If I do write about a serious topic, it usually involves something that the Tribune reported about since I am passionate about my job. But since none of those things involve Washington, D.C. politics (as the word is defined by most major news outlets), I stay away from the topic.
But this week was different. In the course of my job, I went to the home of a Spanish Springs resident to watch Sen. Barack Obama accept the Democratic party’s nomination for president. It may be un-American of me to have been so oblivious to the presidential races up to this point, but before that night I had never listened to an entire speech by any candidate. Not a single one. In fact, most of the comments I have heard from any of the candidates over the last year-plus have been courtesy of John Stewart or Stephen Colbert, followed immediately by a joke. On second thought, I did once listen to an entire speech by Mitt Romney (was he a real candidate, anyway?) at John Ascuaga’s Nugget a few months back, but even then I was too busy reporting to form an opinion about him.
I figured that Thursday night would be much the same: I would take notes so I’d have adequate information for my story, I’d get quotes from the locals watching his speech, I’d write my story and forget it ever happened. Just a few short minutes into Obama’s speech, I found myself actually paying attention. More than paying attention; I was captivated. The Illinois senator’s calm, confident demeanor and deep voice truly command the air around him and you feel your own head unconsciously turn toward him like a radar that has found its desired signal. Before this week, the name Obama had only captured my eye when I saw it proudly displayed on a T-shirt that was amply filled out by a curvy young woman. This week though, I got a glimpse of what was underneath the name on that T-shirt — metaphorically, that is.
It wasn’t just Obama’s aura that impressed me. If his words had been hollow I would have written him off as nothing more than a slick politician, and many will still say that is exactly what he is. Naturally, if I didn’t agree with his position on the war in Iraq, on changing the tax code or on social issues, I would not be nearly as impressed with his oratory skills. But as I listened to how he wove his own story and experiences with his thoughts on how to lead the country, I felt an emotional connection to his words. Hard work and responsibility were two of the ideals that I felt we shared in common. When he said, “This election is about you,” I felt like he was talking to me. And when he said, “All across America, something is stirring,” I knew that something has a lot to do with him.
History is full of charismatic leaders who do amazing things from a podium. Some of them were good, some of them were bad. In Obama’s case, the parallels to Martin Luther King, Jr. and John F. Kennedy have been tossed around — particularly the former since he accepted the nomination on the anniversary of King’s historic “I Have a Dream” speech.
However, since I am not completely starry-eyed, my brain also flashed images of Hitler and Stalin when I thought of leaders who rose up to lead in a time when their people desired change. I don’t have to reason to think Obama will become a murderous dictator, but his ability to move people with his words made me appreciate in modern terms how speech can convince throngs of people to do irrational things.
The huge crowd in Denver and the small crowd in Spanish Springs did not begin burning books or giving funny salutes, so I felt pretty safe. But I did stop myself to ask if I was moved by his personal story or if I could actually see this man leading the most powerful nation the planet has ever known.
That’s when I compared him to myself. Now, my parents worked hard and took care of me, but I didn’t grow up with a single mother who worked herself into the ground to send me to school and I certainly will never know what it’s like to be black in America. But he is seeking a job in which he has just enough experience to be considered a legitimate candidate while carrying the confidence and temperament (his words, not mine) to stand up with other leaders and for what he believes is best for his organization, which just happens to be the American people. The scenario kind of sounds like me when I came to the Sparks Tribune. I had never run a newspaper before, except in college, and at just 30 years old I had just enough life experience to be dangerous if given a staff of reporters, a printing press and a Web site.
Coming in, I knew that I could do a good job for our little segment of the reading public. I know I have a lot to learn, but in my year here I have learned a lot and made a lot of improvements and since somebody gave me a shot to prove myself, I feel like I can do the same for Obama.
That’s not to say I’d vote for John McCain if Obama were not the Democratic candidate. For the most part I believe we vote for a party, not a person, and since I am certainly not a Republican, I’d be voting for Hillary Clinton or Bill Richardson or whatever other bearer of the donkey had survived to make it to the podium on Thursday. That’s not to say I won’t be listening to the GOP candidate’s acceptance speech next week, but not even a pretty girl in a form-fitting McCain T-shirt would make me change my mind.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I think I am going to go buy a copy of Obama’s book.
Nathan Orme is the editor of the Sparks Tribune. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.