Monday, January 7, 2008

“Forget it. He's Rolling.”

Jesse Nails It

Downpage a piece, my trusted colleague Doc Wendel takes a look at some of the meta aspects of what may be heaping fresh, crackly brush on the undeniable “wildfire” of the Obama “surge” of late.

And you know what? When you boil it all down to the thick concentrate of the matter, he effectively nails it, people.

I say this as someone who's been known to kick words around for money every once in a while.

I say it as someone who actually studied “Public Speaking/Oratorical Skills” for a couple of years as a kid under a fairly well-renowned “speechifier”.

I say it as someone who's acted professionally and directed actors on stage, radio and occasionally on television.

It's that confident, DECLARATIVE tone.

And more than that, yes...but sometimes dammit, how you roll can change the whole dynamic of how you are perceived, even when you're at a seeming disadvantage.

Let me give you an example. Back in the “clubbing” years for me here in NYC, much was made of the dreaded velvet ropes and getting past them. There'd be a line snaking halfway down a block—shivering would-be Tony Maneros, Disco Stus, and Chic sidemen would all be waiting for the thumbs-up or down from the gatekeepers—bearish men named Rasheed, or Rocco. The game was, to not look timid, or worried that you might not get in. Darting eyes, pinched body language and querulous tones were a death knell—especially as you neared the burgundy ropes. Me and my friends' angle was to “Act like you belong—like you've been here before. And what's more, act like you've got a million places to go if this place doesn't pan out.

We'd be loud—but not overbearing. Jovial, but not stupid. We played it off as if we owned those goddamned places, and if not that—as if we knew someone who owned a place just like the one we were bidding entry to. And damn near every time, we got into those places.

By dint of confidence, and a declarative presence.

We got over like dumpster-behind-the-Outback-Steakhouse-stuffed rats.

There were people older than we were, with more money in their pockets, and bigger baubles on their fingers and wrists than we had, who saw themselves turned away at the “ropes of ingress”. Maybe they flinched, or...walked a little bit unsurely as they neared the decision-makers, or projected that little bit of tentativeness that led a gatekeeper to say, “this person isn't sure if they should be here or not”.

“And if they ain't sure, I ain't sure, either. Next!”

Whether you're a fan or supporter of Obama's or not, or Clinton, or Edwards, and whoever else remains, the undeniable narrative popping forth like so many crocuses on a spring day is that of confidence, style, and a certain atypical oratorical—dare I say it—audacity is beginning to sway the living hell out of an awful lot of people.

Some would call it “style over substance”, but I don't think that quite gets at it. What Obama's done here is found the magical balance of the two, and created a near-perfect elixir out of it.

You ever do that? Make a perfect drink and savor the hell out of it?

But then, when you were done, realized that you don't remember the exact ratio of one ingredient to the other, or what order it went in, and how many ice cubes you used? And then when you go to replicate the just can't quite do it? Well, Obama's the guy who managed to get himself on tape whipping the cocktail up and is able to go back and consult that tape when he wants to serve it up again.

It also helps that he's set up his “bar” at the edge of a desert, catching every weary, parched traveler it seems who's been wandering out there, all sunburned and blister-lipped for the last eight years of unrelenting, life-sapping heat—namely, a tired-of-Bush-and-his-usual-gang-of-enablers-and-pretend-opposition public. Edwards and Clinton have their refreshment stands in the area too. What's the old saying? “Location, location, location!” It's a veritable perfect storm for all three of the leading Dem candidates, and considering the context the country's dealing from after the disaster of the Bush presidency, it's a win-win-win no matter who succeeds him from the Dem side.

That heat. That unrelenting, skin-roasting hell of two Bush terms has set things up, but lovely .

But Obama...Obama it seems has stumbled onto that perfect-tasting, thirst-quenching recipe that is setting him apart from the other two.

Edwards offers cool, crisp water—maybe with a drop of essence of desert blossom blooped in for taste. Goes down easy, but maybe, just lacks that certain something extra to tickle the taste buds...

Clinton's got a great. big ol' cooler full of Gatorade for ya. Lots of electrolytes, and sodium to replace what you've lost. Nutrients? They're in there. But Gatorade ain't smooth. It doesn't go down easy. It's got a funny taste for many. You shudder after you drink some down. You end up sipping at it—you don't knock it back.

Obama? Iced...tea. Frosty fucking iced tea, kiddies. All amber and sweet in tall, ice-crammed, sweat-beaded glasses. Hits the gullet, you close your eyes and drift away. Hits the Goddamn spot. Sugary? Yes. Caffeine-laced? Of course.

It may not be the most healthful thing for you to quaff in major quantities considering where you've just been, but it ever sweet going down. And the dude can make it up perfectly—glass after tall, frosty glass.

Those bold “We're on the verge of making things different” words of his, coupled with that enervating, hymnal and most importantly—declarative and soul-deep confident delivery is that sweet tea a lot of folks can't seem to get enough of. I studied public speaking and I can see he knows just what he's doing. The cadence and modulation, the sentence structure and idea framing...

Not “I want to do”.

Not “We can do”.

It's “Join me in doing”.

It's that “last battle in Braveheart” shit. With equal parts Shakespeare's St. Crispin's Day throwdown from Henry V, and yes...maybe a splash or two of Belushi's rousing “German's bombed Pearl Harbor” speech from Animal House.

“Forget it. He's rolling.”

In fact, there may be a lot of Bluto's speech in what Obama does when, “he's rolling”. And I don't know if that's a bad thing, really. When our situation as a country is as depressing as it is presently, and all seems lost—damaged world stature, economy reeling, mistrust of our leaders, senseless, life-wasting wars to name a few bits of the overweening awfulness—maybe a rallying, hope-stuffed, emotional, declarative “Join me in doing” is the thing that's just gonna resonate most with that defeated group slumping about “Delta House”.

