Republican Presidential candidate John McCain visited Davenport, Iowa and held a rally at the RiverCenter at 136 E.3rd St on Saturday, October 11, 2008. It was the day after his Vice Presidential running mate, Governor Sarah Palin of Alaska, was found guilty by a bi-partisan committee in Anchorage (AL) of abusing her power as Governor to have a commissioner fired who refused to fire her ex-brother-in-law, a state trooper.
The rally was scheduled for 10 a.m. and the National Anthem was sung by Nick Boyd of Rock Island, a young student from the Illinois Quad Cities, who did a wonderful job. [His voice has not changed yet, however; one wonders whether that pure high tone will stay with him into adulthood.] Nick had previously sung the National Anthem at a Cubs game.
The stage was decked out with a John Deere tractor to the right, amidst some fake foliage, as Moline, Illinois, in the Quad Cities is the international headquarters of Deere & Company.
I sat on the Press risers next to two sixth grade students from Rivermont Collegiate Prep School whose teacher, Leigh Ann Schroeder (a fifth grade teacher) had engineered press passes for her charges. Madeline Bowman, daughter of Carrie and Jerry Bowman, and Lollie Telleen, daughter of Amy and John Telleen, are two of just 12 students in the prestigious but pricey private school located in Bettendorf, Iowa. They seemed excited to be there and even helped by snapping a photo of me.
My old boss, Bill Wundram of the Quad City Times wandered by quite late in the game, and, later, said that “they all start to seem the same” of his over 50 years in the news game.
The Blue Devil (Davenport Central) Dance Team did a good job of keeping the crowd amused and occupied while we waited for McCain’s entrance, which was to good effect as the Straight Talk Express drove right into the auditorium, which held about 3,000 faithful fans.
I was very interested to see if there were going to be ugly scenes in this basically polite part of the nation. There was one protester who, at 11:22 a.m., was hoisted onto her male friend’s shoulders and unfurled a banner that read War Is Over. They were promptly escorted out and McCain’s retort was, “There are some people who just don’t get it/.” He went on to say that Americans don’t want to hear us yelling at one another.
Before the rally got started, the Master of Ceremonies had noted that, in 2000, Iowa was lost to the Democrats by 2 votes per precinct. In 2004, it was won by the Republicans by 3 votes per precinct. The message was clear, but the margin, this year, may be quite different.
The backdrop on the stage read, in large white on blue letters: REFORM, PROSPERITY and PEACE. I thought about those three banner words. Palin was brought into the race as an agent of “reform,” and it now looks as though she, herself needs to reform. PROSPERITY? We all wish for prosperity, in the face of the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression. PEACE? Another sigh and another prayer for deliverance.
The music that ushered McCain into the hall was not the usual Country and Western nor the rock-and-roll anthems that some (Jackson Browne, John Cougar Mellencamp, et. al.) have asked the Republicans not to use. It was a rather somber orchestral score, and it led into the remarks that McCain made, such as, “At this time of crisis, we must go to the heart of the problem and, right now, that problem is the housing crisis.”
The Men with the Big Cameras (national media) swept in around 11:10 a.m., but there were fewer of them than at the Cedar Rapids rally and the tripod count was more like 13 than the huge numbers that usually accompany traveling Presidential candidates.
McCain announced, “I’m so happy to be here in the state of Iowa where there are good family values.” Fifteen seconds into his speech, he used his favorite phrase, “My friends.”
McCain: “One thing I hear from America is that they’re angry.” ( I began to question whether this was a wise segue, in light of recent outbursts at other rallies.) “We’ll turn Washington upside down,” said McCain, adding, “I know how to do that” in reference to getting the economy back on track. The GOP candidate went on to say that he would order the Secretary of the Treasury to carry out a home ownership program, to replace high interest mortgages with affordable ones. “There’s so much on the line. The moment requires a government act,” said McCain.
Just before the female protester unfurled her anti-war banner and was unceremoniously hauled out of the hall, McCain said, “Which candidate’s experience in life make him a better leader? In short, who’s ready to lead?” I thought about this and wondered if this statement worked for or against McCain, who does have many years in the Senate—some of them quite contentious— but does not have the global ties that bind Obama, such as ties to Africa and years spent living abroad in the Philippines. Obama is more an “outsider” than Palin, with his birthplace of Hawaii, but he has Midwest roots, courtesy of his white Kansas grandparents.
