Seriously, the ‘How He Did It’ piece is fascinating stuff. I saw this near the end of the first part, and it really struck me:
On the stump, he decided to experiment, to try loosening up a little. Speaking to an African-American crowd in Manning, S.C., on Nov. 2, he began to riff, using the call-and-response cadence of a black preacher. Addressing the doubts among some blacks about whether the country was ready to vote for an African-American, Obama said, “I just want y’all to be clear … I would not be running if I weren’t confident I was gon’ win!”
There was a rousing chorus of “Amen!” and cheers from the audience.
“I’m not interested in second place!” More cheers, and a big grin from Obama … he could feel the crowd’s energy.
“I’m not running to be vice president! I’m not running to be secretary of something-or-other!” They were like old friends now, Obama and the crowd … this was fun!
But then Obama got carried away with himself and violated a cardinal rule of braggadocio in the black community: don’t get too high and mighty.
“I was doing just fine before I started running for president! I’m a United States senator already!”
In an instant the crowd went quiet—and that should have been his cue … but Obama plowed ahead.
“Everybody already knows me!” A lone shout went up from the audience.
“I already sold a lot of books! I don’t need to run for president to get on television or on the radio …”
“I’ve been on Oprah!” That seemed to get the crowd back, but Obama knew he had almost lost them altogether.
Obama studied himself and learned, just in time. The annual Jefferson-Jackson Day Dinner in Des Moines on Nov. 10 was a crucial beauty pageant before the real contest, the caucuses on Jan. 3. Obama’s Iowa organization made sure to pack the hall and drown out the supporters of all the other candidates. Because the candidates were not allowed to use teleprompters, Obama spent hours memorizing the words and perfecting his delivery. The speech was a good one, ripping George W. Bush and taking down Hillary (a little more subtly), and it built into a crescendo as Obama told the story of how, on a miserable morning when he faced a small, bored crowd in Greenwood, S.C., a single black woman in the audience had revived his flagging spirit by getting the crowd to chant, responsively, “Fired up!” “Ready to go!” Slipping from an easy, bemused tone to a near shout, Obama egged on the overflow crowd at the J-J dinner. “So I’ve got one thing 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 sends 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 seen,” Broder reported on Dec. 23, a week and a half before the Iowa caucuses, “there is a jolt of pure electrical energy at those closing words. Tears stain some cheeks—and some people look a little thunderstruck.”