The Audacity of Barack Obama
By: Roger Simon
February 11, 2007 10:09 PM EST
SPRINGFIELD, Ill. – – The very audacity of it, the very unlikelihood of a black man becoming president of the United States is now the driving force of Barack Obama’s campaign.
In an announcement speech Saturday of soaring rhetoric, on a bitterly cold day, to a large and shivering crowd, Barack Obama called what he was doing an “improbable quest.”
“If you will join me in this improbable quest, if you feel destiny calling, and see as I see, a future of endless possibility stretching before us; if you sense, as I sense, that the time is now to shake off our slumber, and slough off our fear, and make good on the debt we owe past and future generations, then I’m ready to take up the cause, and march with you, and work with you,” he said.
“Together, starting today, let us finish the work that needs to be done, and usher in a new birth of freedom on this Earth.”
Which is pretty audacious talk. But it was also pretty audacious to announce in Springfield, home of Abraham Lincoln, and in the shadow of the Old State Capitol, where Lincoln gave his “House Divided” speech in opposition to slavery.
Obama addressed it directly, again stressing the difficulty of what he was attempting:
“For that is our unyielding faith — that in the face of impossible odds, people who love their country can change it. That’s what Abraham Lincoln understood,” Obama said.
And what will it take for Obama actually to be elected?
Decency, he said. The decency that is America.
“It was here, in Springfield, where North, South, East and West come together that I was reminded of the essential decency of the American people, where I came to believe that through this decency, we can build a more hopeful America,” he said. “And that is why, in the shadow of the Old State Capitol, where Lincoln once called on a divided house to stand together, where common hopes and common dreams still, I stand before you today to announce my candidacy for president of the United States.”
Announcement speeches are designed not just to generate support, not just to allow the candidate to slap himself on the back with both hands but also to address critics.
Think Obama has not had enough national experience? Try this:
“I recognize there is a certain presumptuousness — a certain audacity — to this announcement,” Obama said. “I know I haven’t spent a lot of time learning the ways of Washington. But I’ve been there long enough to know that the ways of Washington must change.”
Take that, Hillary Clinton! Take that, John Edwards! And Chris Dodd! And Joe Biden!
And to those who are spreading rumors that because his middle name is Hussein he is a Muslim, Obama carefully pointed out that when working in the poor neighborhoods of Chicago, “I learned the true meaning of my Christian faith.”
The press came in for its comeuppance, too. Obama criticized “the smallness of our politics — the ease with which we’re distracted by the petty and trivial.”
In his interview with me on Wednesday, Obama said the media’s obsession with the trivial is one of his problems. People say he does not give specifics? he said. That is because the press does not concentrate on his specifics.
“We’ve given major speeches on just about every issue,” he said. “So the key for us, I think, is just making sure that we are getting the press to focus attention on that agenda as opposed to, you know, obsessing on how I look in my swimming trunks.”