On Feb. 10, 2007, Barack Obama, the junior senator from Illinois, announced that he was running in the 2008 Democratic presidential primaries. The speech was given in Springfield, Ill., in the same place where former Illinois congressman Abraham Lincoln condemned slavery in 1858.
If there's one thing we've always known about Obama -- from his books, from his speeches, from his decisions -- it's that he's always had an eye to how his every move will be remembered by history when he no longer has a hand in shaping it. This was very evident from the official start of his presidential campaign, when the themes of his platform were already clear. He was running on hope, he was there to get every fired up, and he was there to prove the power of words. Here's a look back at what people said about Obama on the days after his announcement (many of which are immensely amusing in retrospect).
Matt Taibbi, Rolling Stone: "I've been on the fence about Obama for more than two years now, ever since his breakout performance at the Democratic convention in '04. When I saw that speech -- an iconic piece of inspired nonsense/political showmanship, one that set flashbulbs popping like Michael Jordan's virtuoso 1988 dunk contest performance -- I knew right away that he would be the Democratic presidential nominee someday, perhaps even in the next election cycle. When I mentioned this to my friends, they told me I was crazy. ... Here's the thing about Obama, the reason they call him a "natural" and a "rare talent." When Hillary Clinton spouts a cliche, it's four words long, she's reading it off a teleprompter, and it hits the ear like the fat part of a wooden oar. Obama, on the other hand, can close his eyes and the cliches just pour out of his mouth in huge polysyllabic paragraphs, like Rachmaninoff improvisations. In this sense he's exactly like Bill Clinton, who had the same gift. He is exactly what is meant by the term BS artist."
Lynn Sweet, Chicago Sun Times: "Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) used campaign donations generated by PACs and lobbyists to bankroll the birth of his White House bid — though he’s banning that money for his presidential 2008 race."
Whitney Woodward, Chicago Sun Times: "'I'm Hillary and I'm running, but I'm here to support Obama,' said a Springfield resident, who refused to break character or take off his yellowed Hillary Clinton mask. 'See, Obama's too good. All the people are going to see through me and vote for Obama.' Nearby was a Mark Twain look-alike, who offered to help Obama raise campaign money."
David K. Kirpatrick, New York Times: "Senator Barack Obama of Illinois, a contender for the Democratic presidential nomination, issued an unusual challenge to his rivals on Wednesday. He proposed a voluntary agreement between the two major party nominees that would limit their fund-raising and spending for the general election. Mr. Obama’s suggestion is notable because the 2008 presidential election is widely expected to be the first campaign since President Richard M. Nixon left office that would be paid for mainly by private donors and waged without legal spending limits."
Abdon M. Pallasch, Chicago Sun Times: "It was only three words in his 20-minute speech announcing his candidacy -- 'taught constitutional law.' But his students and colleagues at the University of Chicago say those words would make Barack Obama a different kind of president. 'It certainly is an advantage that he really knows the Constitution of the United States,' said Professor Cass Sunstein. 'I don't know if we have had a president that knows as much about the founding document as he does.'"
Frank Rich, New York Times: "As the official Barack Obama rollout reaches its planned climax on ''60 Minutes'' tonight, we'll learn if he has the star power to upstage Anna Nicole Smith. But at least one rap against him can promptly be laid to rest: his lack of experience. If time in the United States Senate is what counts for presidential seasoning, maybe his two years' worth is already too much. Better he get out now, before there's another embarrassing nonvote on a nonbinding measure about what will soon be a four-year-old war."
New York Observer: "According to this survey, he has more MySpace friends than any other 2008 candidate. While links are one thing, getting the people behind the links into a room is probably a more useful indicator of strength, at least among the net-obsessed portion of the electorate."
Peter Beinart, The New Republic: "Joe Biden is the reason Barack Obama was smart to run for president. He's a textbook example of why lengthy service in the U.S. Senate makes it harder to win the White House. Once upon a time, Biden--elected to the Senate at age 29--was a political up-and-comer. He was brainy but blue-collar: a Catholic from a state that is more culturally conservative than it seems. And he was eloquent. People forget, but Biden is one of the best speechmakers in the Democratic Party. When he ran for president in 1988, passion was his forte. Sure, he was undisciplined, but so was Bill Clinton. Two decades ago, his national political future looked bright. Today, he's in danger of becoming a laughingstock."
Sylvester Brown Jr., St. Louis Post-Dispatch: "The Democratic Party must recognize the fragility of an Obama campaign. Last I heard, Democrats were gearing up to retake the office, not make history. I'm still not convinced the party would nominate Sen. Hillary Clinton to become the first female president, let alone throw its hopes and dreams behind a 'first black' candidate."
David Montgomery, The Washington Post: "The clever rhetorical judo of Obama's oft-quoted line, 'I know that I haven't spent a lot of time learning the ways of Washington. But I've been there long enough to know that the ways of Washington must change!' -- "That seemed very classic Axelrod," said David Wilhelm, former chairman of the Democratic National Committee. Nineteen months to the presidential election, and already the campaign has an A-Rod! He is David Axelrod, a former newspaper reporter who has worked on past campaigns for no fewer than five of the Democrats racing to the White House, a form of political ubiquity that only enhances his reputation. This time, he's with Obama. A measure of his status in the top tier of Democratic spinners, scripters and fixers is that when his peers detect something subtle and good, they presume Axelrod must have had a hand in it."
