Obama & Sweet Potato Pie


You would think first of all of a village fair: the entire community of Germantown, Northwest Philly, taking itself up on the brightest of bright sunny fall days and moving en masse, clumps of people—groups of young men in the obligatory hoodies and low-riding jeans, moms pushing strollers, dads lugging car seats, and everywhere children, from toddlers on up, being pulled along (“You’ll remember this all your life!”)—almost all of them African-American and all melding together, as they crowded toward the entrance to Vernon Park, into a full running, laughing stream. Hawkers hawked “Obamaniana”—the man’s face glowing on posters, some huge, floating above the crowd; his name carved in wood or stone; the Obama keychains and wallets and everywhere the volunteers with their blue buttons and their clipboards, making sure it all works smoothly.

Once in the park, enfolded in those several thousand happy people, there was the dancing. Over the loudspeakers, inevitably, “The Power of One!” and of course “Power to the People,” and beneath where I stood on the riser, among the generally bored press corps, two blond girls danced and laughed and bumped hips. I chat with a local volunteer, a middle-aged lady with a café au lait face, and when I ask her how it’s going she fixes me first of all with a slightly scolding look—how can you ask that?—and then says it simply and without doubt, “Oh, we’re gonna do it this time. This time it’s ours!”

Knowing politicians and his schedule of four appearances on this one bright day in Philly I’d been prepared to wait but it was only twenty minutes after the appointed time when after a series of very quick introductions from the young black mayor, Michael Nutter, and Senator Robert Casey, and the gravel-voiced bearish Governor Ed Rendell—hardly more than a minute each, a never-before-glimpsed discipline from politicians—he rose from a stairway at the back of the stage into an explosion of sound, grinning with pleasure in an open-collared white dress shirt and black dress slacks.

He seems slender and slight and young, astonishingly young, and you notice first of all, for it is impossible not to, the physical grace; he moves like an athlete much more than a politician, taking pleasure in his body: bursting up onto the stage, the lanky highly stylized movement, shoulders bent slightly concave, gathering everything into those constantly clapping hands, using the hands in their clapping to acknowledge the crowd, his head nodding all the while, as if he is drawing his energy only from them and showing that energy with his clapping and nodding, with the bursting energy of his body that is an embodiment of theirs, an embodied picture of what they’re giving him. He prances with evident pleasure around the little stage, moving his head in big theatrical nods, embracing each politician in turn, big full-bodied embraces, and again one thinks of an athlete on the sidelines or in the dugout: all of it is done with the unhindered…

This is exclusive content for subscribers only.
Get unlimited access to The New York Review for just $1 an issue!

View Offer

Continue reading this article, and thousands more from our archive, for the low introductory rate of just $1 an issue. Choose a Print, Digital, or All Access subscription.

If you are already a subscriber, please be sure you are logged in to your nybooks.com account.