The reason I bring this up now is that Obama came to speak at the Sioux Falls Arena last night, and I overcame my intense fear of crowds to go hear him. I'd never been to a political rally before, and it was a memorable evening. Since I'd already voted for him, I didn't expect to be persuaded to change my mind about anything, but I certainly felt that my choice was vindicated. You can read a newspaper report of the event here; what follows are my impressions of it.
In spite of my worries about crowds, it really wasn't that bad; even though about 7000 people eventually showed up, they didn't all show up at the same time, so going in was much less upsetting to me than getting out, when everyone was leaving at approximately the same time. I was a little concerned about finding parking because during my lunch break I'd seen a news report that there was also a baseball game in the Sioux Falls Stadium, which is part of the same complex. The doors opened at 5:00 and Obama was to speak at 7:00. I got off work at 4:30, and then went to volunteer at the library; I shelved everything that they had set out for me and finished at 5:30, and rather than ask if they had anything else for me to do (it didn't look like they did as far as shelving went) I just told them I was leaving, which I can do as a volunteer, and the library closes at 6:00 on Friday anyway, so I more than likely would have had to leave in whatever other task they had given me. I had intended to stay until 6:00 since Obama wasn't scheduled to speak until 7:00, but the Arena is kind of on the diametrically opposite side from the city from that library branch, so I wanted to give myself some time to get there and find parking and seating etc.
As it happened, there was plenty of parking left by the time I got there, and while the crowd ended up being quite large and the Arena quite full, it wasn't filled to capacity, so I wouldn't have had any trouble finding a seat even if I'd waited until 6:00 to leave the library, although I might not have gotten quite as good a one. I had to stand in line for a little bit ouside the door, but it was literally a matter of minutes. I ran into a little bit of trouble at the metal detectors; I had some Immodiums wrapped in foil in my pockets, and I was a little embarrassed to take them out of my pocket, so I took the risk of leaving them there because I was curious whether they would set off the metal detector, which they did, so they had to take the wand to me, which I didn't mind because I had nothing to hide. Actually, I didn't realize until I was driving home after the fact that I hadn't thought to take of my charm bracelet, which is metal, but it didn't seem to affect the metal detectors, or if it did, the woman running the wand could tell what it was because I had my arms up.
Anyway, that took all of a minute, and then I went to find a seat. I probably could have stood on the floor, but I didn't want to stand up all that time (it was about 5:45-6:00 at this time) and I didn't want to be part of that big crowd, and as cool as it would have been to have had a chance to shake Obama's hand, in effect I would be shaking hands with everyone he had shaken hands with prior to me, and I couldn't run the risk of exposing myself to so many contaminants as I've already had a cold this month and I'm trying to preserve my PTO for my vacation in June.
So I went up to the balcony, and I was afraid that I was going to have to sit way up in the nosebleed section, but I didn't; I was able to sit right by the door, which was nice for when I wanted to leave. This article talks a little bit about the diversity of the people who showed up for the rally, and I was really impressed by that too. Granted, Sioux Falls has a more diverse population than most communities in the state (although, when I go back to visit my hometown, I notice more diversity there than when I was growin up), and in South Dakota, a little diversity can seem like a lot. I think part of the reason it struck me, though, is because I notice diversity in Sioux Falls as I go about my business, but I don't notice much interaction among people of different backgrounds, or whatever you want to call it. Maybe I'm just not paying attention, but it seems that as I'm going about my business most people are just going about theirs and not interacting more than is necessary. So it was really striking to see so many people from so many different backgrounds all gathered together with a common purpose. I was also really surprised by how many young people there were there. I mean REALLY young people, like high school and middle school aged kids. As bad as I am at judging people's ages, a lot of those kids couldn't possibly have been old enough to vote. I suppose some of them might have been taken along by their parents, but it looked like a lot of them were there in groups of peers on their own, which was amazing to me.
