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November 3, 2008

Damn, they’re good
Posted by Patrick at 12:15 PM * 54 comments

Barack Obama’s final rally before Election Day will be held at 9 PM tonight…in Manassas.

When I found this out, all the hairs went up on the back of my head. That’s campaign craft, electoral strategy, and historical symbolism—all in one.

Comments on Damn, they're good:
#1 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: November 03, 2008, 12:51 PM:

Don't we know someone who lives in Manassas? I could SWEAR...Marilee, maybe?

#2 ::: Vance Maverick ::: (view all by) ::: November 03, 2008, 01:02 PM:

Can you spell out what you're admiring here? One interpretation would be that the campaign is invoking the beginning of the Civil War, and a defeat for the Union. From that page:

Today will be known as BLACK MONDAY. We are utterly and disgracefully routed, beaten, whipped by secessionists.

#3 ::: Jon Meltzer ::: (view all by) ::: November 03, 2008, 01:04 PM:

Uh, I don't get it.

Obama's the Union, who lost that battle due to overconfidence and retreated in panicked disorder?

He can't be the Confederacy ...

#4 ::: Caroline ::: (view all by) ::: November 03, 2008, 01:08 PM:

I felt a bit like that when Obama came to Greensboro. We were literally standing in line across the street from the Woolworth's; he spoke two blocks east. It was reverberating backwards and forwards through time.

#5 ::: John L ::: (view all by) ::: November 03, 2008, 01:08 PM:

The Union lost TWICE at Manassas (or Bull Run, take your pick). The first major battle of the Civil War was fought there, resulting in a Union rout. Just over a year later, the newly rebuilt Union army was routed AGAIN on the same ground as the first one was fought over.

So no, I don't get why Obama speaking at Manassas is noteworthy.

#6 ::: Caroline ::: (view all by) ::: November 03, 2008, 01:16 PM:

(#2 and 3: I read it as Obama exorcising the ghosts of the failure of that battle, and symbolizing the fruition of the fight against slavery. The Confederacy won that battle, the Union eventually won the war, leaving America with the larger war of the legacy of slavery -- racism, hatred, division. And here comes Obama back to Manassas, back to the beginning, symbolizing a victory in at least one battle of that larger war.)

#7 ::: Ken Houghton ::: (view all by) ::: November 03, 2008, 01:20 PM:

Caroline's reading matches with mine and, most likely, Patrick's--assuming that the result tomorrow is the one expected.

If not, the final shots of the "War of Northern Aggression" will have been fired 143 years and seven months (less five days) after the armistice was signed.

(That they are referring to it by the Southern name, not the Northern, does seem to indicate a "take it directly to the hoop" attitude.)

#8 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: November 03, 2008, 01:21 PM:

First: it's in Virginia, a state Obama hopes to take.

Second: on the site of a Southern victory, and thus (? maybe ?) of Southern pride.

Third: The supposedly invincable enemy was defeated there (compare to the "permanent Republican majority").

Fourth: Obama's message is one of reconciliation between parties, among races, and so on. He's a Northerner (you don't get much more Northern than Illinois), and an African-American (albeit not a descendant of slaves), going to a place that symbolizes the victory and pride of the South.

I do not assert that this is what Patrick meant, but that's the point I see in it. We'll see what Obama has to say when he's there.

#9 ::: rm ::: (view all by) ::: November 03, 2008, 01:39 PM:

I think Catherine at #6 described it best. Some of y'all are so literal-minded --- sheesh! If you're familiar with Henry Louis Gates's rhetorical/lit crit theory of "Signifyin'" (repetition with a difference) that's something like what Obama is doing to the legacy of the Civil War here. Returning to the previous setting, but doing so with a difference. Turning its meaning around, adding a new layer to the legacy.

#10 ::: Jon Sobel ::: (view all by) ::: November 03, 2008, 01:49 PM:

This thread, and the mention of the fact that Obama is African-American but not a descendant of slaves, made me think of this article, which describes research suggesting that Africa's continued underdevelopment can be at least partly attributed to lingering effects of the slave trade.

#11 ::: ADM ::: (view all by) ::: November 03, 2008, 02:11 PM:

Makes me wish I weren't phone banking tonight!