McCain made reference to earmarks in a criticism of the “$3 million study of the DNA of bears in Montana.” He failed to mention the two weird and expensive earmark studies that Alaskans asked for and got, to study mating habits of crabs, as I remember one of them.
McCain got a big round of applause when he suggested, “Stop sending $700 billion in aid to foreign countries that don’t like us very much.” He also referenced Obama’s “We need a scalpel, not a hatchet” debate rejoinder in Nashville by saying, “Right now, we need a hatchet and a scalpel.”
McCain, again, expressed his capability of “confronting the $10 trillion debt” with his mantra, “I can do that.” He promised to “balance the federal budget before the end of my term,” which seemed very optimistic for any candidate of either party, at this point in time. He offered no specifics.
There were attacks on Obama: “We’ve all heard what he’s said, but it’s less clear what he’s done or what he will do.” He as good as called Obama a liar saying, “I wouldn’t seek advice (in truthfulness) from a Chicago politician.” [Gee, and just when I thought the Republican candidate was going to take the high road for a while, as when he told the misinformed woman in another state at another rally that, no, Obama was not an Arab and expressed admiration for his life story.
At 11:30 a.m. there were shouts of protest from the crowd as McCain spoke of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac and accused Obama of remaining silent in reining in their excesses before the crisis and of taking money from these agencies for his campaign. McCain repeated the line accusing Obama of fining employers who don’t put employees in a federal health program he supports, and repeated a line from the Belmont debate, “He won’t specify the amount of the fine for not insuring employers.” Someone shouted out “accountability” at that point. It was unclear whether it was someone who was for McCain or against him.
McCain, again on the attack, went on to accuse Obama of wanting to raise debt by $860 billion dollars.” I swear that the first time he mentioned the figure, he said $850 billion; the next time, it had been raised by $10 billion. (What’s $10 billion or so when we’re dug into debt this deep?)
In his attack against earmarks (federal pork attached to bills), McCain was particularly incensed by Obama’s support for the Adler Planetarium in Chicago, Illinois to receive funding for a new lens. I live across the street from the Adler Planetarium. I am glad they got the new funding, as it is a major tourist attraction in Chicago. After all, Obama is the junior Senator from Illinois, and it makes more sense than either of the earmark programs mentioned previously.
A memorable quote, but one which made me uneasy: “You don’t have to wonder if there will be change if I am elected. You know there’ll be change if I’m elected.”
At 25 minutes to 12 noon, McCain thanked every veteran in the house and added of the many conflicts we are now engaged in (thanks to 8 years of Republican leadership, poor intelligence, etc., which includes Iraq, Afghanistan, et. al.) “I will bring them (our troops) home with victory and honor and not in defeat.” [I immediately thought to myself in alarm, “Unless they’re killed or seriously wounded before the 100 years is up that you have previously said we should stay and fight.”]
McCain vowed to “fight for you and put the government back on the side of the people.” He added, “I know I can inspire a generation of Americans to serve a cause greater than their self-interest.” Again, I wondered whether the next generation will be more inspired by the almost 73-year-old McCain and his Alaskan running mate, or by the 47-year-old Obama and Joe Biden from Delaware.
At 20 minutes of noon, just before the rally ended, McCain made a reference to the United States Naval Academy and there was a huge round of applause and big cheers from behind him. Showing the good humor showcased to good effect on many “Saturday Night Live” appearances, McCain turned and said, “Naval Academy graduates, I guess,” with a shrug.
And then the rally was over and we all exited into the bright, sunny 80-degree weather to find out whether the University of Iowa Hawkeyes would beat Indiana’s football team in their Big Ten contest (they did).
And, soon, we’ll see if the Old Warrior can beat the odds, fend off his Republican ties to the least popular President of all time, and pull out what is now an upset win against the junior Senator from Illinois, AKA “that one,” which state is just across the I74 bridge I took home.