Standing in line outside Oscar Smith High School this past Thursday, Obama supporters were excited. Most had never seen him before in person, so this was their chance. He was making a quick swing through Chesapeake, Virginia to make one last appeal to Virginia voters before heading home to Chicago. Earlier in the day, he'd held a town hall meeting near Richmond, where he'd stood side by side with Governor Tim Kaine. Now it would be just Obama, which seemed to suit these folks just fine. Whether Kaine would become the pick for vice president wasn't the buzz. Instead, it was whether Obama was ready to fight.
During the two-hour wait to get inside the high school, I found myself standing in the middle of a friendly debate. On one side was Michael, a 29-year-old government contractor at the Norfolk Naval Yard who said it was time for Obama to start swinging. "He needs to be more forceful in his comebacks to McCain," he said. "After watching what happened in 2000 and 2004, I think he has to fight back."
Not necessarily, countered Olivia, a 46-year-old nurse practitioner. "His demeanor hasn't failed him yet," she said. "It's what sets him apart."
Michael said he wasn't so sure. Obama could get trampled on, he said, like Kerry did. "He waited too long to respond to the Swift Boaters."
"No," said Olivia. "You can defend yourself without being evil and negative. Look at how Barack handles a fight. McCain calls him unpatriotic. Barack just talks about McCain's policies."
I asked them what they thought of the faith forum at Saddleback Church on August 16. Both thought McCain seemed more prepared, more scripted.
"I'm disappointed in Rick Warren," Olivia said. "When he didn't ensure the cone of silence, I wanted to take all his books back. The whole debate was flawed."
Olivia was getting fired up. Turns out, she's been a champion of Obama for months now, taking it upon herself to ask her patients if they've registered to vote. If they haven't, she's ready with a registration form they can fill out in her office. If they need to take it home, she offers to come by and pick it up from them. So far, she estimates she's registered about 150 new voters.
She said she does it partly for her children. "I have one at the University of Georgia and one who's an intern at American University. I'm concerned about them. I think Barack cares about their future--health care, jobs, the economy."
It doesn't bother her that the campaign might turn ugly. "This is the Armageddon of politics," she said. "It's going to be war. I want to tell Barack, 'Don't fear it, accept it.'"
Olivia was on a roll, and Michael seemed to coming around to her side. "Listen," she said. "What you need to do is to look at the Bible. Look at 1 Samuel 24. That'll tell you why Barack won't do evil."
The doors to the gymnasium finally opened, and as we filed through four separate metal detectors, I lost sight of Olivia and Michael. Inside, everyone waited for another hour and a half for Obama to come on. In the meantime, we heard from a young field organizer, a candidate for Congress, and a few other local dignitaries. Finally, just before a retired Navy man got up to introduce Obama, a pastor stepped out to offer a prayer.
"Everyone reach over and hold the hand of the person nearest you," he said.
The man sitting below me reached back and grabbed my hand. The woman next to me quietly took my other hand. It felt like church. I thought about what Olivia had said--that part about the book of Samuel. I told myself I'd look it up when I got home.
As it happens, it's the story of Saul and David. Saul's after David; he wants to capture him and kill him. So David has to run, and while they're running, he and his men end up in a cave. Suddenly Saul slips inside to relieve himself. David's men can't believe their good fortune. Saul's utterly vulnerable, caught literally with his pants down. But David won't attack. Instead, he lets Saul go.
Later, when Saul realizes that David spared his life, he says, "You are more righteous than I, for you have repaid me good, whereas I have repaid you evil....So may the Lord reward you with good for what you have done this day."
Who knows whether Michael went and looked up these verses once the town hall meeting was over. I wonder if Obama knows them.