Columbus, Saturday, Feb. 23 (noon): I join up with the traveling press corps for Sen. Barack Obama’s presidential campaign. It increasingly looks like Ohio’s March 4 primary will be the final battleground between him and Sen. Hillary Clinton. That battleground is cold, flat, and white. How white? On the taxi ride over to my first Obama event, I passed a Wonder Bread factory with a big sign hovering above the highway.
The event is a health care forum in a hospital. In hawking his own reforms, Obama throws a jab at Clinton. “Senator Clinton and I both have good plans,” he allows. “But Sen. Clinton had good plans back in 1993.” The panel is obviously stacked in his favor. There are only a handful of “real” people — hospital employees — in the audience. Otherwise, the event is completely staged for the press to show how thoughtful he is about health care.
“Was that out of the Karl Rove playbook?” asks one cameraman.
Akron (mid-afternoon): Obama has his stump speech down cold for this excited audience. He gets his lines off crisply and handles a mic snafu with ease. He throws in the occasional line about respecting Republicans but it’s clear he respects them in the same way that the Federation respects the Romulans: worthy adversaries and we can learn from them, certainly, but they must lose for the good of the universe. Obama strikes economic populist notes repeatedly. He aims to make Clinton suffer for her one-time support of NAFTA.
Cleveland (evening): There is big turnout at the Cleveland event. The Obama staff claim 6,000. Obama takes the stage and tells the crowd to “Give it up for SEIU” — the Service Employees International Union. “They came in tonight, three hundred strong. We got great support from the Teamsters and from transportations workers and the Change to Win Coalition. So I want to say hello to all of my brothers and sisters in the labor movement.
“It has been a year since I stood on the steps of the old state capitol. I stood there and I announced this unlikely journey to change America. So people said, ‘Barack, why are you running? Barack, you are a relatively young man? You can wait.’ Well, I am not running because I’ve held some ambition since kindergarten. I am not running because I think the White House is somehow owed to me. I am running because of the fierce urgency of now. I believe there is such a thing as being too late and that hour is almost upon us.”
He is amazingly casual when he talks. It is not just his habit of putting his hands in his pockets. It is the way he pauses when he takes a sip of water. It is in the way he stalks around the stage like Chris Rock, constantly shifting his focus to a different section of the audience so that each has a moment when he is looking at them. His voice rises but he never gets emotional.
Lorain, Sunday, Feb. 24 (mid-morning): We pull into a drywall factory in this blue collar town. Inside the warehouse, it is cold like a meat locker. A small event is staged for about three dozen hard-hat wearing employees and their families.
These are Reagan Democrats. Most are members of the International Brotherhood of Boilermakers. One man brought along his son, a national guardsman set to ship out to Iraq later this year. Obama stresses his economic populism in his remarks, hitting Clinton over and over again on NAFTA. The employees are not that impressed. One tells me afterward that they wanted to know what he was going to do to end the housing slump, a much more direct concern for their company.
Toledo, (afternoon): “Holy Toledo!” says Obama when he takes the stage at Toledo University and looks out on about 10,000 people. He telegraphs for this crowd how he will run against John McCain, if given the opportunity. He will run against George W. Bush. “I opposed this war in 2002. I will bring this war to an end in 2009,” he says. “John McCain is a genuine American hero but John McCain has tied himself to the failed politics of the Bush administration.”
I watch all of this from the luxury booth high above the event while eating a chicken breast stuffed with cranberry dressing. It’s part of the dinner spread the campaign put out for reporters. The Obama campaign keeps the press shut off from the candidate, mostly. He travels separately from the reporters. We watch his speeches and wait for the occasional press availability. There is virtually no chance to talk to the candidate otherwise. I never hear any reporter complain about this, maybe because the food is good.
I venture out into the audience to talk with fans. Alisha Hale, a high school student, is particularly fired up. “He is so amazing I don’t even know what to do with myself. It was beyond inspirational for me,” Hale says. “I think that we need somebody in this country to bring about the changes that he is promising, who can unify people.”
Cincinnati (evening): It is Oscar night and the Obama campaign has rented out a suite in the hotel for the press to watch the show. Several bottles of champagne are opened as well and the reporters and the campaign’s media team drain them all. Chief strategist Dave Axelrod settles in to join us. I come in fifth in the Oscar pool. I was certain There Will Be Blood would sweep.
Cincinnati, Monday, Feb. 25 (morning): The big news of the day is a photo on Drudge supposedly being circulated by the Clinton camp. It shows Obama in 2006 during a trip to Somalia wearing a turban and other local garb. The Clinton folks don’t specifically deny that a person in their camp tipped off Drudge. Spokesman David Plouffe issues an outraged press release while the campaign heads to health care forum at a local museum.
Obama surprises by talking about the long-term financial dire straights that Social Security is in. He notes that the program’s pay-as-you-go nature will be a problem when the Baby Boomers start to retire. When Bush pushed for reform in 2005 most Democrats denied that the program was in any trouble.
A man of faith in a godless age is hitting Americans where it hurts.
Mr. and Mrs. American Spectator Reader, let P.J. O’Rourke talk sense to your kids.
In Britain, defending your property can get you life.
The debacle of this president’s administration is both a cause and a symptom of the decline of American values. Unless Congress impeaches him, that decline will go on unchecked. An eminent jurist surveys the damage and assesses the chances for the recovery of our culture.
It won’t take long for conservatives to scratch this presidential wannabe off their 2008 scorecard.
The American Christmas, like the songs that celebrate it, makes room for everybody under the rainbow. Is that why so many people seem to be hostile to it?
Was the President done in by the economy, or by the politics of the economy?
H/T to National Review Online