Michael Forster Rothbart
Deafening applause greeted Obama as he entered the arena, shaking hands with supporters as he made his way to the stage.
Some 20,000 people poured into the Kohl Center on Tuesday night as presidential candidate Sen. Barack Obama brought his hypnotic campaign to Madison on the heels of sweeping victories in today's Potomac Primaries, adding to a series of wins that have given him a critical edge in the Democratic race for the White House.
Obama overwhelmingly defeated rival Sen. Hillary Clinton in Maryland, Virginia and Washington D.C., primaries whose importance has been downplayed by the hobbled Clinton machine. Earlier Tuesday, The Capital Times and Mayor Dave Cieslewicz endorsed Obama, who has now won eight straight contests and is vying for a ninth on Tuesday when Wisconsin residents take to the polls.
Hundreds of people braved freezing temperatures as lines began forming outside of the Kohl Center some three hours before the doors opened, with hundreds of others still waiting in line up to an hour before the event began. But Tuesday night's spectacular wasn't so much a rally for support as it was Madison's indoctrination into the cult of Obama's mega-personality.
Obama may have been the main event, but the campaign's not-quite subtle propaganda effort unfolded in the two hours between the doors opening and Obama's predictable, but much anticipated, stump speech.
Event staff worked the crowds, trying to recruit "volunteers for change." Some folks danced in the stands as Obama's ubiquitous image flashed on the jumbotron to a backdrop of '70s funk. Obama, in eerie Orwellian fashion, seemed to be everywhere. The sheer repetition of his sloganeering over iconic images of struggle was not only hypnotic, but inescapable.
When the moment arrived for Obama to appear in the flesh, Gov. Jim Doyle had the honor of introducing him, netting perhaps the most rousing applause of his own political career. Doyle told followers that Obama was ready to lead the country into the future, adding that he has been personally waiting a long time for someone to "step forward to lead us," a sentiment likely shared by many Wisconsin residents.
Deafening applause greeted Obama as he entered the arena, shaking hands with supporters as he made his way to the stage. He thanked Doyle for things the governor hasn't really done (like helping working-class families against special interests, for example), and tossed a nod to Mayor Dave for his endorsement.
As expected, Obama offered nothing new tonight, sticking to his abstract promises of change. His speech, while surpassing the inspirational threshold of his rival, was essentially a series of regurgitated sound-bites, albeit ones borne on the disillusionment of a jaded electorate.
"No dream is beyond our grasp... Hope is not blind optimism... Cynicism is a sorry kind of wisdom... All of us can share in a common destiny.' It was tasty rhetoric, but without the nutrients.
But people didn't stand in the freezing cold to hear details. They came to see the larger than life skinny guy with a funny name decry cynics, special interests, big money and the status quo. They wanted to hear firsthand his promises to end divisions on Capitol Hill, create jobs, make college affordable, and end the war, among other things.
He preached his message of unity, joking about a newly identified political demographic, the Obamacans, i.e. Republicans who secretly support him.
In all, Obama did what he does very well, and that's talk a good game. Whether that will be enough to seduce Wisconsin's swing voters into supporting him won't be known until Tuesday night. If the last eight contests are any indicator, it might seem Obama is well on the road to securing the nomination, unless Hillary Clinton's waning magic can somehow break Obama's spell, which seems less likely each day.