I knew Obama was in trouble the weekend before the Ohio-Texas votes. I was at a calling party organized by MoveOn.org. About 50 of us had spread out through a friend's home in Colorado and were using our cell phones to call voters in Forth Worth, Texas, urging them to vote for Obama.
I have never volunteered for anything like this in my life. But 2008 is a year of high political drama, the likes of which we haven't seen since 1968, when Eugene McCarthy, Bobby Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson were on stage. Since the Democratic primary began heating up last year, I've followed it like a junkie. My oldest, dearest friend and I came down on different sides. She's for Clinton, I'm for Mr. O, and this causes... tension. I know another pair of friends in the same boat and they've agreed not to talk about it. This is the kind of thing that happened a lot in 1968. Two young men I'd known at Berkeley broke off their friendship when one abandoned the McCarthy camp and went to work for Bobby.
Now, 40 years later, at the cell phone party, we're dialing names from sheets of paper. Mostly, we're speaking to answering machines. I reach one live woman and she's for Obama, but the next string of people I reach are voting for "someone else." One man says, "I ain't votin' for no Muslim." I try to tell him Obama is Christian but the man hangs up.
Driving home, after making 40 calls, I feel a chill. I've received more "no's" than "yes's." Something's wrong. Obama's been on a winning streak and I fear he's been sounding too cocky.
My foreboding was confirmed on Super Tuesday, when Clinton stopped Obama's forward march by winning Texas and Ohio. I was stricken with melancholy, which I knew was over the top. I knew that, if elected president, Hillary would accomplish some important things and fail at others. As would Obama. But I believe Obama would act rapidly to take us out of Iraq. After winning Wyoming, he said, "I will bring this war to an end in 2009," while Clinton said, after winning Ohio, "We will end the war in Iraq and win the war in Afghanistan." Win the war? Is she hallucinating? Win a war in rugged mountains where insurgents are picking off our troops like flies? (see New York Times article, "Dr. Phil with Guns")
And then there's the inspiration factor. I thought Ted Kennedy nailed it when he said of Obama, "He's a once in a generation leader."
At this moment, things look rocky for Mr. O, but the game's still in play.
I think back to 1968, when, on my first job out of college, I was a reporter in New York for the Boston Globe. I covered Rockefeller and Nixon's campaigns for president, but I wasn't interested in the Republicans. I was breathless to report on Bobby. He'd just jumped into the Democratic race after McCarthy won New Hampshire, demonstrating that opposition to the Vietnam War was so massive that President Johnson could be voted out.
On the night of March 31, Bobby was returning to New York from his first major campaign swing, and I went out to the airport to cover his arrival. As I waited with the crowd at the gate, (no homeland security then) I heard myself being paged on the loudspeaker. What the... ? I picked up a white courtesy phone. It was my husband, shouting, "Darling! Lyndon Johnson just went on television. He's not running. He will not serve another term. Can you believe it? Bobby's gonna make it."
Kennedy was given the news while still in air, and when he walked off the plane, his supporters went wild. A Puerto Rican man yelled, "Bobby, Bobby, you don't have to worry no more!"
I ran up to Kennedy with my notebook and pen and asked if he thought the Democrats would unite behind him now.
"I wouldn't describe it in those terms," he said, smiling shyly as he reached for hands to shake. "I think it's a long way to Chicago, and to November. A great deal can happen in political life. We've seen... how unpredictable things can be."
Nine weeks later, Bobby Kennedy was assassinated.
His words keep coming back to me this year. "Unpredictable things."
So I urge you to stay tuned. Stay involved, or get involved. Why? Because it's good to care, to feel, once again, that progressive change is possible. And as we said in the '60s, before we were older and wiser: "If it feels good... Do it."
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