For a guy who’s supposed to be cool, cerebral, detached and unemotional, Barack Obama sure knows how to energize a friendly crowd.
About 2,500 of the (mostly Democratic) faithful braved the afternoon heat at Colorado College’s Cutler Quad to hear, see, and maybe even shake hands, with the President of the United States.
For a local reporter, it’s always interesting to witness the strange rituals of the presidential traveling circus.
64 years ago, President Truman stopped briefly in Colorado Springs during a whistle stop tour of Colorado. The train pulled into the DRG & W station, and the president sauntered out on to the rear platform and spoke to the crowd that had gathered beforehand. I was there with my Dad – and, as far as I can remember, there was no security to speak of.
For Obama, much of the Colorado College campus was transformed into a security zone, a labyrinth of steel temporary fencing guarded by grim-faced men and women wearing identically unfashionable “Men in Black” shades. A line of city dump trucks was parked along Cascade, apparently to furnish an additional security barrier. Everyone attending the event went through TSA-style checks, and everyone (including media) had to be in place well before the event began.
The best seats, snatched up by the early birds, were close to the podium but came with a price – there was no shade. Elevated platforms reserved for the camera-bearing media were in full sun as well – too bad for them! The rest of us found patches of shade, and waited for the Prez.
Breaking presidential tradition, Obama arrived half an hour early.
Interior Secretary (and Colorado College graduate) Ken Salazar warmed up the heat-dazed crowd with a few partisan words, noting that Dems were all for affordable higher education. Laudable sentiments to be sure, but Ken – tuition, room and board at your Alma Mater now amounts to $51,060!
And then Christy Taylor, a Colorado Springs elementary school teacher, formally introduced the President, praising him for supporting measures such as extended unemployment benefits which had helped her family to keep their house when her husband was laid off during the depths of the Great Recession.
Then it was Obama’s turn. He gave a fine, passionate, partisan speech. Just as Harry Truman so often did, he gave the Republicans hell.
Noting that he, like so many other Americans had been spending a lot of time watching the Olympics of late, he segued smoothly into attack mode.
“You might have noticed that there are some other things on the air,” he said wryly. “Political commercials! And you know, the Republicans really only have once commercial – it’s all Obama’s fault! And they don’t have a plan of their own – they just want raise taxes on the middle-class, and give someone who makes $3 million a year a $250,000 tax break.”
Describing his own plan as one which would reduce taxes on the middle class, modestly raise the taxes of those who make more than $250,000 annually, and thereby strengthen programs that benefit working and middle-class Americans, Obama then made fun of his GOP adversaries.
“The reason that they won’t tell you their plan is that they don’t have a plan,” he said, “and the plan they got, they can’t sell!”
Red meat indeed, and the crowd loved it, periodically interrupting the President with chants of “Four more years! Four more years!” Funny – the last time I heard that chant was at a Nixon rally in 1972.
After the speech ended, Obama worked the rope line. I sidled quietly up to watch the master politician at work, and suddenly there he was, extending his hand. Up close, he seems prematurely aged, his hair grayer, his face more lined compared with his appearance when speaking at UCCS four years earlier. Even then, he had command presence – and now he’s the Commander in Chief.
I shook his hand – and yeah, I know I’m supposed to be coldly indifferent to the blandishments of politicians…but I was delighted.
Kennedy, Clinton, Obama – maybe three’s enough.