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Rally

Started: 2008-10-27 21:31:50

Submitted: 2008-10-27 23:00:20

Visibility: World-readable

One of the advantages of living in a battleground state is that presidential candidates -- and their surrogates -- actually care about visiting to drum up support in the last ten days leading up to the election. (Not all battleground-state attention is welcome; if I actually watched television, I'd be barraged by a never-ending assault of attack ads insulting my intelligence. As it is, I've seen plenty of Barack Obama Internet ads and received by mail plenty of downright stupid Republican National Committee ads trying to make something out of the connection between Barack Obama and Bill Ayers.) John McCain and Sarah Palin showed up last week. I learned that Barack Obama would be appearing in Denver and Fort Collins on Sunday and contemplated attending. (I don't actually support Barack Obama or plan to vote for him, but I won't be deeply disappointed if he is elected.) I don't often get the opportunity to see a presidential candidate in person; having a day job means it's a bit difficult to wander out in the middle of the day to attend a speech somewhere other than Boulder.

I didn't officially decide to go until Sunday morning. The rally was scheduled for 11:30, with the gates to the open-air Civic Center Park opening at 10:00. I woke up at 08:00 and decided I had enough time to head to Denver. (I thought I should show up as soon as possible to the posted opening time.) Parking was a bit tricky; I eventually found a narrow parallel parking space on a quiet side street twelve blocks from the park. As I approached the civic center, the crowds grew. I found a line snaking around the south and east sides of the Denver Public Library and enqueued myself.

I reached the line around 10:00. In the shade the mid-morning air was a bit chilly. Vendors were selling buttons and t-shirts. Political operatives worked the crowd trying to get volunteers for last-minute campaigning. Campaigners promoted opposition to a vast array of state constitutional amendment ballot initiatives. (I saw only one No on 48 -- it simply goes to far sticker.)

The line crawled around the south side of the library, turned north though the corridor between the library and the Denver Art Museum, and entered the south side of Civic Center Park. The security checkpoint -- complete with metal detectors and uniformed TSA personnel searching purses -- was set up at the bottom of the Greek Theater at the southern end of the park. I pulled my electronics (iPod and phone) and keys out of my pocket and passed the metal detector without incident. The whole line took an hour. Chatter suggested that the line had been cut off somewhere behind me; it seemed that turnout had already exceeded expectations.

Having successfully passed security, I entered the mass of humanity in Civic Center Park. The front half of the park had been blocked off for the close-to-the-candidate security-screening crowd; a row of double fences separated the two halves of the crowd. The crowd stretched all the way to the State Capitol three blocks away. I shuffled forward and found a spot in what appeared to be a former flowerbed (now lacking vegetation for the winter) and was quickly surrounded by adoring Obama supporters. I was on the north side of the park, just west of the center line, next to a gigantic American flag hanging from a forklift. The wind blew the flag back and forth across a dusty street lamp.

I took the opportunity to study the security arrangements. The crowd was facing the City and County Building at the west edge of the park where I could make out a stage and podium. On the roof of the City and County Building were three prominent security officers with binoculars scanning the crowd and the surrounding roofs. (My first guess would be Denver Police, which made up the majority of the uniformed security in and around the park. I saw only one uniformed Secret Service agent; I wasn't close enough to see Obama's personal detail.) I assumed they were only the tip of the iceberg of rooftop security; I expected a healthy contingent of hidden spotters and snipers from a variety of agencies looking out for any threats. I spotted a few heads popping up from behind the crenellations on the top of the Denver Art Museum (a building custom-designed for rooftop sniper nests) and another building behind the Denver Newspaper Agency building.

Around 11:30, the first local dignitaries took the stage. From my flowerbed vantage point, I had a clear view of the podium 150 meters away in a sea of people. Colorado Governor Bill Ritter spoke first and introduced Senator Ken Salazar. He talked for a bit and introduced Representative Mark Udall, currently running for Colorado's other senate seat. Udall left the stage and we waited for the headline act. Barack Obama himself finally took the stage a little after noon. I couldn't help but think "Barack Obama for Rockstar" when "City of Blinding Lights" played to announce his arrival. ("Obama/Bono 2008. Rockstars you can believe in.")

Goodness gracious. Do you ever have small crowds in Denver?

- Barack Obama

Obama spent the first ten minutes trying desperately to link John McCain to George Bush. (assert(bush == mccain) fails on my compiler.) He spent the rest of the thirty-five-minute speech talking about the economy, starting with a complaint about the free-market ideology of the Bush administration. He promoted his "tax cuts for the middle class" and quipped that 99.9% of plumbers make less than $250,000 annually. (That number sounds more impressive when one says "a quarter-million dollars".) (True or false: Wealth redistribution is socialism.) The crowd was uncharacteristically silent when he spent a moment defending the bailout rescue. They perked up when he talked about keeping homeowners in their homes (he didn't discuss personal responsibility or whether it's really appropriate to keep some owners in their homes) and really enjoyed the long list of expensive social programs. His only mention of Iraq was to suggest that the money (and, apparently, the deficit spending) could be put to better use at home.

After the speech, the crowd slowly disbursed. I hiked back to my car in the bright fall afternoon sun and contemplated what I had just seen and heard. I'm still concerned about his soft-socialism wealth-redistribution populism, but I remain confident that we could do much worse. I got to see the man who -- most likely -- will be the leader of the free world in three months from 150 meters. I'd call that a successful morning.

The local newspapers tell me that turnout was three times bigger than expected: More than 100,000 see Obama in Denver and Police: More than 100,000 watch Obama.

If you want to kiss the sky, you had better learn how to kneel.
- U2, "Mysterious Ways"