why he’s added these new lines:

I do want to just end by telling you about myself because it appears that the Republicans are intent on making this campaign about me—whether I wear a flag pin, my bowling score, my eating habits, the offensive remarks of a former pastor—that’s what they want to make this campaign about.

And so I want to just close by reminding you of why I do this, and a little bit about myself. I was born to a teenage mother. And my father left when I was two, so I was raised by a single mom and my grandparents. And they came from small towns in Kansas. They grew up during the Great Depression. And they didn’t have much of anything. And when World War II started my grandfather joined the army, and went to Europe and fought in Patton’s army, and my grandmother stayed back working on a bomber assembly line while she also looked after the new baby they had had…

You can see where this is going. This is an American story, a white story (in that it only explores the white side of Obama’s family tree), the most America-centric re-telling of Obama’s family history that he’s done to this date.

…And when my grandfather came back, his government, the United States government, said, ‘You know, it makes sense for us to invest in young men like this who fought for us. And make sure that not only are we allowing them to succeed but also that we’re creating a middle class that will lift up the whole country. And so he was able to get a college education on a GI Bill.

And then that same government said, ‘You know what, it’d be smart if we could set up a loan program so that young families like theirs, they can buy a home, because that will be good for everybody, it’ll lift up the whole country.’ And so they bought their home with the help of a VHA loan. And then, when my mother got older, she was able to get a college scholarship even though they weren’t wealthy. And even though I was being raised by a single mom, and even though we sometimes had to be on food stamps to make ends meet, she was ultimately able to send my sister and me to the best schools in the world.

Message: Obama is also the grateful product of well-meaning investments made by his country decades ago. He then told of his wife’s similar story, and then he said:

Here’s the thing. When people ask me about my patriotism, when they ask me why I’m doing this, I try to explain to them, I’m doing it because that story’s not just my story, it’s your story. It’s the American story. It’s that idea that each generation successively is able to work a little bit harder, work a little bit better, to make life better for the next generation and the government is a partner in this process.

The crowd was exploding with cheers by this point.

That’s why I love this country. That’s why you love this country. Because if you really try you can make it in this country, and that’s the American dream that we are gonna preserve for the next generation. But I need your help doing it. And so, let me just end by saying this, Oregon: You can make that choice. But I’m gonna need you to vote for me, and if you do we will win this nomination, we will win this general election, and you and I together will change this country, and we will change the world. Thank you, everybody, God Bless you and God Bless America.

Will this new telling of Obama’s story reach people like the Obama skeptics I met in rural Jackson County on Thursday? Or the guy I met on the plane down to Oregon? We’ll see.

For now, I’m heading back up to Seattle to start (er, keep on) writing. For my full take on the Democratic end game in Oregon see next week’s Stranger. And for all the posts in this series click here.

RSS icon Comments


Can everybody join me in a prayer for less state religion?

Posted by Greg | May 10, 2008 10:52 AM

He didn't say which God, I bet he thought 'Allah' when he said 'God'. Or maybe he had his fingers crossed.

Posted by hardworkingwhiteamerican | May 10, 2008 10:55 AM

I wouldn't read too much into the "God bless you and God bless America" sign-off. That is simply Politician-Speak for "My speech is ended. Go in peace." Virtually every elected official uses it.

Posted by RainMan | May 10, 2008 11:47 AM

Great ! Very smart to finally have a progressive wave the fucking American flag, I hate it when progressives let the right wingers steal all our best national symbols and values. Like my ultra liberal Seattle buds who decry flying he American flag "you know that's a symbol of war and oppression," they censoriously lecture.

Right. Let the right wing own the national symbols -- not too smart.

Back to Obama. Let's take this a bit further.

IT's nice he's doing so well in places like WI MN IA NV NM CO VA NC etc. but what about KY WV OH PA FL AR MO? He's not even visiting KY or WV.

Is the plan to ignore the Archie Bunker/Dogpatch voters and states where they are key, to win only in states where the new voters/youth, college grads and AAs can bring a margin of victory?

IOW are we planning now to just give up on FL OH PA WV KY MO etc.?

Not going to KY and WV seems to send the wrong message. I hope it does not presage abandonment of a 50 state strategy.

