BETWEEN BARACK AND A HAWK'S PLACE...
Following the feelings of disappointment I experienced after attending an Obama rally three weeks ago, I was less than enthusiastic at the prospect of going to another political rally anytime in the near future.
Upon reflection, however, I felt compelled to attend a Giuliani rally to determine whether the source of my distaste was from the Obama event in particular or political rallies in general. The question was explicitly resolved when my experience at Giuliani's rally confirmed for me that the preservation of my personal sanity would indeed require reviving my rally sabbatical.
Although criticizing politicians and their policies has always been a favorite family pastime, I'd managed to avoid political rallies until very recently. I think the reason why I shied away from attending these events was because anytime that I have engaged in discussion with people who were truly passionate about one particular candidate, I came away more frightened than a nine-year-old boy after a sleepover at the Neverland Ranch. The zeal these "true believers" felt for their candidate was akin to an evangelist's conviction that the unsaved would burn in eternal hellfire, thus I was afraid that a critical mass of such individuals would result in the creation of a spectacle resembling a Pentecostal revival tent (which, I must admit, I have yet to attend as well). I thought that while the rally might be as scary for me as a revival, it had the potential to be profoundly fascinating as well. Additionally, my feelings towards the current administration have transcended disillusionment and landed somewhere between embarrassment and anger, so I felt it was my civic duty to thoroughly inform myself regarding the candidates and their respective positions before deciding who I would endorse to become the next "decider." Because I live in a battleground state, I was in a unique position to satisfy my curiosity, so with an eagerness rivaling Angelina Jolie's upon a trip to a third world orphanage, I arrived with my girlfriend (herself a big Obama supporter) at the Coralville Marriott Hotel and Convention Center to attend my first political rally.
Knowing that presidential hopefuls love being viewed as "candidates for the masses," I predicted to my girlfriend, who like me comes from a mixed-race background, that Obama's people would salivate at the prospect of a photo op involving us gazing upon their candidate with awe and inspiration. Sure enough, within seconds of entering the ballroom, an eager young Obama staffer asked us if we wanted to stand on the raised stage behind Obama as he delivered his speech, assuring us that we would probably even get to shake the Messiah's hand. When we politely declined, the staffer's face registered a look of incredulity as if we had just turned down the keys to the palace. So, from a decidedly more pedestrian vantage point (which, unfortunately, still involved being caught in the unyielding glare of the television spotlights that made me feel as if I were a suspect getting grilled by a detective in a film noir) we settled in and waited to hear the man speak.
While waiting for Obama to arrive, we engaged in conversation with fellow audience members, and their unabashed enthusiasm for him made it pretty clear that he would be enjoying a definitive home field advantage (admittedly, the sea of blue Obama placards should have tipped me off). I was surprised that there weren't more "undecideds" such as myself - it seemed to me that the primary reason one would want to see a candidate in the flesh would be to learn more about the candidate's positions so as to make an informed voting decision. I realize now that this presumption reflected naiveté on my part - the nature of the political rally beast is not to refine messages and win votes; the atmosphere is more rock concert than town meeting, and the objective is to create "buzz" and "excitement."
Arriving 50 minutes later than the advertised start time, Obama finally arrived on stage, flanked by a rainbow coalition of supporters representing a myriad of heights, weights, races, and ethnicities (the plucky staffers even managed to hunt down a substitute mixed couple). Recalling that I had been electrified by Obama's charisma after hearing him speak in person at a town hall meeting in Illinois back when he was running for the senate, I anticipated being impressed by his message at the rally, if not inspired. Unfortunately, even his speech was a letdown.
