|President Barack Obama at Capital University in Columbus, Ohio. August 21, 2012|
Two and half weeks ago I took my students to hear President Obama speak at a campaign stop on the campus of Capital University. The opportunity came up at the last minute--I found out about the event only two days prior, and it was a mad scramble to get tickets for all of my students.
|My students among the crowd at the President's rally. You can spot them in the maroon shirts.|
A small group of students met me at the school about two hours before the start of the school day so that we could get over to the venue and hold a place in line for the rest of the class. We got a prime spot maybe two dozen people back from the front of the line, but had to wait for more almost two hours before we were let into the outdoor space where the President would be speaking. After that we waited for close to three more hours, much of the time under a merciless sun before he finally arrived and gave his speech.
|Everybody cheered when we saw what we assumed was a Secret Service sniper team setting up on the roof top|
But it was worth the wait. I've always believed that the opportunity to hear our president speak should never be passed up. Regardless of one's politics, I have this old-fashioned idea that no matter who the president is he--or she--deserves our respect and needs our support. If we don't like the policies the chief executive pursues, we can always vote him out at the next election. But while the president is in office, he should have our our prayers and well-wishes. After all, if the president fails, we all pay the price, so how can we wish him less than success?
I had the good fortune to hear former President George W. Bush speak as well, back when he was still in his first term in the summer of 2003. I went with Babs and her family to hear him speak at Wright Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton, Ohio. We were part of a huge crowd and so couldn't see him very well. Still it was exciting--he flew directly to the venue on Air Force One and we were able to watch the iconic 747 sail overhead as it approached for landing (and later watch it fly off again). I don't remember much about the speech itself, but I still counted it an honor to hear the president speak, even though I personally disagreed with many of his policies.
|The lucky folks at the first barricade were able to catch a quick handshake after the speech|
At President Obama's rally, we had a much better vantage point. The kids opted to sit on a set of bleachers set up under some TV lights just a little further back from the stage, but my school principal and I stood right on the second railing (There was another railing right in front of the platform but this space was for special ticket holders--I'm not sure how one gets these VIP tickets, but I'd love to get them for next time. These people were able to actually shake the president's hand when he worked the barricades after his speech. President Obama arrived in shirt sleeves and gave a solid campaign speech--mostly the usual election-season politicking--but of course me being more of a liberal, most of it struck a chord with me.
|One of my students, who I'll call the Voice, because he loves to sing, is interviewed by a reporter from our local ABC News affiliate after the president's speech.|
The thing that struck me most about our trip to hear the president speak was not President Obama himself but the people who came out to hear him speak. There was a real sense of patriotism--lots American flags and other patriotic clothing belying the conservative trope about how liberals hate America. Everyone was remarkably patient--there was virtually no complaining even as the heat continued to become ever more oppressive. A few people actually collapsed and had to be taken away by medical personnel. Still, people were uniformly helpful and positive. The volunteers worked tirelessly to bring us free bottles of water and provided us with campaign signs we could use to shade ourselves from the sun. Throughtout, there was a mood of camaraderie among the crowd--a sense that we were all Americans and we were all in this together.
I couldn't help thinking that the mood would likely have been similar at a Mitt Romney gathering. I can't help but believe the goodwill I encountered at the president's campaign appearance wasn't a "Democrat" thing, nor would a similar spirit at a Romney rally represent a "Republican" thing. It's just an American thing, indeed simply a human thing. Perhaps, as we enter the ever more hyper-partisan final stretch of this election season, it would be well for us to remember that the other side is not the Enemy--that indeed we are all Americans and we are all in this together.