Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Leaving a quiet impression
By Greg Borowski
If Democrat Barack Obama is the next president, a 2008 win may depend less on his noted fire 'em up stump speeches than on his ability to quietly connect with people as he did Monday night in Milwaukee.
Citing the massacre at Virginia Tech, Obama traded balloons and blaring music for a hand-held microphone and a talk about the insidious violence he said plagues America.
In a 25-minute talk at the 4,000-seat Milwaukee Theatre, Obama cited a speech given in 1968 by Robert Kennedy in the wake of the assassination of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. that described how any violent loss of life degrades the nation.
Obama said the killings were "the act of a madman on some level," and later noted "maybe nothing could have been done to prevent it."
Nevertheless, he said, it should cause the nation to reflect on violence in its culture, including the "verbal violence" shown by radio talker Don Imus in his "nappy-headed hos" comment.
"So much is rooted in our incapacity to recognize ourselves in each other, to not realize we are connected fundamentally as people," he said.
Obama, a first-term U.S. senator from Illinois, later noted that at times not much seems to have changed since Kennedy's comments.
"The reason we don't do anything about it is not technical . . . it's because our politics is broken. We've given up believing we can change things. So we turn away . . . and start worrying about ourselves."
Before Obama spoke, there was only some quiet jazz played over loudspeakers. Afterwards, no rousing send-off, just Obama shaking the hands of a capacity crowd he had won over long before they ever entered the hall.
"I believe he will be the next president," said Lajessica James, 17.
"I agree," said Marjorie Lopez, 16.
Both will be able to vote for the first time in 2008.
"He said we've failed," James said. "He wasn't saying it was the president who failed. He said we all need to do something about it."
Obama's visit to Milwaukee is his second high-profile stop here in the past six months, but the first that comes with the words "presidential candidate" before his name. In late October, Obama appeared at a re-election rally for Gov. Jim Doyle.
Since then, Obama's star has grown only brighter.
Indeed, in the first quarter of the year, Obama out-raised Democratic rival Hillary Clinton, $24.8 million to $19 million - an impressive showing in the critical money race. Clinton, though, has more money in the bank.
Monday's speech was a fund-raiser, with a suggested contribution of $25. Afterwards, Obama was off to a $1,000-per-person fund-raiser in River Hills.
Although the main focus is Iowa and New Hampshire, Obama spent the past days working on his national reach, hop-scotching from South Carolina to Georgia to Florida before Milwaukee.
While here, he picked up the endorsement of Mayor Tom Barrett, among the first big names in the state to commit in the Democratic primary. Barrett praised Obama as "a leader who understands how important it is to bring this country together."
The endorsement could boost Obama a bit in Milwaukee, though plenty of enthusiasm is already there.
Common Council President Willie Hines made that clear, urging those in the crowd: "Let's catch this wave, let's spread the word, let's stay connected and let us begin this race."