By KELLY MERKS
U.S. Sen. Barack Obama is the closest thing to a Beatle that America has seen since, well, the Beatles.
Every sentence he says is met with applause, if not shouts of concurrence. But he is not quite yet a standard pin-up in high school girls’ lockers. And while no one fainted at last night’s on-campus rally, Texas State Bobcats and local citizens made a terrific showing, one worth Obama’s addition of a fourth stop, in Sewell Park, to his already packed Wednesday.
Not even a cloudless chilly night kept away the 12,000 rally-goers, though the forty-something-degrees temperature suppressed the energy of the crowd. Most in attendance were Texas State students. Some were townies, some were graduates, and some were children brought along by their families.
San Marcos’ Place 4 city councilman, Chris Jones, was in attendance. He a week ago at Senator Ted Kennedy’s appearance spoke in Evans Auditorium to endorse Obama. His appearance at Kennedy’s speech was a personal effort in energizing students to participate in early voting.
“There were nay-sayers when I was running. The students silenced them once by putting me in office, and they can silence those same nay-sayers by putting Obama in office.”
Jones began his support for Obama when Obama was running for Illinois senator against Republican Alan Keyes in 2004, even writing a personal check for his Senate run after seeing him speak in former Texas Land Commissioner Garry Mauro’s Austin backyard.
“Truthfully, I think his plans for healthcare represents the bedrock principles of democracy. If you want it, we’re going to help you get it, and if you don’t want it, hey, that’s your problem. What matters is that children are covered.”
Contrary to what some may believe, race is not at all a reason for Jones’ support for Obama, both of whom are African-American.
“I’ll put it this way: In our generation, race is not an issue,” he said. “Just because you’re black and you come and talk to black voters, that doesn’t play. You gotta tell us what you’re about. If you think that black people will vote for Barack just because he’s black, that is an insult to him, because he worked so hard to get where he is and to deliver his message, and it’s an insult to ourselves.”
College Democrats president Courtney Strange introduced former president Lyndon B. Johnson’s grandson Lyndon Nugent, an attorney in San Antonio, at the rally. Strange said the proverbial “they” said it was not possible to attract the number of people to Sewell Park.
“But this is extraordinary. I mean, it says that not only can he do this in our town, but also that Obama relates to everybody. So many people are ready to be inspired,” Strange said.
Jacquelyn Self Howell, the newlywed wife to saxophone player Charlie Howell in Eleven Fingered Charlie, the local reggae-jazz fusion band that played before the rally, appreciates how Obama “harnessed his aggression that he had not having his dad around.”
“I think it’s so amazing how a person can experience a hardship, and you can just see how far they have come,” said Howell, who was wearing a button that said “Hot Chicks Dig Obama.” “Just look how far he has come.”
Just seconds after our dialogue, Obama emerges from his tent, with not a second of press photographers’ camera flashes to spare.
After the crowd’s shouts and applause died down, he thanked San Marcos for his warm reception.
Just a couple minutes later, he uses a somewhat recycled yet poignant line: “We are at a defining moment: our nation is at war, our planet is in peril, and the dream that so many generations fought for feels like it is slowly slipping away.”
Is it any wonder Obama is a shameless media-dubbed hopemonger?
He stressed, “We cannot wait” any longer to solve the nation’s problems. “Everywhere I travel, the American people tell me they are ready to go in a new direction. People are looking for something different … I do believe in being too late.”
Obama’s stump speech touched on several issues, but the most warmly received topic Wednesday night was education and teachers’ salaries, which is no surprise coming from a large crowd of students at a university known for its education department.
“Every child is ours; every child is our responsibility,” he said, adding that he proposes raising teacher salaries and introducing pay-for-performance raises.
Obama is also a supporter of the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act (also known as the DREAM Act), which is a piece of proposed federal legislation that would grant legal status to illegal immigrants in high school who wish to enroll in the military or go to college.
The DREAM Act has been introduced in various incarnations to both the Senate and the House of Representatives, but neither part of the bicameral Congress has yet to succeed in passing it. The most recent attempt was a Senate debate on October 24, 2007, but the 52-44 vote was eight short of trouncing a filibuster.
“Millions of children are left behind and unable to participate in this global economy, and in such circumstances, we cannot afford to wait,” he said.
Obama reminded the crowd that they do not have to wait until March 4 to vote, and urged them to caucus, which would give more state delegates to the candidate of their choice.
He noted the unprecedented voter turn out among young people. “I would like to take the credit for it, but the truth is … that the youth of America realize that they have the power to choose the next president.” Obama, who can sometimes double as Captain Obvious, elicited many shouts of elation in mentioning “George W. Bush won’t be on the ballot, and my cousin Dick Cheney won’t be on the ballot, either,” making light of Vice President Cheney’s wife Lynne’s comment in an MSNBC interview that the Veep and the Illinois senator are eighth cousins.
(Eighth cousins? Does anybody know, or even care, whom his or her eighth cousin is? Probably not even if the uber-distant cousin is Kevin Bacon, who would then be more than the touted six degrees of separation away — who wants that?)
Obama added in jest that, whenever your family tree is delineated, “You hope to be related to somebody cool.”
While reviewing my sub par audio recording for good quotes to pull from Obama’s speech, I found that, true to his form, nearly each line is impressive. Even the pauses he takes between sentences, phrases and words is impeccable. In a conversational tone, he confronted Senator Clinton and other personal critics for saying that all he can provide is inspiration, not experience.
Experience, valuable though it may be, can be jading. Clinton boasts her 17 additional years of experience over Obama, but she has not yet picked up on what the young vote really wants to hear about: vision. Having solutions to all our country’s various problems is great, but Clinton cannot seem to see past her first 60 days in office.
Obama, conversely, speaks of an American future as if it is the Promised Land. The youth of America need inspiration more than it needs to hear how the travesty of healthcare in our country will be solved. Plans and strategies mean nothing if your eyes are not on the prize, if you cannot see where you want the country to be when you leave office. If rally attendance is any indication of the importance of inspiration and vision in this next election, Bobcats and San Martians are realizing this by the thousands.
Councilman Jones is not an exception: an Obama characteristic that appeals to him is “just the simple fact that he can inspire” massive numbers of young voters to go to the polls for their civic duty. “Barack is about everyday people, down-to-earth people, and I’m really excited about him,” he said.
At the tail end of his speech, Obama brought up a point that his campaign capitalizes on: having hope, a notion that is alien to a sizeable proportion of low- and middle-class families. He decried “Karl Rove politics,” “Scooter Libby justice” and “the politics of fear,” to many hopeful cries of unity from the crowd.
Sewell Park is known regionally for the beautiful, clear San Marcos River that flows through it, and locally as an undergraduate girls’ tanning bed, an escape from class on a good weather day, and for such oddities such as Frisbee Dan and the unafraid, vicious geese that grace the riverbank.
Now, the park can add one more unique notch on its belt: the historic first visit of an even more historic presidential candidate.
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