Crowd was about 16,000-17,000 which to this Canadian, is truly amazing. You saw kids who you would never associate with "Let's go check out the political speech" showing up in droves. Grand Forks must have closed down Friday afternoon, because there were tonnes of people there.
Political parties up here are greying at a tremendous rate because membership doesn't offer anything outside or leadership or candidate votes, which don't happen very often. I'm sure it would be completely ridiculous to believe that the large numbers turning out were all politically driven, but just exposing a wide cross section of the population to political ideas cannot be a bad thing and on that I tip my hat to my American friends. Politics as entertainment works to get the people to engage at a base level at the very least.
The lines to get in were insanely long, but at least moving with decent speed when we arrived. Got into line at 3:12pm (I looked) and I was being handed a hot dog inside at 4:01pm. It was a gorgeous spring day so standing around wasn't a bad thing.
Obama got to go on first at 5:30ish. We were watching from the immediate side (approx at 2:30 if looking from the podium) and after losing my glasses in Toronto at the Grey Cup, there was no way I could focus on the stage players. He was just a small blob at the podium, so while I listened carefully, I mainly scanned the crowd nearby to gauge reactions (and worked on a Sudoku puzzle).
His speaking ability is already well known and I'm not going to repeat others, but his actual speech was a bit of a surprise to me and my group. (Conservatives for the most part.)
One member of my party in particular was pro-Obama on th trip south (she said she didn't like McCain and liked Barrack's inspirational ability) and was looking forward to the speech. To her dismay(?), her mouth repeatedly popped open at some of the lines Obama was using.
His speech was what I would consider strongly leftist. On almost any issue touched upon, foreign policy, the economy, social spending, the lines he used would indicate a leftwing feel. I look forward to going back to the speech online because I believe there wasn't one single area where I could sense Obama reaching out to a conservative ideal on a position. In a red state such as North Dakota, that surprised me. One of the reasons I was looking forward to the speech was because I thought he might roadtest some of the concepts he was going to use in the general against McCain. Got no sense of that while listening.
was there and when he asked me about my thoughts, I told him that it felt like a speech that Canadian NDP leader Jack Layton could have given without anyone batting an eye.
Because they never have a chance of forming government, their rhetorical flourishes and grandiose statements can sometimes work their way into Layton's speeches and I know that most media and many voters tune out the most motherhood stuff coming from him because quite frankly, no one - not even Layton - really ever expects them to form government, so the workability of their positions often isn't considered as much as the value or nobility of the positions. Hence, the NDP have developed a bit of a reputation as being the "conscious of Parliament". Destined to throw out noble goals, but resigned to letting others figure out a way to reach them.
On Friday night, I heard Barrack Obama doing a Jack Layton impression.
His speech was big on flourish and heavy on that whole hope thing, but gruel thin on ever the vaguest idea as to how he would reach them. (Curtis called it "wonkish", but this wonk wonders if he was listening to the same spiel.) His only real tidbit of policy was that he would make tuition more affordable (motherhood idea) but that students might be required to give something back (general sense that funding could be tied to a civic responsibility of some sorts). While that isn't a policy per se, it at least gives a sense of where he might be headed on that portfolio.
Beyond that, I guess you could use his repeat statement on getting troops out of Iraq as a policy, which are more fleshed out on his website (no permanent bases, full withdrawl with 16 months), however he cannot expect voters to discover the nuance online as I would wager that most of the people in that arena had not spent much time on his website.
It was your typical leftist lines on the economy (for example "not just free trade, but fair trade"/anti tax cuts), Bush/Chaney, comparing the 1997 floods of Grand Forks (and the response of the gov't then) to New Orleans and its gov't failures, and a few required lines on Dr. King and what his candidacy (Obama's) means on the anniversary of MLK's death. (I actually enjoyed this last section quite immensely, because Obama didn't get too self-congratulatory and offered up some of King's own words to continue with a message of everyone doing it all together to make the country better.)
Now here's the place where I have to offer what I feel is honest political assessment and not just a right wing/left wing critique:
After watching yesterday's speech, I strongly believe that one of two outcomes will befall Obama.
A) He wins the presidency and disappoints the lion's share of his supporters within his first two years; or
B) He loses to John McCain in November. (the position I have money riding on and a position I'm even more comfortable with today than I was a week ago)
Dealing with A, why do I think he would disappoint?
As I studied the crowd in the arena, you could see that they were sincerely enthused about Obama and were buying in on a strong emotional level.
But the speech itself was primarily motherhood and concepts of hope and improvement with very little substance or policy structure forming underneath those ideas. Because Obama isn't giving people a sense of what he's going to specifically do if he becomes President, all those people lining up behind him are starting to envision their own ideas of what President Obama will be. And the more hope and the more excitement Obama inspires in them, the more ambitious those visions are becoming.
Honestly, from watching and from speaking to a few Obama supporters, I don't believe for one second that Obama can actually match those expectations.
Frankly, no politician could.
Political restraints, institutional restraints, changing world events, even contradictory expectations...All will conspire against him.
The other thing about the excitement and the passions is that I can't help but think that running hot in April isn't as good as running hot in October. I'm really wondering if he can really maintain the build all the way thru the race and the second peak of "Obama-mania" won't be nearly as high as the first. Another Canadian politician Obama is sometimes compared to is Pierre Trudeau, who swept Canada under his spell in 1968 during a period referred to as "Trudeaumania". Thing is, Trudeaumania lasted about 100 days in total from beginning to end (the liberal leadership was in April 68' and the election in June.)
That was also in a time when the news cycle was more drawn out and people didn't have chronic OCD when it comes to politics and entertainment (which are the two twin pillars of Obama's popularity right now).
Can he really carry it all to November? I don't believe he can, which leads us back to....
B) He loses to John McCain in November.
I keep going back to the speech content...There was no outreach whatsoever to a republican-minded voter. Even a moderate one. Pulling out of Iraq, government intervention in the economy, social program expansion... Again, not much to pull in a moderate republican voter except for Bush fatigue.
Sure, Obama is polling strong amongst independents right now, but there are right-leaning independents as well as left-leaning independents. Like my friend on the trip, right now it is easy for Obama to be a popular choice to get behind, because once again, people are projecting a lot of their own hopes onto him at the moment. She was very much stopped in her tracks when she saw him in action.
I'm willing to bet that come the fall, you'll see the independents breaking both ways when how Obama and McCain define themselves becomes better known. Least of all, how the parties define their opponents as well. Obama cannot expect to continue carrying them the way the primaries suggest he might. If he banks on that, I believe it'll be a very bad error.
And by time the fall rolls around, my hunch is that McCain will have put enough distance in between himself and Bush that only the most angry republican voter wouldn't give McCain a fair look unless Obama's material starts moving towards the middle.
Some might say, "Of course, Obama will start moderating after he gets the nomination," but I'm not entirely sure that will be the case, but since this post is too long already, I'll leave Hillary for another post tonight.