#12 ::: DBratman ::: (view all by) ::: November 03, 2008, 02:37 PM:

Ken @7: I'm not sure the name is of all that much significance to tonight's rally. Bull Run is the creek. Manassas is the town. That's where the swing voters of northern Virginia whom Obama is hoping to reach live: in the town. Not in the creek.

But the fact that Obama picked that town and not one of the many other burgeoning towns in the area: yes, very symbolically interesting.

#13 ::: caffeine ::: (view all by) ::: November 03, 2008, 02:42 PM:

I live in Manassas. (I think Marilee does too.) We've been inundated with volunteers and flyers lately, but not one word* about the rally. How strange.

*Not a printed word, at least. We're not social people, so we stopped answering the door after the second volunteer.

#14 ::: Leah Miller ::: (view all by) ::: November 03, 2008, 03:10 PM:

I'm from Fairfax. I might head out to Manassas... it's a half-hour or so drive. I hadn't heard about it 'til today either.

Maybe it'll help me... brain... tomorrow.

#15 ::: Kathy McKenzie ::: (view all by) ::: November 03, 2008, 03:11 PM:

What are we having to eat tonight?

After the election, let's celebrate the last days of President Busch. It's also important that we all pitch in and volunteer to count all the absentee ballots. It would really rot if we had to wait past Wednesday for the election results. I heard on the radio that ballots have to be postmarked by November 4 to count. Let's all do our part.

#16 ::: shadowsong ::: (view all by) ::: November 03, 2008, 03:20 PM:

No offense, Kathy @15, but are you a real person? Your only posts on this site have been today, and both of them have been a bit... non-sequiturial.

#17 ::: Ken MacLeod ::: (view all by) ::: November 03, 2008, 03:45 PM:

I don't get what's good about it either.

#18 ::: MsCongeniality ::: (view all by) ::: November 03, 2008, 03:55 PM:

I'm just pleased it's here in 'fake' Virginia. I'm half considering going even though I hate driving to/from Manassas, especially in the evenings.

#19 ::: Christopher Davis ::: (view all by) ::: November 03, 2008, 04:05 PM:

Xopher (#8): Also, the candidate is a different-looking, brilliant orator/lawyer/state legislator from Illinois with relatively little experience in government, who opposed a war that was strongly backed by others, and even questioned the President's reasons for its inception. Hmm....

#20 ::: shadowsong's mother ::: (view all by) ::: November 03, 2008, 04:13 PM:

I live in Manassas. The rally was going to be in Manassas Park (a historically post-WWII working class community), but with 30,000 people expected they moved it to the county fairgrounds (address Manassas but outside city limits). It has been in the print news here--guess some people missed it, although it hasn't been long since it was scheduled and announced. I thought about going, but 30,000 people and their cars aren't worth it to this introvert.

Significance: 1. Practical: Virginia hasn't voted for a Democrat for president since 1964, and Obama has a chance, especially in Northern Virginia which now has a lot of "fake" Americans. (I'm one, having grown up in the Pacific Northwest, where we learned to call the battles "Bull Run." The north calls the major battles by the nearest body of water, and the south by the nearest town or jurisdiction.) 2. Symbolic (my opinion): It's time for the Civil War to be over.

#21 ::: bellumregio ::: (view all by) ::: November 03, 2008, 04:26 PM:

Obama's message is that it is time for Americans to stop fighting the echos of the Civil War. The Republican ascendancy over the last 40 years was, in great part, a reaction to that unfinished business of the Union victory- desegregation. When Americans fight Americans over a superstition like race everyone loses. It seems that for many many people the time has come. We are not there yet but we are coming down the mountain into what Martin Luther King called the Promised Land.

#22 ::: Lizzy L ::: (view all by) ::: November 03, 2008, 04:28 PM:

Kathy at 15, election rules are set by the state you live in. For example, if you live in CA and your mail-in ballot is postmarked Nov 4, your vote will not be counted, because in CA your ballot has to arrive BY Nov 4 to count. At this point, any Californian who hasn't mailed her or his ballot should take the ballot to her or his polling place and turn it in. Other states, however, may have different rules. Check with your county's Board of Elections or your state's Secretary of State office to find the rules which apply to you.

