President Barack Obama’s two-day, three-state fly-around to the farm belt, last week, is a textbook case of why presidents do that sort of thing. And for Obama, the trip – which included a day in and around Quincy, Illinois (his home state), was especially sweet.
It’s good to be president, Obama told the adoring SRO crowd at Quincy’s Civic Center convention hall. He gets to live in a nice house. He flies around in a nice plain. He eats well. He has an entourage to do his every bidding.
But one thing he doesn’t get to do very often, he said, is come home to Illinois. Cheers. Applause. Whistles. The 23,000-plus on hand loved it. It was one of the largest audiences Barack Obama has addressed since his election.
And it is good that the president gets to do this, as often as he can. It’s good for the president, It’s good for the places he visits. It’s good for the country. And it’s good that local reporters and journalists get to see the president in a venue rarely covered by the the national press – those big big-name guys and gals that fly with the prez on Air Force One and copy down his every word when he is “at home” in Washington, D.C.
Don’t get me wrong. The national press was there in Quincy. They go wherever the president goes… whenever the president goes there… even on a moment’s notice. It’s hard work. Their time is not their own.
They see and talk to their husbands, wives and children more on Skype then in person. Their deadlines (and in these electronic times, they come 24 hours a day) are their strict and unforgiving task masters. If they work for TV or cable, they always have to look nice… hair properly coiffed, make-up on right, tie straight… smiling all the way.
And yet, when the president comes to a town like Quincy, most locals probably do not even know the national press is there.
At the Civic Center in Quincy, for example, the White House Press – many whose names and faces you would recognize – were ensconced in a room set aside for the national-press-only buffet. They deserve the break. They get up at dawn, schlep their video cams and tripods, dash to the airport… dash to the convention hall… back to the airport… dash to a factory… back to the airport… and for two or three days in a row the best they can hope for is that they don’t have to endure the same stump speech, from the president, more than a couple times a day.
They don’t need to worry. That’s for the local press to cover. And I’ve no argument with that. The major league Fourth Estate gets pampered plenty when it goes on the road with Barack Obama. And they deserve it. Even if they have heard all the speeches before, they know they have to be there… just in case.
Whatever happened to that hapless White House reporter, back in 1963? Something about complaining to his colleagues that he’d be damned before he sat through one more rendition of the president’s “chamber of commerce speech…” So, he skipped the trip to Dallas. (That’ll never happen again.)
The national press gets all the perks on a trip like this. But it misses something too.
When it comes to how people live, how they feel, and what they talk about around the water cooler or the corn shucker, you can’t get much farther from Washington, D.C. than Quincy, Illinois. And in Quincy, nary a White House correspondent was anywhere to be seen as I walked among th audience, chatting-up the locals.
This was not a closed event. Tickets were available on first-come basis to anyone who wanted them. A handful of Tea Party protestors, out in the street behind the Civic Center, had a minor verbal altercation with the Secret Service, but dispersed before riot-geared police arrived.
The people who came to see President Obama in Quincy, really love him and loved that he was there. One local high school girl admitted she was skipping school. Barack Obama got her to love politics, she told me. She had to be there.
Barack Obama had to be there too. It’s the only way he can really learn how us folk in the provinces really feel about his administration.
Obama’s three-state run last week was titled “White House to Main Street.” But it really worked both ways. I think he came away from Quincy, last week, believing that things are not quite so bad for him, politically, as the people he hangs with in Washington may think.
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For more info:
A day on the tour slideshow
Tea Party protest draws police
Video of Obama’s speech in Quincy
Barack Obama and me