The only thing about the launch of Barack Obama’s presidential candidacy that wasn’t meticulously stage managed was the weather. Outside the old statehouse in downtown Springfield, it was sunny but the thermometer hovered in the teens and even the thousands of hearty Illinois Democrats who had shown up for the “historic event” were shivering uncontrollably by the time the senator arrived with a standard-issue opening line about how, despite the cold, “I’m fired up.”
Obama’s announcement, which had been anticipated since he announced last month that he would be announcing this month, had all the spontaneity of a Bill O’Reilly rant about “San Francisco values.” There was the predictable U2 music, the predictable Lincoln reference – “a house divided…” – and the predictable “hand-lettered” signs promising to “Barack the Vote!” Leaving no cliché unuttered, Obama reminded the crowd that his was not a campaign but “a journey.”
And a long one it shall be.
The frustrating thing about Barack Obama’s “improbable quest” is that very little about it seems improbable. This campaign began as exactly what it is: a calculated grab the Democratic nomination by an appealing young senator who is risking very little in the hope of achieving very much.
Obama did deliver a fine populist line addressing his relative inexperience: “Now listen, I recognize there is a certain presumptuousness — a certain audacity — to this announcement. I know I haven’t spent a lot of time learning the ways of Washington. But I’ve been there long enough to know that the ways of Washington must change.”
But even that soliloquy was woven with the point of getting in a mention of his best-selling book, The Audacity of Hope.
With the exception of the weather that accompanied it, nothing about Barack Obama’s announcement was particularly invigorating.
That’s not to say that the senator’s launch was inept.
If anything, it was too ept, too well plotted, too reflective of the high-powered consultants who are managing one of the more interesting men ever to seek the presidency into the narrow confines occupied by every man who has ever sought the presidency.
Of course, Obama went through the motions with finesse. This is not some bumbling Biden we’re talking about.
The junior senator from Illinois began by reviewing the challenges facing the country, as must any presidential candidate who is not an incumbent seeking reelection.
“All of us know what those challenges are today — a war with no end, a dependence on oil that threatens our future, schools where too many children aren’t learning, and families struggling paycheck to paycheck despite working as hard as they can,” Obama said. “We know the challenges. We’ve heard them. We’ve talked about them for years.”