Eyes on 2012
Obama delivers an underwhelming campaign kickoff, but Austin still loves the guy
The president came to Austin for the fourth time in four years. It's one of his favorite places. And he did what presidents do … cause rush hour gridlock on the interstate and downtown, motivate a couple dozen protestors to dress up in wacky costumes, and leave with a bunch of money.
In between, Robert Earl Keen warmed up the crowd with "Gringo Honeymoon", and Barack Obama gave a pretty standard stump speech at what was called a 2012 “campaign kickoff” event. It was a speech that anyone in the crowd at The Moody Theater could have written for him.
Sure Obama said all the right things — “we made tough decisions and they were not always popular,” and “we’ve made incredible progress, change is possible,” and “we need to share and sacrifice, but I’m not going to sacrifice Americas future.”
He spoke of the economy’s come back, helping kids afford college, investing in renewable energy and making health care a right rather than a privilege. All themes we’ve heard before, more on that in a minute.
The really interesting thing is why Obama chose Austin, this little blue island in a big Texas red sea. Perhaps the president wanted to stand in the backyard of Republican Gov. Rick Perry, a rising nemesis still rumored to be interested in a new job in Washington. Some reports suggest Perry requested a meeting with Obama to discuss that wildfire disaster relief money request that FEMA turned down a couple weeks ago.
The president said no thanks. Perry, perhaps feeling dissed, decided not to greet the president when he arrived. Sounds a bit like high school for sure.
Whatever the reasons, clearly Obama loves Austin, he even said as much to start his speech. The affair began with a rousing 20,000 strong reception at Auditorium Shores during his first presidential campaign in 2007.
He joked that Austin was the last place he got to take a walk by himself. And Austin seems to love him right back, regularly showing up and packing the house for fundraisers like this. Something approaching 1,000 invited guests walked into the new ACL Live venue, paying $45 for loge seats or $1,000 to stand on the floor beneath the stage.
Others paid $35,000 to have dinner with the president at a private home west of Austin (for the relative bargain of $50,000 you could bring a significant other).
Back to the actual event. The crowd cheered when they were supposed to, clapped, danced, all the stuff you see on TV. But there was not the usual energy one might expect at a re-election kickoff event and the reviews were mixed. A few college graduate students were just excited to be there and loved the "Americans are in this together" line.
But even Boyd Richie, the Texas Democratic Party Chairman, seemed to run out of ways to describe the underwhelming speech.
“No, it didn’t have the fire and brimstone and foot stomping of some campaign events,” Richie said in as positive a way as he could while stating the obvious, "but, it’s a little early to expect the candidate to develop the kinds of themes that lend themselves to that.”
OK, that’s fair. In the end, Obama knows now is the time. He just got Osama bin Laden out of his hair so why not take advantage of the moment, go to Fort Bliss and speak to the troops, announce a new immigration reform plan that has little chance of even getting to the floor, then come to the friendly confines and make some money for the campaign?
He’s president, he gets to do that and he's earned the goodwill, dead bin Laden and all. He has long difficult campaign trail ahead of him.
Why not start with a really friendly party right next door the guy who might make his life a little tougher later on?