Eugene Weekly : News : 3.20.08

Obama Mania
EW Encounters Obama; Obama Encounters the Pit
By Camilla Mortensen

Democratic Presidential candidate Barack Obama spoke on Friday, Mar. 21 to an enthusiastic, screaming crowd at the UO’s McArthur Court, better known as “the Pit.” Obama’s political speech was given the sort of response many rock stars dream of: whistles, screams, applause. It would be no surprise if there was even some swooning.

People were let into Mac Court as early as 6:30 pm (reportedly lining up as early as 5 am) and until Obama’s 9:15 appearance the audience amused themselves doing the wave, listening to the music and speeches by Rep. Earl Blumenauer, Superintendent Susan Castillo and retired Air Force General Merrill “Tony” McPeak. McPeak spoke a little too quietly for the rowdy crowd at first, but soon got underway with comments like, “Wouldn’t it be nice if we had an intelligent Commander-In-Chief?”

Though it was apparently not permitted to bring signs into the rally, signage was handed out. Some were standard pre-printed signs, others had slogans hand printed on them by volunteers. One bemused supporter was handed a “Salem for Obama sign” but the rest touted more predictable “Hope,” “Change” and “Ooooohbama” slogans. At least one audience member unfurled a Tibetan flag when the event got under way, which earned him intense scrutiny by the security guards.

Sen. Obama’s appearance was greeted with screams, whistles and some trademark Pit bleacher-stomping. Kicking off with a little humor towards the Ducks’ not-so-stellar basketball season, and eliciting roars with his comment, “So this is what they call ‘the Pit’? I’m glad I’m not an opposing basketball team right now.” Sen. Obama’s responses toward the moments of classic Eugene commentary epitomized the charisma he’s become known for. When an Obama-struck supporter screamed, “I love you,” interrupting his speech, he responded with “I love you back.” When another crowd member responded to his mention of Abraham Lincoln with “Lincoln is the man,” the response was “Lincoln is the man. Give it up for Abe Lincoln. Love that guy.”

And indeed Eugene gave it up, loudly, for Lincoln.

Humor aside, the speech covered the gamut from criticizing warrantless wiretaps to health care, global warming and the war in Iraq. He threw out memorable statements like, “a health care system, not a disease care system,” and the “American people want to be for something not against something.”

Sen. Obama’s recent “Philadelphia speech,” has been compared to orators like Martin Luther King, Jr., but at least one moment in his Eugene campaign speech brought up images of former president Ronald Reagan. Obama has been compared to Reagan in the past by the media and controversially praised Reagan in remarks to the Reno Gazette-Journal back in January.

Reagan was responsible for bringing the phrase “welfare queen” into being during the late 1970s during his own presidential campaign when he would tell a story of an alleged mother in Chicago who was making thousands of dollars and driving a Cadillac through committing welfare fraud using assumed names.

Sen. Obama addressed that story with a narrative of his own. Obama’s story is of a woman from Cedar Rapids Iowa who goes to school all day, takes care of her cerebral palsy stricken-sister and then sleeps for three hours then goes to work for Fed Ex all night. Washington, Sen. Obama said, is deaf to her “asking for a little bit of help.” Americans he said, want “a hand up, not a handout.”


Getting in to Obama

Thanks to my press pass, I wasn’t one of the thousands that waited in line, only to get turned away at the door last Friday. But despite my press pass, I was very nearly one of those people who didn’t get in to see Sen. Obama speak.

But EW reporters are nothing if not resourceful.

By eight pm Friday night, the line to get into Mac Court was still at least a thousand people strong, with over 9,000 already in the building. People were going home, or heading over to the overflow area.

When I arrived to the rally, passing the lone protestor holding a Ron Paul sign, I went straight to the press door, press pass and notebook in hand, confident my pre-registration as press and press pass would do the trick.

Nope, I found myself standing outside with some tearful Obama volunteers who being told there was no more room. Given that I had pre-registered as media, this was puzzling. Then again I found out later that other media (the local television stations and the R-G) had been allowed to ask Obama two questions before the speech, so I’m not sure if the Obama people even realized that EW is an actual newspaper.

I’ve since sent a message to the Obama campaign assuring them EW is indeed an actual paper and requesting a future opportunity to ask the candidate a question. We’ll see what happens.

At any rate, just as I thought all was lost and was praying someone else from the staff was actually at the rally (they were, check out Chuck Adam’s blog post and Todd Cooper’s awesome photos), the grim-faced security guy/press wrangler poked his head out the door and barked out: “The only people we’re letting in now is FOX News. Is FOX News here?”

I held up my EW press pass, looked him right in the eye and said, “Eugene Weekly. We’re like FOX News. Only different.” I’m not sure what response I expected to that statement, but he pointed at me, and at my friend Jenny behind me, who happened to be wearing her KMTR jacket, complete with NBC peacock logo, and said, “You and you. FOX News. You’re in.” (Note, my press pass says the words Eugene Weekly in one-inch high letters. Those letters look nothing like the ones that form the words “FOX News.”)
But we were in.