I caught the Iowa rally on CSPAN last night. Oprah did her thing. Made it personal. Made it emotional in that personal way. By my lights, it's a bit off-putting, but what do I know? She's the MegaArbiter of popular culture for a reason. She does more than understand how it works. She works it.
Will it transfer to political culture? We are about to see the results of the biggest cross-over experiment in living memory.
Oprah did everything she could to step outside her pew with a good old fashioned stem winder of a political speech. In her peroration, she played skillfully on the Matrix/Neo trope--is he The One? She referenced The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman, how Pittman went from scene to scene pointing to young ones she encountered and asking--are you The One? Are you The One? Then, recycling a venerable rhetorical device, teasingly postponing what everyone knew was coming so that its ultimate arrival was all the more satisfying, she finally declared--he is The One: Barack Obama!!!
And he strolled out. What an impossible burden. He is still not comfortable with it. But he must embrace this expectation. It is the essence of his historical moment--and now, at least, we know that he knows that. His campaign must have signed off on Oprah's intro, so he knows what he has to do.
And he tried. He took his time. He opened with jokes, the boiler plate Michelle riffs, especially--a tad too much of that, actually, how she's better than him, in charge of him. That betrays his ambivalence. But then he went into his speech and made a good choice. He previewed his campaign against Republicans instead of focusing on the primaries. Very smart. Because that is what is going to settle this thing come caucus night. Which Democrat can win, who can beat Rudy? For all the hope Obama inspires in them, most voters will choose on that practical basis.
Obama's main theme? I will be a uniter, not a divider.
Not original, but in a good way. Very smart on several levels, racially most obviously. But most immediately, because Hillary is a divider by definition. Also because it freed him up to do some passionate speechifying of the kind he so urgently needs to deploy in the next few weeks if he is going to win this thing. We will see if Oprah can fire him up.