Sometimes I hear talk of Democrats and Republicans being the same: “they’re both alike“; “they’re all liars”; “Democrats are only the lesser of two evils“. This kind of rhetoric comes from both left and right. It is an excuse to vote Republican, or to not vote at all.
I beg to differ. There is a big difference, crucial at this time in our history.
In my life I’ve had a few ‘close calls’ with sitting Presidents of the United States.
The first was about 1953 when we saw President Eisenhower in a motorcade in Minot ND. We lived in an area town, I was 13 or 14, and he made a big impression. He was in an open convertible, personable and waving. He was likely there to inspect the site then being considered for the major Minot Air Force Base.
In the summer of 1975, I was within arms length of President Gerald Ford when he visited Bloomington MN. My kids, a couple of neighbors and I were on the other side of a rope line, which was all that separated the President from the onlookers. He was very engaging. The Secret Service was nervous.
In January, 1980, I was at a meeting in the Cabinet Room of the Carter White House. The President wasn’t in, but it was a heady experience nonetheless.
I’ve had other close brushes: Jimmy Carter’s Plains GA in 1977; the Eisenhower library in KS; a couple of tours of Harry and Bess Truman’s home in Independence MO, and the Truman Library; the Bill Clinton Library in Little Rock; Lyndon and Lady Bird Johnson’s home in Texas…plus the house where LBJ grew up; Abe Lincolns home, tomb and environment in IL several times and his KY birthplace; George and Laura Bush’s Crawford TX. Perhaps I’m missing one or two….
June 20, 2003, I traveled out to suburban Minneapolis to perhaps catch a glimpse of President George W. Bush as he came to a meeting at a small manufacturing facility. The meeting was so closed, and Bush was so elusive, that even his supporters who wanted to at least see the limo didn’t know he had arrived and gone in a back way…and they were irritated, to put it mildly. The only way any of us knew GWB was inside was when a cheer came through the walls of the building he was in. To get into a Bush event, you needed to be vetted and ticketed: it was invitation only. The common scrum? Forget it, even if you were a loyal Republican.
Then came Saturday, October 23, 2010. President Barack Obama came to town to stump for Minnesota Democratic Party candidates (DFL), especially for gubernatorial candidate Mark Dayton. What a day. (Some photos at the end of this post.) No ticketing. Come as you are, first come, first admitted.
I don’t know how large the crowd was Saturday, but it certainly filled the University of Minnesota fieldhouse (capacity 7000) to the brim, and apparently there was closed circuit television outside for those who could not get in. It was a responsive, yet very polite group. It appeared that at least a majority were students, perhaps a large majority. And they were enthusiastic. There was no comparison with the 2003 Bush event.
In these still-charged days of paranoia around ‘terrorists’, going to yesterday’s gathering was a breath of fresh air. Security was crisp and quick but non-intrusive: clear rules, but a welcoming place. This I also experienced a while back at another event featuring Vice-President Joe Biden.
Having a Press Pass gave me an excellent vantage point, and much more freedom of movement than those who patiently stood in line for at least a couple of hours to get inside the Fieldhouse.
President Obama made his entrance, and his exit, in close proximity to, and engaged with the people in the hall. His stump speech, even with the terrible acoustics of the Fieldhouse, was powerful, and elicited a very loud and positive response. (Originally the event had been planned for outdoors, but they weren’t sure of the weather and moved inside.)
A few protestors were outside, but no heckling indoors. A couple of people fainted…those were the only tense moments.
An appearance by the President of the United States does not decide an election, but one gets an impression of leadership and without a doubt the assembled group left highly energized and ready to work.
Part of the long line on the Northrop Mall waiting for the doors to open.
A view of the crowd, President Obama at right.
The President speaking to the crowd
There might be some pessimism in some quarters, and some glee in others, that Obama and the Democrats have lost their competitive edge – that they’re just “Republican lite”.
That certainly wasn’t in evidence at the University of Minnesota Saturday.
As for the Republicans vs Democrats: the Democrats are working very hard and in a positive direction; there are two Republican parties currently at war with each other, and the one currently in control is one which inspires much more fear than it does confidence. Today’s Republican Party is not the party of Dwight Eisenhower.