There is a much more mellow vibe at these official events than at campaign things, where everyone is scrambling to take advantage of every minute of free advertising, trying to rush through this event to get to the next one, wondering whether they should have come here in the first place, etc. Here, the mobile Obama White House -- a smooth, disciplined organization if there ever was one -- swept into Green Bay and made the most of a friendly small town crowd.
And, in person, President Obama rocks much more than he does on television. He has been described by even supportive Washington insiders as a bit of a "cold fish" personally and I think that coolness comes across on TV as aloof, sometimes. Although he is ten times more of a dynamic media personality than anyone else in politics, that may be just because there literally is no other competition. But, in person, especially when the teleprompter is brought down and he interacts with people, he is articulate, interesting, sincere and -- funny. There was a time late in the event when he started riffing on how he does not want to run everything and had other things to deal with other than health care:
That's why I'm always puzzled when people -- they go out there creating this bogeyman about how, you know, "Obama wants government-run" -- I don't want government to run stuff. Like I said, I've got enough stuff to do. (Laughter.) I've got North Korea, and I've got Iran. And I've got Afghanistan and Iraq. (Applause.) I don't know where people get this idea that I want to run stuff, or I want government to run stuff.
At this point, I thought the president hit the comic rhythms of Richard Pryor. He was feeling it and seemed to be enjoying the day with the upbeat northeastern Wisconsin crowd, while making important points about the most important economic issue -- health care -- in the country.
I had several extremely good vantage points as I moved from the front of the camera riser facing the front of the stage (Obama's lectern was right at center court -- he was working somewhat in the round in a small high school gym) and the right side of the stage. When he faced my way, which was often, I felt somewhat connected -- so much so, I felt somewhat stupid trying to get away with doing some texting while the President of the United States seemed to be talking directly to me. Having been to many of these politician events, it was a strange feeling and I wonder if others felt the same connection.
Watching him work this friendly room, I would like to see what he would do with a roomful of the kind of people who keep saying or thinking he is socialist, anti-American, etc. How about a roomful of wing-nuts? Get him in a room with Limbaugh and Hannity or local pipsqueeks like Sykes or Belling. Obama would eat them alive. That's one of the many reasons they cower in their safe studios, take only scripted or friendly "callers" and maintain only a distant connection to what is going on in the real world. Obama in a room full of right-wingers could not charm them because they are not charmable. But he would clean their clock with facts, argument and humor. As a spectator sport, I'd buy pay-per-view for that one.
As for the substance of his remarks, they were always knowledgeable and often insightful but also overly careful as he again tries to reach consensus on an issue on which the Party of No, again, is not engaging and, again, will give him zero support. I completely agree with him doing this dance. Although he'll never get any support from the suicidal GOP, this PR effort is more about convincing Middle America that he has a reasonable way out of the nightmare of American health care, which all of them are either dealing with directly or sweating what is going to happen the next time they get sick or injured.
The bright affection shown by the overflow crowd was not all because of the president's rock-star qualities, although he certainly has those. It was also because he came to them with a commitment to get something done on an issue important to all of them. The Republicans will ignore the problem and try to obstruct Obama's serverely compromised solutions at their peril.