Barack Obama's appearance in Boulder on Sunday brought out Rich Black Mormons (one of them, anyway) and thousands of others -- a fascinatingly varied swath of humanity willing to swelter in the heat for hours for a chance to stand on CU-Boulder's Norlin Quad, site of the annual 4/20 celebration, to hear the President explain why he deserves to be re-upped. But the scene that preceded him was just as fascinating as the main event.
While Obama was dropping in at The Buff, a popular Boulder breakfast joint, in an echo of his visit to The Sink during an April campaign swing to Boulder, I settled into the security line with my retinue -- my wife, my twin daughters (both CU-Boulder sophomores) and several of their friends, including one who'd eventually find his way onto the speaker's platform a few hours hence. The mood was positive, if a bit shy of exuberant -- a natural consequence of Obama having appeared in Colorado so many times of late, not to mention the temperature, which made us grateful every time our ultra-slow progress toward the Quad stopped in a rare shady spot.
A Libertarian protester thinks Obama's a Joker.
Photo by Elizabeth Roberts
Nonetheless, entrepreneurs were out in force, peddling buttons and presumably unauthorized T-shirts (I especially liked the one that appropriated the Broncos' horse), and so were protesters, including several upset about Monsanto and GMOs. Still, the most vocal demonstrator had broader concerns. Given that he carried a placard festooned with images of Obama in Joker makeup over the word "Socialism," we assumed he was a Mitt Romney supporter, but no. Turns out he was actually backing Libertarian presidential candidate Gary Johnson -- and doing so in the most strident way possible.
At one point, he engaged in heated dialogue with someone twenty feet or so in front of us, a fella we're pretty damn sure was Nathaniel Motte from 3OH3! -- although we admittedly didn't double-check by going up to him and saying, "You's a punk bitch if you don't know 'bout Boulder" (a lyric from the song "Holler 'Til You Pass Out").
When it was my turn, I asked if he realized some people might associate the Joker imagery with the Aurora theater shooting. "That's your problem, bro," he responded -- an answer that made absolutely no sense, since anyone with an iota of political savvy knows a message's clarity is the responsibility of the person delivering it. Still, I gave him a chance to explain what he was trying to convey, and he replied that Obama wore a mask, pretending to be a liberal when he was actually just as beholden to corporate interests as were Romney or George W. Bush.
No big hoots from the people close enough to overhear this conversation. They appeared to have pretty much tuned him out.
After a couple of hours, we finally made it to the security station, where the person checking the contents of my pocket paused at my keyring (which rocks a spark-plug lighter I got as a promotional item for BadMotorFinger, a 1991 Soundgarden album) before letting me pass. Then, finally, we reached the actual Quad...specifically the area set aside for students, thanks to my daughters, who'd scored some extra passes for their elderly folks.
There, in the shadow of the Humanities building, whose tower provided shelter for a couple of sharpshooters (there were more atop nearby buildings), we hung for another hour or so, listening to selections from Obama's campaign Spotify playlist -- a blend of soul (Al Green, Aretha Franklin), country (Dierks Bentley, Sugarland) and rock (Florence + The Machine, Noah and the Whale) -- as well as a woman telling parents of young children be prepared to protect them should a panic take place and people start running.
Meanwhile, the diverse group in the bleachers behind the podium were kept well-supplied with water bottles -- a good idea, given that CU basketball player Spencer Dinwiddie passed out in plain view of the crowd during Obama's last trip to Boulder.
And then, finally, the speakers began to arrive. First, a minister with an extremely political invocation (frequent mentions were made of Obama policy achievements), followed by CU Regent Joe Neguse, CU Student Government leader Brittni Hernandez, students Sarah Andrews (who goaded people into signing up for campaign texts) and Ryan Case (telling a sad story about health care and his parents), plus Senator Michael Bennett (not a natural stump speaker -- he kept drifting off-mike) and Governor John Hickenlooper (in a warm-up for his appearance at this week's Democratic National Convention in Charlotte).
That's a lot of palaver -- but when Obama finally emerged from the Humanities building, to the sound of (eesh) Coldplay, the energy level promptly spiked and stayed at a high level for the duration of his speech. After some commiseration about CU losing to CSU in the Rocky Mountain Showdown the day before, he encouraged the schools to compete again in a voter-registration drive. But while there were plenty of nods to making college affordable and other topics with student appeal, the text (on view in its entirety here) was wide-ranging and quite combative. At one point, for instance, he said he liked the name Obamacare, because he does care -- and suggested that the flip side of this moniker was "Romney Doesn't Care."
Declarations like these revved up the multitudes -- including those members who were so far away that their cheers were delayed, throwing off Obama's concentration at least once. But even then, he was totally in control of the crowd -- confident, funny, with a sure sense of cadence and momentum. Plenty of people believe Obama is a better campaigner than a president -- but we're in campaign mode now.
When he wrapped up, he didn't split. Instead, he worked the crowd for another ten minutes or so while the speaker system blasted Bruce Springsteen's "We Take Care of Our Own" and the Isley Brothers' "It's Your Thing."
Romney supporters at the Obama speech.
Photo by Elizabeth Roberts
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The latter features the line, "I can't tell you who to sock it to" -- but plenty of people in attendance appeared to have figured it out for themselves. Still, there was no nastiness as we funneled past a group of actual Romney supporters, waving signs about Obama's failures. On this day, with only a few exceptions, everyone managed to just get along.