“We fund both sides of the war on terrorism.”

And just like that, Barack Obama proved to the nearly 9,000 people present that he is still that plain-spoken spitfire they so enjoyed at the Democratic National Convention of 2004. And he did it live. In the flesh.

“We pay $800 billion dollars to the most hostile nations each year,” Obama said of the oil trade.

Yes, in the first ten days of his campaign he has avoided the dulling effect a presidential run can have on a candidate. Remember Kerry’s drive and moral indignation toward the end of the Vietnam War? Remember how it manifested itself during his presidential run? (Don’t worry. No one does.)

A colleague recently remarked that these are dismal times indeed when we\\’re taken in by any politician who proves he\\’s simply thought through his talking points. Still, forethought plays well in politics, and Obama’s vision was detail-oriented.

Obama made health care reform a war cry. He held up the $1.9 trillion spent by the federal government annually to strike down the common argument that universal coverage is too expensive. Instead, he described the efficacy of paying a caseworker $150 to manage a child with diabetes, rather than spending $30,000 on that same child when it comes time for an amputation.

So was it fresh-faced boldness (or plain naïveté) that pushed him to address such political taboos as rehabilitation for prisoners? In light of Governor Schwarzenegger\\’s unsuccessful attempt to transfer inmates out of state to ease California\\’s overburdened prisons, Obama\\’s statements were timely.

Given the context, his statement was significant. The rally was held in South Los Angeles, where the Washington Post less than a decade ago put the incarceration rate at 70 percent among the area’s African American males. \\\”We need to gather up all those young men languishing in jail and say, we\\’re not going to give up on you,” Obama said.

Significant, too, was the music that greeted the crowds as they handed in their free tickets to the event. Jazz fusion set the scene, transitioning to generic world music which delivered us into Earth, Wind & Fire territory. The atmosphere was that of a street fair, not of a stodgy political stumping ground, and it provided a respite from the saccharine patriotic country music that has lately been marketed as the soundtrack for political campaigning. This was not Bush’s America, and the crowd could lazily daydream that at long last, they would leave the era of pseudo-Southwest swagger behind.

This new tone also set the stage for the crowd’s pithy, poster board statements of support, like “Barack the Vote” or a youngster’s “Vote for Obama, Mama.” Most fitting, though, was a worn-looking middle aged man’s “Vote Hope, Not Fear.”

Obama is running on hope and he has literally written the book on having the balls for optimism.

“The premise is simple: the audacity of hope,” said Obama of his campaign slogan and book title. He then continued: “The easiest thing in the world is to be cynical, [to reason] you’re better off just withdrawing from the public sphere. What’s truly bold is to recognize that the world as it is has problems, but that does not determine the world as it has to be.”

We live under the stifling force of a presidential administration characterized by lack of vision and what could best be described as laziness. Obama nailed it that afternoon when he said “Our failure is a failure of imagination.” Coupled with Obama’s spirit and grounded reasoning, it all made enough of a case for an Obama White House run.

\\\”They\\’re telling me to wait,\\\” Obama said of his hesitant would-be supporters, \\\”but I\\’ve been watching long enough to know what needs to change.\\\”

Obama proved himself studied and literate during his speech. (The notoriously acidic New York Times book critic, Michiko Kakutani, gave Obama\\’s The Audacity of Hope a rare positive review, noting that although he occasionally slipped into “flabby platitudes favored by politicians,” his voice was an authentic vehicle for discussing everything from foreign policy to “New Agey personal asides”).

“At every junction we’ve had that audacity of hope,” Obama said during his speech, and his historical allusions seemed at times formality, involving familiar reminders of all the great things small groups of revolutionary upstarts have accomplished in this country. But he became a little more esoteric and infinitely more interesting when he chose his quotes. For instance, Obama reiterated what Martin Luther King Jr. once told his supporters: “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.\\\”

This reference wasn’t as vague as “I have a dream.” Obama was direct, and he gave his audience too much credit to drag out a brilliant sound bite that has been sullied by lesser candidates. Instead, he challenged with King’s visual and ethereal concept.

Obama then added, \\\”I want you to leave here determined to bend the arc … Bend it toward peace instead of war. If you do that, I am confident I will be your new president and we will have an entirely new and better America.\\\”