Thursday, October 21, 2010

The President Visits the People's Republic of Portland

Yesterday, President Obama returned to Portland for a campaign visit on behalf of former Governor John Kitzhaber, who is running for a third term (after an eight year retirement). According to the Oregon Constitution, one can serve as governor for eight years within a twelve year period. I'm not sure why they had this provision, but I assume its to allow talented and popular politicians to run again after they've been away from office. Defeating an incumbent is usually an uphill battle, and if one served more than eight years, the power could get entrenched.

So, after leaving office in January 2003 (and saying that "Oregon is ungovernable" on his way out), Kitzhaber wants his old job back. Oregon has not had a Republican governor since 1982. After eight years of an underwhelming governorship of Ted Kulongoski (whom I voted for in my first Oregon election of 2006), our state truly needs new energy infused into the body politic.

I have been leaning towards Republican candidate Chris Dudley, a former professional basketball player. This is his first campaign for political office. He aimed high! His inexperience is a concern, not to mention his party affiliation. He has a compelling personal narrative, though, and more charisma than Kitzhaber (who is known as a loner cowboy type). I went to the Obama rally as an undecided Democrat. I really wanted to hear a compelling reason why Kitzhaber deserves a third term when his first two terms were not exactly memorable.

The Obama rally was held at the Oregon Convention Center (where I will return on Saturday for the Body Mind Soul exhibition to hear a series of different lectures on all kinds of spiritual / psychological topics). It was scheduled for 6:30 p.m., with doors opening at 4:30 p.m. Why do they schedule this around dinner time? To guarantee that I'll get in, I had to show up around noon, which means eating lunch in line. But we can't bring food or drinks inside, nor did I want to lose my place in line by running to grab something for dinner. My lunch would have to hold my stomach until after it was all over. While I can normally miss meals, when I'm in crowds of people, my energy actually drains faster, so I require a break to eat something.

The first time I attended an Obama rally was in September 2007, when then-Senator held a rally at the Oregon Convention Center as a fundraiser. Weird to see him return to the same facility as President. The next time he came to Portland was in February or March 2008, when a friend of mine was visiting Portland, so I was unable to attend. That rally was held in the Rose Garden Arena, if I'm not mistaken, and featured former Democratic candidate Bill Richardson, who had dropped out of the race and endorsed Obama over Hillary Clinton. Finally, the last time he visited Portland was for the historic waterfront rally just two days before the Oregon primary in May 2008. I have very fond memories of that day because I managed to convince Christine to skip church and spend the day with me, waiting in line during the hottest day of the year (at that point). A record 75,000 people attended that rally.

When I arrived in line, I had planned to read the book I brought with me (Three Cups of Tea by Greg Mortenson). However, it was hard to pay attention to the book when so many interesting things were going on around me. There were several people walking around with slateboards of campaign buttons. It reminded me of a rock concert or a baseball game! People were selling T-shirts, buttons, Obama Beanie Bears, ballcaps, and even programs! I found two political buttons that I liked, already for 2012. I would've bought more, but I figured that two were enough for now. I had on one of my Obama t-shirts and Obama baseball cap. I have at least one political shirt from each election since 1996. I'm a political junkie, what can I say! Politics is my sports.

Besides the souvenir hawkers, there were volunteer campaign staff passing out flyers for various campaigns. The most annoying were the Kitzhaber folks who wanted people in line to spend 20 minutes on their cell phones calling voters to get them to vote for Kitzhaber. Whatever. I don't think many people took them up on this offer. I saw one Teabagger protesting, though the news showed a larger group standing on another street. One man dressed as Jimi Hendrix proved popular as people wanted their photos taken with him. But the most popular figure to appear was:

Sarah Palin!!! Okay, it wasn't her, obviously, but it was shocking how much she actually looks like the Quitter Queen. She posed for photos and tossed out the occasional "you betcha!" My old camera no longer works and I need to buy a digital camera someday (when I land a new job), so I couldn't take any photos. The photos that appear on this entry were all taken from The Oregonian. A guy I knew from Paul's campaign for County Commissioner in the spring found me in the crowd of thousands and we hung out for the remainder of the time. We had a diverse conversation about his recent month-long honeymoon to Europe as well as politics. He's extroverted, tall, with dark hair and blue eyes that definitely attracted women's attention in line. It was kind of annoying that this married guy would get adoring looks of interest from the ladies in line while I was invisible, but that's my life experience usually (particularly when I hang out with best friend Nathan).

Getting into the Convention Center was like going through airport security, and it looked like they had TSA employees doing the screening. We weren't allowed to bring bags, so I left my computer bag at home. I only had the book I was carrying. Once herded inside, we still had over two hours to wait and my legs were getting tired. I was also feeling famished by 5 p.m. In the photo above, I was standing outside of the photo on the rightside. A mix of songs played as we waited, including a few Bruce Springsteen songs (including the greatest road trip song of all time: "Born to Run").