And signs, signs, everywhere were signs...at least on the floor, and that's something that was really interesting and somewhat distasteful to me. They said before the event that people couldn't bring bags, signs or banners for security reasons. Fair enough. But then I got there, and a lot of the people standing on the floor around the dais or seated behind it were holding signs. Most of them were these graphically designed, mass-produced ones, which I don't have a problem with; the people weren't supposed to bring in signs, so the campaign provided them with signs, and I'm cool with that. But then some people, mostly those sitting behind the dais, opposite the press area, were holding up these hand-lettered signs. So what does that mean? The campaign produces large numbers of hand-lettered, homemade looking signs and then hands them out to people so it looks like they cared enough to take the time and effort to make their own signs? It's all a ruse to create a photo opportunity? Contemplating that possibility made me rather cynical and disillusioned about the whole thing, but given the presence of the guy with the Hillary sign, I guess I have to give the campaign the benefit of the doubt (more on the Hillary-sign guy in a moment).
Before Obama spoke there were opening speeches by former Senators George McGovern and Tom Daschle. George McGovern is probably best known for running for president against Richard Nixon in 1972, and winning only one state, which was Massachusetts. Now he's a dignified and sedate old gentleman; he gave his entire speech from behind a lectern. Early in the speech he referred to the Arena's PA system as the "voice of God" and said, "Isn't it nice to know that God is on our side?" which rather rubbed me the wrong way, because lots of people think that God is on their side, including George W. Bush and Osama bin Laden. Personally, I don't think God takes "sides" as we understand it.
But I did end up enjoying McGovern's speech. He explained that he had originally endorsed Hillary Clinton because she and her husband had campaigned for him in 1972 and he considered them friends, but decided to switch sides after his four children and ten grandchildren all turned around and joined the Obama campaign as soon as he had endorsed Hillary Clinton. He also compared Obama with Lincoln, which I was gratified to hear because I had also recognized certain parallels between the two of them, but I had a superstitious dread of bringing it up.
Then Tom Daschle came out, and wow, has he ever been at changing his image since he got out of the Senate. He seems to think he's Bono or something. I first noticed the difference when he appeared on the Daily Show in March, when he came out in a suit but with no tie and his shirt unbuttoned at the collar, and it seemed so much more casual than I'd seen him before. (I also want to point out that that clip I linked to has some very good information about superdelegates and the Democratic nomination process, if you're interested in learning more about that.) At the rally last night he was wearing a tie, as well as round-rimmed glasses, which was sort of nerdy-looking (except that I only know that from looking at the pictures from the newspaper; I couldn't tell from where I was seated what kind of glasses he was wearing), but they took down the lectern after McGovern's speech, and Daschle came out and delivered his speech in the round, and in a tone that's not quite shouting but also not letting the microphone due the work for you, with that sort of hyper-enthusiasm that...I can't really describe it, but I half-expected him to announce Obama saying, "Let's get ready to RUMBLE!!!!!!!" It was bizarre. In fact, the whole sort of sporting-event tone of the evening was kind of off-putting; I get the feeling that they didn't pull those kind of shenanigans at the town-hall meeting in Watertown earlier that day, but...I don't know. I suppose there's a perfectly valid rhetorical purpose for all the cheerleading and stuff; I suppose its to get people excited so that they ride that wave of adrenaline out to the polls, but if that's the case it was sort of strange to schedule it on a Friday, when the county auditor(s) are closed for the weekend. But whatever, I'm sure they know what they're doing.
And then Obama came out, and he started off by acknowledging the applause, saying, "Thank you, South Dakota. Thank you, Sioux City," which is a city in Iowa some 70 miles south of Sioux Falls. Speaking for myself, a correction immediately came to my lips, although I didn't try yelling it out; there was no way that he would hear me from where I was sitting. Lots of people were still cheering, so I couldn't tell if someone corrected him or what, but he said, "Oh, I'm sorry. I've been in Iowa too long." He did sincerely sound sorry, and he referred to Sioux Falls, correctly, several times over the course of his speech. It's an easy and understandable mistake to make; the two cities are comparatively close and are both located along the Big Sioux River, which is how they got their similar names. I'm certain he wasn't the first visitor to make such a mistake, nor will he be the last. I felt really bad for him, because the pundits and everybody have been going to such great lengths to focus on stupid little details about him (like why he doesn't wear a flag pin and such nonsense) to distract from the important things, to the point where the poor man can't even scratch his face without it being interpreted as a disparagement of Hillary Clinton, and that's the kind of thing they could just jump on and say "Humph! He can't even remember the name of the city; he's out of touch and elitist" and some such crap. In fact, I hesitated to even bring it up for fear of imbibing it with more importance than it actually signifies, but the Argus Leader reported it and, to be fair, it was one of the more memorable moments of the evening.
