Mr. Obama Goes to Washington

05/25/2011 12:30 pm ET
  • Trey Ellis Novelist, Screenwriter, and Associate Professor at Columbia University

Certainly Spring has been unkind to the Obama campaign and his supporters can't just blame Hillary's bottom-feeding anymore. The only bright side to Jeremiah Wright's twisted, egomaniacal schadenfreude is that the media so overplayed it that I can't believe that it will still be news in the fall (even though Wright's book is slated to come out in October!).

And although polls had shown a dead heat in Indiana and a tie would be as good as a knockout for Hillary, the most recent polling shows her pulling ahead there. The bright side here for Obama if he loses is that because of the Wright stink expectations for him have been lowered.

However if you're an Obama supporter there is this from New York Times polling to be extremely worried about:

"Only 29 percent of registered voters said they considered him "very patriotic," compared with 40 percent who described Mrs. Clinton that way. Mr. McCain, a former prisoner of war, was considered "very patriotic" by 70 percent of the registered voters."

Yikes. Obama needs to take the opportunity of Tuesday night, win or lose, to deliver a major, soaring, apple-pie and Chevy speech on how passionately he loves this country. He's been doing it to small crowds throughout the state of late, playing up his Kansan grandparents and his grandpa's service in WWII. On Tuesday night, regardless of the outcome, he will have the nation's gaze and in an upbeat, energetic and hopeful way he will have to remind us all that this is a land of opportunity; that the folks who've been in Washington too long have lost their way but that we the people are rising up to remind them that we are the good guys, as corny as that sounds, the defenders of liberty, the protectors of the little guy, citizens of the most fertile land on the planet for human potential.

Yet he will have to do more in this speech than just that. As was apparent in his tired Pennsylvania concession speech, he can no longer just talk talk about change and partisan bickering. He also needs to talk about his hunger to fight the good fight. People are scared. He needs to start using the word, "fight" as often as Hillary does. I know it's tricky as a black man, especially after Jeremiah Wright's '60s-era nationalism, but he needs to own the word on his own terms. He needs to tell farmers and bus drivers and school teachers, police officers, auto workers and construction workers, that he will not rest until Washington starts working for them too.

Of course if he wins Indiana then the speech will be easier to give and there will be less riding on it. However if he loses, as is likelier now, he will have to, in the words of Jesse Jackson, "Keep hope alive." Just as he did in his brilliant, "Yes, We Can" speech after his upset loss in New Hampshire he needs to shake off the loss and demonstrate the giddy optimism that he showed in the beginning of this endless campaign.

If Hillary wins she'll act as if she's won the nomination already. Obama will have to smile even bigger, tip his hat to her for the battle for Indiana well run, and then turn to the cameras and tell us how rosy will be our collective future once he's President of the United States.

Optimism is the quintessential American value and more patriotic than any flag pin.

Trey Ellis the author of "Bedtime Stories: Adventures in the Land of Single-Fatherhood."