Sen. Barack Obama Speaks
“What are we doing here?” Barack Obama asked his ever-responsive crowd during his rally in Cleveland Monday evening. It was an apt question: What were so many people doing there? The Democratic presidential candidate and Illinois senator drew more than 7,000 supporters on Monday according to his campaign, and volunteers scrambled to open auxiliary viewing areas once the 1,700-seat auditorium at Cuyahoga Community College filled with supporters. Many attendants were Oberlin students.
In fact, “Daddy’s president thing,” as Obama’s eight-year-old daughter Malia calls the campaign, drew equally large crowds in Texas and Kentucky last weekend.
At the rally, Obama answered his own question: “We are here because the country is at a crossroads. We are here because for too many years we have known the challenges and problems we face, but we haven’t faced them squarely and we haven’t faced them honestly and we haven’t worked to deal with them.”
Throughout the speech, the senator stressed that the solutions to key problems like healthcare and education already exist, but that America lacks the leadership to bring what the people want forward. Obama focused heavily on his promise to bring everyday people into politics.
“By the end of the next president’s first term,” he explained, “by the end of my first term, we are going to have universal health care for every single American in the United States... The reason we haven’t done it is not because we don’t know how to create a better healthcare system. It’s because we’ve had the insiders and the lobbyists writing the bills. But that’s going to change.”
Obama also drew cheers for his views on oil, saying, “We know that we don’t have an energy strategy, so as a consequence, we end up funding both sides of the war on terrorism, sending 800 million dollars a day to some of the most hostile countries on earth. Every time oil prices go up, everybody here gets taxed. And in the bargain, we’re now melting the polar ice caps and changing the planet’s climate and potentially destroying this precious planet Earth.”
The crowd also responded enthusiastically to Obama’s remarks that President George W. Bush is not doing enough for Hurricane Katrina victims, who are in desperate need of additional resources, as is America’s education system.
The current administration, said the senator, has wrongly allocated these resources to the war in Iraq.
Obama wants to have all brigades removed from Iraq by March 31, 2008.
“We know that we are in the midst of a war that should never have been authorized and that as a consequence of that war, not only have we spent over half a trillion dollars that could have been invested in rebuilding Cleveland and rebuilding Ohio and rebuilding Illinois, and building real roads and bridges and hospitals all throughout this country,” Obama said, “[but we also] lost more than 3,100 of our bravest young men and women.”
Support in the Buckeye State is a big part of Obama’s strategy. “In November 2008, we expect to win Ohio,” he said, “so we want to make sure we’re spending some time in Ohio right now.”
Traditionally, Ohio has been important in presidential elections. According to Assistant Professor of Politics Michael Parkin, “We’re likely to see Obama come back again because Ohio is a swing state with a lot of Electoral College votes and as the saying goes, ‘as goes Ohio, so goes the nation.’”
In fact, Ohio has sided with the winning presidential candidate in every election since 1960.
Another incentive for Obama’s visit so early in the campaign may have been Cleveland’s strong African-American population: 54% of Cleveland residents who identify as any race identify as African-American, according to a 2003 census report. Obama’s speech catered heavily to this block as he reminded the crowd of African Americans’ struggle for equal rights.
According to Parkin, Obama was trying to energize African Americans, who are less likely to vote than other citizens.
“We’ve always said that if a candidate can mobilize formerly inactive African-American voters, it dramatically improves their chances of winning,” Parkin said.
Whatever Obama’s reason for coming to Ohio, it probably was not an attempt to woo Oberlin’s already excited students. For this event, Oberlin’s contingency exceeded 120, according to Evan “Bear” Kittay, a College senior and the director of Oberlin for Obama. The group chartered a bus and rented two vans to bring students to Cleveland.
“I was blown away by the student interest,” said Kittay. “We made a huge impression… [Campaign managers] were all blown away.”
Whether all this enthusiasm, both at Oberlin and throughout the country, will remain strong until next year’s election remains to be seen. However, many students have said that part of Obama’s appeal is his willingness to keep his supporters energized through the 21 months leading up to the election.
“I could campaign for the next 639 days until the election,” said Obama during the rally, “but if this is just about me, it will fail because I am an imperfect vessel for all your hopes and dreams…There are going to be times when I make mistakes…But here’s what I know: If the election is not about me and it is about you, if it is about your hopes and your dreams and if it is about your commitments, then I’m absolutely confident that change will happen.”
“He really showed himself being human, which is something that politicians don’t usually do,” said Kittay.
Allison Swaim, a College first year persuaded to support Obama after attending the rally, agreed: “He is really genuine and he wants to do the best he can to make some changes.”