College Park, Georgia
Former president Barack Obama came down to Georgia stump for Senator Raphael Warnock and gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams. But more significantly, the 44th president of the United States dedicated a good chunk of his stage time on Friday to mocking Warnock’s opponent Herschel Walker.

In a move reminiscent of his 2011 White House Correspondents’ Dinner speech — which supposedly provoked Donald Trump to run for the presidency in 2016 — Obama performed a stand-up bit to demonstrate that Walker’s proficiency as a Heisman Trophy-winning football star did not equip him to serve in the...

College Park, Georgia

Former president Barack Obama came down to Georgia stump for Senator Raphael Warnock and gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams. But more significantly, the 44th president of the United States dedicated a good chunk of his stage time on Friday to mocking Warnock’s opponent Herschel Walker.

In a move reminiscent of his 2011 White House Correspondents’ Dinner speech — which supposedly provoked Donald Trump to run for the presidency in 2016 — Obama performed a stand-up bit to demonstrate that Walker’s proficiency as a Heisman Trophy-winning football star did not equip him to serve in the US Senate.

“Let’s do a thought experiment,” Obama said. “Let’s say you were at the airport, and you see Mr. Walker, and you say, ‘hey! There’s Herschel Walker, Heisman winner. Let’s have him fly the plane!’ You probably wouldn’t say that. You’d wanna know, does he know how to fly an airplane?

“Or let’s say you go to the hospital,” Obama continued. “And you say, ‘you know, that Walker guy, he sure could tear it up in Sanford stadium. Give him a scalpel!’ Now, you wouldn’t say that. You’d ask, at least I would, ‘has he done surgery before?”

Obama also ridiculed Walker as “somebody who carries around a phony badge and says he’s in law enforcement, like he’s a kid playing cops and robbers.”

Tellingly, during his speech Obama did not criticize Abrams’s opponent Governor Brian Kemp or Georgia secretary of state Brad Raffensperger. There could be a few reasons for this. Warnock’s race with Walker is a toss-up, whereas Abrams is nearly nine points behind Kemp and Raffensperger is holding off Democratic challenger Bee Nguyen. Walker is also a much easier target than his Republican ticket-mates: both Kemp and Raffensperger stood firm against Donald Trump’s attempts to contest the 2020 election results in Georgia — which is inconvenient for the Democrats’ “democracy is on the ballot in Georgia!” trope — and Kemp in hindsight fared well as governor through the pandemic, reopening his state at a time when bluer states  were still closed.

From the outset, the rally was a true Atlanta area event in that it began in heavy traffic. A cadre of middle-aged protesters took advantage of the lined up cars to advocate for their cause: justice for Mahsa Amini and freedom for Iran. Two men with bullhorns led the Iranian Americans in chants of “down with dictators” and “democracy for Iran.”

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An Iranian pro-democracy protest outside a Georgia Democratic Party rally in College Park, Georgia (Matt McDonald/The Spectator)

A much smaller group of Walker fans brandished signs on the turn into the Gateway Center Arena. “Our rights are from God not this woke Democratic government,” read one. The other, though poorly punctuated, posed a more pertinent question: “Wheres Joe.” President Biden has not come to campaign in Georgia, despite the state’s crucial role in handing him the presidency. Instead he was in Pennsylvania, showing off his Phillies socks to voters. Of the night’s main speakers, only Obama uttered the words “Joe Biden”; Warnock, who has been keeping 46 at arm’s length while campaigning, referred to him only as “the president” when talking up his role in wiping out over $400 billion in college debt.

After arriving punctually around 4 p.m., as the event details suggested, airport-style Secret Service security meant spending over two hours in line. Overheard while we waited: an older gent who’d moved to the state to campaign advocating the benefits of a vegan diet — and optimistic chatter about the prospect of Donald Trump being jailed “in Georgia!” A man walked up and down the line with a stand selling lefty buttons, seemingly oblivious to the irony of having his “Vote Stacey” pins next to the “Don’t Elect Election Deniers” ones.

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Buttons for sale a Georgia Democratic Party rally in College Park, Georgia (Matt McDonald/The Spectator)

Upon finally gaining entry, there was a block party atmosphere inside: the largely African-American crowd of around 6,000 were dancing to disco, hip hop and soul classics. At one stage the  DJ turned down the music to lead the room in a singalong to “Rock With You” by the seemingly uncancellable Michael Jackson. T-shirts around the arena ranged from the devoutly pro-Obama — “He’s black and I’m proud” — to the fiery but mostly peaceful — “It’s okay to punch Nazis.”

