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On The Trail In The Gateway City

02/05/2008 01:52 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

What is the similarity between Campbell's Soup, and the current presidential candidates this election cycle? Both offer 'canned' goods, with the politicos giving speeches vetted by PR firms and focus groups, filled to the mouth watering brim with politically correct slogans, all served up with a tasty dollop of pandering. Enjoyable, but not necessarily nutritious, or in this case, an adequate substitute for serious discussion of substantive issues.

St. Louis was the center of the political universe this Superbowl weekend as each of the remaining candidates found their way to the Gateway city. Barak, Hillary, Mitt, McCain and Huckabee all found their way to our little burg. I followed three such events in a span of 24 hours, and will describe each as best as I could, positioned in the non-VIP section of the floor.

In truth, I actually attended only two of the events, as Mitt's was closed to the public. Strange that the local media weren't aware of this change in plans, as they reported that the event was free and open to the general public. When I arrived at the location, (a Dave and Buster's restaurant); I was told that the event was closed and given no reason for the change. Observing the usual suspects; I noticed that the entire crowd for Mitt's shindig--was white. Not a single Black, Hispanic, Asian, or other minority face was evident. Frankly, it more closely resembled a country club brunch from the 1950's, than it did a political 'meet and greet.' All that was missing were signs reading...'no Blacks, Jews, other minorities or dogs, allowed on the premises.' George Wallace and the Grand Wizard of the KKK would be proud.

The Obama event was held at the local domed stadium. The event was open to the public. Security was informal, (only a bag check and the guards were polite). The crowd was as diverse in terms of race and age demographics as Romney's was monotone and monotonous. College students were everywhere it seemed, filling the venue with a contagious enthusiasm. Strangers were talking about how this was 'history in the making.'

Before Obama entered, the local pols gave a few speeches that were dutifully ignored. This crowd wanted the man, not boring substitutes. As Obama took the stage; the audience erupted like their team had already won the ultimate Superbowl. Admonishing the crowd to be 'fired up,' he began his performance. Peppered with strong doses of humor; he went through his routine. Mischievously making references to 'other candidates ' who claim that he is not experienced enough or 'ready' to begin the job from day 1; he countered that those same candidates, have the wrong experience. While college students were dancing in the audience; Barak went down his political wish list.

Mocking his detractors, he reassured the audience that while respecting other religious beliefs, including Islam; he IS definitely an American and a longstanding practicing Christian. He spoke of his community activism in Chicago and his original opposition to the Iraq war. He spoke about offering universal healthcare to those who need and want such care, but rebuked the idea of forcing the issue. He spoke of making college affordable and future wars avoidable. He spoke of ending the bitter partisan fighting in the political sphere and bringing people together on the same page, same team. Most of all, he spoke to the item near and dear to this reporter; declaring the full restoration of the Bill of Rights, and true constitutional rule.

It was a charismatic speech, except for one problem; the organizers had most of the audience facing Obama's back, while the telecasters got a full frontal. With those six-packs; a damned shame.

Hillary's event took place at the local Machinists Union Hall. Security was tight, with both uniformed and plain clothes Secret Service agents in abundance. Once allowed inside the inner sanctum; blackshirted secret service agents rummaged through any bags, before sending us through a metal detector, all to be topped off by an electronic frisking, legs spread like a convict. This audience was reasonably diverse in terms of racial makeup. The interesting thing about this crowd were the remarks overheard before entering the venue. Rumors such as..."Obama's not REALLY American, and NOT a Christian," and ..."she'll make Barak her VP," raced through the crowd. Like most campaigns; 20-somethings maneuvered through the audience, always ready to whip out a Hillary sticker. This event was dubbed a 'town hall meeting,' with union members onstage in a style reminiscent of Dick Gephardt's campaigns.

Stage right, enter Hillary on cue, as the younger members of the crowd chanted her name to a small deafening roar. Microphone in hand, 'a la Oprah'; she addressed the group. Her speech was vintage Hillary, disciplined and on target, as she covered the major issues of the day, namely health care, a reformed trade policy coordinated with a reformed energy policy, education concerns and an end to the Iraq war. She wants to be the ..."Commander-In-Chief to bring our troops home safely and responsibly" (Hillary Clinton appearance in St. Louis, 2/3/08).

Working hard for her 'populist' credentials in this union crowd, she acknowledged the role unions play in ..."providing the necessary bargaining chip to level the playing field," during contract negotiations. She pledged to repeal the No Child Left Behind Act, to provide needed funding for public education, including increased funding for special education services. In all fairness, I know something about Senator Clinton's work on educational issues from her days in Arkansas. She worked with the Arkansas Department of Education and actively pursued innovative programs and was equally passionate about educational equity. To those who doubt this writer; I know from personal experience as I received a letter in 1989 from a then little known--Hillary Rodham, concerning a program prototype I had designed and presented at a National Council for Exceptional Children Conference in the same year. Unfortunately, I listened to the professor I was working with at the time, who advised me to disregard the letter. What can I say? I was young and foolish. Nonetheless, Senator Clinton's interest in public education is sincere and longstanding.

Hillary spoke to uniting the democratic party and the country. After her concluding remarks; she took questions from the crowd. Though her answers to these questions seemed a bit too contrived; there is no evidence to prove the contention that these questions were 'planted,' in the audience.

During this give and take; my friend spotted a man near us who had collapsed on the floor. This occurred in the middle of an audience ovation, but we dialed 911 on a cell phone, hoping to be heard in the commotion. When paramedics arrived; they couldn't get through the surging crowd, as my friend and I were screaming to let them through. During a lull, while Hillary was speaking but the crowd was quiet; I yelled at Hillary to let the paramedics through, a man had collapsed. Hillary told the crowd to give the paramedics room to help this man, while she calmly kept talking. To a casual observer, this calm reaction would seem cold and unfeeling, but a colleague of mine who used to work as a paramedic told me that my perception was totally wrong. What Hillary did to redirect the audience calmly may have prevented a panic or stampede. Because of her calm; the paramedics were able to perform their role without interruptions. When critics complain that Hillary is too calculating; they must be confronted with the truth of international politics in this new millennia, which requires calm and studious heads. What she may lack in charisma; she more than compensates for in calm reflection and steady resolve.

In conclusion, this past 24 hours; I viewed a charismatic candidate capable of inspiring great hope; another candidate weaker in charisma, but able to remain calm and steady during times of duress, and a third candidate born to the platinum spoon who is clearly uncomfortable and uncaring regarding the great unwashed masses. To this third candidate, this 'Mitt'; I reserve the Herbert Hoover tradition of the notorious 'carrot eaters.' Carrot eaters were followers of Herbert Hoover, who allegedly offered carrots to starving people, but not much else in the way of sustenance. Economic Calvinists to the bone; they believed that the poor were in their sorry state of affairs due to laziness, or some lack of moral fortitude.

While I watched the Romney supporters enter the closed event; I realized this was the modern, Marie Antoinette 'let them eat cake,' crowd. I chuckled as I penned this observation, reviling these selfish fearful people, relished the irony, and enjoyed a nice thick slice of Bavarian cream cake.