Obama mania visits Marin

Marin Independent Journal – October 26, 2006

Obama mania visits Marin

by Richard Halstead

The timing couldn’t have been better Wednesday for Barack Obama’s visit to Marin County, his only public Bay Area appearance.

Fresh from his announcement Sunday on “Meet the Press” that he is considering running for president in 2008, Obama – the 45-year-old first-term Democratic senator from Illinois, came to the Marin Civic Center’s Exhibition Hall to promote his new book, “The Audacity of Hope,” and raise money for the Marin Education Fund. He is viewed by many as one of the most thoughtful and charismatic Democrats in the country.

Kim Mazzuca, president of the Marin Education Fund, said it became her dream to bring Obama to Marin after reading his first book, “Dreams from My Father,” which emphasizes the importance of making education available to all. More than 200 Marin middle and high school students attended Wednesday’s event, she said.

“I think it would be great if he became president,” said Novato High School student Chris Peters, 17.

In a 10-minute speech that left plenty of time to sign books for the crowd of about 1,100, Obama provided a synopsis of his book’s theme. Attendees paid $125 for a ticket that included lunch and a copy of the book.

Obama said he lifted the title of the book – a phrase he also used in his celebrated keynote address at the 2004 Democratic National Convention – from a sermon delivered by his pastor at Trinity United Church of Christ on Chicago’s South Side.

“His premise was simple,” Obama said. “It’s easier, he argued, to be cynical about life. It’s always easier to settle back and hunker down and conclude that the world as it is is the world as it always will be. Because it requires nothing from us.

“What’s audacious, he argued, what requires risk and boldness, was the assumption, the belief, that, in fact, things can change,” Obama said. “It strikes me that we are at one of those times in our history where that spirit is needed more than ever.”

There have been no shortage of voices urging Obama to run, despite his relative youth and brief political r}sum}. Before becoming the third black since Reconstruction to be elected to the U.S. Senate in 2004, Obama served seven years in the Illinois state Senate.

In his song, “Lookin’ for a Leader” released earlier this year, Neil Young mused about who might be the person “To bring our country home/ Reunite the red, white and blue/Before it turns to stone.”

Later in the tune, Young sings, “Yeah maybe it’s Obama/But he thinks that he’s too young.”

“Run, Barack, Run,” read the headline of David Brooks’ column in the New York Times days before Obama’s appearance on “Meet the Press.”

“Whether you’re liberal or conservative, you should hope Barack Obama runs for president,” concluded Brooks, whose columns typically mirror Republican Party talking points.

The Monday after Obama said he might run, Bob Herbert, one of the more liberal political columnists at the New York Times, also took up the Obama question. Herbert concluded, “There’s a reason why so many Republicans are saying nice things about Mr. Obama, and urging him to run.

“They would like nothing more than for the Democrats to nominate a candidate in 2008 who has a very slender r}sum}, very little experience in national politics, hardly any in foreign policy – and who also happens to be black.”

Unlike many books penned or simply signed by politicians, Obama’s book has been judged by critics to be far more than an attempt at self-promotion or an exercise in ego gratification. It is in large part Obama’s talent as a writer – displayed also in his pervious bestseller, “Dreams from My Father” – that has created the buzz around his possible run for president.

“There’s a difference between a politician and a folk hero, or rock star,” says presidential historian Douglas Brinkley. “In large part because of his books, Obama has become a rock star.”

Obama’s life story provides compelling evidence that the American dream can come true for those graced with talent and motivation. His father, Barack Obama Sr., grew up in Kenya, where he herded goats with his own father, a domestic servant to the British. Obama’s father and mother, Ann Dunham, met at the University of Hawaii, after his father won a scholarship there.

Obama graduated from Columbia University in 1983 and then worked as a community organizer in Chicago before going on to earn his law degree from Harvard in 1991. He was the first black president of the Harvard Law Review.

In addition to the style and grace of its delivery, Obama’s address at the 2004 Democratic National Convention drew attention for its theme of American unity.

“There is not a black America and a white America and Latino America and Asian America – there’s the United States of America,” Obama said.

Ted Cohen, who traveled from Lincoln, Calif. to attend Wednesday’s event, said he became fascinated by Obama after hearing that speech and has been following his career since. Cohen said Obama reminds him of a former rising Democratic star that he met 49 years ago at Oakland Auditorium Arena: John Fitzgerald Kennedy.

“He’s saying the same kinds of things that Kennedy said at that time. I think he is a breath of fresh air in politics,” said Cohen, who was wearing an “Obama for President” button he’d purchased outside the hall.

Obama had just started speaking Wednesday when he was jolted by a spooky reminder of the peril that comes packaged with the public adulation he is receiving. A bearded man strode toward the dais loudly spouting demands that he endorse a general strike to end the U.S. military involvement in Iraq.

The man was quickly restrained and escorted outside the building. Local police were summoned but the man had disappeared when they arrived.

Obama said nothing Wednesday about running for president. He did, however, take note of all the media attention he has been getting.

“Some of it is that we happen to live in a celebrity culture, and it has to be fed,” Obama said. “I happen to be the flavor of the month.”

But Obama added that he believes there is a “hunger” among the American electorate for a more serious political conversation to address such issues as health care, education, energy policy and the war in Iraq.

“What I want to do is be part of that conversation,” he said.