Monday, November 3, 2008

The day before the election, I'm listening to NPR's coverage on Talk of the Nation of people waiting in line to vote early. (The first guy they interviewed said he'd brought along a book to read while he waiting in line more than three hours: Neil Gaiman's Graveyard Book. A comment that elicited host Neal Conan's response that he loves Gaiman's writing, too.)

My mind goes back to the long wait in line (in chilly weather, especially compared to what those folks today are doing) to get through the doors for a Wisconsin pre-primary rally for Obama on February 15. I'd recently decided to back Obama based on his specifics about a "Credit Card Bill of Rights" -- at a time when people were already saying he was a great speaker but didn't provide information on what he'd do that would affect voters. You can Google "Obama" and "Credit Card Bill of Rights," just as I did, and get such specifics as that it would prohibit charging interest on credit-card fees. And that interest rate increases would only apply to future debt.

So I waited in the cold with a slew of others. It was a Friday, so the audience skewed to college students and retirees, and the auditorium was packed. Thanks to my foresight regarding getting there super-early (sorry, frozen ears!), I found prime seating: three rows up on the bleachers, at the end by which he passed from the curtained area to the podium. I was occasionally off-the-message struck simply by his excellence as a public speaker. If you're considering a career that involves public presentations, he uses a number of devices that work brilliantly with a crowd: perfect, albeit casual posture; splendid timing in holding still enough to make good photos possible; smoothly turning to each quadrant of a surrounding audience without lurching from group to group; mastering a hand-held mike, pulling it closer to his mouth as the crowd noise grew louder so that he didn't wait to make his point but simply upping the volume so he could be heard over the rising decibels. Who was it who suggested the term "Obamariffic" after his 2004 speech at the Democrats' convention? In any case, it's now in common use.

The excellence of his or her public speaking is, of course, no reason to vote for a candidate. But, following the candidates throughout primaries, national conventions, and weeks of The Daily Show and The Colbert Report, I've found no reason to change my primary choice. Thanks to Bob Chapman's Graphitti and Alex Ross for a T-shirt that gets compliments whenever I wear it.

The lines were as long -- but the weather much better -- September 22. That rally, on a Monday, had attendance affected again by the fact that it was a work day. Nevertheless, still fun, still enthusiastic, still well worth attending.
It seems to me something of an irony that, in this high-tech era, most of the volunteer efforts asked of Democrats are traditional activities: (1) make phonecalls, (2) go door-to-door to talk to people, and (3) hold a sort of house party to "sell" friends on the party's messages. Well, I loathe receiving unsolicited phonecalls (and I'm on Wisconsin's "do not call" list), I hate having strangers arriving unannounced on my doorstep, and I'm none too fond of ostensible parties that are in reality excuses to sell me things.
Guess what three things I didn't do for the Democrats.
What I did turn out to be able to do to help was data entry -- compiled from information received in the course of the telephoning. And that, I was pleased to see, included noting when people asked not to be called again.
And there's yet another aspect of the advantages of this Age of the Internet: I took a photo in February in Oshkosh that I'd be glad to provide to the people who probably most want it. Following his speech in Oshkosh, Obama went around the perimeter of the crowd, shaking hands, waving, talking briefly to those in the front rows. And, yes, having a baby pushed into his arms. My bet is -- especially if he's elected tomorrow -- that the parents of that infant would be happy to have a print of this moment for their own memory book. But they don't even know the photo exists.
So, hey, Democrats with babies who went to the Oshkosh event in February: Were you standing in the front row near his entry-and-exit spot? Did you thrust your child into his arms? Would you like a copy of this photo? It can be yours.


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