Remember when the press called Barack Obama a rock star?
Well, after playing second-fiddle to Oprah Winfrey in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina, Obama took center stage at the Gibson Amphitheatre at Universal City last night – and held it like a star, speaking softly at times, then like a practiced, mischievous preacher - ebbing and flowing, building and building like a fresh jazzed rendition of Ravel’s “Bolero,” enticing the crowd of 4,500 mostly young people to jump to their feet too many times to count until the frenzied crescendo – “Our moment is now! Now.”
What the mainstream media won’t tell you is that the whole night started off with a rousing speech from Obama’s LGBT Outreach director.
Off stage the “Voice of God” said, “Please welcome Steve Smith, director of LGBT Outreach for Barack Obama.”
Steve Smith, the openly gay Deputy Political Director for California and Director of LGBT Outreach said:
“We're here to greet a man of the Constitution.
A man who has taught the Constitution -replacing a President who seems to have never read the Constitution.
What grabs me about Barack Obama is that
Barack Obama knows who he is - he's comfortable in his own skin.
He knows what he believes and he knows how to rally America to its best impulses.
He doesn't have to prove he's a man by waging war, when peace is possible.
He knows who he is and how great America can be again, going forward.
If you know who you are, you don't have to triangulate.
Triangulation by too many Democrats got us the war in Iraq under the Bush regime.
Triangulation gave us a foreign policy worthy of Margaret Thatcher.
Triangulation got us “Don’t’ Ask, Don’t Tell” under the administration before BUSH.
Arab speaking volunteers were among the thousands of patriotic gay and lesbian Americans driven from our armed forces by this policy, a creature of Triangulation.
Gays and lesbians are united with America and Barack Obama in wanting to end the war in Iraq.
Gays and lesbians are united with America and Barack Obama in wanting Universal healthcare for all Americans.
Gays and lesbians are with America in demanding a clean and green future under Barack Obama.
Barack Obama can understand the other guy's point of view, without selling out his own principles.
Barack Obama sees and rejects the fear that others use to divide America by race, by religion, by country of national origin, by gender, and by sexual orientation.
Barack Obama casts aside politics as usual, renounces the politics of triangulation and takes us into the future with a politics of soul.
A politics that looks into the heart of America for the best in us, not our darkest spots, but our brightest, our most loving, most thoughtful, most productive.
Triangulation has meant war, discrimination, and a loss of faith in American leaders.
Barack Obama will draw a great circle around the sharp edges of triangulation.
Barack Obama will heal where there was division.
Finally, that's the choice, isn't it - here in California on election day, Feb. 5th:
triangulation that divides and excludes or a circle that embraces and includes.
February 5th, that's OUR day.”
That’s February 5 - Super Tuesday, the day of the really big show-down for those who make it out of Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina. It is likely both Democrats and Republicans will know who their presidential nominee will be after that.
Steve was warmly received. Later he told me:
“It was good that our community got to open the whole show and that with only three political speakers - that someone clearly identified as LGBT was the opening act. Wha was better was that the Senator, once again, put us before the press and 4,500 people and put us at "the table" by talking about us several times [in his remarks]. Empowering for us all.”
Two other political speakers followed Steve - Eric Garcetti, the young President of the Los Angeles City Council, and Steve Westley, former comptroller and candidate for Governor who co-founded E-Bay. Then came entertainment, more speeches, and more entertainment with the Goo Goo Dolls opening for Obama.
Here’s the thing: when each of the speakers hit their mark on-stage – they seemed dwarfed by the amphitheatre, which holds about 6,000. And even with their bass and drums rumbling the rafters and the Goo Goo Dolls’s lead guitar and singer dancing and prancing around – they still seemed small in the cavernous setting.
And then Obama walked out to thunderous applause and to the flashing lights of cell-phone cameras. He walked onto a runway that jutted out into the audience – and suddenly, as he joked around and started his speech, the cavernous theater became intimate. (Jay Leno uses a similar smaller stage for his monologues to create a comedy club intimacy.)
Obama kidded the UCLA students that he wasn’t going to get pulled into a sparing match between UCLA and USC – and then he rattled off a number of other colleges, as different groups yelled their approval.
