NEWS BLOG (WSAU) This is about style and not substance.
Barack Obama’s visit to Racine yesterday was limp and uninspired, an incredible contrast to the enthusiasm on the campaign trail a few years ago. This goes beyond the President’s policies. It’s more about the look and feel of the event. When the President of the United States visits your town, there’s supposed to be a certain level of awe, grandeur, magic… it was missing yesterday.
I’ve covered presidential visits as a pool reporter six times, Bush I (once), Clinton (twice, and once more as a candidate), and Bush II (three times). Most of these events were fly-ins, where the President made prepared remarks about a topic that the White House wanted to highlight. These events are packaged, choreographed, and scheduled to the minute. They wouldn’t be newsworthy at all if they didn’t involve the President of the United States.
The last time I covered Bush II was a visit in Bridgeport, Connecticut to speak about volunteerism. It was post 9-11, and the President’s popularity was starting to fall. His words were still inspiring. He visited a local middle school and spoke with inner city volunteers and students. Several admitted that they weren’t supporters of the President. But they beamed when they got to shake the President’s hand, or when the President mentioned them by name in his speech.
Bill Clinton was the best I’d ever seen at these types of events. Clinton was a people person. He enjoyed working a rope line and interacting with voters. People responded to his personality, his smile. Clinton he insisted his motorcade stop along the route (infuriating his Secret Service detail) to say hello to people on the side of the road. In a rural neighborhood in Westport, I saw him stop for lemonade and cookies that a young girl and her mother were selling. During his speech the audience hung on his every word.
I’ve seen the Presidential mystique as a spectator too. I remember when Ronald Reagan came to speak in Fairfield, Connecticut as part of his 1984 campaign. I was 16. I walked to the town green and heard the candidate speak – not about policy – but about the greatness of our nation. 26-years later I still remember his words. He boldly said the United States is the greatest nation that the earth had ever seen, not because of our military might… not because of our economy… not even because of our personal freedoms… but because our government serves the people, instead of the people serving the government. “My generation took it for granted that you could fly as high and as far as your own strength and ability would take you. And it is our sacred responsibility to make sure that we hand you an America that is free in a world that is at peace.” If you read Reagan’s words today, you might dismiss his text as simplistic jingoism. But when delivered on a hot summer day in front of a giant American flag outside a New England town hall by a master-orator, the words were magic.
I sensed none of that with Obama yesterday. Whoever wrote his speech needs to be replaced. The words didn’t inspire. The jokes got only nervous, uncertain laughter. The President picked a bad location for his appearance – taking about an economic recovery that hasn’t begun to take hold in Racine. Everyone in that audience knew someone who is out of work. They weren’t buying the rhetoric that things are getting better. And they weren’t buying the messenger either.
When the President loses his ability to inspire, he’s in trouble.
Operations Manager, Midwest Communications-Wausau