On Monday, I attended the campaign speech by President Obama at Oyster River High School in Durham. If you want to attend a presidential campaign event, you're going to have to pay a price. No, I don't mean an admission price. I mean a price in discomfort.
I've been attending political gatherings for over 40 years, and I've learned that almost anything can happen. It can be too hot or too cold. Bad weather can cause the event to be cancelled. The featured speaker can fail to appear. Or the speaker can be late - sometimes very late. I attended a political dinner in Pennsylvania many years ago where the meal was delayed until the featured guest , then Gov. Milton Shapp, showed up 3 hours late. At that point, the audience was chewing on the napkins and the tablecloths.
So, on Monday, I wasn't surprised when drenching rains flooded the road as I drove to hear Obama speak. I was within sight of the high school when I made a wonderful mistake - I discovered that I had left my admission ticket at home, so I had to drive back to get it.
Why a wonderful mistake? Because that meant I avoided standing for an hour in a long line in the pouring rain while I waited for the doors to open for the event. The soggy line serpentined its way down the driveway to the high school, out the entrance, and far down the street. When I returned, the doors were open, and I entered school without problems only to find a massive crowd (estimated at 1200) sweltering in a huge sauna, otherwise known as the gymnasium (an additional 750 were in an adjacent room). It was hot, and it was humid. My misery was only compounded by the next turn of events.
The event was scheduled to begin at noon, but Obama didn't start speaking until 2 p.m. That wasn't surprising. On average, political speakers are an hour late - they want to be sure everyone is in the building and let anticipation grow before they stride to the podium. Given that Obama's plane had to fly through lousy weather, it was perhaps more surprising that he was there at all.
Obama said that the upcoming election will contrast two fundamentally different political philosophies which has led to a stalemate in governance. Romney, said Obama, argues that we should go back to the failed GOP strategies of the last decade. Romney advocates repealing regulations on oil companies, insurance companies, and banks when it was a lack of regulation of these bodies which led to economic collapse and recession in 2008.
Romney, according to Obama, would keep all the Bush tax cuts in place, including those on the wealthy, when it is these tax reductions which have ballooned the nation's deficit. And, he said, Romney would seek $5 trillion in additional budget cuts largely from programs benefitting the middle class, not the rich. Millionaires and billionaires, by contrast, would be given a $250,000 tax cut. Obama noted, "These policies were tested, and they failed. Prosperity comes not from the top, but from the middle class."
By contrast, said the President, he favors programs that stress our common interests. "Government can't solve all our problems, and it shouldn't. We shouldn't be in the business of helping those who refuse to help themselves. Caring families, neighbors, friends, and fellow parishioners play a large role in our success."
But, Obama noted, we should follow the advice of the first Republican president, Abraham Lincoln. "Lincoln said, 'We should do together what we cannot do as well for ourselves.' Together, we have built railroads, highways, the Hoover Dam, and the Golden Gate Bridge. We didn't do these things for any particular individual; we did them because they benefitted everyone."
Obama closed by reflecting upon the upcoming election. He expects it to be close, noting that Republicans will spend more money during the campaign than has been spent at any time in American history. Obama notes that the GOP has great message discipline, repeating the same negative points over and over again.
"That may be a plan to win an election," said Obama, "but it isn't a way to govern; to create jobs; to restore the economy; or to reduce the deficit."
When I left Oyster River High School, the rain had stopped, and later in the afternoon the sun appeared. Apparently, the weather gods approved of Obama's message.