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Cheers for Obama at FAU, but What About Elsewhere?

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Obama 2012 invaded South Florida in a big way this week.

Sandwiched between fundraisers at mega-rich supporters' homes, which raised over $2 million in contributions, President Obama gave an exceptional stump speech in Boca Raton calling for increased taxation of the wealthy to a packed arena of FAU students, faculty, and local Democratic activists.

Love him or hate him, there's one thing about the president you can't deny -- he is truly a gifted speaker and an outstanding campaigner.

As he entered the FAU gymnasium, known as "The Burrow," with a capacity crowd of 4,500 faculty and students cheering, you knew immediately that the foremost rock star of U.S. politics today had the right audience to flaunt his mesmerizing talents. The pumped-up students were ready for a great performance -- and the president did not disappoint them.

From the moment he arrived until the time he left FAU, President Obama showed that he certainly does not have the Mitt Romney "empathy" or "warmth" problem that continues to dog the apparent GOP nominee. Obama exuded genuine warmness and enthusiasm that immediately bonded him to the young audience -- it showed he was really enjoying the moment.

The speech itself was powerful, dynamic church-like sermon interlaced with passionate union-style class idiom -- at an early point in the speech, he even elicited an "amen" from a member of the crowd. The president called for the passage on April 15 in the Senate of the so-called Buffett Rule, which calls for those earning over $1 million to pay the same, middle class income tax rate of 30 percent.

"What drags our entire economy down is when the benefits of economic growth and productivity go only to the few, which is what's been happening for over a decade now, and gap between those at the very, very top and everybody else keeps growing wider and wider and wider and wider," said Obama.

"In this country, prosperity has never trickled down from the wealthy few. Prosperity has always come from the bottom up, from a strong and growing middle class," he added.

While he argued that the American Dream must continue for the students, he did not mention anything about forbearance of student loans, nor did he note that youth unemployment has been in double digits during his term in office.

As I sat there during the speech, I wondered how his speech would play to a different South Florida audience made up of thousands of suffering unemployed, bankrupt, or foreclosed middle class residents.

I asked myself: Would the president's Buffett rule rhetoric connect as well with the truly oppressed middle class people whose dreams and life savings have been shattered and who now don't worry about paying much in income taxes?

A discussion I had outside the arena before the event with an elderly Democratic activist from Boynton Beach, a former union leader in the garment district of New York City, also made me question his ability to connect at a place like Kings Point even with his own, important liberal base.

When I asked about her about enthusiasm for Obama in the Boynton condos, she indicated that it was waning. Her friend, standing next to her, interjected that a friend who worked for Obama in 2008 won't come to work as a volunteer this time. When I then inquired whether Obama's policies toward Israel were the problem, she got extremely defensive: "It's those damned rabbis, they are scaring these people. Israel has never been safer." It nevertheless hit a nerve.

While still a very loyal supporter of the president, she lamented, "He's no FDR or Truman."
At the end of his speech, the president passionately implored the audience to write and tweet members of Congress, and remind them who they work for.

Speaking in the very safe FAU "Burrow" about the Buffett rule to students who don't pay taxes, while alternately raising millions in campaign cash at $10,000-a-plate luncheons with our local Warren Buffett, makes you also wonder who in fact this president is really working for, too.

Bottom line: Hope and change has been very absent from the lives of all but the richest of Democrats, Republicans, and independents in South Florida and the rest of the country during his first term.

If Romney can somehow connect with the rest of America, the America dissatisfied with Obama's economic record, great speaking and campaigning skills may not be enough this go-around for the president to get reelected.

This article was first published in the Sun Sentinel on April 12, 2012.

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