Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Obama in New Orleans

Tulane University
February 7th, 2008
New Orleans, La.

Dear Family and Friends,

Credit Barack Obama's advance team.

When mental illness and a six-foot-four frame met Nicola Cotton two weeks ago, the City stood still. She was a police officer shot by her own gun. The culprit was a homeless man given up on by his family and released from a mental institution three weeks earlier.

When the news came, the women in the office began praying.

I leaned back and grabbed my head--Nicola Cotton was 24.

It's supposed to be the age where life begins. We've glimpsed the struggles and rewards of responsibility, the fears of growing up gain traction with every year. But still at 24, we're more babies than breadwinners.

And it's just above the median age in the full gym at Tulane University today where people lined up before dawn to see him speak two hours after sunrise. Over 3,000 people came.

Nestled about 15 minutes into the speech full of crescendos ending with standing ovations, Obama prepped for another that ended with a reference to Cotton and New Orleans' crime.

"And instead of unsafe streets and shocking crimes, we will help New Orleans rebuild its criminal justice system. We'll start a new COPS for Katrina program to put more resources into community policing, so that heroic officers - men and women like Nicola Cotton, who gave her life serving the city she loved - have more support."

The text doesn't reflect the emotion of a room tired of being America's crime punching bag, although, in many ways, the bruises are deserved. I'm so glad that his research and speech writing team noticed that Nicola Cotton's death is still fresh here in New Orleans.

He referenced education, the broken levees and said President Bush's fly-over of New Orleans' Katrina damage was a metaphor for Bush's presidency. At times he was specific and others he was cautiously ambiguous.

The 100-year flood protection is already in the plans, Category 5 levees are not. So Obama said,

"When I am President, we will finish building a system of levees that can withstand a 100-year storm by 2011, with the goal of expanding that protection to defend against a Category 5 storm."

Goals aren't promises.

Overall, the people I spoke with and Facebook status messages I read used words like "trance" and "high" to describe how they felt during and immediately after the speech.

Obama is a superstar in game that rarely produces them. His youth movement is taking hold, like older generations say, they did in the Kennedy era.

I read that Obama's go-to-speech writer is 26. Obama and his wordsmiths are giving all of us young people an inspiring political fairy tale (a good kind) that we're talking about as Kennedy-like.

Funny right? We're not even old enough to remember him.



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