Grant Park, Chicago, Ill. — “F–k Missouri!”
It was an early shout at the Jumbo-Tron, coming immediately after the very first returns began rolling in from the Show-Me State. The numbers, which would change dramatically over the course of the evening, initially showed John McCain in the lead, causing the angry outburst.
For the most part, though, the people attending Obama’s huge Grant Park rally were reasonably civil, even in the cheap seats where I took my spot on the grass. Lots of booing for Republican wins and loud cheering for Democrats. The crowd was especially happy to learn of the demise of Sen. Elizabeth Dole (R., N.C.), whose campaign had assailed her Democratic opponent, Kay Hagan, as “godless.” This crowd was fairly well-read in the topic of the 2008 election — I overheard one young man explaining the entire Dole incident to his girlfriend.
The crowd let loose a collective giggle upon learning from the exit polls that better-educated Vermonters had gone heavily for Obama. (Perhaps this came as a surprise?) They also mistakenly cheered for nearly 30 seconds when CNN projected West Virginia for McCain. Obama was shown as being ahead in the vote count even as the state was being called for McCain, and it took some time for those around me to realize their error and start booing.
After the crowd’s initial tension broke up, the atmosphere became festive, and I made a few new friends. Amid the throng of Obama supporters was Scott, a recent transplant from Georgia who had not yet registered to vote. He was somewhat ambivalent about the result, particularly given that Obama’s tax plan would increase his taxes. But he indicated that he leans Democratic and would like Obama to win.
“I think McCain would be fine,” he told me early in the evening. “He’s a decent and honorable guy, and he thinks for himself — he doesn’t just vote with his party all the time. It doesn’t matter too much to me who wins the presidency, but I will be happy to see the Congress turn more Democratic.”
Darryl, a tall, wiry man in his late 20s, told me he had met Michelle Obama in August at the cafe in the Nordstrom’s where he works downtown.
“She was shopping for shoes for her daughter,” he told me. For the record, she ordered smoked salmon at the cafe.
Darryl, who is black, explained that yesterday was a big deal to him for that reason alone.
“We’ve been looking for one of our own kind to get elected, to represent,” he said. He was one of many to express this sentiment. He added: “I’m also excited to see so many young folks out here. We haven’t come out here for a concert or for any foolish reason — we’ve come out here to change the world!”
Darryl was one of the more enthusiastic people I spoke to last night. He reminded me right away of something Obama wrote in The Audacity of Hope:
“I am new enough on the national political scene that I serve as a blank screen on which people of vastly different political stripes project their own views. As such, I am bound to disappoint some, if not all, of them.”
I cannot say for sure whether the alleged newfound interest in politics of the nation’s youth is just a myth, as the exit polls appear to suggest. But there were many young people in Grant Park, and I thought to myself that over time these idealists will all hit the same wall of realism — the one that everyone in Washington hits at some point.
You wouldn’t know it from the reception he got last night — from the thousands of people who wept and screamed and milled about in the park for hours afterward — but Barack Obama is a mere man. Even worse, he is a politician. These folks will now learn that the hard way.
As I thought this, I just stood there among the cheering and booing and cursing thousands, quietly watching the numbers roll in, with a feeling of dread.
And I helped “spread the wealth around,” too. Once people noticed that I had cigarettes, I had little choice.
Oh, well. Might as well get used to it.
– David Freddoso is a staff reporter for National Review Online and author of The Case Against Barack Obama.