Obama Prehistory

Tyler Cowen relinked today to guest poster Fabio Rojas' thoughts on Barack Obama from back in May 2004. It reminded me that I'd been meaning to do a rambling post on my early impressions of the now-favorite for the Democratic nomination.

Way back in the day when I was a Writing Fellow at The American Prospect my fellow fellow was from Illinois and she'd been known to mention from time to time that there was this great up-and-coming State Senator named Barack Obama running for US Senator and that it was too bad the party establishment was trying to hand the nomination to some mediocrity named Blair Hull. This kind of fit into a notion that I'd frequently tossed around with my friend Dave. Dave and I agreed that rhetorical skill was an underrated trait in achieving political success, that a disproportionate number of skilled orators in the United States seem to be Southern or African-American, and that, therefore, the general Democratic aversion to nominating black candidates to run for office in majority white constituencies was likely depriving the country of some potentially very successful politicians.

Then, I didn't think a ton about it but at this 2004 blogger breakfast event at the Democratic National Convention, I met Obama when he and I found ourselves jostling to get some breakfast meat at the buffet (this is how I know he's not secretly a Muslim) he introduced himself, asked if I was a blogger, I said I was, and he in a pretty honest-and-appealing conceded that his understanding of what a blogger was was a bit hazy but people told him it was important. Then he gave a little talk about something and it didn't strike me as particularly memorable.

Later, either that day or soon after, I was in the Fleet Center's corridors soon before Obama delivered the speech that really launched his national profile, not with any definite views as to when I was going to head into the main part of the arena to start listening to speeches. I ran into Bradley Tusk who I worked for one summer when he was Chuck Schumer's Communications Director and who turned out at the time to be working for Governor Blagojevich in Illinois. He said this Obama guy was a great speaker and I should really check it out, I made some kind of breakfast-related joke, and then in we went. The Fleet Center was much more crowded than it had been at comparable times on other nights so we wound up with really terrible seats. Then came Obama and, of course, he blew everyone away.

What's the point of recounting this? I have no idea, but the sequence of events has always made me favorable disposed toward the guy for reasons that really have nothing to do with his suitability to be a president or a presidential candidate. On the other hand, I had various opportunities to proclaim the guy the future of American politics and come away looking prescient, but kept not really doing so, a pattern in keeping with my generally poor powers of prognostication.