Obama’s (Very Long) Night at the Apollo

Slate ‘s Garin K. Hovannisian sends in this dispatch from New York:

“Is Jesus in the house?” “Yes!” roared the capacity crowd at the Apollo Theatre in Harlem. “Louder!” yelled the founder of the Harlem Gospel Chorus. “Is Jesus in the house?” Yes, yes, yes, Jesus was certainly in the house. But at 8:06 p.m., more than an hour after the scheduled start time, Barack Obama was nowhere to be found.

A revolt had nearly erupted earlier, when Obama’s organizers had announced to the press that “America’s next president” wouldn’t be arriving until 9. The members of the media lined the back entrance of the Apollo and breathed steam and fury into each other’s faces; some had been standing in the New York cold for hours.

As packs of Sean John-sporting VIPs were escorted through the doorway, the


reporter yelled, “I’ve been to 60 damned Obama events. This is the worst by far.” Asian TV decided to shift its angle to Obama’s organizational incompetence. A South African journalist texted her editor begging a release.

Those of us who eventually made it inside were treated to “Amazing Grace,” “Happy Days,” and the full repertoire of gospel hits. A reverend came on stage to “thank God for Barack Obama—a messenger of peace in a world of strife; a messenger of strife in a world of false peace.” We then heard a violinist, then some grass-roots organizers, then—since Obama still hadn’t arrived—the violinist again.

After a state senator spoke, the moment to which the entire night had been logically crawling finally arrived: no, not Obama. Cornel West. The Princeton professor/MC/


star rapped and flapped his arms and said that Obama “is his mama’s and daddy’s son, and we must accept him for it.” West then introduced Chris Rock, who called Obama “a smart guy,” cracked a few jokes, and brought the Apollo to its feet.

By the time Barack Obama stepped on stage to blame Katrina on compassionate conservatism and to brandish his fresh preacherly inflection, the show was pretty much over.