Why did Obama pick Manassas? Consider: if the Union had won at Manassas, it is possible the whole bloody conflict might have been short-circuited, or at least, been a great deal shorter. Obama is coming back to Manassas as a man draws a circle in one unbroken stroke, beginning touching ending. He is saying, Let's close the circle here. Let's make a new beginning, one in which the survival of the Union does not require such a terrible cost in blood. Oh, yeah.

#23 ::: Michael Weholt ::: (view all by) ::: November 03, 2008, 04:57 PM:

Best. Campaign. Ever.

Sadly, though, not all things are under the control of even the best run campaigns...

Barack Obama's grandmother has died one day before her beloved grandson is elected, with luck, the 44th President of the United States of America.

#24 ::: jim ::: (view all by) ::: November 03, 2008, 05:24 PM:

Actually it's not in Manassas. It's at the Prince William County Fairgrounds, which are well outside Manassas the other direction from the battlefield.

He wanted to hold a rally in Northern Va. and the Fairgrounds are about the only place large enough.

No symbols where none intended.

#25 ::: Lori Coulson ::: (view all by) ::: November 03, 2008, 05:26 PM:

Here's a little something for tomorrow, it may be trite, but it's still worth reading:

Look to this day
for it is life
The very life of life.
In its' brief course lie all
the realities and truths of existence:
the joy of growth
the splendor of action
the glory of power.

For yesterday is but a memory
And tomorrow is only a vision.
But today well lived
makes every yesterday a memory of happiness
and every tomorrow a vision of hope.

Look well, therefore, to this day...

From an ancient Sanskrit poem

#26 ::: J. Random Scribbler ::: (view all by) ::: November 03, 2008, 05:42 PM:

Kathy@15, Lizzy@22:

Oregon is like California in that our ballots have to arrive by election day, not just be postmarked then. If you live here and haven't turned your ballot in yet, please don't put it in the mail! Check your local library or city hall for a drop box.

Side note: I wish more states used a system like ours, where your ballot is mailed to you and you fill it out and return it on your own time. Especially when I hear about long lines at polling places, and people having to trust electronic voting machines.

#27 ::: tavella ::: (view all by) ::: November 03, 2008, 06:02 PM:

Ooh, I wonder if that was the thing my sister was advancing. She came bombing through my mom's place in Arlington this yesterday, picking up a suitcase, and couldn't say where she was going.

#28 ::: Lizzy L ::: (view all by) ::: November 03, 2008, 06:08 PM:

Jim at 24: ooh, facts. How disappointing. I like my symbolism better. :-)

#29 ::: Connie H. ::: (view all by) ::: November 03, 2008, 06:54 PM:

Well, we can refer to this rally as 'Third Manassas' which should amply put the symbolism into the right framework.

#30 ::: Bronwyn ::: (view all by) ::: November 03, 2008, 08:16 PM:

Jon in #10, thank you! I have a presentation to do on Brazil, sugar, and slavery soon, and I can see that article will come in handy.

#31 ::: Nenya ::: (view all by) ::: November 03, 2008, 08:20 PM:

#23 Michael Weholt--

Damn. :(

#32 ::: Leva Cygnet ::: (view all by) ::: November 03, 2008, 09:13 PM:

Me, I'm trying to figure out why McCain is having his last campaign rally in Prescott, Arizona, of all places tomorrow. Is he just going through the motions? (Barack is going to Indianapolis and Chicago tomorrow for a couple big rallies.)

Prescott is a small city with no nearby large cities. (Phoenix is over two hours away, possibly three, depending on how bad the traffic is on I-17.) It doesn't have the infrastructure to support a big rally -- and they're having it at the courthouse square, which is a fairly small area.

I guess Prescott does have the benefit of being a few minutes by air from McCain's ranch, but it's going to be really inconvenient for his supporters.

#33 ::: Lin D ::: (view all by) ::: November 03, 2008, 09:22 PM:

According to the WaPo:
McCain will end his presidential campaign in the Arizona town where Goldwater launched his '64 presidential run.

#34 ::: Lin D ::: (view all by) ::: November 03, 2008, 09:23 PM:

According to the WaPo:
McCain will end his presidential campaign in the Arizona town where Goldwater launched his '64 presidential run.

#35 ::: Laurie Mann ::: (view all by) ::: November 03, 2008, 10:04 PM:

And we all remember who well the Goldwater campaign worked out. I was a Goldwater supporter, but I was only 7 in 1964.

