"Apathy is the attitude that disappointment is normal." That's a quote that stood out for me, listening to Oprah Winfrey introducing Barack Obama in South Carolina. I'm watching the video at that link and thinking about how well the familiar Oprah style translates into the political setting.
At first, Oprah sounds hoarse and yells too much, but she settles into things by saying "South Carolina" over and over, talking about her own southern roots, thickening her southern accent, and confessing that she's leaving her comfort zone — "stepping out of my pew." That's an image that combines her beloved TV show and her roots in southern religion. She deftly unites modern TV-pop psychology and old-time religion.
She eases into talking politics. She's never done this before. She's stayed away from politics. She's had apathy, she says, but now she's inspired. To say that is to unite psychology and religion and politics. She increases the sound of the southern preacher in her voice so it makes you start thinking of Martin Luther King just before she says, "You know, Dr. King dreamed the dream." The audience responds with a churchly "Yeah." But we don't have to merely dream anymore. "We get to vote that dream into reality." She still hasn't said the name "Barack Obama," but the listener is on edge expecting the invocation of the name. "The reason I support Barack Obama is because he speaks to the potential inside every one of us."
Thus she presents Obama as an embodiment of our political, religious, and psychological needs. I'm saying "our," even though the presentation is strongly aimed at black people, because I don't lose the sense that she is speaking to the country as a whole. She ends with an image from the old television movie "The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman," in which the ancient black woman is asking one young black person after another, "Are you The One?" This too combines the psychological, the political, and the religious — religious, because who is "The One" but the savior of mankind?
She tells us some people think that Barack Obama ought to wait. She equates that with the old message that black people ought to have waited for equality. In this rhetoric, to tell him he should wait feels racist. But Oprah never accuses anyone of racism. She never even mentions the name of the rival who wants us to think that she is ahead of him in line. Oprah keeps the positive message in front. This is inspirational. Barack Obama is The One, so allow him to emerge into his rightful place, and we will all be fulfilled, saved... and — why not? — well governed.
ADDED: The photo at the link — to the NYT — says a lot. Oprah and Michelle Obama are standing together under a sign that, cropped, reads "We can believe in." Barack Obama is pointing at them with an active gesture that makes me think he's using his miraculous powers to unite the two women — to unite us all. Believe!