Wednesday, September 29, 2010
First sitting president to visit Madison in 60 years talks about working on the car the Republicans drove into the ditch -- and why they shouldn't get the keys back
It was the first visit to Madison by a sitting president in 60 years. T was more enthusiastic about trying to see him than I was, because I figured we would have to stand around forever and still probably wouldn't get in. But I knew if we didn't try, I'd regret it. We left by bike about 2:30, at which time the buzz on Twitter was that the line for the event already backed all the way across campus along Linden Drive to Henry Mall. We headed over there to scope out the situation, which proved hopeless -- there already seemed to be more people in line than Library Mall would hold. We decided to bike along the lake to the Wisconsin Union, figuring there might be a video feed and an enthusiastic crowd there as well. First we stopped by Bascom Hill, where another overflow crowd was gathering in front of Music hall and stretching up the Hill (they would eventually get audio, but no video). Then we walked around a bit before ending up at the Union Terrace.
It was a choppy day on Lake Mendota. The Dane County Sheriff's navy was patrolling the marine perimeter. The skies above and the streets of Madison might belong to the Feds, but it was good to know that the Dane County Sheriff's Department had the lakefront buttoned down.
People couldn't bring signs inside Library Mall, although signs were distributed inside. Protesters were supposed to content themselves with a peaceful Assembly Area in the 600 block of State Street, but as Bill Lueders writes in Isthmus, nobody used it. Instead, they assembled at Park and University, where everyone in line would have to walk past them. It seemed to work out. On Langdon Street, yoga lessons were being promoted. Heck, why not?
We headed back to the Union Terrace, where they had an excellent sound system and a live video feed. We heard from Russ Feingold, Tom Barrett and then the President took the stage. The moment was captured by UW law professor and blogger Ann Althouse, juggling an ice cream cone and a point-and shoot, with the President's image on the monitor framed in her LCD. (Who knows? This may be the only time Ann Althouse and Barack Obama have ever appeared in the same picture.)
President Obama did not deliver a policy speech. it was an unabashed campaign stump speech, and he was was very good at it -- a charismatic, energetic speaker who got a loud response from the Library Mall audience of some 17,000. Even his tiny image on the monitor drew applause and cheers from the Union Terrace audience. I especially enjoyed his story about working on the car the Republicans had driven into the ditch (and why they shouldn't get the keys back) -- see video below.
The New York Times weighs in with this report. Their photograph shows why the rally was staged in the relatively intimate confines of Library Mall rather than, say, Camp Randall stadium, even though that meant thousands would not be able to get in. From the point of view of photo ops, there's no way the President could reach out to a crowd like this in a stadium.