(Mark Morford is a columnist for SFGate.com. and Datebook)
Are you paying attention to this moment in time? Are you reading bits and hints about the transformation, the shift, the unusual and slightly surreal energy coursing through the nation? Are you younger than 50? Then there's been nothing else like this in your lifetime. And there probably never will be again.
Because it wasn't that long ago, not even a year, that Hillary Clinton's presidential nomination was pretty much a given. Indeed, going into this race, Clinton was perfect, strong and smart as hell, and even I was relatively thrilled for her candidacy, especially given how she was so ahead in the polls, fundraising and public opinion that her imminent nomination felt much like a foregone conclusion.
Just a bit beyond incredible, then, what has happened since, in one of the more fascinating turning points in American history.
Barack Obama's steady, astounding rise to become the presumptive Democratic nominee, but also to overtake one of the strongest, smartest, most well-funded candidates in American history - and also to outpoll his deeply connected Republican opponent - is remarkable on a number of fronts.
But no matter how you try to analyze the components that made Obamapalooza happen, there appears to be something just beyond the logic, outside the normal machinery, that makes you shake your head in amazement.
Not the first time
On one level, I suppose it's not all that unusual. There have been plenty of scrappy, outta-nowhere, come-from-behind victories in political races before. Charming JFK revealed the deep sourness of once-omnipotent Nixon. Bill Clinton, the handsome, populist Arkansas governor with minimal big-stage experience but loads of effortless charisma, built a phenomenal following and stomped all over the doddering, baffled, how-much-is-a-gallon-of-milk Bush No. 41.
But with Obama, something feels more profound and even a bit more intimate. It is not just another smart upstart senator making a surprising play for the Show. This is a cultural marker, a harbinger of something worthy to take deep into your awareness.
You should take note, because Obama has accomplished his rise without the normal weaponry of American politics. As of yet, there have been almost no dirty tricks. He has not really attacked Hillary or "swiftboated" her. He has not employed any of the disgusting tactics Karl Rove's Republican Party used on Al Gore and John Kerry to secure a deceptive and brutal and failed chokehold on power.
Many pundits have been trying to parse just why Obama has been so much more effective, so much more far-reaching and cross-cultural than Clinton, not to mention John McCain or anyone else. What is it about him? What is it that draws such a broad circle of endorsements, from Ted Kennedy to Andrew Sullivan, John Edwards to former Labor Secretary Robert Reich?
It's the networking, they say. Obama is the first "Facebook candidate." He's the first to successfully leverage all the modern tech, the viral marketing, YouTube, clever videos by celebrity rappers who are nearly moved to tears by the man's speeches. Yes, that must be it.
Or maybe it's his remarkable, idealistic team of aides, his hotshot, fresh-faced speechwriters, his wondrous oratory skill. Is it the cool campaign posters? Is it the game-altering speeches on race in America? Or is it what the terrified right-wing hatemongers are calling "liberal guilt," the feeling that we, on the whiny, tree-hugging, ultra-PC left, feel so gosh-darn guilty about how blacks, Hawaiians and Harvard-trained lawyers have been treated these many millennia, that Obama gets our vote out of sheer nervous remorse?
Problem is, those explanations feel inadequate and, in the case of that last one, exceedingly stupid. Is there more to it that just a battle between old school and new school styles of campaigning?
Maybe you need to look to the dark side for a hint, for a bit of proof that there's more to this moment in history than mere shifting times. It comes in the form of that ugly and violent rumor that gets whispered among skeptics and conspiracy theorists and bantered about by cretins on Fox News, and even sighed by many otherwise happy, progressive idealists, those who've had their dreams shattered and hopes pummeled enough times that a form of sinister cynicism creeps in.
Many feel Obama will not survive. Some think something violent and lethal is bound to happen to him, and not merely because he's black, but because he's revolutionary, intelligent, different. He will not survive because he's a force for harmony and peace and evolution of the human animal, and the forces of darkness and oppression in America, be they troglodytic Southern racists or anarchist radicals or insular BushCo die-hard Muslim haters, simply cannot have that.
There is no need to invite that repulsive idea in for long. It is too dark, disquieting, pointless. But it is worth noting for one curious aspect: It is a fear borne of a rare historic circumstance, the amazing idea that someone like Obama is, to put it bluntly, too good for this particular role, a bit too enlightened for what is a brutal, soul-numbing and potentially deadly political machine.
Then again, maybe, in a morose way, this is how we know change is arriving, perhaps sooner than expected, but arriving nonetheless. We're already deeply scared of losing it. Really, how long's it been since we've felt anything like that?