WORLD

THE EXCITEMENT AROUND OBAMA HAS JFK WRITTEN ALL OVER IT

January 21 2008
WORLD

THE EXCITEMENT AROUND OBAMA HAS JFK WRITTEN ALL OVER IT

January 21 2008

THE EXCITEMENT AROUND OBAMA HAS JFK WRITTEN ALL OVER IT

LOVE WAS IN THE AIR the day before as well, when more than 3,000 people filled two gymnasiums—one of them for the overflow crowdin the city of Nashua to hear Obama. The line outside stretched for a mile, and people kept coming. “I’m inspired by him. I think he’ll make a wonderful president,” said Mark Spisto, 46, a psychologist who drove from Sterling, Mass., so his 14-year-old son, Jim, might see history in the making. “He’s less polarizing. I hope he can bring the country together in a forward direction.”

The overflow gym was full of mostly white people in their 20s and 30s, sitting crosslegged on the floor while listening to Obama’s disembodied voice wafting over them like a call to prayer. Linda Pugliano, 49, a nurse from Nashua and a registered independent, said she was won over by Obama when she heard his groundbreaking speech at the 2004 Democratic convention. “That was like watching history. I turned to my husband and said, ‘Oh my. This guy is going to be next.’ ” Pugliano

said she’s had enough of the Bush and Clinton dynasties. “They’re not the Roosevelts,” she huffed. And then she said what so many Obama supporters say: they want him to be the face of America. (It is left unsaid whether by that they mean a multi-ethnic face, a young face, an optimistic face, one open to dialogue and negotiation as Obama stresses he is—or all of the above.) “The country needs someone they can believe in, follow and respect,” Pugliano said. “Someone they can be proud of on the international stage.”

Elizabeth Libby, 43, a Nashua homemaker, said she was undecided. “Part of my reservation is that he is young and doesn’t have a lot of experience. I’m hoping he’ll change my mind.” Before the end of the speech, she was squatting on the ground, filling out an Obama supporter card. After the candidates’ debate later that night, she confirmed she’d be voting for him. Libby’s daughter, Bailey, who will turn 18 in time to vote in November’s presidential election, had reached that deci-

sion much earlier—she was an Obamaite from the beginning. “As cool as it would be to have a woman president, I’m not going to vote for her just because she’s a woman,” she said of Clinton. “I think that’s a terrible reason to vote for someone.”

“Obama is like John Kennedy in the excitement he’s raised,” said undecided voter Paul Sandin, a 48-year-old robot designer from Brookline, less than 20 km west of Nashua. “My reservation is that in the general election, he won’t get enough support because of his race. And I really don’t want a Republican in the White House.” But Sandin was worried that Clinton is too loathed by Republicans to get elected, or get anything done. “I don’t see how she could bring the country together if half the country hates her. I don’t think they hate Obama the way they hate Hillary.” (Sandin would later vote for Obama.)

It took an hour for the crush of people to leave the Nashua parking lot, the candidate included. With his wife, Michelle, campaign-

ing for him elsewhere in the state, and his two daughters, Malia and Sasha, being cared for by their maternal grandparents back home in Chicago—he called them every day and sometimes got a video hook-up—Obama waited inside his campaign bus, making calls to his supporters, hitting donors up for money, and watching football on the TV.

OBAMA WRAPPED UP every speech with a discourse on his campaign theme of “hope” and “change.” It was something Clinton took aim at, after Obama’s upset victory in the Iowa caucuses on Jan. 3 torpedoed her longtime national front-runner status and damaged her presidential hopes. She seemed shocked, and with only five days between Iowa and New Hampshire, grasped for ways to shut Obama down.

At ajan. 5 candidates’ debate at a college in Manchester, Clinton turned on her main rival. In stark contrast to Obama’s theme of “change,” Clinton was running as the candi-

date of “experience.” She had paid her dues for 35 years, learning the presidency through osmosis and backroom influence, and she was the candidate whose detailed policy positions left not one question unanswered, not one American uncovered by health insurance. And so she made her play: of course voters wanted “change,” but who had the experience to bring it about? She did. And then it tumbled out: “We don’t need to be raising the false hopes of our country about what can be delivered.”

She used the line on the hustings, too. “We can’t have false hopes,” she said. “We’ve got to have a person who can walk into that Oval Office on day one and start doing the hard work that it takes to deliver change.” Her words would haunt her, because elections are about raising hopes. That was a lesson Kim Campbell learned in 1993 when the then-Progressive Conservative leader launched her federal election campaign with the prediction that Canada’s then double-digit unemploy-

ment rates wouldn’t come down until the end of the century, while refusing to raise hopes by setting job creation targets. Campbell lost badly.

As seemed to be Clinton’s fate, when polls showed Obama climbing into a solid lead. But her point seemed to have made some voters think twice. “I just feel she has more experience than Obama,” said Ann Hagerstrom, 57, a special education assistant attending a Clinton rally. “I think he’s a good speaker, but I don’t think he has enough experience.”

AT THE LEBANON RALLY, Obama pounces on Clinton’s statements. “Oh, he’s talking about hope again, he is no naive? he says self-mockingly. “His head is in the clouds. He’s a hope-monger.” He flashes a wide grin. “We saw it two days ago in the debate,” he says. “My opponent said, stop giving people false hopes about what we can accomplish.” And then he moves in for the kill. “False hopes? There is no such thing. This country was built

on hope. Is JFK looking up at the moon saying, ‘Eh... too far. Reality check. Can’t do it.’ Is Dr. King standing on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial looking across that magnificent crowd, ‘Sorry guys, false hope, the dream will die, it can’t be done.’ False hope? We don’t need leaders to tell us what we can’t do. We need those who can inspire us to do, say yes we can!”

