July 31, 2008

Report From the Obama Townhall Meeting

I’m still in Finland. Here is Wife Rhetorica’s report from the Obama townhall event in Springfield:

Considering the Obama campaign office in Springfield officially only opened last Saturday, it would have been understandable if today’s campaign stop was a little rocky. But Barack Obama’s townhall meeting at Glendale High School ran as smoothly as if his advance team had been living in Springfield all their lives.

Now to the substance of the event: The gymnasium was set up so that the podium was in the middle of the room, allowing Obama to speak “in the round.” That effectively created the feeling of a townhall meeting. More than 1,000 of us were crowded into the auditorium, but no one would have been more than 15 or 20 rows from the stage. Thankfully, the local politicians were kept away from the podium. A man from Rogersville, a small town outside Springfield, opened the event by nervously reading some remarks about the difficulty of making it as a blue-collar worker in America today. It was a good enough idea, but I felt for the poor guy, reading too fast and stumbling over somebody else’s prose. Fortunately, that part did not last long. Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., and Obama strode to the podium together, and McCaskill used a call-and-response to introduce the candidate and fire up the crowd.

Obama acknowledged the local pols that wished they were sitting with on the stage, then launched into the economic points from his stump speech. Speaking from notes with no teleprompter, he started with tax cuts and job creation and, in my opinion, garnered mild enthusiasm from the crowd. The first standing ovation came from his promise to overhaul America’s health care system. Although he has been accused of doing poorly in question-and-answer situations, he fielded questions for 25 minutes with only one stumble, in my opinion.

The questions did not seem like set-ups; I believe Obama’s assertion that there were “no rules” about which questions could be asked. (But I’m going to check this out….one of the audience members who asked a question is a friend of a friend, so I want to learn more about this directly.)

In his answers, Obama used humor deftly to come across as a “regular guy” and showed concern for people’s personal situations without seeming like a panderer. Most of his answers were devoted to reiterating points from his stump speech, but he occasionally veered into thinking out-loud. For example, answering a question about solving the energy crisis, he pulled out the well-rehearsed “We need to have an Apollo project for energy. That’s the spirit of America: Yet set a goal and then you figure out how to get to the goal.” But within 30 seconds, he was encouraging everyone in the room to get their tires inflated and their cars tuned up to avoid wasting fuel and suggested that by changing building codes—which is largely a local issue, not a federal one—America could dramatically improve the energy use of the built environment.

Notably, although he was selling his plan for another “stimulus” package of up to $2,000 per family, the audience did not faint with excitement to either of his pitches on that topic. What did draw huge applause: “I don’t take PAC money and I don’t take money from registered lobbyists.” When a questioner asked how Obama would force big corporations to improve their environmental practices, he said, “There’s going to be a fight” over global warming, but he didn’t take a swing today. He spoke briefly about climate change, then launched into an explanation of how lobbyists influence Congress and called on citizens to make their own concerns heard. “I’m not trying to silence business. I just want to make sure your voice is as loud as the business voice.”

My favorite question of the day came from a young guy on the floor just two rows from the stage. He asked a real question, with a quick follow-up: “May I have a fist bump?” Obama complied.

3 Responses

  1. Snazzy post… I liked this account of the Springfield Obama visit better than anything I saw in MSM.

  2. CB 

    Fairly good post, however the man from Rogersville happens to be a friend of mine. While he may have been nervous, which I think we can all understand, the “prose” in which he “stumbled” over was indeed his own and not the work of an elite writer.

  3. CB– Thanks for that clarification.