Obama's stump speech, unsurprisingly, is the same in Virginia as it was when I saw him in Iowa, with a few tweaks that I'll discuss later. The speech is great because he hits all the major issues most Americans are concerned about — health care, energy and the environment, poverty, and of course, the dumb war in Iraq (taking his word from his excellent 2002 speech). He has incorporated a couple of personal experiences from the campaign trail, including a day he spent working with a social worker in Oakland, and he ends the speech with a story about a trip to a tiny town in South Carolina. In order to get the endorsement of a S.C. state legislator, the story goes, he promised to visit her hometown. He gets up at 6 a.m. on a rainy day, opens the NY Times to find a bad story about himself on the front page, then goes outside and gets soaked when his umbrella opens in the wrong direction. He rides an hour and a half to this puny out-of-the-way place, where only 20 people are gathered. He meets all of them but notices that the rain has affected their moods, too. He starts talking when he's interrupted by a short, elderly woman with a powerful voice. "FIRED UP!" she says, and the crowd answers. He turns his head and sees her standing on stage, behind him. "READY TO GO!" she continues. The crowd answers again. She repeats, and soon he finds himself joining in. This is how Obama ends his own stump speech — "Fired up!" "Ready to go!" with the crowd answering. After a few of these, he concludes, "Let's go change the world." However many times I hear it, I still get chills.
The tweaks to his speech include a couple of jabs at Hillary. He never names her specifically, but he talks about opponents who say they know how to work the system. Obama says it's the system that needs changing because it's not working for Americans. The other jab goes to Hillary's political calculations. Obama says that as president, he'll tell Americans what they need to hear — the truth — not what he thinks they want to hear. That's a shot at both Bill and Hillary, who've made their livings telling people what they want to hear — whatever statements the polling data support.
The Daily Progress reports that more than 4,250 people turned out in Charlottesville to see Obama, which is 1,250 more than Clinton drew a few weeks ago in the same city. (It's also pretty good, considering that most of us paid $15 per ticket.) Many of the attendees were UVA students, which was evident because some of the largest cheers came when Obama said he would address the problem of HIV/AIDS and the crisis in Darfur. Few presidential candidates would mention those issues in rural areas but college students clearly care about them.
After the event, I ran into Dahlia Lithwick, a senior editor for Slate.com, whom I'd met at the Supreme Court Preview at William & Mary last month. We talked briefly about Obama's speech, its length (50 minutes tonight) and the huge number of people who attended the rally. All Supreme Court reporters are cool, but Dahlia especially so.
If you haven't heard Obama's stump speech yourself, go see him. His demeanor, intelligence, biography and his experiences as a community organizer, constitutional law professor, civil rights attorney, state legislator and U.S. Senator make him uniquely qualified to be our next president. He wants to bring hope back. He can write books worth reading. I can't wait to caucus for him on January 3.