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The Obama Juice

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Barack Obama's political director calls it "drinking the juice." Once campaign volunteers "start drinking the Obama juice," Dan Shoman told the New Yorker, "you can't find enough for them to do."

Political writers are drinking the Obama juice, too, and they've gotten so drunk on the Senate candidate they're shouting over each other to offer the most obsequious toast. No Chicago pol has heard this kind of flattery since an alderman compared Richard J. Daley to Jesus Christ.

Obama loves his reviews: he's posted the encomiums on his Web site, obamaforillinois.com. Here are some samples:

"People in Illinois seem largely unaware of Obama's long, annealing trip into their midst, although they often remark on his unusual calm. . . . Every few minutes, our conversation was interrupted by passersby congratulating Obama on his primary victory. The people who stopped to shake his hand were black and white, old and young, professors and car mechanics. Some Obama obviously knew. Others seemed to be strangers. He was affable with everyone, smiling warmly, but in exchanges that lasted more than a few seconds it was possible to see him slipping subtly into the idiom of his interlocutor--the blushing, polysyllabic grad student, the hefty black church-pillar lady, the hip-hop auto shop guy. . . . Obama, the biracial kid from Hawaii, speaks a full range of American vernaculars. . . . Obama's ease in front of predominantly white crowds--or, for that matter, all-white crowds--is a source of wonderment in Illinois. I've seen it, and it looks so effortless that it doesn't seem remarkable. The sight of big white corn farmers proudly wearing big blue 'OBAMA' buttons and lining up to shake his hand is, I must say, slightly more striking." --William Finnegan, New Yorker, May 31.

"Barack Obama's spectacular victory in Illinois' Democratic primary election for U.S. senator did not simply write a new chapter in state politics--it rewrote the book....For nearly half a century, race and ethnicity have been defining issues in city and state elections--most pointedly in the city of Chicago, but a factor virtually everywhere. . . . Clearly the game of Illinois politics has changed dramatically and for the better as Obama and his campaign tear down remaining barriers of race and ethnicity. Chicago, the city once known as "Beirut on the Lake," may not exactly have turned into the city of brotherly love, but we've sure taken a couple of long political strides toward that goal." --Don Rose, Chicago Tribune, May 3.

"Obama breaks the mold simply by running. Only two blacks have been elected to the Senate in the past 100 years; neither had an African surname. He embodies America's diversity--"you get my family together, we look like the United Nations"--but he is much more. He campaigns with the passion of an inner city organizer, the intellect of a University of Chicago professor who edited the Harvard Law Review, and the stride of a college basketball player." --John Harwood, Wall Street Journal, April 1.

"Because they work for George W. Bush, and therefore cannot be regarded as influential political figures in the African-American community, Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice may be the first blacks in government whose race is an afterthought in the public mind. If he wins, Barack Obama will also answer to a constituency that is principally white. As a result, he may become the first black Democrat able to rise above race in the fashion of Powell and Rice, and in doing so become the embodiment of one of America's most enduring dreams." --Scott Turow, Salon, March 30.

"Tall, fresh and elegant, Obama is certain to be an overnight sensation in national Democratic circles. He is their best chance to pick up a Senate seat now in Republican hands (the incumbent, Peter Fitzgerald, did not seek re-election). But he is also the candidate from central casting for a new generation of national black leadership, still moored in the values of the civil rights movement but in tone and approach more cool than hot." --Jonathan Tilove, Newhouse News Service, March 18.

"Barack Obama opened eyes Tuesday by slamming shut the doors on the political futures of his Democratic opponents. By running away with the election, Obama showed a broad-based appeal to Democratic voters that would have seemed impossible not that long ago in a race-conscious state. He drew votes from one end of Chicago to the other, from one end of the state to the other. Some of those voters may have been thinking what I'm thinking: that Obama has the potential to be the most significant political figure Illinois has sent to Washington since Abraham Lincoln." --Mark Brown, Chicago Sun-Times, March 17.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): illustration/Tom Chalkley.

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