Obama Comes to Virginia

By David Swanson

I’m live-blogging an Obama rally here in Charlottesville VA. I just wrote 10′ tall in chalk on the Charlottesville “Freedom of Expression Wall” the following: “Hey, Barack, If you’ll filibuster the spying, why won’t you filibuster the war funding?” I’d love to actually ask him, but I couldn’t afford the $1,000 for the small gathering that is just ending. Instead, I’m at the big outdoor gathering for the masses in Charlottesville’s amphitheater. In fact, I came in as media rather than paying the $29 fee, but at least a couple of thousand people did pay that fee, or more to get a chair. There’s a jazz band jamming on stage, a crowd of Virginians standing in the dark and cold of the first day of winter here, and as far as I know no homophobic preachers anywhere around.

Hillary Clinton came to Charlottesville some weeks back and did an event at the indoor Paramount Theater. She sat on stage with John Grisham who asked her questions, not the questions I would have asked, but at least some questions. With Obama, we’re expecting a quick speech and more music. We’re hoping he says something substantive and new. Probably at best he’ll talk about Mukasey. Maybe he’ll talk trade in response to Edwards’ latest statement, but I doubt it. In any event he’s already turned out 10 times the number of people who come to peace rallies. The crowd is very white, dressed up, and has an air of celebrity-watching. There are a fair number of students, who could get in for $15.

7:00 p.m. right on time, the band stopped. “Change we can believe in” reads the giant banner and the little signs in people’s hands. They’re piping in loud bad hip-hop now, and now local boy Dave Matthews.

7:09 Now there’s a huge group of presumably volunteers on stage – nice age, gender, race mix. No announcement of who they are. Beautiful image, but what’s the message in terms of what the candidate would do if elected?? (Sorry, I’ll try harder to get into the spirit. 🙂

7:13 Now they’re playing U2 “Beautiful Day” There are still 50 people posing on stage. This is apparently the model for all Obama events and what impressed Laura Flanders in Washington Square Park in New York. And it IS a nice image, but – as Laura asked too – why not let a few of these people say something rather than listening to Bono?

7:20 They’re still standing there. All the audio and video media keep complaining about a buzz in the feed. I wonder if that problem is delaying the event and keeping those people standing up there for song after song? Current tune is “She’s a beautiful girl.”

7:22 A woman just introduced Va. Governor Tim Kaine. He’s entered the stage from the left and will speak with the crowd of volunteers standing behind him. Kaine is hyping the Va elections a week from tomorrow and the chance of Dems taking the Senate and increasing the General Assembly majority. Kaine’s wandering with a microphone, no podium. He says he met Obama in 2005 and says that Obama was the most helpful national figure in his own campaign for Governor (is that a reason for the rest of us to back him?). They also both went to Harvard Law School. They were both civil rights lawyers. And both of their mothers grew up and knew each other in a tiny Kansas town (but how does that help us?). Am I the only one who wants to know WHAT he would do for civil rights, not where his mother grew up? Kaine predicts Obama can win Virginia as first Dem to do so since 1964. He stands for excellence. And what does THAT mean? Is that the substance? He now stands for both change AND excellence? Kaine says Obama won’t give us rhetoric and will bring us together. But what is THAT if not rhetoric? Obama would engage with the rest of the world, and not always with a fist but with a hand of friendship. Um, OK. Doesn’t EVERY Dem except maybe Biden and Hillary on odd-numbered days say that? Kaine hypes Obama’s Iowa organizing team. In the end, he says, that is what matters, not just TV ads but Iowa organizing. OK, but what the hell will he DO if elected. He’ll bring positive change. Phew, I didn’t want negative change.

7:32 Obama comes on stage. He shakes everybody’s hand in the front row of on-stage volunteers. Look at this crowd. Man. Thank you so much, everybody. I want to congratulate the Commonwealth for its infinite wisdom in electing Tim Kaine as Governor….more praise for Kaine. Praise for the Jazz band. He asks people when they got here. Somebody in the front said it was their birthday. He congratulated them. He thanked the organizers. He cheered for students. He said he’s been traveling for over nine months, and everywhere there’s a wonderful crowd, 10,000 in Iowa City, etc., he named numbers and cities. What’s inspiring, he said, was the makeup of the crowd. He said to look around and see young and old, various races, disabilities, gay and straight, Democrats and Independents and even some Republicans. Etc. Etc. NOT YET ONE WORD ON WHAT HE WOULD DO IF PRESIDENT.

