Sunday, May 18, 2008

Moon over Obama...(updated)

When we learned that Obama was coming to Pendleton for a Town Hall event, Beth and I took advantage. I got invited to be an event volunteer which meant that I had to arrive at the convention center in Pendleton four hours early - just about the same time Obama was scheduled to begin his rally 200 miles away from us on the waterfront in Portland. Our friend, Jerry, blogs about it here.

I got assigned to the press area where my job was essentially to keep journalists, both local and those traveling with the campaign, inside the press area. The area afforded a pretty cool vantage point on the whole event, although Beth ended up getting closer to Obama.

The convention seats 3,000 and it was overflowing. The fire marshall told me that they had to send folks with tickets home because he deemed it unsafe to allow more people inside.
It was great to watch everyone file in and to get an impression of the range of people in attendance. There were a ton of people from La Grande, many students of mine.
I took advantage of my position to steer a couple of my students and former students to reporters who were looking to interview Obama supporters. It was fun watching them field questions and compose themselves in front of someone who was taking notes on what they were saying.
Speaking of former students, I ran into one serving in the security detail. An ramrod straight State Patrol officer stuck out his hand and said, "Hello, Mr. Cahill." I looked at him and then at his name on his uniform. "Dan!" I said.
Only five minutes later I watched a camera woman filming a TV reporter on the risers in the press area. It dawned on me suddenly that the young reporter was another former student. The uplift among everyone there was palpable. The only people not a part of it were the press people who looked road weary and hard. They didn't smile; they didn't really even acknowledge you. What seemed historic to us appeared to be just a job to them.
While we waited for Obama to arrive - once the crowd was seated we still had at least an hour to kill - I started wondering about the Portland event.
The campaign coordinator got up and took a shot at warming up the crowd. He was pretty good actually. When he came back to our area, I finally asked him. "Did he get the 50, 000 people they predicted?"
Lou smiled at me, "75,000."
"No way."
"Yup...75,000 people."
"Holy shit."
When Obama finally came in, everybody got fired up. Obama gave an abbreviated stump speech in which he good naturedly accepted some ribbing for mispronouncing Wallowa.
The way he reacted was as endearing as it was instinctive. On his first effort, he said it wrong but then somehow heard a woman back in the crowd call out the correct pronunciation. He stopped mid sentence and went back and tried it a second time, better but not perfect. This time he heard it from several people. Obama laughed and said, "hold it now, I want to get this right. Say it again."
A chorus came back with "Wallowa!"
Obama came right back with it just like it was supposed to sound. People clapped.
Obama smiled and said, "That's probably a lot like the first time some people try to say 'Obama'." He got huge laughs on that one. The guy was completely at ease with everyone there and his self deprecating style set well with this crowd. Later in the event he suggested that he might like to come the Round Up in the fall. Big cheers. "Don't ask me to ride a bull. I won't ride a bull. I had a hard enough time bowling; I won't ride a bull."

On substance, the evening offered nothing new or newsworthy. I liked his comments about China. He admonished the crowd not to bash China but to "look in the mirror". America, he said, had forgotten how to live within her means.
One person asked him about the Hanford nuclear waste site. Obama confessed that he didn't know anything about it. It was a startlingly candid admission. He didn't try to dance around it but he did promise that by the time he had landed in Billings, Montana this evening, he would have learned a great deal more about it.
Obama came across as someone who will do his best to see that government becomes more transparent and more accountable, and that people get the government they deserve, the one described in the Constitution, and that people from all perspectives will be invited to the table. More than anything, he appears capable of and committed to using the bully pulpit of the presidency to rouse Americans to their own best efforts.
Smart, tireless, disciplined, approachable, affable, and good. That's how he seemed to me.

After it was all over, I hooked up with Beth and some of our friends in the parking lot. There was a full moon climbing up over the hills. We brainstormed dinner plans.
"Somebody ought to hang a banner from that moon that says "O" bama, " Beth said. Then she grabbed a pen, wrote on her hand, and held it aloft.
I took my new camera out and shot the moon.


Anonymous said...

Way to go, guys. Great post. Love the full moon Obama, Beth. It was a beautiful moon and its a beautiful idea that we might all grow up and act like adults this time. Hopefully Obama and an inspired rock soup of volunteers can show us that real power can be graceful, patient, tough, insistent, unwavering and command respect while giving it. If he asks who's got a carrot?, who's got a potato?, I wouldn't be surprised if we all jumped up shouting, I do, I do. Barack Soup. Sorry, the puns are endless, aren't they?

1:36 PM  

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