Barack Obama is walking down memory lane today, the 15th anniversary of his groundbreaking victory in the 2008 Iowa Caucuses. The win helped set the stage for his subsequent national election victory and historic presidency.
Revisiting his Iowa moment today, Obama shared a video that shows him returning to the campaign trail he travelled back then — and connecting again with people in Iowa “who organized across the state, and built the relationships that made it all possible.”
The first thing that grabs viewers on the nostalgic journey is also the first thing that grabs Obama himself — the youthfulness of his face. “Look at that face,” Obama laughs, pointing to a photo of him in 2008. “I can’t imagine anybody thought I was old enough to run the country at that point.”
That Obama youthfulness may look like naivete or inexperience from the seasoned vantage of 2023, but back then his youth was more of a positive than a negative — indeed, his youth was a key to his appeal. It helped galvanize other young people across the country.
“When I think back to 2008,” Obama says, “the thing that I always come back to is the young organizers and sometimes not so young volunteers that really helped us win Iowa.”
When he won, he said, “They said this day would never come.” In revisiting, Obama sits with organizers who were active for him on the ground in 2008 and tells them, “I really rode the wave of your work.”
For the record, the field organizers he talks to still look very young. Hope and Change was the rallying cry then. Obama and the people he meets still hold that tandem dear. But what also arises in the “mini-reunion,” as Obama calls it, is another phrase they used in Iowa then: “Respect. Include. Empower.”
It’s a phrase that remains at the crux of the American culture wars, where it is rephrased like this: Respect who? Include who? Empower who? The answers remain in flux.