Monday, May 12, 2008

"Re-introducing Himself"

Eli Sanders (Slog-The Stranger):
“We are going to bring this election to a close right here in Oregon,” Barack Obama told a huge crowd on the quadrangle at the University of Oregon last night (Friday). It was an echo of something that one of his senior advisers told The Politico just a few days ago, and a signal that the party in Oregon on primary night, May 20, is going to be about a lot more than just another state in this long nomination process.

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The most interesting part of Obama’s speech, I thought, came toward the end. After a lot of lines that I’d heard before, Obama segued into a new re-introduction of himself (or a newish re-introduction; he first rolled out this new section of his stump speech after his win in North Carolina on Tuesday).

Obama was candid about why he’s added these new lines:

I do want to just end by telling you about myself because it appears that the Republicans are intent on making this campaign about me—whether I wear a flag pin, my bowling score, my eating habits, the offensive remarks of a former pastor—that’s what they want to make this campaign about.

And so I want to just close by reminding you of why I do this, and a little bit about myself. I was born to a teenage mother. And my father left when I was two, so I was raised by a single mom and my grandparents. And they came from small towns in Kansas. They grew up during the Great Depression. And they didn’t have much of anything. And when World War II started my grandfather joined the army, and went to Europe and fought in Patton’s army, and my grandmother stayed back working on a bomber assembly line while she also looked after the new baby they had had…

You can see where this is going. This is an American story, a white story (in that it only explores the white side of Obama’s family tree), the most America-centric re-telling of Obama’s family history that he’s done to this date.

…And when my grandfather came back, his government, the United States government, said, ‘You know, it makes sense for us to invest in young men like this who fought for us. And make sure that not only are we allowing them to succeed but also that we’re creating a middle class that will lift up the whole country. And so he was able to get a college education on a GI Bill.

And then that same government said, ‘You know what, it’d be smart if we could set up a loan program so that young families like theirs, they can buy a home, because that will be good for everybody, it’ll lift up the whole country.’ And so they bought their home with the help of a VHA loan. And then, when my mother got older, she was able to get a college scholarship even though they weren’t wealthy. And even though I was being raised by a single mom, and even though we sometimes had to be on food stamps to make ends meet, she was ultimately able to send my sister and me to the best schools in the world.

Message: Obama is also the grateful product of well-meaning investments made by his country decades ago. He then told of his wife’s similar story, and then he said:

Here’s the thing. When people ask me about my patriotism, when they ask me why I’m doing this, I try to explain to them, I’m doing it because that story’s not just my story, it’s your story. It’s the American story. It’s that idea that each generation successively is able to work a little bit harder, work a little bit better, to make life better for the next generation and the government is a partner in this process.

The crowd was exploding with cheers by this point.

That’s why I love this country. That’s why you love this country. Because if you really try you can make it in this country, and that’s the American dream that we are gonna preserve for the next generation. But I need your help doing it. And so, let me just end by saying this, Oregon: You can make that choice. But I’m gonna need you to vote for me, and if you do we will win this nomination, we will win this general election, and you and I together will change this country, and we will change the world. Thank you, everybody, God Bless you and God Bless America.

Will this new telling of Obama’s story reach people like the Obama skeptics I met in rural Jackson County on Thursday? Or the guy I met on the plane down to Oregon? We’ll see.

For now, I’m heading back up to Seattle to start (er, keep on) writing. For my full take on the Democratic end game in Oregon see next week’s Stranger. And for all the posts in this series click here.


H/t to Shaun.

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