Mike Allen, Politico: "Now, Obama’s about to endure a going-over that would make a proctologist blush. Why has he sometimes said his first name is Arabic, and other times Swahili? Why did he make up names in his first book, as the introduction acknowledges? Why did he say two years ago that he would 'absolutely' serve out his Senate term, which ends in 2011, and that the idea of him running for president this cycle was “silly” and hype 'that’s been a little overblown'?"
John Dickerson, Slate: "If Obama becomes president, what personal experience is he going to draw on when he sits across from blunt and tough leaders like Vladimir Putin?"
David Limbaugh, Human Events: "Barack Rodney King Obama"
Mandy St. Amand, St. Louis Post-Dispatch: "Three blocks away from the Old Capitol where Barack Obama made headlines Saturday morning, Frank Tieman made a prediction. As he collected $3 from each driver who pulled into his parking lot, he said, 'I don't expect this thing to fill up, not in this weather.' Fill it did, though, with people who wanted to be on hand to hear Illinois' junior senator make it official: He was running for president. Police couldn't agree on an official estimate of how many people showed up in downtown Springfield. Estimates ranged from 10,000 to 17,000, but even the most cynical of crowd counters could see that the 5,000 number the campaign had estimated early would be exceeded. By a wide margin."
James Carville: "Democratic Sen. Barack Obama and Republican Rudy Giuliani -- The two candidates 'most likely to explode or implode."
E.J. Dionne, The Washington Post: "Does Barack Obama have the potential to trump Hillary Clinton's money, organization and methodical planning by becoming the online phenomenon of 2008? The answer to that question might determine who wins the Democratic presidential nomination. This is the election in which Internet campaigning will reach maturity. The 2000 campaign offered the first glimmers of the medium's power when John McCain surprised the political world by raising $6 million to $7 million online in his unsuccessful Republican primary campaign against George W. Bush."
Adam Frucci, Gizmodo: "Remember in 2004 when Howard Dean discovered blogs and it "revolutionized" presidential campaigning? That was quaint. This time around, blogs are old hat and everyone is looking to use the internet to connect to you, the concerned and unapathetic voter. Prepare to get jaded and cynical. Barack Obama looks to be diving into this whole "Web 2.0" thing head first, what with his own Facebook profile, Flickr account, and YouTube account. In addition to all this stuff, he also has my.barackobama.com, a social networking type site for his supporters to create profiles, network, and make blogs all about how great Barack Obama is."
Timothy Noah, Slate: "Do Space Aliens Advise Obama?"
Maureen Dowd, New York Times: "Obama, Legally Blonde?"
Edward McClelland, Salon: "When reporters go one on one with Barack Obama, they end up writing things they'll regret in the morning papers. It's a phenomenon called "drinking the Obama juice." One besotted scribe called him 'tall, fresh and elegant.' And the august Atlantic Monthly mooned about Obama's "charisma, intelligence and ambition, tempered by a self-deprecating wit," titling its article 'The Natural.'"
The Independent: "Mr Obama's presence will not be the only novel feature of the 2008 campaign. The most open for very many years, it will be a campaign of firsts. Hillary Clinton, senator for New York and wife of Bill, will be the first woman with a realistic chance of the nomination. Mitt Romney, the governor of Massachusetts, will be the first Mormon candidate with national appeal. Add into the mix the colourful former mayor of New York, Rudy Giuliani, senator John McCain of Arizona, whose hero's biography and Straight Talk Express brought him a national following in 2000; and John Edwards, the populist lawyer and former senator from North Carolina - and there is already a contest to savour."
Joan Walsh, Salon: "I was on the convention floor in Boston the night Barack Obama unofficially became a candidate for president, at the 2004 Democratic National Convention. Up to that point, the Fleet Center was like a stale bag of popcorn, with uninspired party stalwarts going through the motions of nominating Sen. John Kerry, largely because he was a decorated Vietnam veteran and couldn’t be smeared as a gutless pacifist (can you say Swiftboat Vets?). Then came Obama. You felt history being made as he described, and then began to heal, the nation’s ugly red state, blue state divide. “We worship an awesome God in the blue states, and we don’t like federal agents poking around our libraries in the red states,” the Illinois senate candidate told the crowd. “We coach Little League in the blue states and have gay friends in the red states.” I got teary; so did others around me. I found myself imagining a convention where this son of a Kenyan father and a Kansan mother was the presidential nominee — but in 2012 or 2016, not 2008. Yet 2008 is the year Barack Obama is running, presenting me with a choice: Do I put aside reservations about his inexperience and vote that sense of history? Luckily, I have more than a year to decide. The Democrats have a strong roster of 2008 candidates; I like a lot of them; the choice will be tough. But in my heart I know this: If I had to go into a voting booth tomorrow and pick a Democrat, I’d very likely be moved by the memory of that electric moment in Boston, and vote Obama."