Standing outside the Historic Old State Capitol building where Abraham Lincoln gave a famous speech condemning slavery and calling for the United States to unite, Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., a 45-year-old with two years of federal legislative experience under his belt, today announced that he will claim the mantle of Lincoln and as president heal a divided nation.
"I recognize there is a certain presumptuousness in this, a certain audacity," Obama said, cheekily invoking his best-selling political treatise "The Audacity of Hope." "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."
The estimated crowd of 16,000 well-wishers, spectators, and media throngs braved temperatures of 5 degrees Fahrenheit (with the region's considerable wind chill factor taken into account), to hear the former state legislator speak.
"I know it's a little chilly, but I'm fired up!" Obama ad-libbed as he began his speech.
Obama's oratory is an important part of the package; he first came to national prominence with a well-received and similarly-themed speech at the 2004 Democratic National Convention in Boston.
For a man born in Hawaii, educated in Manhattan and Cambridge, Mass., and who lives in Chicago, Springfield was an interesting choice of location for his announcement speech, one designed to allow Obama to beef up his resume a tad by invoking his work as a state senator, where he served from 1996 through 2004, eventually serving as chairman of the state Senate Health and Human Services Committee.
But most of all Springfield allowed Obama to immodestly and continuously compare himself to Lincoln.
It was in Springfield where Obama "was reminded of the essential decency of the American people," he said, which is "why, in the shadow of the Old State Capitol, where Lincoln once called on a 'house divided' to stand together, where common hopes and common dreams still live, I stand before you today to announce my candidacy for president of the United States of America."
If anyone missed the point, Obama said that "divided we are bound to fail. But the life of a tall, gangly, self-made Springfield lawyer tells us that a different future is possible. He tells us that there is power in words. He tells us that there is power in conviction, that beneath all the differences of race and religion, faith and station, we are one people."
Obama's allies are reminding voters that Lincoln's eight years in the state legislature and one term in the U.S. House of Representative compare rather precisely with Obama's legislative experience.
Surely, though, Lincoln never had supporters throwing out campaign t-shirts to a crowd in a frenzied, concert-like atmosphere, as was the case today. In addition, Obama's Web site, BarackObama.com, has been revamped. It now has BarackTV, which features speeches and biopics of the candidate and his wife Michelle; a MySpace-like section called My.BarackObama.com, where one can create a profile and network with other users; sections for news, issue papers, blogging, and campaign schedules; and a campaign store featuring "Obama '08" shirts, buttons, signs, and stickers.