Obama at the ODP Dinner
Last night I attended the ODP 2006 State Dinner as a guest of the headline speaker, Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL). I'm grateful for the opportunity and it was an experience that I will always treasure. Unfortunately, by being in the wrong place at critical moments, I missed both Obama's pre-dinner press conference and his appearance at the Ohio Black Legislative Caucus pre-event, and due to practical limitations I was unable to get much out of Obama's visit to the bloggers table that he sponsored. However, his keynote speech was magnificent, and it's absolutely clear to me that the man has the potential to be a transformative figure in the history of our nation, signalled by his vision, intelligence, compassion, and charisma. To hear him speak is to be inspired and energized, period. There is much speculation right now about his political future, but however that plays out, you just know it is going to be truly exciting.
I will write about Obama's speech in a later post, but here I want to say what little I can about our interaction at the table. Obama joined us for about ten minutes, during much of which I heard little because I was across the table, the room was very loud, and there was an insane crush of autograph seekers thrusting programs at Obama and dictating what to write, along with other interruptions. I did not get the opportunity to ask a question, and the session ended abruptly when U.S. Senate candidate Sherrod Brown began his speech.
For a detailed account of what Obama said, I must refer you to Pho's Akron Pages, since Pho was sitting next to Obama and appeared to be taking extensive notes. The few snatches of conversation I could hear were more or less as follows. Obama greeted us each, sat down, and said "What's going on, guys?" Pho asked him what he thinks about the role of bloggers in politics. Obama explained that he sees blogs as having tremendous potential for energizing people and building the political community. His background is in community organizing, so he's very conscious of "bottom-up" politics. Also, internet-aided Meetups were a "great tool" in his Senate campaign. The danger of blogs, he said, is if we are only talking to each other, so he sees a need for blogs to be reaching out to interact with people who have other points of view.
Redhorse asked Obama a question relating to the Senate campaign of Paul Hackett, and the hard feelings and animosity among some bloggers that still remain over the controversial way it ended. I couldn't hear very much of Obama's reply, but he made an excellent point about how writers in general can create an ideal of perfection in their musings, and then have a tendency to get frustrated with a candidate who is unable to live up to that ideal. "Blogs are useful as the conscience of the Democratic Party," he said, "but also important is recognizing that one is operating in the real world." Bloggers have got to get over what happened,when we have an opportunity to make a critical gain in the Senate. Now we have a candidate with impeccable credentials, he said, and Ohio is the number one pickup opportunity, so it would be a terrible thing to waste it. To the extent that Sherrod Brown has poor relations with the blogging community, Obama said that he would speak to him about it. Jill asked about bloggers maintaining their individuality when acting collaboratively (apparently responding to something I couldn't hear), and I couldn't make out much about Obama's response except that he urged bloggers to be a little more flexible. In response to a question by Angela, Obama indicated that he supports net neutrality. There was at least one more question but I managed to catch only a few words and can reconstruct nothing meaningful from my scribbled notes.
My only photo of the bloggers at the table a sadly blurry, but to try to give some sense of the occasion, here it is. From the people partly visible on the left to the person partly seen at right, the bloggers are Editor and Mrs. Editor of Ohio 2nd Blog, Redhorse of Psychobilly Democrat, Pho of Pho's Akron Pages, Cindy of HeightsMom, Yellow Dog Sammy of Ohio2006, Staff (a/k/a Pounder) of Buckeye State Blog, Angela of Diary of a Community Technology Advocate, and Eric of Plunderbund. Jill of WritesLikeSheTalks sat at another table and is not in the picture.