Watching the Caucuses: Obama Speech Strikes Keith Olbermann Dumb

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Approaching the coverage of the Iowa caucuses like I suspect a lot of Americans were—unspeakably sick of Bush, uncommitted to a Democrat, curious about how things would shake down—there were a couple fascinating moments. MSNBC’s coverage brought out their new power duo of Keith Olbermann and Chris Matthews, and after the margin of Obama’s victory became clear, Matthews seemed to want to grab the mantle of “fiery liberal commentator” from his cohost. Asking questions of their panel of experts, he launched into a spitting tirade about how Clinton could possibly be considered an agent of change when she voted for the Iraq war, emphasizing over and over that “two thirds of the party has voted against her.” A quick channel change to Fox News saw their reporter, a wide-eyed strong-jawed frat boy in what looks like military-issue headphones, stationed at the Huckabee headquarters, barely able to contain his glee over Huckabee’s win. Over at CNN, their situation room seemed invaded by information-filled data screens, with entrance poll pie charts rolling around the studio like mad Pac-Men.

Finally, it came time for the speeches. Edwards snuck in before Clinton and basically delivered his stump speech, a blistering tirade against corporations, and he did his best to fire up what seemed to be a pretty sedate room. Clinton was up next, and the setup could not have been worse: a chintzy hotel ballroom, decked up with a “Ready to LEAD!” banner in Times New Roman Italic. And hey, look: Madeline Albright. Ugh. Clinton’s phrasing seemed to lose momentum every few words, and Bill looked like he’d rather be in an impeachment hearing. Then it was over to Huckabee, whose victory speech was pretty affable; a little too affable, really, with a yuckity-yuck “aw-shucks, me?” demeanor that you can’t pull off if Chuck Norris is standing right behind you ready to punch America in the face with his chin-fist.

Cut to the Obama arena, where the gigantic banner behind the bleachers says “CHANGE” in a funky sans serif font like an exit sign on the interstate. A crowd nearing heart-attack level of excitement is every politician’s dream audience, but there was no more inspirational, presidential speech given tonight, and probably hasn’t been in a long time, although there was a beardy, beret-wearing hippie positioned right next to Obama’s head who was kind of distracting (see above). At the end of the speech, MSNBC cuts back to the studio: dead silence. Olbermann stumbles over a few words and abdicates to Matthews, and the whole room seems to be reeling from the force of what they’ve just seen. Over on CNN, even good old regulars like Bob Woodward and David Gergen are awestruck by Obama’s speech. Hundreds of pie charts are attacking Wolf Blitzer’s head, and no matter what demographic they pull up, it’s all Obama, winning women, men, aliens, furniture. On Fox, they’re having trouble with Greta Van Susteren’s microphone, and while she’s talking (bitterly?) about an “Iowa curse,” her mouth is completely out of sync with her words, although at moments her voice doubles up in a kind of psychedelic echo: infinite Susteren. One of the other Fox commentators keeps identifying herself as a conservative but seems about to convert to the Obama campaign. It’s pretty awesome, but I have to turn her off so I can go watch Obama’s speech again.

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