Tuesday’s swearing-in transformed Obama the candidate into Obama the President. But his two-year-long campaign didn’t really end until late last night, when the new President hosted the last inauguration event of the week: The send-off ball for the campaign staff.
The ball, held at the D.C. Armory, was packed with around seven thousand twentysomethings. Many had been shipped off to states they’d never visited before, and spent some portion of the past two years knocking on doors, running phone banks, organizing radio appearances, and producing YouTube videos that were emailed to millions of people. Some had done simpler jobs, like the recent Harvard grad who handled staff members’ luggage on the campaign plane.
Now here they were, in a giant convention center surrounded by porta-potties, eating pan-fried dumplings. But at least it wasn’t the Papa Johns pizza they’d grown accustomed to on the campaign. And Jay-Z and Arcade Fire were playing! (The latter covered Bruce Springsteen’s “Born in the U.S.A.”)
Vice President Joe Biden and Jill Biden first took the stage. Biden reminded everyone of something he’d picked up from a friend: Change is not inevitable. “You did this!” he announced.
When Barack arrived, he looked relaxed and was smiling, already at ease in his new role. The crowd started to chant the call-and-response cheer that began in Iowa and later became the motif of the campaign: “Fired up!” “Ready to go!”
Barack raised his hand to calm everyone down, and warned that he would be brief, blaming it on Michelle. (Everyone booed.)
After launching into a stump speech that we’d all heard in Iowa, the ‘you were idealistic enough to not be cynical, and to believe in America’s promise,’ speech, the president went into unscripted territory.
“You’re all young,” he said and smiled again. “You’re at the beginning of your careers.” He asked everyone to take the energy of the campaign and devote it to whatever comes next. Then he professed love for campaign manager David Plouffe, joking that he’s the “Mark Walhberg” of the campaign and the only man who still “chokes me up.” This was wildly cheered. (While Plouffe rarely gives interviews and is largely unknown to the news media, to this crowd he was the tireless boss you always wanted to impress).
Ecstatic as they were, the crowd was somewhat wistful. After all, most didn’t know what their next job would be, and were coming off a two-year, 70-hour a week high. As Arcade Fire lead singer Will Butler put it, “This is the happiest group of people that just lost their jobs that I’ve ever played for.”
photo via Brooklyn Vegan
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on January 22, 2009