When he began his presidential campaign, Barack Obama and his advisers were disappointed in his performance as a speaker. He experimented with different styles and was his own worst critic. I learned all this from a copy of Newsweek I found in the sauna at the gym.
In South Carolina on November 2, 2007, before a largely African American crowd in South Carolina, he tried to loosen up and use the “call and response cadence of a black preacher” and nearly fell flat on his face.
But he studied himself and learned. At the Jefferson-Jackson Day speech in Des Moines, Iowa, November 10, he told a story about addressing a bored crowd in Greensboro, South Carolina, when a woman in the crowd revived his flagging spirit by chanting “Fired up! Ready to go!” Over and over.
According to the story I read, by a team of Newsweek reporters, “Slipping from an easy, bemused tone to a near shout, Obama egged on the crowd at the J-J dinner (in Des Moines).
“‘So I’ve got one question to ask you. Are you FIRED UP? Are you READY TO GO? FIRED UP! READY TO GO!’
“The Washington Post’s David Broder, the Yoda of political reporters, was watching and understood that Obama had found the Force.
“The speech became Obama’s standard stump speech, and in the weeks ahead it never failed him. Broder described the effect of Obama’s thumping windup:
“‘And then, as the shouting became almost too loud to hear, he adds the five words that capsulize the whole message and send the voters scrambling back into their winter coats and streaming out the door: “Let’s go change the world.” And he sounds as if he means it. In every audience I have ever seen, there is a jolt of pure electricity at those closing words. Tears stain some cheeks — and some people look a little thunderstruck.'”
That was one week before the Iowa caucuses — just in time! I hope they find that woman in Greensboro and give her a medal and the thanks of a grateful nation.