During a speech Sunday afternoon in Indianola, Illinois Senator Barak Obama urged Americans to reject the notion our country’s current battles are more difficult than what previous generations of Americans have endured.
Obama, a Democrat in his first term in the U.S. Senate, was the keynote speaker at Senator Tom Harkin’s annual fall fundraiser and, according to Harkin, “a lot of famous people” like Bill Clinton and Al Gore had been in Obama’s shoes before, but Harkin told the crowd of three-thousand on Sunday that he decided to try something different this year. “I thought ‘Well, why not try the kid next door?’ Harkin said, to cheers from the audience. “I thought, you know, ‘What the heck, give the kid a chance.’ You know he doesn’t get much press.”
More than 20 cameras were positioned on the platform to record Obama’s speech, and when Harkin mentioned Obama’s recent appearance on the cover of Vogue magazine, women in the crowd started hooting and hollering. “Honestly, to tell you the truth, I really tried to get Bono this weekend,” Harkin said. “I couldn’t get him so I settled for the second-biggest rock star in America today.”
The moment Obama arrived on the Warren County Fairgrounds, people began clamoring to get their picture taken with him. Several people thrust books toward him. Obama signed one held by sixth-grader Bailey McGuire. Her dad, 47-year-old Mick, drove all the way from Omaha to get that book signed by Obama. “A potential president of the United States, we hope,” McGuire said.
Mary Lynn Jones of Des Moines was in the throng around Obama. “I think he’s very charismatic and he’s genuine…I’m just pleased to have met him because when he becomes president I can say ‘You know, he touched this hand,'” Jones said, laughing and gesturing with her right hand.
Julia Naylor of Fort Dodge didn’t settle for a handshake. “Oh, I got to hug him,” she said. Naylor’s hoping Obama becomes president someday, just not anytime soon. “Because I’m afraid they’d kill him,” she told reporters. “I don’t think the United States is ready for a black president.”
Later in the afternoon, Obama spoke for over half an hour, touching on his own biography as well as the political issues of the day. “We’ve got a lot of work to do all across the country because everywhere I go, I get a sense that people want a change,” Obama said.
“…Our fathers and our grandparents and our greatgrandparents have overcome much greater challenges than the ones we face today,” Obama said. The runs counter to President Bush’s contention that the U.S. is involved in a struggle with terrorists for the future of civilization. “I have had enough of using terrorism as a wedge issue in our politics,” Obama said.
Obama suggested Democrats, to be successful, have to give Americans a “sense of hopefulness” about the future. “It’s time for everybody here to kick off their bedroom slippers and put on their marching shoes. It is time for us to realize that our parents and our grandparents faced greater challenges…and yet somehow they were able to accomplish what people thought was impossible,” Obama said. “That’s the essense of America.”
Harkin’s annual “steak fry” gives other Democratic candidates in the state a chance to speak before hundreds of Democratic party activists. Seldon Spencer, the Democrat who’s running against Republican Congressman Tom Latham, used his time at the microphone to rail at President Bush. “I think we need to be afraid of an administration that sends us into a war that we didn’t need to go into…and I think we need to be afraid of an administration that questions you when you want to dissent,” Spencer said. “I’m tired of this fake patriotism that believes self-sacrifice is all about giving somebody a tax cut. That’s wrong.”
Two men who have been laying plans to run for president got their turn at the microphone. Former Virginia Governor Mark Warner was allowed to speak to the crowd for two minutes. Later, Iowa Governor Tom Vilsack was allotted five minutes and spoke over twice as long. Vilsack started by calling Harkin the finest senator in the country, a little dig at the keynote speaker. “With all due respect, Senator Obama, it is after all the Harkin steak fry,” Vilsack said.
Vilsack introduced Democratic gubernatorial candidate Chet Culver to the crowd, and Culver asked the more than three-thousand Democrats to vote, volunteer, and make sure his name is visible in yard signs and stickers. “I’m counting on you folks. Who needs sleep?” Culver asked. “Sleep just makes you groggy.”
After that line-up of Democrats, Harkin spoke for about 20 minutes and threw some rhetorical red meat at the crowd that had lined up earlier in the afternoon for grilled steaks. “Nothing does my spirits better than standing in front of a lot of fed-up and fired up and charged up Democrats ready to take ’em on,” Harkin said. “The polls show it: Democrats are up and Republicans are down and that’s the way God meant it to be.”