There's a story with which I'm sure most of you are familiar. It's about how a young guitar player named Robert Johnson met the Devil at a crossroads. (Ralph Macchio may have been there, too. This is open for debate.) According to the story, Johnson sold his soul to the Devil and, in return, received the ability to play the guitar like nobody else on earth. From that day forward, audiences would sit spellbound as Johnson made music the likes of which had never been heard.
After the second night of the Democratic National Convention, I'm more convinced than ever that the story is true, and that a young politician named Barack Obama has made a similar deal.
How else to explain the extraordinary impact this man made with his first nationally televised speech before he's even been elected to a national office?
Maybe it has to do with the politicians who spoke before him.
First, there was Ted Kennedy, looking for all the world like Mr. Toad from Wind in the Willows, who gave a speech that made me wish he'd been drunker, because then he'd have at least been entertainingly pathetic instead of just long-winded.
Then we had Dick Gephardt, whose political career is now as faded and ethereal as his eyebrows. It took me halfway through his speech to remember that he even ran for president this year.
Following Gephardt, we had Tom Daschle, who shared the typical stories about how he loves to keep in touch with his South Dakota constituents. "I recall a conversation I had with a prostitute in Sioux Falls who took my dick out of her mouth long enough to ask, 'Senator, how am I going to afford health insurance if the Republicans take away my student loans?'"
After that came Janet Napolitano, the governor of Arizona, who is apparently the butcher younger sister of Billie Jean King.
Next there was Howard Dean, desperately trying to solicit that last tiny bit of adulation from the crowd with applause lines from eight months ago. "The democratic wing of the party! Haha...You know, 'cause, 'cause I'm liberal? Is this thing on?" I'm thinking that, after he lost in the primaries, party officials made him remove his testicles and put them in mini-storage. Either that or they had him on some kind of Super-Valium.
Then came the keynote speech. And I was awed. Let me just say that I'd heard the hype beforehand and was prepared to dislike Obama on principle. But when he was speaking, I literally couldn't help but be impressed. He's a fantastic, Clintonian speaker. He actually earned each five second pause for applause. Except for the bits he was obliged to throw in shoving daisies up Kerry's ass, he truly sounded like he has convictions. Convictions! Remember those?
I found myself, totally and without regret, buying into the hype and thinking, "This guy is going to be president someday." And so did the wonks covering the convention, at least those on PBS, who could be heard talking about "the birth of a new political star." This guy is the Tiger Woods of government! And I love it.
The thing is, though, this is all based on one goddamn speech. I have no idea what this guy stands for. For all I know, he could be against stem cell research and for the Star Wars missile defense system. He might be in favor of legalizing public whippings and regulating the amount of syrup I can pour on my flapjacks. But here I am, automatically giving him the benefit of the doubt.
Which is how I know. I know that this guy has made some sort of deal with the Devil. Because my cynicism is powerful mojo. It would take a genuine, Real Deal politician to get past that. And they don't make those anymore. Do they?