Posted by PC | May 10, 2008 11:54 AM

i don't see him skipping FL. he obviously skipped it in the primaries, but i don't think you can assume that he will skip it in the general. states like KY and WV have absolutely no appeal for him, either in the primary or the general. and clinton will pointlessly win those.

i'm not sure how you selected the states you listed, but i don't know why you think he would skip FL, OH, PA, or MO.

Posted by konstantconsumer | May 10, 2008 12:22 PM

ok... i'm hungover as hell and working the reference desk but when i read that shit i wanted to cry. am i just unhinged from an evening of debauchery or does St. Obama really touch my heart? I think he does....

Posted by M | May 10, 2008 12:47 PM

Thanks for going to Oregon Eli. Love your non-snarky reporting approach and cool head. The Stranger's lucky to have you.

Posted by David K. | May 10, 2008 1:41 PM

Our Obama
Who art in Obama
Obama be thy name
Thy Kingdom Obama
Thy will be Obama
In Obama as it is in Obama

Give us this Obama our daily Obama
And forgive us our Obama,
As we forgive those who Obama against us.

Lead us not into Obama,
But deliver us from Obama.

For thine is the Obama, the Obama, and the Obama.


Posted by croydonfacelift | May 10, 2008 2:36 PM

@ 8, croydonfacelift:


Lead us not into the RNC,
But deliver us from Bush.

Posted by Lesley | May 10, 2008 2:51 PM

Yeah, well, but if we eat his flesh and drink his blood, are we saved? The Obamatrons would sure have you think so.

Posted by Fifty-Two-Eighty | May 10, 2008 2:55 PM

Now, 5280, that kind of divisiveness and name-calling is just the sort of thing that will lead Obama supporters to stay and home and not vote for Hillary in the General Election.




Posted by NapoleonXIV | May 10, 2008 3:20 PM


He will be in WV on Monday. I don't think he's abandoned his 50 state strategy. Right now I think he's trying to avoid another news cycle where Hillary and co. say "he campaigned there and outspent me and I won by 30 points." (Because she will.) I think he will try to compete there for the GE.

Posted by Anne | May 10, 2008 4:04 PM

@10: Fifty-Two-Eighty, are you a Hillary supporter because you like Hillary or because you don't like Obama?

Posted by RainMan | May 10, 2008 5:15 PM

I think this is a brilliant general election strategy. Obama is going to HUMBLY ask the American people, especially those who have already cast a primary vote for someone else, to give him and his candidacy a second look. There is great power in words, and great power in stories. I can't wait to watch Obama debate McCain on the issues and their vastly different visions for America. (McCain may seem presidential on paper, but he doesn't seem presidential when you see him in person or on television.) I can't wait to hear the speeches Obama gives leading up to the general election, particularly his acceptance speech at the Democratic National Convention. When Americans cast their ballots in November, most will vote with their hearts. Even if people have reservations about Obama himself (he admits that he is an imperfect vessel), I think the majority of Americans will cast their votes for him because he personifies a different kind of leadership. Pundits and bloggers may stew in the details of the campaign, but this election (like all others) will be won on the power of images and words.

Posted by Bub | May 10, 2008 5:38 PM

If only he had a vagina. Then I could get behind him - or rather her. But instead, I'll have to vote for McCain.

My dream is crushed. Hillary was the only chance for a womyn to become president.

Posted by Post-Menopausal Womyn | May 10, 2008 6:02 PM

I think at last this is really going to happen. And I for one am fucking stoked.

Posted by Grant Cogswell | May 10, 2008 6:43 PM

That was an incredibly moving speech.

Posted by David Sucher | May 10, 2008 9:22 PM

Thank you, David.

Posted by Grant Cogswell | May 11, 2008 1:00 AM

You still got it, Cogswell!

Posted by Paulus | May 11, 2008 1:11 AM

"Allow me to reintroduce myself, my name is Obama!"

Posted by Dave | May 11, 2008 8:41 AM

Suddenly I am in total and complete love with every single person who left a comment on this post. Weird but true.

Posted by I wanted Hillary, but... | May 11, 2008 1:59 PM

Some people have too much faith in the fairness and thoughtfulness of the American electorate. I don't. They seem to vote against their own interest every time. There are many who are fair, don't get me wrong, it's just not a majority. Anyway, I'll support anyone the D's nominate.

Posted by Vince | May 11, 2008 4:23 PM


shouldn't your name be "Post-Mynopausal Womyn"?

Posted by chops | May 12, 2008 3:39 PM

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