This story was written by Jonathan Emont, Swarthmore Phoenix
Barack Obama gave a speech at Widener University in Chester, Pa. on Tuesday morning, rallying supporters just one week before Election Day. Obama spoke before a shivering crowd of 9,000, commending his audience for attending the outdoor rally despite sub-optimal weather conditions. Many of Obamas supporters arrived hours early to clear security, waiting outside under a persistent rain while the temperature hovered at a brisk 39 degrees. Obamas speech focused on his strategy for addressing the problems economic and otherwise that are currently afflicting America. He also emphasized the need for massive mobilization efforts to get voters to the polls on Nov. 4.
When Obama took the stage, the crowd roared so loudly that a crackle reverberated through the sound system. He began his speech by discussing the importance of next weeks elections. One week. After decades of broken politics in Washington, eight years of failed policies from George Bush and 21 months of a campaign that has taken us from the rocky coast of Maine to the sunshine of California, we are one week away from change in America, he said.
Obama then immediately transitioned into a discussion of the ailing economy. He referred to the current downturn as the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, and discussed the effect it was having on middle class Americans.
Obama attempted to link spiraling unemployment and stagnating real wages to the economic policies implemented under the Bush administration policies that he accused Republican nominee John McCain of supporting. John McCain has ridden shotgun as George Bush has driven our economy toward a cliff, and now he wants to take the wheel and step on the gas, Obama said, prompting a round of applause.
The issue of the economy resonated with the predominately working-class residents of Chester, a onetime industrial powerhouse that has since fallen victim to an exceptionally high rate of unemployment. Angeline Robinson, a Chester resident who attended Tuesdays rally, said that she supported Obama because he was the candidate of the people [and knows] how the rest of us are feeling. She cited Obamas health care policies and his plan to expand scholarship opportunities as the two primary reasons behind her support of his candidacy.
While Obama emphasized the severity of the current economic situation, he said he believes that the downturn can be reversed under his stewardship. Citing World War II, the Great Depression and other historical challenges, Obama said he was confident that America was equally capable of overcoming the present crisis. Describing American workers as the most productive in the world and American research universities as the envy of the world, Obama said that with a new direction, there is no reason why we cant make this century another American century.
The rally in Chester took place shortly after Obama had been lampooned by critics for a purported excess of leftist ideals. Excerpts of a chat Obama had on a radio show in 2006, in which he appeared to bemoan 1960s politics lack of redistributive change, surfaced a couple of days ago.
Shortly thereafter, the McCain campaign accused Obama of espousing socialist policies. The attack came at a time when Obamas campaign was trying to contain the fallout from a remark made by a plumber in Ohio who declared Obamas tax plan as socialist. During Tuesdays speech, Obama made a number of attempts to distance himself from the far left. As much as Obama emphasized the need for more active federal involvement in education, healthcare and the floundering economy, Obama reiterated his support for free market policies and his opposition to protectionism. He said, Government shouldnt try to solve all of our problems But all of us mus do our part as parents to turn off the television and read to our children and take responsibility for providing the love and guidance they need.
Obama incorporated the theme of unity throughout his rhetoric, something that has long been a hallmark of his campaign. On Tuesday, however, the words took on an added meaning. Obama, first implicitly and later explicitly, began contrasting his message with that of Sarah Palin and other Republicans who he accused of cultivating division. Obama said, There is no city or town that is more pro-America than anywhere else we are one nation, all of us proud, all of us patriots.
While the words were clearly in response to a comment made by Palin in a recent speech in North Carolina, in which she said she was happy to be visiting a pro-American part of the country, not once in his speech did Obama mention Palin directly by name. In this, and in many other ways, the overall tone of Obamas speech was conservative; many lines he employed had been recycled from earlier speeches, and Obama took no new swipes at his opponents.
Before Obama spoke, a preacher led a public prayer that, among other things, asked God to ensure better healthcare for all. A number of campaign volunteers, one of them a self-declared single mother, spoke to the crowd before Obama arrived. The volunteers led people in Obama rallies trademarked chants of Yes, We Can, and attempted to dispel myths they feared would keep people from voting. Then came Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell, who reiterated the importance of the upcoming election.
The rain, wind and sub-40 degree temperatures could have been expected to depress turnout at this outdoor event, but it looked as if the designated area was completely filled. According to the Associated Press, a McCain rally scheduled in Northern Pennsylvania on Tuesday was canceled because of the inclement weather.
Swarthmore University students flocked to the rally, taking public buses and driving by car. Jessie Cannizzaro 12, one of the many Swarthmore students to attend the rally, described it as an amazing experience. She said, My friends and I got there at 5:30 a.m. Even though it was windy, raining and freezing there was still a long line of people there to see him. Everyone was so excited!
When asked to comment on her experience at the rally, Cally Feingold 12 said, Obama was speaking in Chester, a town where the economy absolutely imploded in the 80s and yet he made people feel so much hope. For me, seeing the crowds reaction to him was the most important part of the experience. The people of Chester loved him. Many people in the crowd appeared to be of college age, and Obama dedicated a section of his speech to them, promising, as president, to help students pay their tuition costs.
Pennsylvania has 21 electoral votes, and is a state hotly contested by both campaigns. While polling earlier in the election declared Pennsylvania up for grabs, more recent polling shows Obama up by as much as ten points in the polls.