The Arrogance of Hope


CONCORD, NH—I just watched Barack Obama give his stump speech for the first time in a couple months, and for only the second time since winning the Iowa caucuses. Hillary Clinton gets knocked for obsessing over herself in speeches—reporters count up how many times she and her husband say "I" or "my" instead of "we." Victory has given Obama the same rhetorical tic.

High up there in his message: The amazing power of Barack Obama. He referred to himself in the third person: "They say Obama, he's a hopemonger." Early in the speech he brought some volunteers onstage and told the crowd that their job was to drive them to the polls and his job was creating voters for them to transport. So: "I am going to try to be so persuasive that a light bulb goes off in your head, you're driving back from this, and you think 'I must vote for Obama.'" He hyped the Iowa victory repeatedly as proof that the people who said "I was being naive" or "I couldn't win" just eat heaping bowls of shit. (Some attendees I talked to after the speech said Iowa's results wouldn't influence their vote; they were deciding between Clinton and Obama.)

The crowd seemed attentive but not thrilled. Lines that had drawn manic applause last night sort of rolled out there, except for a riff about "closing down Gitmo and restoring habeas corpus" and one about saving the polar ice caps: Those were the only bits that got the whole crowd of a few thousand people cheering. Also, I don't know how much I'd prioritize this skill, but Obama's attacks on his rivals were perfectly composed: Subtle enough to nod some heads in the stands, but not cutting enough to alienate the independents. Voting for Clinton would be a "gamble" because "the same old crowd" would make the same mistakes. We need to protect our kids from poisoned Chinese toys but we should have done it "four, or eight, or 12 years ago." Message: Clinton's husband poisoned your children.

Obama bothered less with Edwards, though it's news he gave him any attention at all. He smacked the candidate stuck solidly in third place for making such angry appeals and then tried to steal Edwards' "ahhh fought when my daddy worked in the mills" rhetoric: "I fought on the streets, I fought as a civil rights lawyer."

There were whopping big media folks in the crowd–E.J. Dionne, Maureen Dowd, CBS's Bob Schieffer–but my favorite fellow travellers were a couple cameramen from a local news station. They sneered up at the risers where other cameramen had already gotten the good spots, including two tykes in red shirts reporting for Scholastic News. "This is the thing that kills me," one said, "wasting space on these cameras for that Nickelodian shit."