But can he win?

Notes from the Barack Obama rally on Feb. 20 in Los Angeles

By Maureen Foley 03/01/2007

At his first appearance in Los Angeles since he declared his presidential bid, Barack Obama looked relaxed, sharp and ready to take his place on the national (and international) stage. More than anything, he looked young, with his no-tie shirt and sport-coat casualness and his opening question: “How’s everybody doing?”

At that moment, we all felt good. How could we not feel blessed and content? The day had evolved from a chilly pre-spring morning to an outright Southern California wonderland in the afternoon, complete with magnificent blue skies, still air and a consistent downpour of sunshine. We stood in the glorious light, hungry for a few coherent phrases from a well-spoken, intelligent leader, seen as the great African American hope.

For Obama, the dazzling brightness was the perfect backdrop for his sunny brand of optimism. Pretty soon, even the sport coat disappeared and the young politician rolled up his sleeves and began the difficult task of presenting the nitty gritty of his political platform.

In a nutshell, here are the basics of his spiel: Obama believes we’re at a crossroads and that the current government no longer responds to the needs of ordinary people. He wants to make sure that every American has health insurance by the end of his four-year term. Obama wants to provide early childhood education for every preschooler in the country. He wants to end the war. He wants to build up the domestic alternative fuel industry. Obama wants to rebuild New Orleans and provide opportunities for all the “young men in jail.”

Throughout his speech, Obama talked about the “lack of urgency” that keeps people and politicians from pursuing big-picture problems. “What’s it going to take to change?” he asked. Obama’s solution? Hope. Daring to be hopeful is Obama’s all-encompassing solution, an idea borrowed from his pastor and used as the title of his autobiography, The Audacity of Hope. “I could be hopeful and not ignore racism, sexism and poverty. We can change things if we come together as a community,” he said.

As the crowd of predominantly African Americans cheered and clapped during his speech, it was difficult not to fall in love with Obama’s message (if not with the leader and young father himself). As he finished his riveting talk and worked his way through the sea of people, there was no question that he has interesting solutions to deeply entrenched problems and that he is intelligent and driven. After his speech, it was clear that he could lead this country toward a remarkable future, as president.

But can he win the election? After all, hope doesn’t earn votes. Nor does intelligence or erudite speaking. To win, Obama has to alchemize that intangible combination of luck, ideas, confidence and timing. And in the 21st century, perhaps more than any other election, it’s all about marketing. As Obama said, “I can’t do this without you. I am an imperfect instrument. I am a vehicle for your hopes and dreams.” Then, without missing a beat, he directed the adoring masses to e-mail their friends and visit www.barackobama.com.

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