He also had some fun with his main rival, Sen. Hillary Clinton, joking about how she had done some opposition research into a paper he’d written in kindergarten. "I am going to be releasing those papers now. There's some scandalous stuff in there. I experimented with coloring outside the lines...I pulled on a girl's pony tail once --- and I liked it."
The $25 tickets brought in thousands of young people – turning the fundraiser into a rally, with the added benefit of enlisting volunteers.
He’s got the money for a commercial blitz – but in the ground war to get voters to the polls - It’s all about organization. "This is a movement for change," Obama said. "I appreciate your money but I want your time."
Obama seemed revved up, turning his stump speech about why he is running for president into a “call” to action inspired by the intense need for change from poll and fear-driven “politics as usual.”
“The era of Scooter Libby justice and Brownie incompetence and Karl Rove politics will finally be over next November. We were promised a compassionate conservative and we got Katrina and wiretaps. We were promised a uniter but got a president who couldn't even lead the half of the country that voted for him…I don't want to spend the next four years having the same arguments with the same lack of results…. I don't want to pit red America against blue America – I want to be President of the United States."
Voters, he said, want a leader to "transform this nation, to pull it together….We are going to return to the politics of hope…We don't have to be afraid. We are going to join together and get something done."
Obama evoked Dr. Martin Luther King and the civil rights era. “The only reason I am here today is because somebody stood up,” he said as the audience stood up and cheered.
"They stood up when it was risky. They stood when it was hard. They stood up when it wasn't popular. They stood up and they went to jail. They sat down and then they stood up. They sat down when they weren't supposed to. The fire hoses came out. The dogs came out. But they kept on standing up. Because a few stood up, a few thousand stood up, and then a few million stood up. Standing up for courage and conviction, they changed the world. The stood up so the American Dream could still live.”
Today the political world is talking about the New New York Times/CBS News poll that indicates that 83% of those polled think Clinton is prepared to be president – compared to 41% for Obama.
But how many youth with cell phones did those pollsters call? They surely didn’t speak with all the new, potential voters he’s pulled in.
Today was also a day of dueling teleconferences with Clinton and Obama supporters spinning their reasons why their candidate is most electable.
Indiana Sen. Evan Bayh, considered by many to be a vice-presidential candidate if Clinton wins the nomination, told reporters he thinks Republicans and Independents would vote for the moderate Clinton.
Former Senate Majority Leader and Obama campaign National Co-Chair Tom Daschle, former Governor of Mississippi Ray Mabus and U.S. Congressman and Missouri Co-Chair Representative Russ Carnahan told reporters that Obama was the most electable, had the most crossover appeal because of his emphasis on uniting the country, and would be the best for down-ticket candidates in red states such as Mississippi and swing states such as Missouri.
The rally/fundraiser reminded me of the Howard Dean rally held in Battery Park when he was the Democratic inspiration. But Obama is actually the antithesis of candidate Dean, whose angry white man mask was until recently worn by former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards – who – by the way – may well win Iowa if people start focusing more on the economy after the holidays.
Though the pundits talk about how Obama, like Oprah Winfrey, has “transcended’ race - Obama’s movement for change for some - including, I suspect a number of those young people in the Universal City audience – may at heart be about a clear, visible and sincere attempt to heal the country from racism, one of the signature roots of all division. For all the continued inequities between men and women, voting for a woman for President may actually be less of a “change” because of the now more common experience of having women in positions of power domestically and on the international scene.
"The American people want something bigger, bolder," Obama said. Nothing short of “transforming” the country.
But we must also remember that we’ve seen this excitement before – when Bill Clinton waved his hand over a roomful of gays and people with AIDS and said, “I have a dream and you’re a part of it.” I was there. Everyone believed him. And his Inauguration symbolized the nation coming together – remember Maya Angelou’s poem “Good Morning” on that cold January day after the first President Bush’s helicopter lifted off, marking an end to the painful Reagan/Bush years?
And then conservative Georgia Democratic Sen. Sam Nunn and the growing Religious Right decided to teach Clinton who really ran Washington…and it’s been ugly ever since.
Hillary Clinton remembers – which is both her “experience” and her albatross. For many of the Obama fans, she is part and parcel of the Establishment that needs to be changed. For her supporters, her experience means she’s been “battle-tested” and can hit the ground running with proven back up from Gen. Wes Clark and former Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin, among others.
Actually, Clinton was also in town last night, attending a private Hollywood fundraiser. No one really noticed.