Barack Obama addressed a rally at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, one week before that state’s Democratic primary.
It was a college crowd: young women with Kool Aid-dyed hair, mop-topped men in novelty bow-ties, kids wearing t-shirts that advertised ironic slogans (“Super Jew!”) and summer holidays to Angkor Wat — all grooving to “Big Yellow Taxi.” But it was also more. A scan of the seats revealed lots of normal people as well, including a robust and enthusiastic contingent of African-Americans, thrilled to be in an Obama coalition, and by all evidence grooving to the Joni Mitchell just as to the Motown.
The coalition looked broad and deep. It did not, however, look like America, or even North Carolina.
Obama boasts of bringing together a diverse group, an alliance from demographics that had never previously united. But in a state with few areas that have the vibrant diversity of an Obama rally, it felt like the campaign’s possible undoing, probably not by next week’s vote, but someday. The Chapel Hill senior who introduced Obama spoke of his having inspired her friend Hans, a Swedish exchange student, to volunteer. If all North Carolina voters were Swedish exchange students, or even people who have Swedish exchange students as friends, I’m sure the candidate will do fine. The Dean Dome was not a scene that I imagine would have comforted an electorate looking for a better version of something cherished and familiar.
In any case, between the strains of Stevie Wonder and the live band, Liquid Pleasure, there was an unfamiliar weariness in the air. Was it that Tom Petty’s “I Won’t Back Down” no longer seemed like an Obama song, but rather like one adopted by his opponent? Was it that all this music, while good, still felt like the stuff of entertainment, not of politics, and the groove of a liberal college town, not of the heartland? I felt a twinge of dread for the Obama campaign: no candidate ever got far with an iTunes playlist that resembled my own.
Originally appeared at TheAtlantic.com