This morning, McCain spoke to 1,500 at a Florida rally. Interestingly, the site could hold about 10,000. That speaks volumes about what could be happening tomorrow.


#36 ::: Vicki ::: (view all by) ::: November 03, 2008, 10:27 PM:


#37 ::: Marilee ::: (view all by) ::: November 04, 2008, 12:02 AM:

Yep, the rally was still going on about five miles from me about half-an-hour ago (TV news). I was invited by a volunteer, but it's on the fairgrounds and I can't walk on gravel or grass, or go up or sit on bleachers.

The news said there were 80K folks at the rally.

But I don't think having the rally here has anything to do with the Civil War. He had his very first electioneering appearance in Prince William County (the fairgrounds are about three miles out of Manassas) and so he's having one of the last here.

DBratman, #12, the significance of the two names is that the South calls them the Battles of Manassas and the North calls them the Battles of Bull Run. Still.

#38 ::: Lizzy L ::: (view all by) ::: November 04, 2008, 12:16 AM:

According to Oliver Willis, there were 85,000 people at the Manassas rally.

We're going to win this thing.

#39 ::: Kevin Riggle ::: (view all by) ::: November 04, 2008, 12:43 AM:

jim @24: Whether or not the symbolism was intended, it's still there -- both powerful and hopeful. It seems to me to say, as clear as a clarion's call, "Yes We Can!" It's been a long time since I've felt hopeful about my country, and I'm enjoying it. Doesn't mean the work is over -- the work has, truthfully, only begun -- but the glimmer of dawn is on the horizon.

(Insert standard lit-crit rant about author's intent here.)

#40 ::: DBratman ::: (view all by) ::: November 04, 2008, 01:12 AM:

Marilee @12: I know that. Really. My comment already assumed that knowledge. The "significance" I was referring to was the significance alluded to by Ken @7, namely the significance of the Obama campaign referring to "Manassas" rather than "Bull Run". They didn't do that to take a Southern perspective on the battle, they did it because Manassas is the name of the town that the rally was at.

#41 ::: DBratman ::: (view all by) ::: November 04, 2008, 01:13 AM:

In #40, for "Marilee @12", read "Marilee @37." n q.

#42 ::: little light ::: (view all by) ::: November 04, 2008, 02:43 AM:

Leva @32: McCain may be in Prescott, but Palin held her big rally today in Colorado Springs, the basecamp and heart of the Dominionist movement. I think that may be the bigger deal, honestly.

#43 ::: Leah Miller ::: (view all by) ::: November 04, 2008, 03:07 AM:

I was one of those... however many thousand people at the Manassas rally.

So here's my summary of the night. I apologize for any typos or tense problems. Times and distances are often approximate. It's about 3 here and I'm falling asleep at the keyboard.

I leave my house at about 8:15pm. I'm late! The event starts at 9, and on a GOOD day it takes me half an hour to drive to that part of Manassas. This is not going to be pretty.

The traffic from Fairfax is incredible. We've talked about bumper-sticker polling... well it seems like every car in this 15-20mph crawl has an Obama sticker. (I actually took a wrong turn at one point, but I realize I'm off track within a minute because I don't see Obama stickers anymore.) When I get within two miles of the fairgrounds, I start to see people walking. I should have taken the hint and found parking then, instead I keep driving forward. After a bit I drive past a supermarket that might have been a good place to park (too late! I'll never know). There are more walkers here. About ten feet past the entrance to the Supermarket cars are at a standstill, and people on foot are breezing past us. The next half block takes 20 minutes. Sadly there is no way to turn around. (It's now 9:50 - what is normally a half-hour drive has taken over an hour and a half)

Next I turn left onto a side road, and see another shopping center. The parking there is insane. Everything that even remotely resembles a spot is taken. People are parked on curbs, on lawns, any place there is more than two cars width of open space - yet, as far as I can tell, no one is actually parked in such a way as to totally block in another car. After about a minute I realize I'm not going to find a spot here. I'm not on the route to the fairgrounds anymore... I'm on a perpendicular side street. I make my way another half mile down that side road, passing several communities with "private property: you will be towed" signs. Finally I find a street without any such signs. I park, and start booking it back to the crowded parking lot I passed earlier. (It's a bit after 10 now).

