Maria Shriver For Obama
by Todd Beeton, Sun Feb 03, 2008 at 03:30:56 PM EST
I was at the Caroline Kennedy/Oprah/Michelle Obama event at UCLA, which was pretty outstanding as it was and already laden with surprise guests (2 words: Stevie Wonder) but then after Michelle Obama made a really powerful speech, she announces they have one more surprise for us..."no, it's not Barack, he's somewhere else." She starts describing Maria Shriver without actually identifying her and you could tell everyone was wracking their brains to figure out who it could possibly be and then when she announced Shriver's name the whole place went nuts. It really sent a bolt of lightning through the room. And it wasn't just because she's a celebrity or the first lady of California; it wasn't just because she's Caroline's cousin and hence yet another member of the Kennedy clan adding her name to the list of candidate supporters. There were a couple things about her genuinely heartfelt expression of support for Barack Obama that made it actually a really special moment.
First was the sort of lack of calculation surrounding the appearance. Shriver explained that she was riding horses with her daughter this morning and she just felt this overpowering sense that, as she put it, "I needed to be at UCLA today." She said she told her daughter that and she said "Mom, if you think you can change just one person's mind, you have to go..." That idea that she woke up this morning not planning to be there today is actually pretty powerful; you know if it was planned they would have shouted it from every mountain.
Now, I will say, at first, while I couldn't help but assume her mere presence in that room today meant she was backing Obama, her speech actually made me question that assumption for a bit; she started talking generically about how much she respects all the spouses of the candidates for all the sacrifices they're making (as she said, she knows how it is when your husband decides one day to run for office...) and asked the crowd to give shout outs to not only the spouses of the candidates but to the candidates themselves. Briefly I thought to myself, is she here as a sort of non-partisan envoy, as a representative of the state to talk about our civic duty to vote? Nope. Then came the "but..." She said something to the effect of "I'm not here because I'm married to the governor...or because my cousin is here...or because one of my best friends is here...I'm here because I want to be here."
The place went crazy again, as you can imagine. It was at this moment that it became clear that she not only will be voting for Obama on Tuesday but wants the world to know it. I thought it was notable that she didn't actually say the words "I endorse Barack Obama," but it makes sense, her appearance there today didn't actually feel political at all, it was personal, which made it, I thought, perhaps even more meaningful than the typical "endorsements" we're used to from politicians and celebrities.
But honestly, something else occured to me as I watched her speech, just the idea that she sort of embodies the perfect world that Barack Obama's candidacy promises, the idea that Republicans and Democrats can co-exist in harmony, literally under the same roof as in Shriver's case, but obviously on a larger scale. I mean, here was the Democratic wife (famously so) of the Republican governor, who himself has been the target of partisan ire from the left (deservedly so) and who actually represents the false political bi-partisanship we've been fighting against; but Shriver's presence there was I guess a reminder of what transcending partisanship actually means in real world terms, in Barack Obama terms. As you know, I'm a big fan of political partisanship and not a big fan of the idea that we should somehow give up the political fight, and Shriver's speech certainly didn't change my mind about that, but there was just something that felt very right about her supporting Obama today.
A few minutes into Shriver's speech this guy passed by where were were standing and sort of muttered "we just won California." He was expressing what I think a lot of people in that room were feeling about the significance of the moment. We'll see if it plays out that way.