Last week, Al Gore gave a lecture on climate change at KeyArena that began with him mentioning that it was "one of the biggest crowds I've ever shown this slide show to." Two days later, at Benaroya Hall, Barack Obama gave a talk about his book The Audacity of Hope to "the largest audience to hear the senator on this book tour," according to Elliott Bay Book Company's Rick Simonson. Both events were premised on nonpolitical motives, but both were undeniably political, at least for the people who went to them, in that magical, witness-to-history sort of way. Both were sold out. The crowd for Obama was outright berserk, with women in hats and long coats racing like wild animals through the lobby of Benaroya as the warning chimes chimed. Benaroya Hall and KeyArena both have the grandeur that comes with size, and both events seemed almost churchy, with countless pens and pieces of paper balanced on people's knees awaiting wisdom from the stage. Both men might as well have come out bearing tablets. Both got standing ovation upon standing ovation. It was exciting to be excited about someone again.
Will either of them run for president? You are not the first person to ask. For Gore, that question came before the Q&A was underway, shouted out after the stated instructions to ask questions into the microphones stationed throughout the arena, but before the first person had had a chance to ask a question into one of the microphones stationed throughout the arena. For Obama, the question came mid-Q&A: A guy standing up (because at Obama's event you made your intention to ask a question clear by standing up with your arm frozen above your head, which was an odd sight, a dozen or so people frozen midsemaphore while everyone else remained seated) asked a belabored version of the well-worn what-can-each-of-us-do question, and then added, "And I also want to know, when can I start working for your campaign?" The noise from the crowd was thunderous.
Gore's response to the question was politic, but it was good. He's relaxed into a better, funnier, not-tortured version of himself. He said (and I paraphrase): I'm already running a campaign, but it's not a campaign for president. It's a campaign to make sure that every politician running for office in the coming years gets hit with questions everywhere they turn about what they plan to do about climate change. Obama's response was politic, too, although it wasn't as good. It was dismissive, and it could have been construed that the only thing that mattered to him was selling The Audacity of Hope. His exact words were: "This is a book signing, not an announcement." From there he went on to address what-can-each-of-us-do. (As responsible citizens, we can make decisions based on facts, he said.) Don't get me wrong. Obama is magnetic. And, in surprising ways, humble. He seems very vice-presidential.