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Around 6,000 attendees at a Georgia Democratic Party rally in College Park, Georgia (Matt McDonald/The Spectator)

Down in the standing area — on the court where the Atlanta Dream usually play WNBA games — the masses  awaited the night’s main speakers. A young Democratic staffer kept his head on a swivel, attempting to spot the man he was messaging on Grindr.

Soon, Senator Jon Ossoff, Georgia’s very own NJB, took the stage as hype man for Stacey Abrams. Ossoff, who is  Georgia’s senior senator despite being eighteen years Warnock’s junior, explained that his wife wasn’t present due to  being on shift as an MD at Grady hospital — which he neatly tied to Georgia’s maternal mortality crisis and the state of child healthcare.

On went Abrams, the celebrated erotic fiction writer and reason the American right is able to say “your side doesn’t accept election results either!” Abrams alluded to this in her remarks, describing how the last time she ran for governor, “my application was not fully accepted.” Her time since as a national political figure has benefited her oratory skills: she spoke, like the men who followed her, with the sing-song rhythm and rhetoric of a preacher.

She decried her opponent Brian Kemp as a man who acts in the interests of a “boys’ club,” continuing, “my invitation got lost in the mail so I’m gonna go ahead and take the keys to the governors’ mansion.” (This is the part where you’re supposed to say, “slay queen!”) This led to a section implicitly about abortion rights in which she criticized “powerful men.” She finished up by touting applause line after applause line, floating ideas such as “technical college for free” while saying her plans would require “not a dime in taxes.”

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Democratic gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams speaks at a campaign event for Georgia Democrats in College Park, Georgia (Getty)

Senator Reverend Raphael Warnock was met with chants of his name as he took Abrams’s spot at the podium. “You are looking and sounding like you’re ready to win an election,” he began. The senator, who preaches at Martin Luther King Jr.’s Ebenezer Baptist Church, speaks with an eloquence that presents a stark contrast with his opponent, offering maxims such as, “We know that a vote is a kind of prayer for the world we desire — for ourselves and for our children” and “Democracy is the political enactment of a spiritual idea.” “Preach on, preacher,” came a heckle from the crowd. He also delivered a very well-crafted line about how his mother “picked somebody else’s cotton” and “picked somebody else’s tobacco” and then eventually “picked her youngest son to be a US senator.”

The reverend clearly knows his onions and is an excellent public speaker — but there’s an inconsistency in the two flagship achievements of his Senate career. He is willing to tackle the pharmaceutical-industrial complex, and wield government power to regulate drug prices. Yet where is that understanding of costs when it comes to addressing the educational-industrial complex — the extortionate cost of college? Instead, attendees were told of his support for the student loan bailout, absolving universities of their responsibility. For swing voters, that move may look more like an attack on a symptom than an attack on the sickness itself.

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Senator Raphael Warnock speaks at a campaign event for Georgia Democrats in College Park, Georgia (Getty)

Finally it was time for the headline act. “My first order of business — I need to find out who’s scheduling me after a Baptist preacher,” Obama began. The former president was the first major speaker to make reference to “my friend Paul Pelosi,” husband of House Speaker Nancy, who had been attacked by a home invader earlier that day. He also discussed how many Americans are choosing to zone out of politics in favor of “football” and “Dancing with the Stars,” before running through many of the problems facing the current Democratic administration — inflation, supply chain issues, energy — and explaining how they were global issues, not uniquely American ones, and said they were a “legacy of the pandemic.” (To be a stickler: in several cases, he means “a legacy of the response to the pandemic.”)

He had harsh words for the modern Republican Party. “Just about every Republican seems to care about two things: owning the libs and getting Donald Trump’s approval,” he said, playing the hits. “That’s their agenda, it is not long, it is not complicated and, at least to me, it is not very inspiring. They aren’t interested in actually solving problems. They are interested in making you angry and finding someone to blame. Because that way you may not notice that they have got not answers of their own.”

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Former president Barack Obama speaks at a campaign event for Georgia Democrats in College Park, Georgia (Getty)

Barack Obama remains the charismatic leader America elected fourteen years ago — but he did show his blindspots.  He lambasted social media companies for finding  “controversy and conflict more profitable than telling the truth.” Does anyone remember who was president throughout Facebook and Twitter’s biggest growth period? Anyone know who’s running government affairs and communications at these companies?

And what of his other broadside on Walker? “It seems to me that he is a celebrity who wants to be a politician… and we’ve seen how that goes.” Walker himself responded to that line this morning, saying, “I’m not a celebrity, I’m a warrior for God.” Still, it’s odd to hear Obama slighting a man for being “a celebrity who wants to be a politician,” when the 44th president was the man who drew the blueprint for politicians who deep down want to be celebrities.