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Obamania hits Brooklyn

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Hillary Clinton cannot be elected president of the United States. Too many people hate her. And many of the people who support her do so out of a sense of obligation or desire to re-fight — and this time win — some old battles that are probably better left unfought (unless Gore gets into the race, then I say, “Fight away!”).

The good news, of course, is that if the Hillary Express is to be derailed, it will happen in Brooklyn. Just ask the hungry activists behind Brooklyn for Barack — the suddenly everywhere grassroots effort to defeat Clinton and put Illinois Sen. Barack Obama on top of the Democratic ticket.

The other night, I attended one of the group’s first gatherings at Soda, the Vanderbilt Avenue bar, where I found myself impressed by the budding Obamanics — and not just because they had their information meeting during Happy Hour (which was a nice touch).

Full disclosure: I don’t often find myself impressed when it comes to political activists. Either they’re too naïve (“C’mon, everyone! If we can create a movement, we can beat the machine!”) or too stridently partisan (“President Bush must be impeached for replacing the White House coffee with Folgers Instant!”).

Fuller disclosure: I’ve been burned before by political newcomers who have that JFK sheen but end up crashing and burning like Muskie in a New Hampshire snowstorm. My personal history of political activism is a pothole-filled road of discovery that included campaigning for Henry “Scoop” Jackson (steamrolled by, of all people, Jimmy Carter!), standing on a street corner holding a “Gary Hart” sign (to my credit, at least, this was pre-Donna Rice), rallying on the College Green against Ronald Reagan (“U.S. out of Grenada!”), getting excited about Howard Dean (only to discover that his entire campaign consisted of a Web site), and going door to door for John Kerry in Ohio (where one former soldier showed me his gun as a way of demonstrating his lack of interest in my well-honed political pitch about Kerry’s record on job creation).

So now comes Barack Obama — so you can imagine my cynicism as I drank my half-priced beer and listened to the Obamaniacs.

Quickly, though, my cynicism started melting away (and it wasn’t the beer, I assure you). These Obamaniacs are in it for the right reason (yes, to defeat Hillary, of course, but also because they believe in something beyond the notion that they want their candidate to become president so he can crush his opponents).

“This is a guy who can change American politics,” said Allison Make of Kensington, who described herself as “a former Deaniac.”

Make said she wants to support Hillary, but can’t. “I respect her, but she’s not as aligned with me on the left and I don’t like how polarizing she is, even among Democrats. I have to support someone I believe in.”

Of course, every campaign is filled with people who see the candidate as an empty vessel in which to pour their political sensibilities.

This one is no different, with one woman telling me that “Obama moves people from passive indifference to active engagement” and another man suggesting that “Obama would be the best president in history” (which would put the two-year senator in company with single-name guys like Monroe, Madison, Lincoln, the Roosevelts and the under-rated Cleveland — though only the first term!).

But what is most refreshing about Brooklyn’s budding Obamania is that it is not exclusively an affliction of young college kids (“Rally on the green!) and professional activists (“Make sure to grab a stack of petitions by the door!”).

There were about 100 people on hand — and the group itself was an inspiration, representing virtually all of Brooklyn (and there were even three guys from Staten Island who cursed their hometown as “locked up for Giuliani”) and uniting races and ethnic groups. A gorgeous mosaic, if you will.

The organizer showed a brief biographical movie from Obama’s campaign Web site and a frisson of excitement went through the crowd (man, these people can get excited by a few pixels!). True, I even found myself getting caught up in this man’s life story — not just his political maturation, but the humanity of his struggle to find his place as a mixed-race kid in mixed-up America.

I thought: Could this be the guy (and I assure you it wasn’t the second beer talking)?

Then my old cynicism rose up again. Where is all this Obamania coming from? Far fewer than half of the people in the room knew anything about what kind of president he would be (except that he’d be a different kind than Hillary). And no one in the room had even met him. So the candidate’s supposed magnetism is as much a creation of media imagemakers as the negative one many people have of Hillary.

So, as always, the winner of the next presidential beauty pageant is going to be — as it always is — the candidate who appears the most “charismatic” on the small screen.

The best man doesn’t always win — and this year, might even lose to the far-from-best woman.

Of course, the Obamaniacs made a strong case that their man is not only the most charismatic, but the best. And I, of course, am willing to listen — as long as the half-price beers keep flowing and as long as Hillary cannot get elected by these 50 states.

The next Brooklyn for Barack meeting will be on Thursday, April 26 at a location to be announced (check www.brooklynforbarack.org for information). A fundraiser, “Art for Obama,” will be April 19 at the Brooklyn Artists Gym (168 Seventh St. at Third Avenue). Visit www.artforobama.com for information. And of course, the citywide “Obamathon” is May 12.

Gersh Kuntzman is the Editor of The Brooklyn Paper. E-mail Gersh at gkuntzman@cnglocal.com
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