When I saw Obama back in 2004, I came away enthused by his ability to seem approachable and self-effacing while simultaneously convey his brilliance, strength and powerful message of positive change. During this campaign, however, Obama has acquired more affect in his delivery than a contestant on American Idol. Much like the less-than-relaxed demeanor Al Gore displayed during the 2000 election, Obama seemed stiff, scripted and rehearsed, right down to his speech notes and dramatic pauses (these invariably entailed him looking off into the distance with a determined expression, no doubt a look that a handler assured him was "presidential") which gave his acolytes the opportunity to shower him with raucous cheers and applause. The most interesting aspect of the whole spectacle, I think, is that Obama could have delivered a recitation of a "Dick and Jane" reader and elicited an equally positive response from this bunch. I suppose I shouldn't be surprised, though, since big-time American politics is less about the issues than about the personalities. Thus, the political rally has essentially (d)evolved into a glorified pep rally.
After that event I swore off political rallies. Mulling over this decision, though, I couldn't help but wonder if maybe it was just Obama's rally that was the problem. So when my roommate, a staunch Republican who wears the pleated khaki Dockers and white-collared, pale blue shirt uniform to prove it, invited me to attend a Giuliani rally I decided to give it one more chance.
My first thought upon walking into the site of the rally, a ballroom located at the University of Iowa's student union, was that while I had mocked the efforts of Obama's staffers to orchestrate the appearance of a diverse following of supporters, at least they had that option available to them. At this gathering, I was the only Black person in a crowd of well over 1,000 (except for a cameraman, whose full, old school jheri-curl hairstyle evoked an "All Night Long"-era Lionel Richie).
Beyond a pronounced lack of diversity, however, the atmosphere was very similar to the Obama event - if anything, it seemed even more like a pep rally, probably due to the incessant "Rudy, Rudy" chants of hundreds of college-age white guys wearing uniforms similar to my roommate's. Many of the young women, not to be outdone, even sported American flag stickers on their faces. Looking at the multiple rubberized versions of Old Glory adhered to human flesh, it soon became clear to me that this was more than a pep rally - this was a full-on tailgate. Indeed, a few of the Giuliani supporters' breaths noticeably carried the reek of cheap light beer.
By the time Giuliani finally came out to the stage a full 55 minutes later than the announced start time, Rudymania had reached a crescendo. Giuliani, sensing the moment, played to the partisan crowd, and unlike Obama he was affable and extemporaneous. For example, he pointed out an audience member wearing a Red Sox hat and remarked that if a Red Sox fan could come out to support him, then together we can solve any of the world's problems. After that, he "placated" a Democrat heckler-type by observing that he had served as a successful mayor of a city full of nothing but Democrats; therefore he saw no reason why competing parties couldn't work out their differences. In short, he was composed, confident, and, well, presidential. The substance of his message, however, amounted to sheer madness...
On the War on Terror: To describe Giuliani as a hawk would be the understatement of the century; he's more like a pterodactyl. If Giuliani were president, we will continue to "take the offensive" in the Middle East. Uh, Rudy, we tried that with Iraq, not working too good, is it?
On healthcare: Giuliani made it out like any form of socialized health care will result in an apocalyptic event worthy of a chapter in the Left Behind series. Giuliani's perspective seems to be that healthcare reform will result in irreparable damage to the body populace - Americans will suffer the spontaneous loss of extremities followed shortly thereafter by dementia and total organ failure.
On education reform: Giuliani implied that efforts to desegregate our nation's schools are an imposition on citizens' liberty rights and are therefore un-Constitutional. Rudy, didn't we hammer out this issue back in '54 in Brown v. Board of Education and decide that desegregation was a good thing?
Not surprisingly, the partisan crowd ate it up while I, in contrast, tried my best not to throw up. To be honest, I was actually a little scared when the topic of education was broached, as the crowd's energy had reached such a fever pitch that I feared that they might demonstrate their disdain for desegregation by forcibly ejecting me from the ballroom. Mercifully, this did not happen. Nonetheless, I hustled out of there when Giuliani concluded his speech and walked off the stage to a chorus of "Rudy, Rudy" chants.
As with escargot, snowboarding and the Cirque de Soleil I'm glad that I satisfied my curiosity by giving it a try, but I have no desire to revisit the political rally anytime soon. I live in a college town, so if I want to see a spectacle I'll go watch a Big Ten sporting event. Unfortunately, the jury is out as to where I should go for a substantive discussion about the issues.