The Other Bill

I'm about to predict today's media cycle: The passport story just got much less interesting, since it's no longer focused on just one candidate (now it's about security and process, and there's no longer the tantalizing possibility of a Watergate-ish conspiracy against Barack Obama), and also, for the first time in a few days, this is an actual feel-good story: Bill Richardson endorsed Obama. It's different from how the race speech was a feel-good story, because that was a serious story that people could still feel good about standing behind. This is almost like an exhalation, a tension break, a political sorbet — a feel-good story about how two former opponents who always liked each other are now coming together out of a common hope and dream and sense of real kinship, and they're pals.

This was the first light moment of the campaign in ages, since before the Ohio/Texas primary. Obama has been walking a harsher path since then — under tougher scrutiny from the press, dealing with questions about Rezko, dealing with questions about his momentum, then the controversy over Jeremiah Wright that flipped him into overdrive, first with his media blitz addressing Wright's statements and then with his seminal speech on race earlier this week, for which he generally won raves but not necessarily the consensus that it made his path to the nomination any easier (see the "typical white person" comment and how that was pounced upon). But here — finally! — it felt like old times (remember the Kennedys? Remember Ted Kennedy feeling chaaaange in the air?).

Obama owes all that to Bill — the Other Bill, the one that has been out of sight for the past few months while he grew a beard, got a tan, and lost the worried, fretful look of someone trailing badly on the campaign trail. This Bill Richardson was a man of the people, your buddy at the bar or neighborhood barbecue, for that matter — and the focus of all that charm was directed straight at America, on behalf of Barack Obama.

The whole thing did wonders to humanize Obama. Yes, humanize — the candidate always described as "cool" but not in a Fonzie way, in an above-it-all-preternaturally-composed-almost-like-Dakota-Fanning way. He is described as seeming to be talking from 30,000 feet, and he's often serious, mostly because he's running for president and, well, that's a serious business. Come on, people, there are posterized versions of him looking upward into the distance all over facebook. Yesterday on Illinois radio Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr.,his national campaign co-chair, compared him to a "deity." This is not the guy you're going to sit down and have a beer with, okay?

But you would with Bill Richardson — hell, with Bill Richardson you'd have a kegger. And that rubbed off on Obama This speech showed Obama as a pal, a real pal, to a guy who looks so much like one himself. The kind of pal who would, say, whisper the answer to you during a test &mdah; an amazing anecdote, and one which brought out Obama's equally amazing smile, one of his best assets that really doesn't come out all that much. That smile broke the serious look on Obama's face and shook him out of his "attentive listening" pose, bringing him into that moment with an honest-to-God grin, which made it a moment he shared with the audience. You could hear it in the crowd (okay, let's be serious, it's an Obama rally, you can ALWAYS hear it in the crowd. But still.) Most importantly, it took Obama down off that high perch he's grown accustomed to. The whole moment was warm and congenial and personal, and that all spilled over to Obama in an incredibly flattering way.

To be honest, I had my doubts about the effect of this endorsement, with Richardson having waited so long to bequeath. Now, after that speech, I think it's going to be a huge boon for Obama — it changed the tone at a time when he really, really needed that tone changed. It also introduces a new potential storyline — did you notice how great they looked together? There they were, presented as an extremely likable pairing...and a pretty nice-looking ticket (though incredibly risky in practical terms based on their combined average skin color). But it was a nice, uplifting, feel-good moment of the campaign — and, I suspect, a welcome change from the grim tone of late. And that "Katrina!" moment is going to be a hit on YouTube. You wait.

Related, In An Awesome Reminder That Much Of The Above Was Planned:
[Turn toward Obama and smile] [ABC Political Punch]

Related, In Richardson's Contradicting Himself, Which The Media Should Be All Over:
A Few Unanswered Questions About Bill Richardson's Obama Endorsement [HuffPo]

Related, In Admissions I Really Shouldn't Be Making:
Is it me, or did a tanned, bearded Bill Richardson look sort