As to the speech itself, I won't go into a lot of detail because the whole speech is available in video form on the Argus Leader website and, I'm sure, on the local stations as well. I just want to say that I thought it was very good overall, and I thought everything he said made a lot of sense, even the bits I didn't entirely agree with. I would like to mention those bits, though, since its the first time I've had any substantial criticisms to make of him. He said that "the tight primary race has been 'healthy' for the political process," as the Argus reported it, and I agree with that part; in fact, I said pretty much the same thing just days ago. But then he went on to address criticisms and fears that having the primary go on this long, having the race be undecided until every state gets the chance to vote, will divide the Democrats when it comes to the general election; he argued that the Democrats "will be united against John McCain" (I'm paraphrasing at this point) because "John McCain would serve Bush's third term." He downplayed the differences between himself and Hillary Clinton and accentuated the differences between the two of them and McCain, especially with regard to the war. That point was well made and well taken; when I've had occasion and emotional imperative to criticize McCain, it's been on his war stance; and yet, as much as I oppose the war, and have always opposed the war, it is only one issue. Looking at the larger picture, I still support John McCain over Hillary Clinton. As much as I hope it doesn't come down to a choice between the two of them, if I had to make a choice between them this moment I would still vote for McCain over Hillary Clinton. And Obama argued that we should go the other way if need be, and I disagreed. But hopefully it won't come to that.
The other thing I disagreed with Obama about is universal health care. For many years I've been a proponent of universal health care, but now I'm agnostic about it because it was pointed out to me last fall (by a dentist who I met--indirectly--through my church) that the downside of having socialized medicine is that it takes a lot of decisions out of the hands of doctors and puts them into the hands of people who don't necessarily have a lot of medical knowledge and don't necessarily care as much about getting people the best possible goods and services as they care about saving money. So that doesn't sound so great, but then again, I've been without health coverage before, so I know that that's not so great either, and at this point I can't decide whether it's worse to have no health coverage, or health coverage with substandard care. If there's a way that we can provide universal coverage with quality care, I'd be all for that; and I suppose I should investigate all the candidates' proposals more before I make any sort of judgment.
But most of what Obama said I agreed with, and his comments on education not only made sense to me but were the exact comments that I've been making for years; that holding students and teachers to standards shouldn't mean teaching to a high-stakes test, that students should receive a well-rounded education including art and music and things that don't translate well to standardized multiple choice testing, and that parents need to take some responsibility for their children's education. I stood up and cheered when he made those comments.
