I confess, I don't watch many political speeches these days on YouTube. It means sitting, staring at my computer screen for an extra 20 minutes more than I already have to, and while I appreciate the art of good rhetoric, unless it's someone I haven't heard before, I'm not inclined to tune in.
This one, though, is a different kind of speech, and one I found more compelling.
This is Obama addressing his staff, I believe at his campaign headquarters. It's not before 20,000 cheering supporters, but before probably around 100 of his closest staff and workers. I find this one really interesting because he's clearly speaking without notes, without teleprompting, and at least extemporaneously enough that there's a whole lot more "Ummm" and "uhhh" than I'm used to hearing from him. (And in a way, I found it refreshing.) I may be reading too much, but there were some things that came through pretty strikingly.
First thing to note -- while I think the "cult" is unfair by a longshot for the vast majority of Obama's supporters, even his most fervent one, I'll admit that there's a small but noticeable amount of Obama-related messianic nonsense running around. And there are a few phrases here which might prick up the ears of those most inclined to cast that charge, most notably when he talks about "transformation." Now I'll admit I fully buy into the notion that Obama could help significantly transform this country, but at the same time I don't think that's all that unusual an occurrence. Americans have been transforming our country rather radically on a pretty regular basis for the past 232 years, so proposing another round of it isn't a particularly outrageous notion. In fact, I find in this video a very non-messianic Obama, talking much more like a coach after a long practice, or the director of a big theater production after a long opening weekend.
Secondly, Obama's ego shows up in force here in a couple of instances -- you can tell he's only half-joking when he says, "I might have something really inspirational to say" when waiting for the teleconferencing link to be fixed. But his ease with admitting his own mistakes and his own fallibility is refreshing, and his shouldering the need to be a better candidate in the general is the kind of thing that makes me reflexively a little more at ease about his prospects in the fall.
Thirdly, for those who've been worried about whether Obama would get a bit too cozy with Republicans, Lieberman-style, I strongly recommend watching the last quarter of it, in particular where Obama starts to explain why "we have to win now."
And for the final point, I'll make a quick digression about football. My favorite NFL writer, Sports Illustrated's Dr. Z, often talks about how motivational speeches by coaches are overrated. Nothing, he says, inspires teams like feeling like the coach knows what he's doing and is in control, and no amount of ranting or raving can fix that if they start to think he's lost it. I know that feeling just from being in workplaces and hearing CIOs come talk to us about the way things are going. When it's obvious they have no freaking clue what's going on, it's just depressing, and sends you back to your cube with a, "well, I guess I'll just keep doing what I have to and not get fired" feeling. When you hear one who, whether you agree with him or her or not, clearly has control of the organization and a clear understanding of the risks and costs of all the possible courses of action, appreciates the hard work of his or her subordinates, and seem ready to empower you with what you'll need to do your job, it energizes you in a very deep way.
Had I been in that room, working for this campaign, and hearing this speech, I wouldn't have rushed to my computer to gush to my friends at how great Obama was. I wouldn't have gone chest bumping (literally or figuratively) in excitement over how pumped up I was to be working there. And I wouldn't have sat there dreaming of a happy fantasy land the messiah will lead us all too. I probably would have done something akin to standing up and clapping at the end, then returning to my cube, and firing off a message to my boss saying, "is there a brick wall you need me to walk through?"
Obama wasn't my first choice for the Presidency, and if we had to do it over again I'd still probably start out preferring Mark Warner or perhaps a few others. That said, I'm happier about our nominee than I've been in a long, long time. (perhaps in my lifetime -- I'll have to think about that.)