On my way, a man with an African accent and his sister ask me which way to the fairgrounds. I tell them I know the general direction, and that we'll just follow the stream of people as we get closer. He asks me if Obama has started speaking already. I say I don't know, but that I figure he wouldn't start at 9pm sharp. The man says he just wants to get to see him once before he becomes president.

We make it to the parking lot, where there are a lot of people who are easy to follow. I start powerwalking - man am I in bad shape. I mix in with the huge stream of people heading up the street.

It's another mile or more walk from to the fairgrounds. As I head in that direction there are a few people walking the opposite way, away from the fairgrounds. Worried that we've missed Obama (we're more than an hour late at this point) people going my way ask the people leaving what's going on. They say Obama was delayed, and hasn't spoken yet. The crowd continues toward the fairgrounds with renewed vigor. (It's important to note that there were three-five people walking toward the rally for every one walking away).

Lots of street vendors selling towels, pins, and T-shirts. One group has a boom box blasting "We Support Barack" to the tune of "Solid as a Rock." I grab some water from the 7-11 and recommence power-walking. I know I'm gonna feel this in the morning.

Eventually we get to the street leading to the fairgrounds. We can actually see the stage from the road, through the trees. Everyone's lined up by the road, making no further progress toward the fairgrounds. I worry that I'm too late - did the fairgrounds fill up? Is that possible? Everyone's standing around calmly. I ask someone if this is as far in as we can get. They say "yeah, for now." That sounds promising. I wait for about fifteen minutes, then a motorcade drives by us and people go nuts. Once they're safely past us, I realize the people lining the street are actually sort of a queue... a quarter-mile-long, four-person-wide queue that is now filing into the fairgrounds. Everyone is orderly and polite, if a bit confused.

I make it to the fairgrounds as Obama is being introduced, and make it inside just as his speech is actually starting. I'm 5'2, so I can't actually see him, even standing at the top of the hill. Too many heads and shoulders. Then I notice that a lot of people are standing on a bleacher in an adjacent field. It's not optimal, but it'll at least get my eyes above shoulder level.

I see a gap in the people on the bleacher. A 12 year old boy is sitting there, listening to the speech. He sees me come up, and offers me his spot, telling me that I can, indeed, see Obama from that railing. I thank him, and I go stand by the back railing of the bleacher. I can barely make the figure at the podium out, but at least I've seen him. I offer the boy his spot back, but he tells me I can have it.

I stand there for about 10 minutes. While I'm looking at Obama and the crowd arrayed around him, I notice that a few people are already heading out... probably got here at 6 or 7, and have been standing around for four hours now. Still, that means I might be able to weave my way through the crowds and get a better look. I make my way down the bleachers, and start to thread through the crowd.

Once again, I'm struck by how nice and happy everyone is. Usually when I try to wend myself into positions where I can actually see, people push and shove. None of that here. At one point I get stuck... there's a woman sitting on the grass blocking my way to a gap that leads deeper into the crowd, and closer to Obama. Her friend notices me, and asks

"Are you tryin' to get through, honey?"
"Yes, please."
"Go right ahead.'"
"Thank you."
"You're very welcome."

This is just par for the course at this rally. I've never seen people so happy to be bumped into and tripped over - though mostly I guess they're just glad to be there.

I eventually make it close enough that I can actually make Obama out as more than just an animated blur, and I realize I've gotten just about as close as I can. I'm pretty satisfied with where I am, though. Now I'm deep in the crowd. The vibe is great. The speech is also great, of course. I cry a few times, laugh a few times, cheer a lot. I can't really describe it properly. I'm a bit overwhelmed even now.

When the speech ends they go on to play some more excellent, danceable music and Obama does some waving and photo ops. Some people around me start to leave, some just dance, talk, laugh, and take photos. Eventually they turn the music off and the crowd really starts to disperse.

As I leave, it takes 20 minutes to successfully send a text message. The exits are congested for at least 20 minutes as well. I end up back at my car at around midnight, I think. It takes another hour to get home. At 1:04am I stumble through the door to my apartment. I must tell everyone. I must process.

And now I am very tired. We're not done yet... but we're close. I've not been in a group of people that happy and passionate... ever I don't think. I badly want to win this country for them.