Those are the sorts of things you hear on the news, though; I wanted to get the entire speech experience, including the trivial and extemporaneous parts that you don't necessarily get to see. That would include the "Sioux City" faux pas. In the middle of the speech some people (it sounded like young women, but it's hard to tell when a group of people are yelling) shouted "We love you, Obama!" which I felt was really inappropriate. I don't object to applause during the speech, I engaged in it myself, but that sort of behavior is more suited to a football game, I think. That said, I did like the way he responded; he stopped his speech and said good-naturedly, "I love you guys too," then went on with the speech. And then there was the guy with the Hillary sign; I couldn't see him very well because he was sitting in the same balcony as I was, and I wasn't looking over there anyway, so I didn't notice him until Obama called attention to him, but apparently he stood up the whole speech holding a (mass-produced) "Hillary for President" sign over his head. According to the Argus Leader, this caused some "ruckus," but Obama said, "That's all right; this is a free country, he can hold up that Hillary sign," and then continued, "The only thing I will say is that when you're holding that sign up it's hard for the people behind you to see; that's not very neighborly." I do have to wonder about how exactly he got that sign in there, since people weren't supposed to bring in signs. The cynical and suspicious side of my nature suspects that it may have been a complicated maneuver on the part of the campaign workers, to cause a ruckus so that Obama could be the voice of reason and it would make him look good. But I really don't think that that is the case, because as I was leaving the arena and looking for my car, the Hillary-sign guy was standing on the sidewalk and I walked right passed him, and he had his sign folded up, carrying it under his arm, and he was wearing kind of a big jacket, so I could imagine that maybe he'd sneaked it in under his jacket. I'm not sure what that says about the security, though, but on the other hand, I don't really understand why signs were so much of a security threat in the first place. I did kind of want to say something to the guy as I passed, something like, "So, what'd you think of the speech?" but I was kind of afraid that he'd lash out at either me or Obama and I didn't think I could stand it either way, so I didn't bother him.
A lot of what Obama says isn't necessarily new stuff, but I think he "walks the walk" better than most candidates--and indeed, most politicians--in recent memory have, including H. Clinton and McCain. For example, one of the things that I remember most vividly from the speech last night was Obama saying that we had to weaken the influence of lobbyists and special-interests, corporations, etc. in Washington; which is something a lot of people say, but he went on to say that he wasn't going to take money from any of those groups and be beholden to them later, and I happened to read a TIME Magazine article a while ago that corroborates that claim. I've felt all along that he was more sincere than most politicians, and certainly more sincere than Hillary Clinton, but that really gives me confidence that he's going to follow through on what he promises. The only misgivings that I have about that is that I feel that a lot of people, whether they're candidates proposing "what I'm going to do as president" or pundits criticizing the presidents for not following through on their campaign promises, don't take into account that there's only so much that the president can do unilaterally; the Congress and the Supreme Court have to have some say. That's checks and balances and I'm all for it because it helps prevent tyranny and dictatorship, but there's another side to it that the president can't necessarily get down all he* would like to do without the support of the other branches. Granted, if the Democrats stay in control in Congress he'll likely get a lot of support; also, the current president has set a lot of precedents that he may be able to take advantage of to make his way easier, but I don't think Obama would abuse his power like that.
Apparently the speech was about 45 minutes long; I have to take the Argus' word for it because I don't have a watch and there were no clocks (running) in the arena. After the speech I waited around a little bit for the crowd to clear out, and watched him shake hands with people for a little while. Since everyone was leaving at once, the crowd was slightly more upsetting than it was going in, but I managed to stay calm. But then I made the mistake of not taking the exact same route back to my car that I took going in and got lost in the parking lot. Lost in the sense that I couldn't find my car; I knew where I was, I just couldn't remember where I parked, which sadly is not an uncommon occurrence for me, but this time I wasn't even close, and I was a little concerned because the Sioux Falls Police were there, the facility security were there, and the Secret Service were there, and I was worried that they might grow suspicious to see a disoriented woman wandering around the parking lot and I might garner some unwanted attention, but no one seemed to pay any attention to me. Eventually I retraced my steps and I found my car, and by that point most of the cars around mine had already left, so that helped.
My feelings about Obama can probably best be expressed by lyrics from another show-tune, this one from Man of LaMancha: "I like him, I really like him ... I don't have a very good reason ... still I'll yell to the sky, though I can't tell you why, that I like him." Well, I could tell you why, but my reasons are based less on logic and reason than they are on intuition and emotional thinking. I can't make a good argument based on pathos, so I can't say why anyone else should support Obama, I can only describe my feelings. Among other considerations, Obama reminds me of a former professor of mine, whom I consider a friend and mentor, because the things they say are similar and because they have somewhat similar backgrounds. And as I would trust my former professor to counsel me if I needed help or advice about something, so I would trust Obama to do so, should the situation arise.