Originally, I wasn’t going to watch President Obama’s rally. I have midterms this week for university, so I chose to go review Microeconomics. As it turned out, though, I was the only guy to show up for my exam review, which meant I found myself with time on my hands.
I caught the speech with members of the Ohio U College Democrats, who were appropriately and justly raucous during the speech. They’ve been working exceedingly hard at registering students and ramping up enthusiasm for the Democrats.
[SIDEBAR: If you’re reading this, and you live in Ohio, remember that this week is dubbed “Golden Week”: you can register to vote and vote the same day! So do it. What are you waiting for…go! You can read this when you get back.]
Anyway, rather than give you a set piece, I’ll jot down assorted thoughts that came to my mind throughout the speech.
Rally turnout: They got 26,500 people to attend a late-September rally on what must have been a cold Wisconsin night on a Tuesday. That’s not tiny – more than 10% of Madison’s population turned out to see the President.
How do we know it was 26,500? Because the Madison Chief of Police gave that out as the estimate, and OFA kept saying it, over and over and over and over again. Seriously, it sounded a bit ridiculous: “Hey, did you hear? 26 thousand heard the President tonight! 26 thousand! That’s 26, with three zeroes! Dude…26,000! Twenty-six thousand, man…26,000!”
I get it, really, I do. All we hear about is this enthusiasm gap, and how it means that Democrats are doomed. So OFA had a vested interest in showing the world that President Obama still had what it took to get hearts racing again – which he did, kind of.
Speaking as a veteran of 2008 (and 2006 and 2004, for that matter), it was a bit puzzling to see them flog the crowd size so relentlessly. Obama drew 20,000 to Austin – in March of 2007. Drawing 26,500 to Madison should be a walk in the park. Hell, Kerry was drawing those numbers at the same time in 2004.
Frankly, it struck me as trying way too hard to drive a point in one fell swoop. It takes time to build the narrative; one middling rally in what should be friendly territory for Democrats isn’t going to set it. Which brings me to my next impression.
The speech: Obama’s speech, by and large, was a generic stump speech, all the way down to his oft-used car analogy (the 2010 version of the “Fired Up” story). Truthfully, it was uneven, but it hit its best point when he riffed on not giving up, because we’ve been through tougher times. That wasn’t the biggest problem, though.
The biggest problem is that we know what we’re against: we’re against giving the keys back to the Republicans. But what are Democrats for? In other words, why should Democrats be excited to vote in this election?
And the answer is…well…it’s hard to say, really.
That’s the part that worries me the most: the lack of a positive agenda for the next two years. And while a lot of folks like to bash on Obama for this, truthfully, the blame lies on the Senate, more than anywhere else. You’ve got a caucus of obstreperous Senators that have basically neutered the Democratic agenda, for a variety of reasons.
The problem is that without significant, fundamental reforms of the Senate rules, moving any kind of Democratic agenda through the Senate is next-to-impossible.
I suspect that’s why despite the high notes, Obama’s stump speech was so negative. He knows that anything he’s for is going to get negotiated to a fare-thee-well, so you might as well go for what’s in your power to address (Republicans bad! Bush bad!)
I just don’t know if that’s going to be enough to get everyone ready to go once more. We’ll see, I suppose. Not that it’ll keep me from working down the stretch, but it is something to keep in mind.