Obama’s Real “Fired Up”

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It’s a familiar story. In most speeches Obama has a riff about how one tired morning, wet, cold and bummed out he went to an event far from civilization where a wizened old lady fired him up with her chants of “Fired Up! Ready to Go!” I was surprised to find today when I went back with Obama for a Greenwood rally that the reality did not live up to my imagination – or the imagination of many of my colleagues.

First of all, Greenwood is not really in the middle of nowhere and it’s not a tiny town – as of 2006 it has a population of 22,400 and is more of a city than a town complete with federal buildings, a Marriot and a main drag that boasts a community theater (that’s playing Oklahoma!). It’s 90-minutes from both Columbia and Greenville — while far it’s not like many western towns that are really in the middle of nowhere, upwards of five hours from the next town with a population of 20,000.

So big is Greenwood that Obama spoke today at Lander university, not a community college, not a full-fledged college, but a university. The event drew a couple thousand people, a far cry from the 20 folks Obama says greeted him on his first visit.

Then came Edith Childs, the woman of “Fired Up, Ready to Go” fame. I’d imagined a little bird of an old lady barking out the mantra. Instead I was surprised to see emerge on stage a normal-to-tall 59-year-old woman in a purple hat and jacket who sang the cheer like she was standing in a choir – lots of aplomb, but no punch, no fire (see The Page’s video of it here). And as a speaker at the Martin Luther King, Jr. Day celebration in Columbia yesterday pointed out, the chant’s origins can be traced back to the NAACP in the early 1980’s.

Also, he complained of being wet and cold that morning, but upon reflection – the event happened in June. The rain today was likely far more chilling. So, yes, the woman and the town exist. I’m still checking if there really was a bad story in the Times that day.