Thursday, June 5, 2008

Power meet power, pound for pound

It’s one of the ironies of American politics: the most intimate moments sometimes occur in the most public places.

On Tuesday night, Barack Obama and his wife and partner in national transformation, Michelle, took the stage at the Xcel Center in Minneapolis, Barack to claim presumptive status as the Democratic nominee for the presidency. A few moments before he spoke, he and Michelle engaged in one of their signature clinches, a private moment to share what was about to happen. Then they gently bumped fists, engaging in a physical ritual that athletes from the pros to the sandlots have been doing for years. It was an innocuous gesture (one we’d probably expect from an ardent fan of the Chicago White Sox). But it was as much a mirror of the nation as a window into the hearts of perhaps the most visible couple in America.



What’s been long called “the pound” was suddenly elevated to the level of political discourse. Journalists in the mainstream media pounced, feverishly trying to grasp the Wider Meaning, or overintellectualizing its name (The New York Times mechanically called it a “closed-fist high-five”). Its meaning, of course, is subject to different interpretations; see MSNBC’s Mara Schiavocampo’s video report on what some Americans think it means.

In the context of American politics, the Obama pound was a visible expression of the idea of teamwork. Like a collection of conditioned athletes or the beta team of a software company, the Obama campaign has managed to harness a variety of disparate talents in the service of one purpose. The pound is a sign of a job well done.

And as a personal expression of realization of the possible, as a sign of love and respect between an African American couple making history with every passing day, the pound sent another signal:

“It was the best moment in romantic politics since Al and Tipper,” said Patrick Riley, a popular culture reporter, recalling the Gore convention slobberfest in August 2000. “It had that kind of romantic, supportive black-love appeal.”

Man & woman, husband & wife. The original Team Obama. Two sources of strength collide, not in combat but in a friendly, physical recognition of what they can accomplish together. Power meet power. Game recognize game. The playoffs are in the books; now it’s on to the championship.

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