BOSTON – Barack Obama reveled in his apparent Iowa momentum on Sunday night, even after moving on from the Hawkeye State to a low-cost fundraiser in Boston’s Park Plaza Castle.
“I just got back from Iowa, where it appears we’re doing pretty good,” he told a cheering crowd estimated by his campaign to number 2,100. “It’s amazing how you go from being D.O.A. to being a genius in about three weeks,” he added with a laugh.
But Mr. Obama, who earlier in the day seemed to have his character questioned by Hillary Clinton, also sounded perfectly willing to intensify the sniping between the two. The Illinois senator deviated from his standard stump speech to imply that Bill and Hillary Clinton bore some of the responsibility for the nation’s rancorous political atmosphere.
Modifying his usual rhetorical riff on excessive partisanship, Mr. Obama said:
“I don’t want to spend the next four years re-arguing the same partisan arguments that we had all through the 1990s. I don’t want to pit red America against blue America.”
The suggestion, not for the first time, was that Mrs. Clinton’s personal and political history would render her ineffective as an agent of change. Mr. Obama touched upon this theme several times, even when he didn’t mention either Clinton by name.
Insisting that his candidacy represented a chance for the nation to come together and “actually start solving problems”, Mr. Obama added that he had in mind “problems that George Bush made far worse but that had been festering long before George Bush took office.”
Mr. Obama continued:
“George Bush made health care worse, but we have been talking about health care reform for decades now, through Democratic and Republican administrations. And we have had drug companies and insurance companies writing our health care laws instead of the American people.”
Mr. Obama also sharpened his normal exposition on the purported shortcomings of the contemporary Democratic Party—and, seemingly, of the Clinton campaign’s willingness to form political positions based on polls.
Mr. Obama evoked Democratic giants of yesteryear – JFK, FDR, Jefferson and Jackson – and claimed “they led not by calculation but by convictions.”
He then added:
“This party has been at its best when we have summoned the entire nation – not just half the nation, not just a portion of a demographic – the entire nation, around a higher goal.”
That this remark came hot on the heels of a criticism of “triangulation” – a term, and a strategy, synonymous with the Clinton presidency – left no doubt as to whom Mr. Obama had in his sights.
Predictably enough, Mr. Obama’s supporters at the $23-per-head event seemed broadly in agreement with such ideas.
David Moriarty, 46, of Cape Cod contrasted what he saw as Mrs. Clinton’s status as a “total Washington insider” with Mr. Obama’s “vision.” Mr. Moriarty added that one of the main reasons he was supporting Mr. Obama was because “he’s not for K Street.”
Jim Foley, a 74-year-old from Danvers, said that while he admired Mrs. Clinton “very much”, he believed she had “just too much baggage” to be a good bet in a general election.
Some of Mr. Obama’s more aggressive jabs at Mrs. Clinton did not receive as enthusiastic a response in the cavernous Boston venue as they have in other settings, however.
His statement, “I am not running to fulfill some long-held plan or because I think it is owed to me,” was met with silence. When he made the same observation, almost word-for-word, in Harlem’s Apollo Theater last Thursday night, laughter and cries of “I hear you!” were the response from the audience.
Mr. Obama seemed on safer ground when poking fun, as he has done frequently on the campaign trial, at the recent discovery that he is a very distant cousin of Dick Cheney.
“Everybody’s got a black sheep in the family, everybody’s got a crazy uncle in the attic,” he mused.
The Illinois senator also gave a tip of the hat – apparently mandatory for all visiting politicians – to Massachusetts’ leading sports teams: the Boston Red Sox, the New England Patriots and the Boston Celtics.
“What is it that you guys are putting in the water?” he said. “We need some of that in Chicago.”