Back in the winter, when he held a boisterous rally at UC's basketball arena, he was still a curiosity of sorts. He'd surprised everyone, maybe even himself, by holding off Sen. Hillary Clinton through Super Tuesday and taking the lead in the Democratic presidential primary race.
More than 10,000 people jammed Fifth Third Arena on Feb. 25 to hear Obama's fresh appeals to the "fierce urgency of now" and the "audacity of hope." With thunderous cheers and rapt attention from tons of college students, he orchestrated a Rock concert masquerading as a political rally.
Obama returned this week to speak at the 99th annual convention of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People downtown. The moment offered plenty of historical significance: The nation's first African-American presidential candidate of a major party speaking to the nation's preeminent African-American civil rights organization in a city just seven years removed from an African-American-led riot over poor treatment by the police department.
Obama isn't a curiosity any longer. He's the next President of the United States, and everyone at the NAACP event -- including Obama himself -- knew it.
The sense of electricity in the air July 14 wasn't quite what I'd felt at the UC event, but the convention center didn't have the same noise-enhancing acoustics as the basketball arena. Plus there were only about 3,000 people in the room.
Obama quickly and smartly tied his campaign to the NAACP's distinguished history, opening his convention speech by challenging the many young people in attendance to make a difference. Some of the greats in the civil rights movement -- particularly Martin Luther King Jr. and Julian Bond, the current NAACP chairman -- had begun work for change in their twenties, as Obama reminded the audience he himself had done in Chicago.
And Obama wrapped up by focusing on his current theme of personal responsibility, which has caused a flap via Jesse Jackson's complaints of Obama's "talking down" to the black community. But this audience -- comprised of many civil rights veterans who have been doing the right thing for 30, 40 and even 50 years -- loudly supported the call for better parenting, better treatment of women and better behavior.
Obama's message to the NAACP was the kind of speech you hear from a president who's trying to set a tone for his administration and the country. Minus the verbal fireworks, he instead offered moral certainty and gravitas.
He left Cincinnati in February a novelty, and he came back in July a leader.
Contact John Fox: email@example.com