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Tuesday, October 28, 2008

The Moment When it All Began

posted by on October 28 at 9:07 AM

Last night, working on a column about presidential campaign rallies for this week’s Stranger, I went back and read parts of this. I was trying to help myself remember the details of what was no doubt the best, and most significant rally of the season: Barack Obama’s victory rally in Des Moines on the cold night in January when he won the Iowa caucuses.

It was a moment when Obama at once silenced his doubters, terrified the Clinton campaign, and laid out the themes that everyone is now so familiar with—themes he delivered that night in a tone that felt extremely novel and now, ten months later, feels like yet another reminder of Obama’s consistency.

With just seven days left before the campaign ends, I thought some of you might want to take the same journey back in time—if nothing else, it’s a temporary distraction from checking electoral college projections, tracking poll numbers, and Drudge:

10:00 p.m., January 3: Victory

I jumped in a car with a writer for The Nation and headed toward Hy-Vee Hall, the same place where, a few weeks previous, I’d seen Obama and Oprah Winfrey do a joint campaign event that drew a tremendous audience and made me think, for the first time, that Obama really could win Iowa. Now a radio announcer was saying Iowa was his, by a huge margin. I wanted to stop at my hotel and to post a blog item. The Nation writer told me I was crazy, that I was going to miss history, that this was no time for sitting in a hotel and blogging.

We went straight to the hall, parked, and joined the people streaming inside. I heard later that Clinton’s caucus-night event in Des Moines was empty until she packed it with campaign staffers. The Obama event was filled with real people, caucus-goers who were coming to see the man who had inspired them, volunteers who hugged and shouted congratulations to each other as they rode the escalator to the convention room where Obama was to speak. Inside, the crowd was ecstatic, and so was a Seattle woman who happened to be standing next to me, Laurie Ragen Gustafson, who danced with the beat of a drill team that was rump-shaking its way around the room as a warm-up act, and who used words like “amazing” and, of course, “history.”

Obama took the stage, lean, young, full of energy and magnanimity, clapping for the crowd to show his thanks before launching into a rousing victory speech in which he declared his win in Iowa proof that “America is ready to believe again.”

“On this January night, at this defining moment in history, you have done what the cynics said we couldn’t do,” Obama began. And it was indeed something unprecedented and hard to believe; Iowa, after all, is over 90 percent white. There were tears in people’s eyes as Obama continued, speaking to both the crowd and the national television audience: “You have done what the state of New Hampshire can do in five days.”

The crowd interrupted, chanting: O-bam-a, O-bam-a, O-bam-a.

“The time has come for a president who will be honest about the choices and the challenges we face,” Obama continued. “Who won’t just tell you want you want to hear, but what you need to know.” Not surprisingly, he received his biggest applause for this: “I’ll be a president who ends this war in Iraq and finally brings our troops home. Who restores our moral standing. Who understands that 9/11 is not a way to scare up votes but a challenge to unite America and the world against the common threats of the 21st century.”

He also tapped into the sense that something new is happening in this country, and that the result in Iowa was only its first manifestation. “Years from now,” Obama said, “you’ll be able to look back with pride and say this was the moment when it all began. This was the moment when the improbable beat what Washington always said was inevitable… Years from now you’ll look back and say this was the moment, this was the place, where America began to hope again.”

He then launched into a defense of his campaign’s emphasis on hope, an idea mocked as too starry-eyed and impractical by other candidates as they have tried to stop Obama’s rise. “Hope is what led me here today,” Obama said. “With a father from Kenya, a mother from Kansas, and a story that can only happen in the United States of America. Hope is the bedrock of this nation. The belief that our destiny will not be written for us, but by us. By all those men and women who are not content to settle for the world as it is, who have the courage to remake the world as it should be. That is what we started here in Iowa, and that is the message we can now carry to New Hampshire and beyond.”

The crowd went wild, and a very new type of candidate, and a very new type of president, suddenly seemed a very real possibility.

There’s more, if you want even more distraction. I had the idea to stay in Iowa after the caucuses ended and write about the deserted city. The result, when the story continues.

RSS icon Comments


Nice but this reminiscing smacks of thinking it's all over when we win next week yet that's just when it starts and we all have to put shoulders to the grindstone and keep working for change.

I am looking forward to the big half hour speech on tv this week I hope Obama starts using his gifts of oratory to really, really mobilize America and all congresspeople to get behind a legislative program and get it all passed in the first hundred days.

There's LOTS more fighting and working to do, please do not over reminisce as if we're "almost done" or something.

Posted by PC | October 28, 2008 9:51 AM

Why would anybody be checking Drudge?

Posted by Just Sayin' | October 28, 2008 10:21 AM

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