At 6:15 p.m., Jefferson Smith, who founded the Bus Project and is a state representative appeared at the podium to set the festivities in motion. I was stunned when they had us pledge allegiance to the gigantic American flag that was hanging from the ceiling in the corner. I did not recite the pledge. I realize that some people are offended by that, but I have my reasons: namely, I consider it a form of idolatry, as I do not pledge my allegiance to material objects that are made by human hands. I only pledge allegiance to God and my conscience, which I consider to be eternal and unchanging. Next, some lady sang the National Anthem. Apparently, some people are not aware that taking one's hat off for both the pledge and the National Anthem are part of the process. My, how standards have slipped! I might not have recited the pledge like those around me, but I did take off my hat for both the pledge and the anthem. That's the most that I'll do, though.

Next up, some lady spoke on how to get involved in the campaign. Then the two Senators and the two Congressmen who represent the City of Portland came out on stage. That would be: Senator Jeff Merkley (who defeated Republican Senator Gordon Brown two years ago), Senator Ron Wyden (who is up for reelection this year), Congressman David Wu (my former representative when I lived west of the Willamette River), and Congressman Earl Blumenauer (my representative now, as his district covers the city on the east side of the river). Merkley gave a standard political speech. Next came John Kitzhaber, who admitted that he understood that we didn't come to see him. His speech was hardly memorable, as I did not feel that he made the case for why we should elect him. That would be up to President Obama, who finally came on stage at a few minutes after 7 p.m.

The crowd roared its approval. The local news reported later that nearly 10,000 people attended the rally (5,000 people were expected to attend). Yes, there were teleprompters at the podium, but I don't understand the rightwing critique of Obama's use of the teleprompter. Every president since Reagan has used this technology and Baby Bush was the one who couldn't give a speech without one. As I watched Obama, he did not seem to look at the teleprompter at all. He kept making eye contact with the huge crowd, turning his head towards different sections while speaking. Though he did look a little exhausted and he admitted to feeling a little under the weather, he gave a great speech.

His analogy about our current situation was especially dead on. He spoke about how the Republicans drove the car into a ditch. And not just any ditch, but a deep ditch. So he and his fellow Democrats put on some knee high boots, got down into the mud, fighting off the bugs, and started pushing the car out of the muck, slowly at first. While they are sweating with the heavy lifting of trying to push the car out of the ditch, the Republicans are standing at the top of the ditch, looking down on them and not even bothering to help out. Finally, when the car is on level ground and pointed in the right direction, Obama feels a tap on his shoulder. The Republicans are asking for the keys. Obama then asked, "Have you noticed that when you want to go forward, you put the gear in 'D' and if you want to go backwards, you put the car in 'R'?" This got the crowd roaring its approval. I wondered if he would use that, since I've seen people make that comment for months on Facebook. Obama said, "Republicans can come along with us. But they'll have to get in the back seat."

He made his pitch for why we should return Kitzhaber to office and at 7:36 p.m., he exited the stage and shook hands with some of the supporters who had paid the VIP ticket rate to the Kitzhaber campaign (it was free for everyone else, who filled the space outside of the barracaded VIP section). It took awhile to exit the Convention Center and outside were souvenir hawkers, who had tables set up displaying their wares. I was so famished that I parted company with my friend and his brother-in-law, and headed to a nearby Wendy's. I was so hungry that I actually had a salad with meat in it and a baked potato. Crowds always drain my energy and I require food to restore my natural energy level. All in all, it was a great day. Now I can vote in good conscience. Kitzhaber might not be exciting, but at least he has experience. The ultimate question I have to ask myself, though, is how can I trust a Republican after all the damage that has been done to our country? I may like Chris Dudley on a personal level, but I despise his political party. So, I'm voting straight Democratic once again this year.

I'm especially excited to vote for Congressman Earl Blumenauer, ten years after learning about him during my internship in the Office of Vice President Gore. It was an incredible article in a Capitol Hill newspaper about him that made me want to live in his district someday. When I finally moved to Portland in 2006, I did not realize that the district lines were divided by the Willamette River, so I ended up in David Wu's district when I received my ballot. I was disappointed in that, even though I loved living downtown. Finally, though, I get to vote for one of my favourite members of Congress for the past decade. That's something worth celebrating.


Julie said...

the comparison of a political rally to a rock concert is interesting. i remember seeing Obama speak in Des Moines in October 2008...people were selling t-shirts! i recall reading about RFK's presidential campaign and people trying to touch him, grabbing at his clothes and stuff, and evidently he got a chipped tooth once in all this, which made me think "Dang this sounds like a mosh pit!"

Julie said...

probably b/c a kid got a chipped tooth in a mosh pit at my high school.