Saturday, July 28, 2007

Hauling the Family to Candidate Forums

Thursday night my family and I went to see John Edwards. Friday night we saw Barack Obama. Both of these events had about 250 people at them. The Edwards crowd was older but more boisterous and responsive. I was surprised at how strongly Edwards spoke. He struck a very populist tone, with statements like this about entrenched corporations: "They have rigged the system!" and "They will not give up power willingly. You do not negotiate with them until you beat them." He was passionate, spoke with well-refined phrases, and truly got the crowd excited. The video that Corpis Juris posted below is an excellent example of how combative he was.

He spoke for just a few minutes before taking questions. His topic was the new tax plan he announced in Des Moines Thursday morning. His emphasis kept coming back to fairness, not just for the tax plan but in many of his answers. He really seemed to have a theme going. He mentioned the "two Americas" saying, "Most people think that I was talking about the poor people on one side and everyone else on the other. What I am really talking about is large corporations and a few very, very wealthy people and then every one else." He took quite a few questions.

I walked away thinking that I liked the message very much but also wondering if it could be a winning message in the general election. I guess that is exactly what the voters have to decide. As for my five year old son, he slept through the final 20 minutes. So I guess his vote is in.

Obama's tone was much more conversational and relaxed. He moved from issue to issue, laying out his positions and insights. He didn't come across as polished as Edwards. He didn’t punch his lines and give us cues when to applaud. He also didn’t base it around a theme—like fairness—that can build momentum and help the listeners to mentally organize what they are hearing. I’m not sure whether it was just a subdued crowd—out in the shade on a warm summer day by one of the bridges of Madison County—or whether his speech was just more low-key. Where Edwards was constantly on the attack against Bush, Republicans, and big business, Obama was much more circumspect, mentioning “the last six years” and “those in power”. I guess that is the ‘positive’ campaign that he has been running. Overall, he came across as thoughtful, warm, and relaxed.

I didn’t see any security for John Edwards. But the Secret Service was out in force for Obama. Because they were dressed casually, I didn’t notice who they were at first. I just thought that there were an alarming number of well-muscled, clean-pated young men with cochlear implants.

One disappointing aspect of the evening was my encounter with Obama after the event. We were in the crush of people lined up to shake his hand. When our turn came, he tousled my daughter’s hair, gave the boy a high-five, asked my wife their ages, and told me, “You have a beautiful family.” I thought that was just a thinly veiled way of saying, “One of these things is not like the others.”

Update: A friend wrote in to say that she didn't understand the last line. She thinks so highly of me she couldn't imagine that the 'beautiful family' comment might not apply to me--just to the rest of them. I guess I'm just feeling a little ouchy lately. Recently I ran into another old college friend and she immediately blurted out: "I remember Henry Wallace as a really skinny guy." I said, "I ate him." But not before I met my beautiful wife.