The Atlantic article “The Obama Nostalgia Show”
A brass band was playing Taylor Swift’s “Shake It Off” while a long line of worried Democrats stood outside Temple University’s basketball arena and discussed the potential political future of their party.
The Liacouras Center gathering on Saturday afternoon seemed to center on that peculiar contrast between fear and joy. Democratic candidates John Fetterman for Senate, Josh Shapiro for governor, and the rest of the Democratic slate received enthusiastic support from Democrats as President Joe Biden delivered a final campaign address.
With their Phillies hats and Fetterman clothing, they exuded a cautious optimism. However, they also saw the current period as unusually dangerous for both democracy and the party’s future. They were therefore more than anything else in need of some impromptu assurance and motivation from their former party leader.
Barbara Pizzutillo, a physical therapist from the suburbs of Philadelphia, told me before the event that Obama has a talent for putting things in perspective and makes [politics] approachable to just about everyone. “What we need right now is to witness the energy in the crowd.” Kip Williams, a resident of Philadelphia, claimed he was thrilled to be present and close to the band. “I’m inspired by this line. I’m so hopeful for Tuesday!
The crowd welcomed the 44th president as he took the podium as they would have a long-lost friend or a beloved instructor who had returned after a string of inconsistent replacements.
“The kind of slash-and-burn politics that we are currently witnessing need not define who we are. After Biden, Shapiro, and Fetterman left the stage, Barack Obama entered. He assured the audience, “I think everything will work out.” If we put up the effort, not just on election day but on all other days as well, they will be okay.
The fight to succeed Pat Toomey in the U.S. Senate has been more competitive in recent weeks, particularly in Pennsylvania, where Mehmet Oz, a Republican, and Fetterman are now almost evenly matched in the polls. Republican Blake Masters of Arizona is coming up to Democratic Senator Mark Kelly, and Republican Herschel Walker of Georgia is unaffected by any number of abortion-related scandals in his election against Democrat Raphael Warnock. Additionally, the majority of Republican candidates running in the midterm elections nationally contend that Biden did not triumph in the 2020 election.
For this reason, Democrats have pulled out their biggest gun yet three days before election day. The most recent stop on Obama’s swing-state trip, which he only started about a week ago in a last-ditch bid to rally voters in Arizona and Wisconsin, was Pennsylvania.
This kind of gathering serves to honor activists and volunteers and turn out the base—the folks who will knock on doors and provide transportation to the polls on election day—rather than to persuade the undecided.
Anthony Stevenson compared the pitcher who helped his local Phillies win the World Series to the Democrat who won the White House in 2008, saying, “Like Brad Lidge in 2008.” He is closer, I say.
It’s difficult to predict how effective this rally will be with only 48 hours till Election Day. But during the gathering on Saturday night, voters were satisfied with the promise of hearing President Obama. They told me that they needed to hear from him in order to remember what politics were like in the past and, they hoped, what they might be again.
Obama stole the show after Biden opened it. The former president was immediately at ease and skilled with the jokes and punchlines: “Don’t boo! Vote!” He made fun of Fetterman for dressing like “just a dude” in shorts throughout the cold. (Fetterman had previously tweeted how, on another occasion, he had “dressed up (wore pants)” to see Obama.) However, there were also poignant moments.
Obama dutifully denounced Doug Mastriano, a GOP candidate for governor, and Oz’s promotion of “snake oil.” He also reminded the audience that the Democrats had suffered “shellbacks” in both the 2010 midterm elections, while he was president, and the 2014 election. If they didn’t show up at the polls, he threatened, it would happen again this year.
Obama echoed Biden’s recent decision to focus his message, saying, “I recognize that democracy might not seem to be a top concern right now, especially when you’re worried about paying the bills.” But when genuine democracy is lost, people suffer. It has genuine repercussions.
The impact of his statements seemed to be felt by voters last night. Jody Boches, who lives in the nearby Abington Township, told me that in the past, politics and philosophy were the only factors considered when voting. The well-being of our democracy, as well as the integrity of all of these institutions as well as the right to vote, are now in jeopardy.
Boches chuckled and pointed to her phone when I inquired about what it meant to see Obama. My daughter, a UVA graduate student, asked me to videotape him speaking so that she could remember what it was like to hear him.
Some rally attendees were cautiously optimistic. Abortion was everyone’s top concern, along with the expectation that the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade will increase Democratic turnout this year. Doylestown resident Mary Halanan told me she might see a significant group of these voters—”people like me,” she said—come out to vote on Tuesday. I want to think that I’m the silent majority.
Others were more anxious about what will happen the next week. The chances of the president’s party winning the House are bleak as once-promising Senate races have become more competitive. Republicans are expected to perform significantly better than the required five-seat gain needed to gain a majority.
The rest of Biden’s term in the White House appears guaranteed to feature a bombardment of investigations and impeachment attempts rather than any effort toward bipartisan legislation, even assuming the Democrats maintain control of the Senate, which is at best a precarious possibility.
Democrats I spoke with in the crowd frequently expressed how much they missed Obama’s compassion and thoughtfulness. They didn’t make ’em like that anymore, their longing seemed to be saying about what they felt lacking in the Democratic leadership of today, making it all the more devastating.
Pam Parseghian and Rosalin Franklin waited to cross the street after the rally when they were standing side by side. Parseghian sighed and added, “We were just talking about how he pulls people together. She played out his words: “Belief in science! Here he is talking about his wife, talking about the positive.” Have faith in the future! ”
I questioned Parseghian and Franklin about their confidence in their party’s electoral prospects after they had finished expressing how thrilled they had been by Obama’s arrival. Both ladies halted. Parseghian eventually said, “Yes.” Franklin slowly nodded. Yes, I’m still concerned. But, yes.