And now, I am going to go to bed. Goodnight.

#44 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: November 04, 2008, 03:43 AM:

Watching from the UK, in our elections we just don't get anything like the Manassas Rally.

We have places with lots of people, but we don't get that many people all going to one place to hear a politician.

If it comes to that, I doubt we've had a politician who could pull off a gig like that since a certain, half-American, Winston Spencer Churchill.

A McCain rally, that's more the scale to expect here.

#45 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: November 04, 2008, 04:12 AM:

Leva, #32: Cynical response -- because if he has his rally in a relatively small venue, the press reports won't pick up the echoing emptiness that would be obvious in a larger one.

Leah, #43: Thank you.

#46 ::: John L ::: (view all by) ::: November 04, 2008, 04:35 AM:

Last week Obama had a rally in downtown Raleigh, on a workday around 11:00 am. Over 25,000 people showed up. That Saturday, Sarah Palin had a rally in Raleigh at the fairgrounds, and even though it was on a weekend with nothing else going on that evening, only 5000 showed up.

Now the ugly. My assistant at work, a young black engineer, asked me if she could use community leave time (we get 24 hours annually) to volunteer to help with the election today. Sure I said, that's what it's for.

When I mentioned it to my supervisor, he nixed the idea, saying he didn't think that was appropriate. I told her and suggested she speak to our front office managers for some clarification on this issue, and she did. They told her the same as I, that as long as she wasn't working for a specific candidate it was fine. When she mentioned that to our supervisor, though, he still disagreed and told her he needed at least 2 weeks' lead time, specific duties she was going to be performing, and approval from the campaign managers before he would authorize the community leave time. The office managers are unwilling to overrule him, so she's forced to either not work in the election office or use her own vacation time for the work.

Yeah, my supervisor's an asshole.

#48 ::: Mez ::: (view all by) ::: November 04, 2008, 06:26 AM:

Leah, wow. That would be a memorable experience no matter what. I hope it becomes the first of many happy memories. Have a good rest.

#49 ::: Nell ::: (view all by) ::: November 04, 2008, 08:27 AM:

Ken Houghton: That they are referring to it by the Southern name, not the Northern,...

What do you mean by this? What would be "the northern name" for Manassas? It's a town, not just a battle site, and its name has always been Manassas. That is, it's not "the Southern name", it's the name of the town.

#50 ::: Jamie ::: (view all by) ::: November 04, 2008, 08:28 AM:

Several of my friends live and/or work in Manassas (I live between Reston and Chantilly in Fairfax Co.), and all of them were complaining about the traffic (Prince William Parkway is already a nightmare during normal traffic rush...Northern VA competes with L.A. for traffic suckage, and the fairgrounds are adjacent to the stadium complex if memory serves). So while I doubt he lost their vote, he definitely annoyed a few of them. Which I find hilarious.

#51 ::: John L ::: (view all by) ::: November 04, 2008, 08:31 AM:

It has been traditional for the South to label battles according to the closest town, while Union forces labeled them according to the streams that were fought around.

Manassas (south), Bull Run (north)
Sharpsburg (south), Antietam (north)
Murfreesboro (south), Stones River (north)

Those are the three (four battles though) that come to my mind.

#52 ::: Cat Meadors ::: (view all by) ::: November 04, 2008, 09:08 AM:

Oh, Obama already pissed off my husband by blocking off traffic when he had a rally at the local HS. David Englin smashed my daughter's jack-o'-lantern while he was campaigning last year. Doesn't mean we're not going to vote for the guys. (Even if we do sometimes wish they'd go campign somewhere else.)

I was thinking about trying to go to the Inauguration this year. How insane an idea do y'all think that is?

#53 ::: Marilee ::: (view all by) ::: November 04, 2008, 10:23 PM:

Leah, #43, thanks for the report! With 87% in, we have 50% Obama and 49% McCain, which was reversed just 30 minutes ago. NBC says that 80% of registered Virginia voters voted.

#54 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: November 05, 2008, 09:33 PM:

Maia was campaigning in Nevada, the weekend Obama went to say good-bye to his grandmother, and he made a surprise appearance in Reno.

40,000 people. She managed, by some wonderful fortune, to be about 40 feet from him.

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