Today we took the boys to Obama's "town meeting" at TC Williams high school. Having dealt with their restlessness for the hour we waited for tickets on Friday night, we were a little more prepared today, and brought T's video ipod, Catch the Match, and some snacks. The boys played on the grass for a while, and eventually we got to go inside. (I'm very glad that the brutal wind that is blowing now held off while we were waiting -- I think we'd have given up and turned around if we had to stand in it for long.)
The crowd was polite to the other speakers, but everyone clearly saw them as just something to be got through before the main attraction. Tim Kaine spoke for a few minutes in Spanish, and then explained that the basic translation of all that was "he's a great guy." I don't think Obama's speech was one of his peak performances, but it still rocked the crowd. Someone I heard walking out said that it was basically his standard stump speech.
People sometimes complain that Obama is short on specifics, but the speech had plenty of specific proposals -- tax credits for college tuition, linked to community service, rebates of payroll taxes -- although they rushed by too fast for me to catch most of the details. Frankly, I was waiting for the soaring rhetoric part of the speech, which he did eventually get to, arguing that hope doesn't mean naiveté, but is the driving force that motivates the work needed to make change.
There was some time for questions. People asked about his policies towards South America and Africa, which gave him a chance to talk about engagement with the world. A man who identified himself as a gay veteran asked about "don't ask, don't tell." Obama thanked him for his service, and said he opposed the policy.
A woman from Hawai'i said that her young son was enthusiastic about Obama, but her husband was out campaigning for Clinton, and she was torn, and asked him why she should vote for him. I thought Obama's answers were interesting. He began by saying that Clinton is smart and capable, and would be a vast improvement over the current president. He then offered 4 reasons why she should vote for him rather than Clinton:
- His ability to bring people together -- he argued that while both he and Clinton support universal health care, he has more of an ability to bring together a "working majority" to get it passed.
- His desire to change the way business is done in Washington and challenge the special interests -- he cited his refusal to take PAC money, and the Congressional ethics bill that he cosponsored.
- His "straight talk" -- the example he gave is that he gave his speech on setting fuel economy standards in front of auto industry executives in Detroit. He contrasted this with Clinton's equivocation on the bankruptcy "reform" bill, which she said that she wanted to fail even though she voted for it.*
- His ability to change how the US is seen internationally, because of who he is, and his experience having lived in Indonesia and having family in Africa.
The Obama campaign has posted video of the response if you want to hear him say it himself, rather than my paraphrase.
What's striking about that list is that there aren't really any policy differences between him and Clinton on it -- which I think is right. While there are some policy differences between the two, they're awfully small in the scheme of things. Ezra Klein had a nice piece last week about the style differences between the two.
I wanted to take the boys both because it was the only realistic way for T and I to both attend on short notice, and because I do think this campaign could be a historic moment for them to remember. I don't know how much they got out of it. They were generally well behaved, although N was clearly fading by the end of the speeches. They both enjoyed chanting "Obama" and "We can do it" with the crowd. D wanted to know what "don't ask, don't tell" is, which resulted in a very long answer to a short answer.
* I was moderately amused that Obama went on for a bit about how awful this bill was, while Congressman Moran (who was one of the major sponsors of the bill and had just endorsed him) sat in the front row behind him and looked at the floor.