My weekly print column, Danation, usually takes a somewhat local bent, making it meaningful to only a slim percentage of HuffPo readers. But Barack Obama was in my neck of the woods last weekend, so I figured I'd post my column here, though it was originally published in City Link Magazine and online here at Metromix.com.
The first line of my previous column: "The past couple of weeks have been great for John McCain." Good Lord, what a difference a few days make. With Wall Street crumbling, and even the Republicans beginning to refute their own economic ideas of the past 30 years -- that regulation is naught but a horrific hindrance to the perfection of the free market, foisting buckets of cash on the wealthiest few will cause a trickle-down effect of increased prosperity for the middle class and massive tax cuts under Reagan and Dubya counter-intuitively resulted in increased federal revenue (yes, I know about the Laffer curve. No, we are not on the right side of it) -- the Democratic notions that maybe the wealthiest Americans should start paying a little more and that maybe, just maybe, someone should be keeping an eye on Wall Street have started to look pretty good.
McCain arrived late to this party. After decades as a deregulation apostle and champion of the free market in all its permutations, he suddenly came out for bailouts (read: taxpayer muggings) and more regulation, despite the fact that he continues to push for deregulating the healthcare industry. There's an old saying among Democrats, which many attribute to Harry Truman: "Given the choice between a Republican and someone who acts like one, people will vote for the real Republican every time." The reverse, however, is also true.
So as this past week wrapped up, Barack Obama went up in the polls and the news media forgot about lipstick and pigs. The candidate himself was in the middle of a comeback as he arrived in Miami. McCain was also in Florida, trying to recover from a bizarre rejection of the president of Spain, in which McCain either refused to meet with the NATO ally or had no idea where Spain was located. Possibly both.
Obama appeared this past Friday at the University of Miami's BankUnited Center for a Women for Obama rally. Security was far tighter than when I'd caught Obama give a speech in Miami at a fundraiser in the middle of the Clinton-Obama primary war. Knowing that campus security would be centered on the BankUnited Center, I parked worry-free in a student-only lot across campus, near the music school, and strolled through the campus grounds to the center. Sweating profusely and somewhat giddy by the time I reached the venue, I jabbered at a security guard for the location of the press check-in area. He gestured vaguely, looked me over and said, "You know, if you're not on the list, they'll turn you away." One hand rested on his gun. Huge swaths of sign-wielding students stood in lines. I nodded uncertainly, mumbled something nonthreatening and strode to the entrance, where more-pleasant police officers made me empty my pockets, ran a metal-detecting wand over me, and then handed me a press pass.
The whole process took just a few minutes, and before long, I was repacking my pockets with all the tools of the trade -- pens, notebook, digital recorder, cigarettes, lighter, digital camera, cell phone, yo-yo, extra batteries, assorted medications and so on -- and winding my way through the back alleys of the BankUnited Center. I passed by a group of suited men talking furtively in one of the hallways. Eavesdropping as I walked by, I heard that there would be seven or eight speakers before Obama, which sounded about right for an event such as this; at the Obama appearance during the primaries, there had been an orgy of speakers lasting hours and pissing off even the most ardent supporters.
Presently, I stepped onto the floor, right in the middle of the tables for print journalists, where a bunch of hacks were setting up their laptops. But not me. With the risers for the broadcast media right in front of the print journalists' tables -- a pretty standard setup for political events -- the print guys can see nothing from their positions. I left them behind and walked in front of the risers, out with the crowd. Where the action is.
The center started to fill up, antsy students awaiting the candidate's appearance, and I was just thinking that the only hospitable thing to do would be to at least offer a selection of cocktails, when a voice announced University of Miami president Donna Shalala. She thanked Obama for coming and called the university's students "the smartest and best-looking in the country," a notion that was greeted with approving applause. A trio of women then gave get-out-the-vote speeches -- a dry, somewhat wonky pitch by State Sen. Nan Rich followed by a shamelessly applause-line-heavy spiel by Rep. Corrine Brown and finally a plea to register friends to vote by Ruth Cox, the Obama campaign's Women's Vote Director in Florida.
And then, nothing happened. The crowd amused itself with the occasional "Yes we can" chant and took up a few minutes with the wave. Finally, after about 50 minutes of down time, Missouri Sen. Claire McCaskill and South Florida's own Rep. Debbie Wasserman-Schultz hit the stage, McCaskill to introduce Wasserman-Schultz, and The Wass, in turn, to introduce Obama.
The Wass is in a weird position these days; she's the liberal liberals love to hate. First, there was her attack-dog status in the primaries, in which she was vocally against the current Democratic presidential candidate. Then, there was her initial refusal to openly support Annette Taddeo, Joe Garcia and Raul Martinez, the three Democrats looking to unseat the last three Republican congresspeople in South Florida; this despite her position as co-chair of the Democrats' Red-to-Blue Committee, which supports candidates like these three. And just a few weeks ago, when approached for support by Doug Tudor, who is running against Republican Rep. Adam Putnam in northern Florida, she turned him down because of his anemic fundraising, according to Tudor. When Tudor added, "Congresswoman, I am one of those working-class guys that our party claims to represent," Wasserman-Schultz supposedly responded, "Don't pull that populist stuff with me." All this despite a voting record in Congress that would make any lefty proud. But that sort of inside-politics stuff was lost on the crowd at BankUnited, where The Wass was hailed with rousing cheers that reached a crescendo when she announced the candidate.
His appearance was quintessentially Obama. He strode confidently onto the stage, buoyed by the cheers of a capacity crowd of almost 8,000, and delivered a version of his stump speech carefully tailored to include both the issues nearest and dearest to women -- including his pro-choice record and his backing of equal-pay laws -- and shots at his opponent's latest missteps, describing McCain as "panicked," "out of touch" and all the other expected catchphrases. Not that my relegating them to catchphrases makes them any less true. At the university, the biggest cheer of the speech went to the promise of a "$4,000 credit so anyone who wants to go to college can go," followed by a huge cheer for energy independence and, of course, the candidate's final line: "We're gonna change the country, and we're gonna change the world." Despite ongoing disasters both domestic and foreign, amid the crowd at the BankUnited Center, it's hard not to believe the man.
Send corporate bailouts to Dan Sweeney at firstname.lastname@example.org.