The perfect America still exists. We saw it on Monday, thanks to Barack Obama in the heart of Minnesota: a fast-flowing river, a clearing of green grass, majestic elm trees and a good bunch of people — mostly Democrats but also Republicans — gathered around picnic tables. Or at least it appeared this way in the first stage of the three-day tour that Barack Obama began on Monday across three Midwestern states.
Since we are in one of the White House buses — although not the president’s armored bus; you can barely get close to it; it is “property of the Secret Service” — for these three days, we can tell you, once again, this is mainly made for television. There is no real picnic for the residents of Cannon Falls — the small town that has had the honor of this first presidential round — just a few cups of lemonade. Some of them, local dignitaries, received invitation cards that were essential in order to be able to approach the president. The others lined up for six or more hours the day before at the town hall to get the precious document allowing access to the enclosure that was completely cordoned off by the security services.
“There were over a thousand of us in line on Sunday, and there were only 150 places to give away,” said Ben Kalow, 36, who arrived at 4:30 a.m. and got his ticket at 1:30 p.m. “All the same, it’s not every day you can come see the president here!”
Even among the lucky chosen ones, some confess that they lean Republican and are not really fans of Barack Obama. But curiosity got the better of them, too. One of them mutters, “Look, they even had to cut the branches of some trees. The Secret Service demanded it to ensure the safety of the president,” pointing to an elm tree that was sacrificed for the event. This is another detail that will probably not be on television; it is not in the cameras’ sight.
In front of this small, select audience, in shirtsleeves and no teleprompter, Barack Obama, as always or almost always, seems very relaxed. If he was affected by the fighting in recent weeks in Washington, the deterioration of the U.S. sovereign rating and his popularity rating falling to just 41 percent in the latest Gallup poll, then you can hardly tell. His main arguments are:
1) It is the fault of Republicans in Congress if everything is blocked in Washington: “I’m frustrated, too!”
2) The situation is not as hopeless as it seems: “There is nothing wrong with America that can’t be fixed.”
3) He is willing to continue to fight, but he needs support in order to do this: “I’m here to enlist you in a fight. We’re fighting for the future of our country. And that is a fight that we are going to win!”
That evening in Decorah — another idyllic site (an old red farmhouse, U.S. flag and bales of straw positioned in the amphitheater), this time in Iowa — the short talk is almost the same, further developing what he intends to do when he returns: submit a package of measures to support the economy and employment to Congress. “Do it!” he will say to Congress. The plan is not yet put together, but should include the extension of reductions in payroll taxation and a new infrastructure program. “There is no better time for us to invest in infrastructure,” Obama implores that evening in Decorah. “Interest rates are very low […] and you’ve got contractors and construction workers who are dying for work.”
How will he be able to get these measures passed in Congress, when he has just promised to cap and reduce government spending? The White House believes that if the Republicans are demanding tax cuts, they will find it difficult to claim that employee contributions are rising again. What about the new investments in infrastructure? “There’s been bipartisan support for something called an infrastructure bank.”
Among the few hundred Americans who were able to attend these talks on Monday, Obama still easily hit the bulls-eye. “I didn’t vote for him in 2008, but he convinced me here today,” admits Kathy Rosendahl, 57, an employee of the company (a seed vendor) that welcomed Obama this evening. “I was wary of him, just as I am wary of all politicians who give great speeches before the election. But then I see that he does things, he is really worried about the problems of the middle class. I am an optimist, I hope he will succeed.” Now all that remains is to convince the millions of other Americans who only have the images — often distorted — which are broadcast on television.
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