Et tu, Boston?
To Fenway-trained ears, it sounded mostly like “Yooouuk,” the guttural chorus that traditionally broke out when ever longtime Red Sox third baseman Kevin Youkilis stepped up to the plate. But President Obama clearly believed he triggered another traditional sound, after he thanked Boston for trading Youkilis to his favorite team, the Chicago White Sox.
“I didn’t think I’d get any boos out of here, but I guess I shouldn’t have – I should not have brought up baseball,” Obama said to supporters who filled Boston Symphony Hall on Monday night. “My mistake, my mistake. You’ve got to know your crowd.”
Politics and sports are a treacherous mix. Boston baseball fans booed John Kerry when he threw out the first pitch before the start of a Sox-Yankees game that preceded the 2004 convention that selected the senator from Massachusetts as its nominee. But the pro-Obama crowd that filled Symphony Hall quickly settled any confusion over their response to the president’s words.
“We still love you,” a woman’s voice rang out, bringing the warm ovation that is more common in Obama-crazy Massachusetts.
About 1,800 Obama supporters paid $250 to $10,000 to fill the balconies and sit around small, Pops-style circular tables on the floor. In return, they heard a campaign speech aimed at re-inspiring the faithful by reminding them of the shared vision of 2008, the “compact that binds us together as a people.”
Four years later, it is striking to realize just how hard Obama must work to reconstruct the shared vision that catapulted him to the White House: the “basic bargain” that a country bought into so passionately in 2008. Now, the narrative is complicated by Obama’s version of the challenges he confronted once elected: “surpluses turned into deficits… two wars fought on credit cards… the worst financial crisis of our lifetime.” Now, he has to spend time quietly stitching together the story of what he tried to do, and who tried to stop him, before he can thunder the phrases that bring supporters to their feet. Now, he has to argue “there is nothing radical” about his vision, and insist that he does not believe government is the answer to all problems. Now, to arouse passion in listeners, he must divide up the electorate around specific causes. They include women’s right “to control their own health choices”; the right of gays not to be “kicked out of the military”; and the desire of illegal immigrants to one day attain citizenship.
“How do we reclaim that basic bargain? How do we do it?” he asked the faithful. Obama calls the answer “the defining issue of our time,” and he’s right. His challenge in 2012 is that there are two dramatically different visions of what it takes to re-ignite confidence in the country. And confidence is key to achieving the shared goal of turning the economy around for all citizens.
Even in Boston, Obama may not have had everyone at hello. But by the end of this speech, he reminded this gathering why they see it his way.
“It was a quiet conversation about what’s at stake,” said Boston City Councilor Michael P. Ross. “He brought the crowd to his side.”
Then again, it was Boston. If he can’t do it there, he can’t do it anywhere.