7:37 Huge applause for saying “You are sick and tired of George W. Bush. You are tired of an administration that treats our Constitution as a nuisance… favors the wealthy and the powerful while others struggle…lack of progress on critical issues like health care and energy and education…Katrina…” Etc…Etc… “and most of all you are tired of a war…costing us billions of dollars” [hundreds of billions of which Obama voted for!???] OK, SO WHAT WOULD YOU DO DIFFERENTLY??

7:40 “You don’t want to be against something. You also want to be for something.” [EXACTLY. WHAT??] We can get beyond blue and red, he said, and gather together for a common destiny. [WHICH IS…?] Big change, Obama said, will require changing our politics, how business is done. [HOW??] We have been talking about health care reform for decades, but nothing changes. [SO WHAT WILL YOU DO ABOUT IT??] He blames the pharmaceutical and insurance companies but doesn’t back single-payer.

7:43 Energy independence. Nothing happens. Why not? Obama blames Dick Cheney and the oil and gas companies. [AND WHAT WOULD OBAMA DO??] Some people, Obama says, are saying “Elect me because I know how to work the system. But the system has not been working for us!” (Applause.) [GOOD, but how much independence of what sort will you give us by when? Where is the detailed nutrition label on the box of goods you’re selling us? What exactly are we buying here?]

7:46 Obama now tells story of a struggling mother / home health care worker and an elderly amputee. Inspiring story well told. But what will Obama do? Where will he set the minimum wage? What will he do to the Taft Hartley Act? Any of 100 people here could tell this story. What would you DO as president, Barack? Tell us! Obama is mentioning struggling vets and workers and ill citizens and students. Yes, we are struggling. Yes, nobody in Washington listens. Yes there is a “core decency waiting to be tapped.” Yes we don’t expect our government to solve all our problems, but we want to know which ones you’ll solve.

7:49 Obama says living wage (no number) and decent education for everyone and decent health care. I think that’s as specific as he’s going to get.

7:50 He’s hopeful he says. He defends his hopeful talk. Hope, hope, hope. Yes, good, but give me solid REASONS to hope, brother. Don’t just tell me to be hopeful!

People are applauding and shouting encouraging stuff like “we believe” and “yeah” and “whoo.”

7:53 Character, judgment, willingness to take on the special interests and win, getting money out of politics, passing tough ethics legislation. (Is voting to fund an illegal occupation ethical?)

7:55 Obama says he opposed the war at the start, said he would not begin his career as a US Senator by backing down on what he believes in. [But he got into office and started voting repeatedly to fund the war he supposedly opposed!???]

7:56 We need righteous anger and impatience over health insurance. His mother died of cancer and had bad insurance coverage because she’d just gotten a new job. [THEN WHY WOULD YOU KEEP THE INSURANCE COMPANIES AROUND??] We’re going to get every single American coverage by working with insurance companies to do the right thing. [YOU GONNA DO THAT WITH SHARKS AND RAPISTS TOO?]

7:58 I don’t accept that we can’t provide a world class education to every child. We should invest in early childhood education. Pay teachers more money. Make college affordable. Get the bank middlemen out. Increase the minimum wage every year. Give unions power. Invest in infrastructure in America instead of spending money in Iraq. End corporate tax loopholes and overseas tax havens. [YES, GOOD. AND HUGE APPLAUSE.]

8:01 Increase fuel efficiency standards to 40 mpg. [THANK YOU FOR SOMETHING SPECIFIC!!!]

8:02 We need to bring an end to this war. If the troops are not home when I’m sworn in, I will start bringing them home. [I shouted “Filibuster it!” He made no mention of that power. He made no mention of his refusal to commit to ending the occupation by 2013.]

8:05 [NOW THE TOUGH TALK…] We will go after al Qaeda militarily and go after those who could kill us, we are going to lock down these nuclear weapons. [WHOSE?? Iran’s mythical nukes?] But we also are going to help nations address AIDS, bring an end to the genocide in Darfur, close Guantanamo, restore Habeas Corpus, not ship people out in the middle of night and lock them up, that is not who we are. [GOOD.]

8:08 One of the first things I will do. I will call in my AG and go through every executive order by Bush and reverse those that encroach on civil liberties. [Why not name a few now? Torture? Spying? Martial law?]

8:09 The volunteers are still standing there behind him.

8:10 Obama urges everyone to vote for Dems next week in Virginia and volunteer for his campaign and go to Iowa and sign up students. Good rally-the-people talk.

8:12 People are smiling and cheering. He’s now recounting a trip to Greenwood, South Carolina. The moral of the story is that a few people in a small town can get energized and motivate a movement, or at least an electoral campaign. HUGE APPLAUSE.

8:18 music back on. Dave Matthews tune. Then Aretha Franklin: You Better THINK!

By tomorrow at the latest, the full audio of the event will be posted at http://www.cvillepodcast.com/