See these opening lines (pasted in five paragraphs below) from an article in yesterday’s New York Times. I really had to laugh when I read this. I’ve always had much the same response as (apparently) the Russians just did to the current U.S. president. I saw and heard Obama again and again both in Chicago (2000-2005) and during and since the endless Iowa Caucus (2007 mainly). I left every Obama town hall meeing and speech thinking , "okay, so, umm…..so, like…what’s the big deal? Hello?" I completely admit it: while I picked Obama to win from the start, I never really quite got what the excitement — the "Obamania" — was all about. Sorry.
I think I was too close to the ground in the key primary (Caucus) state of Iowa. Obama was a media creation in no small part. In person, he was, um. well… less than inspiring. Truth be told, he’d bore you practically to tears. His campaign appearances — the ones I went to — were like really bad seminars. I remember a lady sitting next to me saying the following during an Obama "Economics Town Hall" in Cedar Rapids in August 2008 : "I’d like to have a tape of this for the next time I have a hard time falling asleep."
Now, out here in Iowa there was one major-party candidate who could really knock your socks off in the town halls. It wasn’t Obama and it sure wasn’t Hillary (my God but she was awful, worse than professor Obama) and it wasn’t Biden or Richardson or Dodd. I’d like to tell you it was Kucinich but… it wasn’t (and he wasn’t around here much [unlike '04] anyway). No, actually it was crazy John Edwards, who ran what the prolific U.S. Marxist Mike Davis recently called (in The New Left Review) the "most chemically pure pro-labor campaign since Jesse Jackson." With his insistent, combative message of "angry economic populism" (Davis), "fighting John" Edwards ripped on "corporate Democrats" and the "wealthy Few" and related growing poverty to economic inequality and Wall Street control of both parties (earning an endorsement from Raph Nader in October 2007 with his damn-near class struggle rhetoric). He said it was a "fantasy" to think that any kind of meanignful progressive change could be achieved without an "epic fight" with the economic aristocracy and referred to the labor movement as "the greatest anti-poverty program in American history." Cheating his wife on the side (it is true), Edwards really blew the doors and roof off the campaign barn. Best stump speech I ever heard, hands down: damn near phenomenal to be perfectly honest. (Some credit is due perhaps to Ms. Hunter?)
Folks can spare me the lectures — I was fully aware of, and indeed wrote about and against the limits from a Left perspective. But "John Boy" (as I took to calling the soon-to-be tragic ex-candidate Edwards in November 2007) was heads and shoulders above Obama as a stage presence and in the town hall Q and As and (relatedly) as a "populist" (fake or sincere). I mean it wasn’t even close. I was there and I saw the contrast, again and again. It was impossible to honestly miss if you followed it in person ( I did for some time – had no choice). Obama came off as academic, know-it-all, and conservative, arguing in one Iowa debate with Edwards that "we don’t need more heat; we need more light."
And wrong. Dead wrong. We need more heat —- a lot more heat, from the bottom up, beneath and beyond the electoral system. We need some angry economic populism and a lot more than that….
Here’s the stuff from the Times:
In Russia, Obama’s Star Power Does Not Translate
MOSCOW — Let other capitals go all weak-kneed when President Obama visits. Moscow has greeted Mr. Obama, who on Tuesday night concluded a two-day Russian-American summit meeting, as if he were just another dignitary passing through.
Crowds did not clamor for a glimpse of him. Headlines offered only glancing or flippant notice of his activities. Television programming was uninterrupted; devotees of the Russian Judge Judy had nothing to fear. Even many students and alumni of the Western-oriented business school where Mr. Obama gave the graduation address on Tuesday seemed merely respectful, but hardly enthralled.
"We don’t really understand why Obama is such a star," said Kirill Zagorodnov, 25, one of the graduates. "It’s a question of trust, how he behaves, how he positions himself, that typical charisma, which in Russiais often parodied. Russians really are not accustomed to it. It is like he is trying to manipulate the public."
Others suggested that after decades of social turmoil, Russians were simply exhausted with politics, and had been so often disappointed by Western leaders that they were not inclined to get excited by the latest one. Asked by one Moscow newspaper what they expected to come out of Mr. Obama’s visit, most respondents had the same answer: traffic jams.
Some Obama aides said they were struck by the low-key reception here, especially when compared with the outpouring on some of his other foreign trips. Even Michelle Obama, who typically enjoys admiring coverage in the local news media when she travels, has not had her every move chronicled here…..