Early in this campaign season, I vowed to donate time, but not money. For me, it's been easy in the past to just write a check, and use that as justification for not putting in actual labor. So this election, I worked as a precinct captain, raised money, and adopted a precinct in Texas.
Over time, I donated a bit of money here and there also, both to candidates and causes. A little over a week ago, I was told that Barack Obama would be doing a few fundraisers in Northern California. So, I bit the bullet and wrote a check. And today I heard and shook hands with the next President of the United States.
I am not sure how many attended the event, but I would guess it was around 400. It was definitely a diverse crowd, and seemed to pretty closely mirror the Bay Area population.
It was held in the back yard of a private home, and the street was closed off to traffic. They had shuttle vans running along the main street to pick people up and deposit them at the entrance to the street on which the event was held.
There were police cars and a number of secret service, of course. But there were no metal detectors, and no lines. It was extremely well-organized and decidely low-key.
Senator Obama's talk also was lower key and more conversational than his big crowd stump speeches, which was nice. A few points he made really struck me.
When asked about the urban violence we see among young people, he stated very starkly that "a lot of black and brown children are irrelevant." He expressed his belief that poor children grow up with the idea that they are redundant and have no role in our society. Related to that, Sen. Obama noted that not every child will go to a university, and that we need to develop vocational programs for non-college bound students. As an example, he cited the possibility of having students apprentice in the trades as part of their high school education, so that their education is relevant to their lives and allows them to develop skills that will allow them to make a living.
He also talked about gun violence, and reminded the crowd that he had just come from Montana, where "everyone has guns." He said as a practical matter we will not be able to outlaw gun ownership in the foreseeable future, and that trying to do so at this time is not politically feasible. That being said, however, he indicated that we can and should work to address the loopholes in gun show sales and the types of guns that are available. His stance on this reminds me of the work he has done on capital punishment. Recognizing that it was not possible as a practical matter to eliminate it, he worked very effectively to minimize its application.
He noted that most of those in attendance had done well financially, while many others have not. He criticized the lowering of taxes on the wealthiest who do not need such breaks, and stated that the current policies essentially kill the goose that laid the golden egg by choking the financial lifeblood out of the poor.
In his response to one question, it seemed clear that Sen. Obama is rankled by the charges that he is not qualified to be Commander in Chief. He reiterated a frequent argument that longevity alone does not bring wisdom, and also went a step further. He stated his belief that often longevity in office results in politicians becoming entrenched in the prevalent point of view, right or wrong, and that this occurs among members of both parties. He defended his position that he would speak to all world leaders, not just our friends, and took exception to the criticism he received on this issue. He pointedly noted that American presidents have spoken to despotic leaders in the past, and that it is a new, post-9/11 belief, born of fear, that we should not have dialogue with enemies.
Finally, I found Sen. Obama's response to the last question very telling. A woman asked if he would, as President and without seeking approval from Congress, formally apologize to Native Americans and African Americans for the sins of the past. Sen. Obama's response was very reflective as well as pragmatic. He replied that words do matter, but his first task would be to reinforce that he represents all Americans. He indicated that we need to minimize identity politics and avoid creating a perception of divisiveness right out of the gate. With some humor, he also pointed out that, in case the questioner hadn't noticed, he is African-American. He clearly was not there to pander. Again, though, and with humor, he said that perhaps the right time to do as the questioner asked would be at the beginning of his second term.
There were other amusing moments, like when Sen. Obama repeated the line that some think it would have been better if he waited till he had gray hair to run. Someone yelled out that he already did have gray, to great laughter, including from Sen. Obama. He responded that he would rather not be reminded, and that at least it doesn't show on tv.
Not that it matters, but my overall impression was not of an arrogant man, but of one who is confident and very comfortable in his own skin.
Because I was at the front, I was able to shake hands with the senator after his remarks. I think this bodes well, because the last candidate's hand I shook was at the time a little-known governor from Arkansas. Let's hope it's a repeat.