In the Arena

Obama on the Run

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Cedar Rapids–I only have a few minutes to post here, but Obama has just completed his first real campaign event, a town meeting in a high school gymnasium. Large audience, natch…But really striking for these reasons:

–very low key and serious. No hokey intro music. No stump speech. Just Q & A. “The country’s in a serious, sober mood right now,” he said, from the jump.

–Courageously low level of pandering. Third question from the audience was a guy from Sensibile Priorities, a group that favors reducing the Pentagon budget, who asked if Obama would lower the Pentagon budget. Obama said the war had left the military depleted, in need of more soldiers and equipment and so, “You’ll probably see an initial bump in military spending in an Obama administration,” although he’d certainly look at obsolete, cold war era weapons systems. (Of course, he’d already said that he wanted all the combat brigades out of Iraq by March 2008, which drew sustained applause.)
The inevitable anti-No-Child-Left-Behind question from a teachers union member brought a balanced, but tough response from Obama–more $$ for teachers, yes, but more responsibility from teachers, too. “My sister is a teacher,” he said, “and she tells me that you go into any school and everyone [on the faculty] knows which teachers are good and which are not so good.” I remember wanting to jump out of my skin when Howard Dean answered similar questions in 2004, pandering wildly to the teachers unions, promising the moon and refusing to say ask anything of them.

–Most striking thing is how restrained the whole operation is, and was, this morning in Springfield. Yeah, he’s charismatic as hell–but he’s pointedly not using blowaway, red-meat rhetoric. He seems to understand the arc of a campaign: you build slowly… there will be time to blow off the roof down the road. I’m not sure how the audience felt about that. The people I spoke with afterwards liked him a lot, but weren’t swooning. (I got the sense that they were hoping to fall in love). That may or may not be a good thing too…but this seems to be a wildly responsible Presidential campaign, one that respects the audience. And that is a very good thing, indeed.

I may have more to say about this tomorrow and Monday, and certainly in the elegant dead tree edition of Time Magazine this week.