Attending the Lebanon McCain-Palin Rally
Ohio is a crucial swing state this year, and is also the state I live in, which guarantees that I will have plenty of chances to see the two presidential candidates in person. There’s no reason to pass up this opportunity (especially since the next election could swing on a totally different state), so I went to a McCain-Palin rally held in Lebanon, Ohio.
Lebanon is a small town of 16,000 on the outskirts of Cincinnati. It’s a traditional, established town, at least in the older part, where McCain held his rally. Lebanon focuses on deep-rooted tradition—the Lebanon Raceway is one of the few racetracks to offer live harness racing, and the Golden Lamb Inn (where McCain’s rally was held) was established in 1803, and has been visited by twelve presidents (thirteen if McCain gets elected).
Given its age, Lebanon isn’t exactly packed with parking spots, and it doesn’t really have enough for the estimated ten thousand people who attended the rally. And the lines were endless—the line extended at least eight blocks. That’s eight blocks in the rain, which, while it isn’t exactly McCain suffering through Vietnam, still wasn’t very pleasant, especially if you didn’t have an umbrella.
Judging from the comments of the people in line, all ten thousand people were there to see Sarah Palin. People kept joking that the sun would come out when Palin spoke (yeah, it’s not a very funny joke, but lets see you do any better given the circumstances), and a prosperous-looking guy behind me spent at least thirty dollars (I’m not making this up), looking for just the right Palin pin. (He found one—“the hottest governor from the coolest state”—but wouldn’t wear it because it was “sexist”). A stall selling t-shirts sold McCain-Palin shirts for twenty dollars—but shirts with just McCain went for only fifteen. But to fully understand the mood of the crowd towards Palin, you had to be there. Just imagine a million different variations of “Sarah Palin is awesome,” and you have the general idea.
So, I made it to the main event, where the audience got to listen to speeches from such fascinating people as the auditor of Warren County (fun), Rob Portman (yeah, he’s a good man, but his speeches aren’t exactly William Jennings Bryan), and Anthony Munoz. Then, we got about twenty minutes of recorded music, and, while the song choices were decent (John Rich’s “Raising McCain,” Rascal Flatt’s “Life is a Highway,” Heart’s “Barracuda”), they were also stuff you could find by listening to a radio for ten minutes. Fortunately, this gave me time to worm my way to not quite the front, but at least the middle of the crowd; which is harder than it sounds, especially when you have 10,000 people crammed into a narrow street.
Finally, Portman introduced Sarah Palin, who got about the reaction you would expect. And her speech was worth waiting for—there were a few lines recycled from her convention speech, but most of it was new. I particularly liked the part where she pointed out that she had vetoed almost half a billion dollars in spending, while Obama has asked for almost a billion in earmarks—about a million dollars for every day spent in office.
After Palin came McCain’s speech. You know how all the pundits constantly say that McCain is much better in person than on stage? They’re right. He can connect with a small audience in a way he can’t on television. On television, his speeches sound stilted and awkward; in person, they sound stirring and exciting. It’s pretty obvious that McCain would much rather be out on the stump than making a formal speech on television—the enthusiasm gap is evident.
Politicians shake hands with as many supporters as possible after speeches. There’s a reason for that—it works. As I left the rally, I found myself standing next to the police line watching McCain’s bus leave (note on the “Straight Talk Express”—if McCain is serious about fighting global warming, he might want to take a look at his bus. It’s really massive) with a few supporters who couldn’t make it into the rally but stayed anyway. (Impressive loyalty, even if it watching speeches you can’t hear seems a little like a waste of time).
Then John McCain came over to shake hands with supporters. I got to shake his hand, which doesn’t really sound like much. It is. After he shaking my hand, McCain is the same candidate he was before—but I feel much more enthusiastic about his candidacy. Perhaps that’s irrational, but it’s true for me, and judging from the reactions of the crowd, true for most others as well.
As I left the rally, I noticed the four most ineffective Obama supporters carrying signs. One was a grim-looking mother who had dragged her poor kid to the rally (I guess the child’s education wasn’t as important as standing on a street corner holding a sign for five hours), and a black lady who had cut her hair close to her skull, curled it, and dyed it blonde, which should give you an insight into the sort of people who counter-protest political events.
Anyway, this event demonstrated the extent of “Palinmania.” Were Sarah Palin not on the ticket, McCain would never have drawn ten thousand people. He would have drawn a much more manageable number, like fourteen. The Republican party is energized and enthusiastic—and they feel like they deserve to win.
ADDENDUM: Maybe I'm just unbelievably dense, but I can't find any schedule of appearances at Barack Obama's website. Does Obama have a set schedule? If so, can anyone point it out to me?