Saturday, October 18, 2008

Obama in Roanoke

Finally yielded to Obama-mania yesterday and went with three friends to the noon rally in Roanoke. The Civic Center was filled with 8000 keyed-up supporters, all of us having been part of a loooong (but steadily moving) line in a light rain to get in. As we drove by at 10:30, the line of umbrellas circled the arena; the lot was full and the signs directed us to a parking garage on the other end of the city. Our hearts sank a bit, but the shuttle buses were plentiful and constant, and informative volunteers were posted at every spot along the way in where confusion might have set in. We made it into our seats by 11:15, when the only section unfilled was directly behind the speakers. My friends were disappointed, but I consoled them with a Chicago-style slogan: "He's just as fine from behind."

As I've read about so many Obama rallies elsewhere, this one was well organized, started on time, and delivered the goods from start to finish. You know it's going to be high-energy when the opening invocation gets applause! [One organizing opportunity was missed, though: the Obama staffer's brief remarks should have included the address of the Roanoke office, not just the street it's on.]

The crowd was everybody: old, young; black, white; latte-sippin' liberals from Lexington, rotund rednecks from Roanoke County, and everybody in between. Jim Webb, who'd also done four events the previous day from the tip of SW Virginia to just south of Roanoke, delivered a warm, pointed intro. The roar that greeted Obama took things to a whole new level.

Obama spoke for 45 minutes. He's mighty good. I can't believe anyone can do this day after day for so long and show so little strain -- just a hint of exhaustion right after the speech and before the hand-shaking on the way out. I wish for his sake and ours that there were only a few more days to go.

There were some excellent bits added to the prepared remarks. Obama can be truly funny when he abandons presidential dignity for a few moments and puts his body and voice into it. He did that in comparing the McCain campaign's account of its health care proposal to "those prescription drug ads; you've seen 'em on TV. At the beginning people are running around in a sunny field and everybody's so happy... and then near the end you get [lower-register stern voice] 'Side effects may include...'" Everyone cracked up and and we all, Obama included, basked in the unexpectedly delightful moment before he got back to being Mr. Seriously Hopeful Change We Need.

My favorite part of the speech was near the end. Some of us had begun to tune out a bit as the candidate moved through a list of spending promises and then into the rote "I will go through the entire federal budget, page by page, line by line, and eliminate programs that don’t work and aren’t needed...". But then came the kicker: "We’ll start by ending the war in Iraq." The crowd burst to its feet and let loose. We'll hold you to that, guy. My carmates are part of the growing consensus that Obama's approach to Afghanistan is wrong, wrong, wrong and will only get us in further over our heads, so we're expecting to have to keep pushing unpleasant truths on the new administration.

But before that can happen, we're in for a long seventeen days. One important effect of the rally should be to mollify the Roanoke black community's concerns about local leaders not being involved or included enough in the campaign, potentially hurting getting-out-the-vote. They got earlier notice than most about the possible appearance, and clearly responded.

We still feel the urge to pinch ourselves when we read the Virginia polls, but the idea that our electoral votes will go to the Democrat seems more and more of a living possibility. Maybe we can!

Video of the speeches and comments of other attenders at Raising Kaine.
Image: myscoper