By the end of that speech he is thundering about keeping the dream alive, fixing America, repairing the world—and the crowd is on its feet, shouting, clapping, hooting. Someone holds up a sign that says, “Hope. It’s okay.”

At this point, Elena Milius, the undecided student, is clapping enthusiastically. The next day, she will vote for Obama. “He talked about restoring America because it can’t be divided anymore,” she later explains. “He’s talking about really waking people up, and he’s getting people excited.”

Clinton’s New Hampshire appearances

could not have been more different from Obama’s. When she finally arrived, iVi hours late, to a rally of about 1,000 in Hampton on Sunday, she took to the stage in a tangerine sweater and a black blazer. With daughter Chelsea in tow—her childhood curls replaced by long shiny blond waves—Clinton took a few jabs at Obama. “I think the debate was the defining moment of the election,” she said. “It clarified that this is about the difference between rhetoric and reality. I also know that wishing doesn’t make it so. There is a difference between hoping for change and demanding change.” And change, she said, was about “the plans and goals you present that are rooted in your experiences.”

Then she plunged into questions and answers for the rest of the evening, getting into the nitty-gritty details of policies ranging from health care to mortgages to renewable energy to reforming the United Nations. Asked if she was having fun, she rambled for a while before

landing on her answer: “It’s fun to be in a position to perhaps make history and pave the way for so many women and girls.”

Her audience bought into the message. “I think she’s got the experience we need right now,” said Ann Hagerstrom’s husband, John, 58, a market researcher and also a Clinton supporter. “I like Obama too, but I just think he’s making his bid four or eight years too early.” Sebastian Mardi, a 21-year-old student from the Université de Sherbrooke, drove five hours with a friend to hoist a “Quebec for Hillary” sign. “The guy at the border told me, ‘You know you can’t vote in the U.S.’ I said, ‘Yes, we know that, but we are interested—it has an influence on the whole world.’ It’s my first time seeing her. I’m so excited. It’s one of the best days of my life.”

But Clinton was further turning up the heat, even targeting Obama’s King and Kennedy analogies. “I would point to the fact that Dr. King’s dream began to be realized when Pres-

ident Johnson passed the Civil Rights Act of 1964, when he was able to get through Congress something that President Kennedy was hopeful to do,” she told Fox News the night before the primary vote. Her point, ostensibly, was that it wasn’t the inspiring pretty boy who got the real work done, although what came across in the media hubbub was that she was slighting King and Kennedy. Still, at least she was fighting—while Obama appeared determined to take the high road.

AFTER OBAMA’S campaign bus leaves Lebanon, the sun begins to turn the sky beyond the undulating mountains yellow. Reporters pass around laptops showing Web video of Clinton tearing up during a campaign stop. The Drudge Report headline screams, “Hillary gets emotional.” On the Obama press bus, reporters debate whether the tears were manufactured to send the message that Clinton has emotions. Will they help her, or hurt

her? (The next day, she will tell a CNN interviewer that “I actually have emotions. I know there are some people who doubt that.” Her rival, John Edwards, will pounce on the opportunity and suggest that a weepy little girl might not be up for the job. “I think what we need in a commander-in-chief is strength and resolve, and presidential campaigns are tough business, but being president of the United States is also tough business,” he tells reporters.)

Thirty-five kilometres out of Lebanon, Obama’s campaign motorcade pulls over at

___ TEARING liP EPISODE

Jack’s coffee house in New London. Obama gets out for a meet-and-greet. There are more reporters than patrons at the establishment, all jostling for a spot within earshot. Obama orders a cookie at the counter. “Do you have oatmeal raisin?” he asked. Oatmeal raisin is repeated through the press throng and duly noted in several dozen notebooks. Obama pulls out his wallet and pays for the cookie and a tea with honey and lemon. Then he buys cookies and a box of cupcakes for the press corps, and starts pressing the flesh. Two blond preteen girls shriek when he turns to them, the way they might have, once upon a time, for Britney Spears. They are wearing basketball T-shirts, and he quizzes them on their teams, suggesting they talk to his personal aide, Reggie Love, who used to play for Duke University.

One reporter gives him the chance to kick Clinton, shouting out a question about her tears. Obama sidesteps. He didn’t see the

Then he reflects on what a “grind”’ the campaign is, and concludes that the incident is something he prefers not to comment on.

Back on the press bus, reporters grumble about the campaign crowds, the lack of space at the Lebanon event, the difficulty of getting a clear shot or audio. “New Hampshire is too small for Obama,” says one, only half in jest. “He needs to go to Texas.” The motorcade rumbles on. Still more campaigning before the next day’s final stop: an election night party at a Nashua high school. Then on to fundraisers in New York, Boston, and more contests in Nevada, South Carolina and Florida, followed by Super Duper Tuesday on Feb. 5 in which more than 20 states will vote.

Other reporters struggle with writing about Obama’s high-minded speeches. “Is hope an emotion?” asks one reporter. “I don’t think so,” says another. “It’s an idea.” One that has blown wide open a race that just a few months ago seemed locked up. M