Barack Obama: A New Politics of Hope

The last time a Senator made a trip to George Mason to campaign, it was John Kerry in 2004. After winning the VA and TN primaries, Sen. Kerry, his wife, Max Cleland and others stood in the Johnson Center and addressed cheering students hopeful for change. Before that, Sen. John Edwards made a visit and spoke to a smaller crowd, addressing a larger audience outside of the room. Both events were candidate forums held by the school paper, The Broadside.

At both of those events, there were small groups of hecklers and it was obvious that divisions ran rampant.

Yesterday, a different scene took place as Senator Barack Obama took the very same stage as Sen. Kerry before him. There were no interruptions, not even from those who disagree with him who still showed because they wanted to listen to what he had to say just as much as the believers next to them. What resulted was complete awe in all that is Obama. And it happened because students from all over made it happen.

It was like your typical campaign rally: music, signs, balloons, and a bit of tardiness on behalf of the man we all came to see. Introducing him were the people who helped bring him: the Director and Deputy Director of Students for Obama, Meredith Segal and Tobin Van Ostern, as well as Farouk Olu Aregbe, the man behind the now popular "One Million Strong for Barack" Facebook group (which now has over 200,000 members), and who, according to Obama, "has a funny name like me."

But when Obama showed, the thousands of students who came to see him erupted - the Johnson Center, with soundproofing at every level above the noisy ground floor, was just as loud as it was in '04. He wasn't introducing Prince, as he says his wife asks when wondering why large crowds come to hear him speak. Obama knew where he was and used it to incite a rousing welcome. He entered with "George Mason knows how to throw a party!" and, in his usual self-deprecating way, dismissed his popularity by asking the crowd if the basketball team was making an appearance after his speech. Then, after a few minutes of "calm down," the crowd fell silent.

Obama's presence lived up to the introductory comments of Miss Segal, when she said that the Senator represented a "New Politics of Hope." After he gave the same background we see in the introductory video on his website, he touched on traditionally liberal themes: climate change, education, health care, social security, etc., he did so in his usual way. He held every individual who crammed themselves into the Johnson Center in the palm of his hands as if to say "yes, we can." But he can't do it alone.

Recognizing the incredible youth presence behind the event, Obama gave a brief history of the United States. Yet unlike Howard Zinn, Obama's understanding of history reflected the influence of young people, noting the Civil Rights movement, women's suffrage, and other such pivotal moments in our Nation's history, including the formation of our "rag tag" colonies, as challenging times where young people made a collective decision to change things around.

Of the two quotes from Dr. King that Obama recited, one stood out the most. That "the moral arc of the universe bends at the elbow of justice" had a profound resonance in itself; but Obama cautioned that the arc wouldn't bend on its own. He said that we, together, could be the agents of change we wanted to see in the world.

One could argue that Obama's humble nature makes those around him have so much optimism because he recognizes, in a different way than others do, his limitations as just one man. He has flaws, which he addressed by saying that he probably made more mistakes than most of the people in the audience. It seemed that by bringing his faults and achievements (past, present, and future) to the forefront, he became more like everyone else in the room. He was at the same level as all the other ordinary people there, which seemed to elevate in everyone else the sense that we share a role in changing the country.

The crowd was diverse, something Obama embraced from the start. Yet he he also acknowledged the ideological diversity he has grown accustomed to by recalling a story about a trip he took to Cairo, IL during his Senate campaign. Cairo, according to Obama, was like other segregated cities of the 60s, but when he pulled up for his rally he saw voters of all colors and beliefs out to support the "skinny guy with a funny name." In recalling that trip, he had proven that something was happening and that he somehow fits into that change as either the agent of change or a representation of the change that allowed Cairo's moral arc to accept him.

Without a doubt, Mr. Obama came to George Mason a humble man with faults just like any other. But he left a humble man, whose forgiveness had been exchanged with the hope of the thousands of the young and old who came to see him, yearning for someone to tell them how to help bend our arc more towards justice.

(My pictures turned out a bit dark, but I'll post some others soon. Until then, enjoy the video below from PoliticsTV):

For more information on NDN's coverage of the 2008 Presidential election, click here.