January 8th, 2008 | Uncategorized

How Barack Obama broke my heart

HANOVER, N.H., 10:49 a.m. — Today, Senator Barack Obama broke my heart.

Yesterday, at a rally for former Senator John Edwards in Hampton, N.H., I noticed that when the traveling press pool arrived, they quickly headed to a computer lab designated as the workspace for the media. When Edwards took the stage at the rally, only one or two reporters emerged. Most stayed in the room, rapping on their laptops as Edwards spoke to the crowd.

Peculiar, I thought. Old political reporters always talk about the torture of listening to the same stump speech over and over, but, still. If you’re covering Edwards, you’re covering Edwards.

Now I understand.

On Sunday, I heard Obama deliver a riveting speech to nearly a thousand supporters in an old theater in downtown Manchester. His speech — a rhetorical beauty — was peppered with some great, seemingly adlibbed one-liners, and the crowd absolutely ate it up.

This morning, at Dartmouth, I heard another Obama speech at another rally. Funny — it sounded familiar. Actually, not just familiar. More like exactly the same. The jokes were the same. The hand gestures were the same. The inflection in the Illinois senator’s voice was the same. This speech was tailored to a college audience, obviously, but the laugh lines were identical.

I was obviously naïve. How could you do this, Barack? Mitt Romney, sure. But you?

Here’s the problem: Witty riffs that seem the product of a great speaker’s stream of consciousness are delicious. Those same jokes, when you realize they have been tested by focus groups and delivered 72 times? Not so impressive anymore.

I understand completely why the Edwards press core could not have cared less about listening to his speech — it was probably the same speech he had given five times that day.

But Obama was supposed to be different. I had hope. But then he told the same jokes. And when you know the punch lines in advance, it’s not fun. It’s just annoying.

And I thought he was supposed to be the candidate of change.

— Thomas Kaplan