My first Obama encounter

Frank Yonkof

It’s true what they say about President Barack Obama. He really is an impressive guy.

I was not expecting to be blown away as I made my way into the Ehrnfelt Recreation and Senior Center in Strongsville last Monday to hear Obama speak. Sure, I heard he was a very personable man and I was excited to see him up close, but I expected the same old speech given by any politician.

I walked into the venue fully accepting the fact that he would be speaking in sound bites and addressing the cameras, not the people. Even so, I could feel the excitement building, and I was not alone.

That entire weekend, I tried my hardest to get a press pass, but unfortunately I missed the deadline. That meant I would be standing in the rain for two hours Sunday afternoon, praying that tickets didn’t run out before I got to the front of the line. On at least two occasions, we all had a heart attack as Obama’s people did a head count of the line.

The next day, the lines were even more outrageous as people wrapped two sides of a huge Target plaza, waiting to be bused over to the rec center. Despite this major inconvenience, people were still very excited but calm. Down by the road was a different story.

News spread fast of Obama’s visit and the Tea Party protesters were in full swing. Although a good number lined the street, there was definitely not an even number as the people inside, as some local media reported. You could have counted them had you taken the time to do so.

The mood by the road was worlds away from the mood of the people standing in line. While some of the Tea Party protesters were very nice, you definitely got the vibe that their mind was set against anything to do with health care, despite the fact the bill had been changing all week.

From what I could observe, most of the people in line to hear Obama speak were not political. I’m sure they supported reform, but they really didn’t let their emotions show and they certainly weren’t reciting talking points.

I still feel like people generally came to hear him speak, not so much to show their support. They didn’t come for the excitement of the rally, and they certainly didn’t come for the health care swag, because there was none (I was disappointed). People came because they wanted to hear an intelligent opinion, whether it be good or bad, on what he had to say.

From what I noticed, people who seemed supportive of health care reform were not afraid to call Obama out on points that were stretched. Perhaps skeptical is not the right word because the crowd seemed to like the idea of reform. But there has been so much confusion about the bill from politicians and those in the media that many seemed to want to sort it out for themselves.

What surprised me the most about Obama when he finally appeared on stage was how real he is. Expecting him to talk right into the cameras, I was surprised by how in tune he was with the crowd.

As cliché as it sounds, you would have never taken away the same thing from that speech unless you were there to hear it in person. While Obama looks pretty much the same up close, he comes off way more passionate in real life versus what you see on television.

One thing I’ll never forget was when an older woman in the crowd shouted, “We need courage!” in the middle of the speech. Obama paused from his remarks and pointed at the woman, reaffirming “We need courage.”

As much as they tried, no one in the media was fully able to capture that moment. Even as I watch the speech online, the remarkable event I experienced in real life had been transformed into something fake. The impromptu shout just seems like another staged sound bite.

After walking away from the speech, I was really proud to be an Obama supporter. It seems like most people these days are afraid to publicly support the president. He has become such a hated figure by some people that schools think twice before showing his “stay in school” speech.

Why people can fiercely hate someone with such good intentions is something I’ll never come to understand. What is sinister about wanting everyone to have equal access to health care?

I’m sure some critics will accuse me of being naive or say I let my emotions get the best of me. But these are the same people who voted for Bush, so they have no room to talk.

Frank Yonkof is a sophomore newspaper journalism major and columnist for the Daily Kent Stater. Contact him at [email protected].