He's eminently comfortable in those moments—when he can start and stop the discussion at will—when he's “rolling”. It's also why he's less capable in the debate format. Those bold declaratives coming from his mouth while he's in direct conflict—from a Black man's mouth while he's in direct conflict—with people who look more like those representing the power structure scans differently, more threateningly, and I'm guessing that because of this he tempers those words in that format. But cut him loose from tit-for-tat round-robin point-making and give him room to breathe and a room to charm and inspire and connect with and you see him at his giddiest—a wild thing in habitat and kicking the ass of anything that dares venture into his territory.

And then it's that perfect storm again. The country as a near-whole, so damned tired of the status quo. Not just Bush, but the usual suspects with him and “agin” 'im. Hillary's handicap (and no fault of her own) is that we've seen her for what is to many, too long. “Stand By Your Man”, and “baking cookies” and the black headbands, and a million interviews and their clipped-out soundbites over the last fifteen years (!) have glazed the eyes of enough people it seems where they've grown tired of her. What price extended limelight? In spite of the difference and change seeing a woman as President should engender, because the woman is the almost over-known Mrs. Clinton, she almost transcends difference and change entirely. That's a horrible irony. Edwards has a campaign under his belt, unfortunately a failed one at that in the Kerry run of '04. He's carrying that ugly albatross around, which is a shame because I personally feel he's taken more damage from it than Kerry himself has. But damaged he is in enough of the sillyfuck part of the public mindset to where he's “that guy who lost” and little else. It bugs the shit out of me because I think he's an excellent candidate. But perception is a pit bull, and once its got its teeth in you...owwwww!

Take all of those fume-filled, solvent-laced elements in mind and then toss a match like a new-faced, charismatic, rousing, rafter-shaking speaker like Obama to it, and as Jesse so perfectly put it downpage...

“Leaders create the future. They bring it forth. They declare it. They speak, and in the moment of their speaking, the future is.

John F. Kennedy and we SHALL put a man on the moon by the end of the decade.

In that moment, we "shall it," all of us, the entire country. Kennedy declared our future. He brought it forth. He languaged it. And as one, we moved forward to meet the challenge, more or less, together.

If you were alive July 20, 1969, and of a certain age and in the western world, you watched as Jack Kennedy's declartion unfolded. I was ten years old and I remember everything. That's leadership in action. Leaders make DECLARATIONS.


Declarations create nations.

Obama is creating a future nation right now, every time he speaks.

If his brush-fire gets oxygen, it has the potential to explode into a genuine firestorm. Other people in his campaign are starting to be able to communicate Obama's vision. This will eventually spread all the way down to individual campaign workers and people who just hear or see him or are touched by his presence. It's a movement, on fire with a shared common vision.

When a FIRESTORM passes through, everything changes.

Edwards and Clinton are to a degree hampered as Jesse noted by their message delivery style. Edwards is better at it than Clinton, but in the end, they both tend toward a careful, rote, laundry-list style of speaking. It's not meant to inspire (again, not a bad thing)—it's meant to inform and punctuate. It And in being safe, it has difficulty in cutting through the haze too many folks are fogged in by.

Down in comments in Jesse's post, Kent makes note of this via an anecdote. There's a rough word in it, but it illustrates the point brilliantly:

“If you don't mind an off-color anecdote I'll explain the moment I knew this election was over--and for the reason you cite. I was watching the Orange Bowl at a friend's house in Houston during the Iowa Caucuses and sitting there with us was my friend's 80+ year old grandfather who pops by from time to time to watch games on a big screen TV. This old guy is your typical old weatherbeaten West Texan who served in the Marines in WW-II and spent most of his life working on oil rigs. He hasn't voted for a Dem since LBJ and is about as politically incorrect as they come.

As the evening wore on we flipped over to CNN to see the election results and caught part of Obama's speech. When Obama came on my friend's old grandfather seemed to wake up and spoke the first words I heard him speak that evening:

"ye-ep....[nods] this time I think I'll be votin for that 'nigra' Obama...he's the only one who makes any"

When a young black man from Chicago starts winning over crusty old white Republicans from West Texas this thing is over. And it's not because of his platform or experience or partisanship. It's because he is inspirational and he makes people feel good about the future. Americans are the most naturally optimistic people on the planet. That's what they respond to.
Kent | 01.06.08 - 5:58 pm |

Obama's style soars and swoops. It picks you up and takes you for a ride. It's a rare gift. In seminaries and in public-speaking classes, it's called waving “the sugar stick”. You analyze the crowd, the situation and environment, and you play to it like a motherfucker. You use your words to embrace, and to tickle, to slap the people awake, and then grab 'em by the hand and pull 'em along.

“Caress and stroke, stoke and provoke.” my teacher used to say.

Love him or hate him, Obama's got that down pat, people. It fairly flows from him, and if you don't have a smooth, near-operatic style to counter him with, you have got yourself one hell of a problem. Which Hillary does, and Edwards too—albeit to a lesser degree.

As I'm fascinated by communication—words and their power—this subject during this, the most communication-heavy Presidential campaign ever, Is an incredibly important one to analyze and I'm giving major props to Jesse for digging into it. You may not like what he unearths in so doing, but I'll be damned if he hasn't turned up some serious gold through his excavation.

Ironically enough, remember what became of Bluto Blutarsky at the end of ”Animal House” ? The rousing, roaring leader of the revolt against Dean Wormer and the Omegas?

He got elected to the Senate.