Loading...

Everybody, Roll Up Your Sleeves 

Barack Obama helps Phil Angelides draw a crowd at USC

Wednesday, Nov 1 2006
Comments

It looked like Phil Angelides finally caught a break Friday in his campaign for governor when he received a genuinely enthusiastic reception from several hundred USC students and other supporters at a rally in front of the university’s Doheny Library. Getting noticed isn’t easy when your opponent is a movie-star incumbent who, even when he’s caught groping women or talking eugenics trash, is merely excused as a naughty bad boy. But on this day, Angelides had a sure-fire plan to get out the crowds. He invited a very special guest speaker, a man who is arguably the only elected politician more popular in California than Arnold Schwarzenegger. He invited Barack Obama.

It seemed like a smart move. But from the start, even standing next to Obama proved risky. Angelides’ cheers paled beside the rock-star adulation for the senator from Illinois — many attending had first heard of the event as an Obama appearance and only later learned it was to be an Angelides rally.

The hedges leading to the library were lined with young women who called out Ba-rack!Ba-rack! while snapping his photograph. When Angelides spoke toward the rally’s end, a quiet rustling spread among the crowd as people took out their copies of Obama’s new book, The Audacity of Hope, and began passing them forward and over the hedges, along with felt pens, for autographs. Obama respectfully declined to sign the books while the state treasurer was speaking. But even unintentionally, he still upstaged Angelides — by taking off his coat.

Related Stories

  • Stop the Anti-Immigration Hysteria: Murrieta's Obama Haters Need a Fact Check 61

    We're pleading here for straight talk on both sides of the illegal immigration debate, so we'll start this party with some brutal honesty: Illegal immigration isn't necessarily good for Latino Americans, and many of us don't always welcome it. Why would we ask for the clock on our U.S. assimilation...
  • Best Colleges 2

    We're used to seeing the likes of Caltech, UCLA and USC on lists of the most prestigious universities in the world and country. See also: UCLA Is a Top 10 Global University But it's rare that a UC Riverside or a Cal State Long Beach makes the top echelon of any...
  • Obama Willing to Further Legitimize Marijuana (Really) 14

    The Obama administration today signaled that it was willing to work with Congress to move marijuana out of the federal outlaw-drug category known as Schedule I. Under that classification, shared with heroin, ecstasy and others, marijuana has no legitimate use whatsoever, even for medical research or patient treatment. Lower schedule status,...
  • Immigrant Prison 13

    After nearly a decade of hard-line enforcement on illegal immigration under both the Bush and Obama administrations, one of the results is that Latinos now comprise about half of all new federally sentenced offenders. And drug and immigration crimes taken together now account for nearly two-thirds of all federal convictions,...
  • Marijuana Businesses Can Now Use Banks, But Maybe Not in California

    The Obama administration today took one small step for stoned kind by essentially saying banks are now allowed to do business with marijuana dispensaries. However, guidelines issued by the U.S. Department of Justice are so strict that they will probably prohibit pot shops in California from taking advantage of this...

The gesture cranked a current of sexual electricity throughout the audience. Suddenly, Obama was in focus — tieless in his crisp white shirt, sleeves rolled up and ready for action. An Angelides campaign volunteer from South L.A. stepped forward and asked if she could take the senator’s coat. He handed it to the woman, who clutched it as though she’d been given the Shroud of Turin or Manolete’s muleta. The scene recalled the moment, immortalized by Bill Beebe’s photograph, when President John F. Kennedy, dripping wet from the surf and clad only in trunks, found himself surrounded by frenzied women on a Santa Monica beach. The difference between the two scenes is that Obama had the same effect upon onlookers while keeping his shirt on. And he stayed dry.

None of this was lost on Angelides, who, after relinquishing the microphone to Obama, suddenly felt overdressed. As people waved copies of Time and Men’s Vogue with covers featuring Obama, Angelides took off his own jacket and turned to hand it to anyone willing to accept it. But the person standing behind Angelides was Steve Westley, the man he’d defeated in the bitter primary for his party’s nomination. Westley flinched, so Angelides (his own sleeves now rolled up) haplessly held the coat until a party media handler took it.

The USC event was emceed by Democratic state party chair Art Torres, who struck flag-and-family notes (“We believe in God because he’s our god too”). And nearly every leading Smog Belt Democrat was in attendance, standing behind Obama, gratefully bathing in a Close Encounters glow. Antonio Villaraigosa, John Garamendi and Fabian Núñez are hardly charm slouches, but they listened to the senator as though they were taking a postdoctoral course in charisma.

What makes an Obama speech memorable is that he doesn’t sound like a politician, but like a person who is telling you something you’ve never heard before — and with a take-it-or-leave-it candor. Even when he resorts to one of his favorite tropes, in which he leads up to a point by mentioning how he sometimes argues with his wife, you feel as though you’re hearing it all for the first time.

“It seems,” Obama said, “as if politics has become a business and not a mission — power always trumps principle. So we don’t have confidence that the government can make much of a difference in our lives.”

Obama was the only Democrat there to mention Proposition 87, the ballot initiative targeting Big Oil, and really the only speaker to make eye contact with everyone in the crowd. When it was over, Obama was met with a verbal ticker-tape parade of cheers and the thundering sound of the Rolling Stones’ “Start Me Up.”

Which makes one wonder: What will the Republicans throw at him when he runs for president? (“A Democrat whose name rhymes with Iraq and Osama!”) How many committees are at this moment sifting through school transcripts, property purchases and paternity suits? For now, however, the revving of swift-boat engines and the stirring of blog mud are still in the distance. And on this afternoon, in one sycamore grove of academe, it was briefly Phil Angelides’ day.

Reach the writer at smikulan@laweekly.com

Related Content