[Did you see that? Fat Clown, courtesy of friend Beckers’ intrepid reporting, called the results of the Iowa caucus and the 2008 Presidential election. Congratulations, Iowa, on electing our first African-American president. Sweet. Beckers has more for us from the days leading up to the election. But in true Fat Clown style, we’re bringing it to you late (though this time a broken-down car is partially to blame). Before I screw this up any more, let’s let Beckers bring you up to date to a few hours ago. -Ed.]
The bleachers are full and hundreds more are crammed onto the floor of a middle school gymnasium, looking about anxiously. Some dance with enthusiasm, some sway noncommittally to the music piped from the speakers. It’s currently U2’s “City of Blinding Lights,” which must refer to Ottumwa.
The scoreboard is lit, displaying 20:08 remaining, with a score of 20 to 08. Nice touch for the leading zero. There are lights aimed high on the walls and ceiling, with custom-cut gobos projecting his logo and another reading “Obama ’08.” It’s 3 degrees and 10:45 p.m. on a Tuesday and he’s late. No one really seems to mind. The tangible enthusiasm displayed in hand-made signs and embroidered Obama fleece pullovers in combination with the slightest sense that no one really knows how to behave makes the event feel like the strange hybrid of a junior high dance and pep rally.
It was vastly different from the Biden rally two days earlier, which was held in the Mississippi River Museum. Coat racks were available at the entry and folding chairs had been set up in the main gallery, and organizers seemed a bit surprised to find that the hundred or so preset chairs were insufficient to seat the whole of the crowd. Posters were distributed by interns, and a young man, I’m assuming another intern, played some improvised jazz on a keyboard. A local figure introduced Richard Schiff (West Wing) who, in turn, introduced Biden. I won’t bore you with the substance of the speeches, it’s just exactly the same as you can read everywhere else, but I am fascinated by the differences from a theatrical point of view.
Biden stuck to pacing proscenium-style across the floor in front of the chairs in a kind of fourth-wall soliloquy. His weight was shifted back over his heels and his chin was raised; his bearing was regal, but distant. Even in the period of questions following his speech, he sometimes chose the questioner, but he rarely addressed his response directly to that individual, it may as well have come from a cue card.
Obama was introduced by his wife, who was herself introduced by a local figure. They appeared in the round, leaning forward as they spoke and turning to address the audience which surrounded them. (The median age, by the way, was easily half that of the Biden attendees, not to mention being a bit more diverse in terms of demographics.) They tucked their chins and maintained eye contact in direct audience address, sometimes even referencing an individual in real time, a device designed to engender a sense of connectedness.
My observations are not intended to be critical of either candidate, I only find it to be a fascinating phenomenon. In a race where many of the candidates are virtually indistinguishable on paper, I suspect that it this dynamic which is likely to decide the election.
And there will be plenty of opportunity for such observations when the formality of the post-Iowa campaigning begins. Here’s a taste of what’s to come, a tally of advertisements aired during 1 1/2 hours of the evening news on NBC:
Fast-forward to The Big Day, and my mother is currently fashioning herself a red, white, and blue sash to display her Obama button collection while she helps to set up for the caucus. I’m trying to stay out of the way because my sister is, even at this late hour, undecided and things are getting ugly. She may be holding out for baked goods and other (completely legal) incentives suggested in the How to Caucus class they attended over the summer.
I don’t know if they’ll let me in to the actual caucus, but maybe I can use the powers of invisibility which seems to be granted to me whenever I say the magic words, “Not an Iowa resident.”