LEESBURG, VIRGINIA—We’re in the waiting line for the messiah and I just want to scream. Nothing too loud or profane, just one small expulsion of one small word: “bomb.”
Don’t you dare shake your finger at me though, because it’s not a lack of self-preservation that seized the very core of my soul, just the momentary spirit of the devil possessing most boys under the age of forty-five. You know, the spirit that drives small groups of dirty-fingered tousleheads to take turns whispering a forbidden word back and forth in a restaurant. The one driving the volume up with each exchange until the final superman of six-year olds screams the taboo, shattering the curse and any remaining propriety; that’s the devil I’m talking about. Waiting in line to see Obama yesterday afternoon, I just want to play that game one more time.
Unfortunately I have a few smart friends.
While screaming “bomb!” near members of the Secret Service may be a questionable idea, attending a Democratic rally as a semi-Republican might be just as dangerous. Oh, I’m not singling out the party of JFK—I’d have the same fears as a Democrat making my way into the nearest McCain/Palin shout-athon. Mixing politics and people in large quantities rarely ends well, especially when they’re more interested in swallowing rhetoric than analyzing fact.
When it comes to mixing bowls, Ida Lee Park in Leesburg, Virginia is not the likeliest venue to host the most charismatic political candidate since Willie Stark. But what the spreading farmland and crisp Virginia tree-line didn’t do in the way of efficiency and accommodation for the multitude, it made up for in late afternoon peace and beauty. Obama came for the battle-ground electoral votes; the people came to see history.
“Mom, I’ve got homework to do,” the brown-headed boy standing in front of me in the long, snaking line kept complaining. “Is this really so important?”
“When you’re old you can say you saw history,” his mother said, helping him slide on an over-sized Obama T-shirt. “You can say that you saw Barack.”
It’s too easy to make Jesus jokes when you’re standing in a field with 35,000 people waiting on the arrival of the man whose name is “like a revival,” and when the pastor from the nearby Loudoun Bible Church started praying for, “the Messenger”—it didn’t make any better. But before “that one” could take the stage, this line had to snake past a small white haired woman who had quietly set herself up five feet from the passing line, armed only with a chair and a poster board. She didn’t say anything, but the mother in the front of me covered her son’s eyes and passed on a warning that would be echoed over and over again to the children, “Don’t look at that.”
There were only two pictures on each side of the board, one healthy baby and one aborted fetus, headlined only by the words, “Choose Life.” You could stop and ask the woman why she was opposing Obama and she’d rattle into a litany of offenses committed by the two members of the Democratic ticket, but for the thousands of people passing by, the rubberstamp response was, “Don’t look at that.”
Abortion is one issue on which Obama’s record is hardly middle of the road, but I wasn’t there to drop argumentative bombs—just to watch and observe. So when the black Suburbans started rolling in and the gushing women standing in front of Mr. “Trekkies for Obama” asked, “Wouldn’t it be awesome if he rode in on a hybrid?” I just smiled and nodded.
But then the moment came, Governor Tim Kaine introduced the man who, “calls us to be our best,” U2’s “City of Blinding Lights” kicked in, and the crowd erupted as that familiar easy grin climbed up onto the stage. “I feel we’ve got a righteous wind at our backs,” Obama said, and my eardrums shattered with the crowds agreement.
So much has been made of the Obama experience, the crowds, the emotion, the rhetoric, but just like our recent McCain/Palin rally, nothing arched too high. Everything felt a little stale and whenever the chants started to really get going, Obama would quickly regain control and move onto his next talking point. “The Republicans call me socialistic, but McCain opposed Bush’s tax cuts in 2000 because he said it was irresponsible and hurt the middle class,” he said. “McCain was right then, but I’m right now. I want to build America from the bottom up.”
The economy dominated the speech. Obama avoided any real discussion of foreign policy and stuck instead with reassuring the gathered Virginians. A follow-up economic incentive plan, a moratorium on foreclosures, free education for anyone who serves the country in any way—promises rolled smoothly off the stage. “He tossed out promises like candy at a fiesta,” said one of my rally-watching companions. “He didn’t explain at all how he’s going to pay for that.”
The white-haired women with the placard wouldn’t face any opposition from this stump speech: Obama also tiptoed widely around any reference to abortion. No one would have to think about that issue today as Obama wrapped up with his patented call to “belief.” Judging the smiling people stream through downtown Leesburg afterwards, more than a few answered the challenge.
But not everyone was completely won over. Danny Blackwell is the voter that the strategists want listening to the speeches. While leaning toward McCain, he is “still struggling between the two,” Blackwell is a fantasy draft pick of demographics. He’s black, his gorgeous wife Shanna is white, and both are Christians. They’re the type of couple that makes pollsters salivate, but when Blackwell walked away from the rally, it wasn’t into a blue pasture.
“I wasn’t impressed by his speech,” said Blackwell, citing differences on abortion and the role of government in society. “I wasn’t convinced that I was supporting him for his views as much as I was just drawn by his overall presence.”
But Blackwell isn’t part of an overwhelming majority as Obama’s message has found more than a few willing ears within Christendom. When Jonathan Jameson isn’t performing on Conan or taking the stage at Austin City Limits with his band Delta Spirit, the bright eyed bass player doesn’t mind discussing theology and politics. It’s the type of friendly interchange over a difference that’s driven a few of our conversations in the last months. Jameson supports Obama, but is quick to note that he doesn’t believe that the senator from Illinois holds any type of magic key to salvation or Utopia.
Either over chili dogs or text messages, our conversation always seems to end up on Obama’s stance on abortion. A few days ago I sent Jameson a link to Princeton’s Robert George and his heavily researched report on Obama’s record on the subject.
“Very factual and saddening,” Jameson texted back. “It still didn’t convince me that McCain would do any better to create a culture that respects life.”
And there’s something about Jameson’s problem with McCain that rings true in this election year. While much of America seems unwilling to look at the cold hard facts of Obama’s record, McCain has provided little else to capture the imagination of a cynical and tired nation. There is little vision for actual change and even less separation of policies. Thanks to aggressive pandering, few people can see what actually separates the two. Obama is using the failing economy like the Republicans have used the threat of terrorism in the last seven years—as a universal catch-all against any type of negative argument.
Combating that strategy has been made almost impossible with the Republicans far too willing to go along with astronomical increases in government spending and control. Charges of socialism don’t stick when you’re voting for almost the same plan. There may be parts of Obama’s platform and past that voters don’t want to look at, but unless McCain gives them something better to see in the next few days, even a mischief minded fool screaming “bomb” won’t disrupt the party in Chicago on election night.
Nathan Martin is Patrol’s Washington, D.C. music editor and an intern for the Washington Post Express.
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