Scenes From a Rally: Obama in West Palm Beach
The Earth didn't move, nor did the seas part. But the idea that President Obama's supporters see the man as the Second Coming was never much more than a lie put forth by his enemies. The Obamanauts may be fervent, but what they see is the right man for the job. And the 6,000 souls who stood hours in yesterday's heat outside the Palm Beach Convention Center for the chance to see him in person saw the prez do a key part of the job -- the particularly American ritual of working the campaign trail.
Fresh off his party's national convention in Charlotte last week and riding the bounce that affair provided, the O-man was on his game, flashing his 100-watt smile as he fired up the faithful. Pretty standard fare, though served up by a seasoned pro and happily received by the fans. But the day's juiciest tidbits were not in the speech.
A Reporter: Mike Hastings, a reporter with Rolling Stone, is hanging at the press entrance by the traveling press bus. He's of average build and average good looks, scruffy beard, and close-cropped hair. He doesn't know
Crazyville Florida, but he ought to be able to handle it since, though he doesn't mention it, he's a veteran war correspondent who got bounced out of Afghanistan after busting Gen. Stanley McChrystal. Biggest thrill on the campaign trail so far? Obama joined the journos on the bus for a round of beers the other night. What's the O-man drink? Bud Lite.
The Oppo: They're in little bunches like a strand of pearls in the median across from the convention center, most of them quite quiet, holding up signs for Romney or with clever little jabs like "Obama? Oy Vey." The snarliest are a group of middle-aged men in Tea Party hats yelling about "baby murderers." One of them says he's there because "Obama hasn't acted to end slavery in the Sudan." Asked for more info, he declines to do so or identify himself because "People who speak out on this disappear."
Whirlybirds: As the O-man's speech approaches and the crowd finally starts to file in, helicopters appear overhead, serious double-bladed models, one, then two and another. O-man's traveling by bus, and the choppers may be unrelated to his appearance, but it's ominous. The birds speak of power and control, and though the rally is upbeat and lighthearted, they're a reminder of the weight of the presidency, the real world consequences of the electoral process, and the awful forces watching from afar as events unfold. Fire Ant finds himself scanning the rooftops of the neighboring hi-rises, thinking of snipers.
Foreigners: An older couple with small flags in their hands stand talking with security. The flags have a blue and white cross on a red field--not the Union Jack or from Down Under but vaguely familiar. The couple are without tickets and not trying to gain entrance to the center, they explain. "We joost waant to express our admiration for the president," they say. The guard says they won't be allowed to get anywhere near him and even if they could get in, they couldn't bring the flags. ""We're vrom Norway," they say. "We gafe him the Nobel Prize, you know."
Yard Sale: There's lots of items no one is allowed to bring inside: folding chairs, umbrellas (which many have wisely brought to guard against the sun), back packs, containers of liquid. They're abandoned in piles that grow larger in size as the entrance grows closer, little mountains of detritus. A volunteer says every effort will be made to see each item returned to its rightful owner as they exit. We see the piles have shrunk when we finally exit, hours later, but much remains unclaimed. Snag a free umbrella? Nah. It would be a breach of trust.
The Crowd: We're all relieved to be inside, with a/c and free bottled water (and rest rooms). It's a happy bunch, families and old folks and kids, all shades of skin, many buttons and t-shirts, most Obama-themed but with the occasional outlier: "Stop Shark-Finning."
The politicians do their shtick: WPB Mayor Jeri Muoio, Sen. Bill Nelson, Debbie Wasserman Schultz. O-man takes the podium and a sea of vidcams and smartphones swells up in the crowd. Simultaneously energized and at ease, he gets off some laugh lines, a laundry list of policies, where the two parties differ. Standout quip: "Ought to make Bill Clinton Secretary of Explaining Stuff."
But it's the crowd that's the thing, and when the speeches are over, we mill around for some time in the afterglow, smiling and chatting, like the nation that ought to be. We exit to Springsteen's "We Take Care of Our Own" and Brooks & Dunn's "Only in America."
Fire Ant is an invasive species, tinged bright red, with an annoying, sometimes fatal bite. He covers Palm Beach County. Got feedback or a tip? Contact firstname.lastname@example.org
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