Times Change

Noam Scheiber reminisces:

This, in turn, prompted me to recall how much of a non-celebrity Obama was when I met him four-and-a-half years ago. I distinctly remember trailing him around some cloak room or caucus room in the Illinois state senate in April of 2004. This attracted a lot of attention from his colleagues, and one of them–a middle-aged white woman, if I remember correctly–finally asked who I was. “He’s from The New Republic,” Obama told her. I might have imagined it, but I got the impression people were pretty impressed.

I met Obama on line for a breakfast buffet at a hotel somewhere in downtown Boston at the 2004 convention. As I recall, we were both going for some bacon. He wasn’t so staffed up at that point. When he said he was Barack Obama, I knew who he was, but at that point he wasn’t so famous that I just recognized him off the bat or anything. It must have been a day or two later when I was inside the Fleet Center and randomly ran into a guy I knew who, unbeknownst to me, had moved to Illinois to work for Ron Blagojevic (this was back when Blago was a progressive rising star) and he told me that I just had to get into the arena to hear this guy Barack Obama speak. He told me it was going to be something else.

And you know what? It was.

And I suppose this is petty of me, but as we await tomorrow’s historic occasion in some ways I can’t help but feel that that night four and a half years ago was the real deal—not what’s going to happen tomorrow. Real history has that spontaneous quality. Before Obama spoke, a minority of people knew that he was a brilliant orator, and absolutely nobody knew that he was about to launch an incredibly sudden rise from the State Senate to the White House. But it happened. And though of course the full import of those events couldn’t be known until Election Day 2008, people who saw the speech immediately knew that something surprising and important had happened.