Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Impressions from a Presidential Debate

like many people here in chicago, i had the opportunity to attend the afl-cio presidential debate held at soldiers field with my wife, sister-in-law and mother-in-law. it was pretty interesting. i drove in from the south 'burbs, parked at mccormick center and walked over to the south parking lots before the gates opened for the debate itself. it had a real party atmosphere with several substantial tailgate parties going on.

this is really no surprise. yesterday was the first day you could pass petitions in illinois. obama, biden and richardson all had formal gatherings, edwards' people met out front. richardson had plenty of water (and signs). the biden rally had food, so it was pretty packed. but right next door was the obama tailgate party, and the man himself got up to say a few words. people were invited even if they didn't have tickets, but obama's people had tickets for those who didn't. i don't think this was advertised.

obama gave a rousing speech to about 1500 people (rough guess). what was really fascinating was the biden people all came to the edge to listen (watch, if they could). that struck me as telling. obama is still the most interesting politician in america, even if edwards can give him a run for his money in being the most inspiring.

after the obama rally was over, we all began to move towards soldier field. i ran into an old friend, and mentioned that i still had some tickets left over. (i had gotten 50 from national afl-cio.) my friend didn't have a ticket, but he said, "do you have extras? because there are members of the biden family who don't have tickets, and i'd love to set them up." so i gave him four -- i had two people not show up and another get caught in the 'burbs. i can't remember why the fourth one was available. wish i'd had gotten some food out of the deal, but i was in a hurry.

the irony of the evening was the hillary supporters collecting petitions right next to the anti-war demonstration. hillary's people, mostly women (including michelle smith who had just run for alderman in chicago -- she gave me a great big hug) was the most organized in trying to collect signatures. this was a prime opportunity, but the people weren't aggressive enough. they were very passive about it, so probably didn't get that many signatures. also, they didn't seem to be outside as we exited -- a major gaff. that's when you can collect your biggest bounty.

hillary met beforehand with a couple of union leaders and announces, "i'm back among my people!" i was slightly taken aback -- but i guess we aren't the democratic party she's looking to represent. or something.

the stage seemed to be on the goal posts (hillary mistakenly said ten yard line), with careful attention to not destroying the field. bears fans will appreciate that. but that was by no means the biggest problem. they wouldn't sell beer! the union had called the vendors and prohibited them from selling beer. you have to understand, many of these union guys are season ticket holders. they come to soldier field and they expect to have a beer (or two or three). there were plenty of complaints in the mens room about NO BEER!

the funny thing about that, though, was that the crowd was animated enough without beer! you weren't going to stop them! right before the event began, the guys in section 247 started chanting 'one thirty four!' 'one thirty four!' 'one thirty four!' the stage director started to count down for live coverage and called it off because they were chanting 'one thirty four!'

down on the field, seiu started calling out S E I U! now you have to understand that even though seiu isn't a member of the afl-cio, seiu is a member of the chicago federation of labor. and seiu was well represented. anyway, they established before the first live shot that they were going to be heard. and they were!

one other thing, before the debate began: the crowd got about 30 minutes of pre-debate speeches from dennis gannon (head of the chicago federation of labor) and others. as dennis started speaking, he references mayor daley, which is interesting because the cfl had just run a bunch of candidates against daley backers in the 2007 aldermanics -- and it hadn't endorsed daley for the first time in years. but dennis announced that they had just struck a deal with the daley administration and things were hunky doory. even more interesting was that daley and gannon were engaged in a rather long conversation during the pre-debate warmups. i'd love to have been in that conversation!

anyway, when daley was introduced, he was largely booed. there was ample applause, too. you either love him or hate him. no inbetweens in chicago. which makes sense, given chicago's role in the rise of the labor movement in america.

now here come the candidates! when obama becomes visible, the place goes nuts! it's a hometown crowd. the photographers get their shots and then are marched off the field. the good ones get some crowd shots on the way out. then the stage goes silent. ms. stage director starts counting down to keith oberman -- and section 247 starts up. as they were chanting, bill richardson responds, seems to join in. it's a rough crowd, but you are at the home of the monsters of the midway.

you will have noticed that the candidates were standing up, not sitting down tonight. this made them more aggressive, more fiery than saturday. this was especially true for hillary clinton, who brought angry hillary to the debate. edwards is the first to reference ykos, and challenges everyone to say no to insider lobbyist money; when he says that the system is rigged against working people, the crowd erupts! if obama was the favorite son, edwards was the long lost stepson.

during the first break, hillary is the first to come to the front of the stage. she's looking for people she knows (lots of labor leaders here), smiling and getting into it. dodd, edwards and kucinich quickly join her. someone gives edwards an orange union t-shirt; hillary gets a phone number. he must have been a big wig!

after commercial break, obama references his phased redeployment plan. hadn't heard that for a while. i notice that hillary talks about another one of her 3-point plans, but this one includes a promise she clearly can't keep. who's counting? there's a nice breeze a running and a very entertaining group watching. all i needed was a rum drink...

there's spontaneous applause when barack corrects chris dodd. this is chicago, where politics is a blood sport. what i don't get is how people who pretend to know something about pakistan can try to claim that musharraf isn't in bed with muslim extremists. generals and clerics are the basis of his current government. i'm not sure who the extremists are supposed to be, if not the clerics he's already aligned with.

hillary got booed a lot, which is interesting because three hardcore union guys sitting near us are hardcore hillary supporters. they aren't going to help her with the crowd, but they aren't going to be influenced by it, either! hillary disagrees with transparency in government.

next break: obama greets workers, hillary kind of stands off on her own. someone finally comes up to her to shake her hand, which she does gracefully. while bill clinton would dive into a crowd, hillary is more reserved. a couple of people bring up gifts for obama. during the next break, there's a general make up check. hillary disappears (probably for some similar check) and hurries back right as we are returning to air.

it was at this point that i notice that there are about a dozen people in their box seats, some who don't even have a view of the stage. you got the big screens showing the televised shot (plus one doing the hearing impaired translation). there's a standing ovation for the laid off ltv worker, and lots of applause when hillary mentions resurrection hospital. this is a big deal, because resurrection has been using haymarket to keep the unions from unionizing for awhile. but people here know. hillary hit it spot on.

in the final break, obama laughs it up with richardson while dennis goes over to lecture keith oberman. then, surprise, surprise, hillary comes up to barack and starts chatting it up. they're very jovial, animated. this isn't what the msm has been saying!

after the debate is over, there's a special reception for labor leaders and the candidates. i hung around for awhile, gave my thanks to the national union people for all the tickets, and head out. i'm starving! but a very interesting evening. it was much difference than ykos, different issues, a different vibe, and much more of a home town crowd. obama was clearly the big cheese, but lots of sympathy for edwards here, and dennis kucinich was a crowd favorite, even if no one was going to support him here. as i left the reception, all the buses were starting to leave -- 88 in all (iirc). bet there's beer there!

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