Sunday, September 30, 2007

Finding Hillary

I should have known better than this, but I didn't. I saw a notice in today's newspaper that Hillary Clinton was having a rally in Oakland this afternoon, at 14th and Clay. Gee, I thought, she'll be here, I could go down and take a look at her, and see what I think. The rally was at 4:30, and I could spend a couple of hours at the College Avenue Stroll (the annual street fair), and then hop on BART and go downtown.

There are reasons I don't normally attend political rallies, and today I was forcibly reminded what they are.

I got there about 4:20, or 10 minutes before the rally was advertised to begin. I found my way out of Oakland City Center (which is under construction) on to 14th Street, to see a line of people stretching in both directions. (It was actually two lines, but more on that later.) I asked, and found that yes, this was the line for the Clinton rally; so I started looking for the end. Half a block away, the line turned right at the corner of Broadway and kept going ... and going ... and going, all the way to the corner of 12th Street, at which point it actually ended. So I stood in it. By now it was pretty close to 4:30, but it was obvious that they weren't going to start on time with all these people out in the street. It took 45 minutes for me to work my way up to the rally entrance, with the line lengthening behind me all the time. I politely ignored at least 5 sellers of political buttons and 3 T-shirt vendors, not counting the Obama crowd on the corner. In the last 20 minutes or so we listened to a children's chorus singing "America," not very well.

The line didn't make much sense to me. It began at the rally entrance, of course, and backed up on the north side of 14th Street to Broadway, one long block; then it turned left and crossed 14th (blocked off), and snaked back down 14th halfway to the entrance again, where it made a U-turn and went back up toward Broadway, where it turned south and went another 2 blocks to 12th Street before turning again, west on 12th. I never did figure out a good reason for that U-turn on the south side of 14th.

I eventually collected the little half sheet of paper that everyone had to fill out in order to get in. We were told it was "for security reasons", but I can't think of a single security reason why they would need my name, address, email, and cell phone and home phone numbers. This is a marketing ploy to fill out the mailing list, but since I'm already on that mailing list, I played along. I will say the campaign had it organized - they had stringers going up and down the line making sure everyone had their "ticket" filled out.

Once we all got into the rally, and past the bleachers where people who actually paid money for this were sitting, we all crowded up around the stage. I never actually saw the stage, or any of the people on it. I could hear clearly enough, their sound system was more than adequate; but I was at least half a block back in the crowd, and I'm only 5 foot 5, and at least half of the crowd was taller than I am. So, for another half hour, I counted the checks in the plaid shirt in front of me, and listened to speeches from unnamed people (must have been introduced before I got there). The only speaker whose name I actually caught was Gavin Newsom, the mayor of San Francisco. I never did get the name of the man with the "black" accent who was acting as emcee (looking at the photos on SFGate, it may have been Rev. Cecil Williams), or the woman with the slight eastern clip in her voice (I actually thought, foolish me, that this might be Hillary, until she referred to Hillary as "she".) who followed the first local musician.

As the evening drew in and my feet began to hurt, the announcer introduced a second local musician who began a set of songs intended to inspire the faithful; and I looked at my watch and saw that it was 5:30, and I still couldn't see the stage, and Hillary Clinton was still nowhere in evidence, and the people running things appeared to be vamping. "I came here to hear Hillary Clinton, not these people," I said to a woman standing next to me; and she replied, "Oh, that's how these rallies are; I understand she's due around 6 o'clock." (The article on doesn't say when she actually arrived.) Well, I was probably foolish, but I decided my desire to see the elephant (sorry, I suppose I should say "donkey") was not strong enough to stand around until 6 o'clock, or whenever Madam Candidate chose to make her entrance. So I said the hell with it and began to make my way out of the crowd toward the BART station.

I've had trouble with crowds ever since the Free Speech Movement and People's Park Riots of the '60s; large groups of people make me nervous, especially if they're all there about a Cause. For some reason I didn't have that reaction today. In fact, I didn't really feel that I was in a cohesive "crowd" at all. I was standing in a large group of people paying polite but not passionate attention to the speakers, who continually urged them to show their enthusiasm more loudly. Maybe if I'd stayed to see Hillary, the spark would have happened and the agglomeration of humans would have coalesced into an organism. Then again, maybe not; I've never heard that charisma is Mrs. Clinton's thing.

She seems to be the front runner, she has the machine behind her, she's probably unstoppable, and I do think it would be a good thing symbolically for the U.S. to have a woman president, especially now; but something in the back of my mind says that Barack Obama would make a better president.


  1. I wish I could believe in Obama. He looks like nothing so much as a neat, quiet, attentive, ambitious alter boy who is pursuing his Boy Scout "God & Country" merit badge, and will do and say anything--politely--to succeed. I find his studied "neutrality" a little unsettling. I'd like to feel he had some new ideas, and some courage to stand up to big business, but I don't. He just lacks passion.

    On the other hand, I've never been a big Hillary fan, either. I've always thought she looked attractive--except when she smiled (those cheeks!)--as intelligent, strong-willed women always knock me out. I think she got a bum rap on her health care advocacy during Bill's first term--the Republicans insulted her up one aisle and down the other in a successful attempt to prevent Medicare reform. But she has a very hard edge, and there's some shady stuff back in Arkansas that I wish hadn't come out. The portrait of her "first lady" years which emerged does not paint a pretty picture.

    I think if she doesn't win Iowa, it could be very dicey for her. But who else can challenge?

    Can you see Fred Thompson as President? "So plead it out, and let's move on." "Sorry, Arthur, I refuse to let publicity dictate policy at the DA's office."--Sam Waterston Maybe Sam Waterston for UN Representative? Or Epatha as Attorney General? Sorry, actors running for office just makes me silly. Where do we draw the line?

    Last night on 60 minutes, Judge Thomas was profiled. It was kind of embarrassing. Thomas kept insisting he was a cool, calm customer, but his demeanor and body language fairly seethed with anger and resentment. This was a man who walked around in army fatigues in college and talked the Black Panther line. I know people can change, but Thomas smacks of the born-again young Republicans, a poor guy from the South who "found" his religion among the white technocrats and corporate apologists. With no prior judicial experience, and questionable legal credentials, he's an embarrassment on the Court. And I say that despite my belief that we NEED blacks throughout our government in high places. I wish Colin Powell hadn't been driven out.

  2. Anonymous6:50 PM

    Best way to judge a candidate (in my experience) is to know who they have been, what they have done, and what causes/policies they have actually dedicated themselves to. The only way I know to judge Hillary is to take a look at the past 40 years of her life. Same goes for all the candidates. My first choice among the top three is John Edwards, but I will take any one of them over any Republican or independent (I'm thinking of that smooth talking mayor of NYC, although he is certainly a cut above his predecessor, Rudy the pocket-lining opportunistic superphony).

    But only Bill Richardson, Dennis Kucinich, and Ron Paul have it right on Iraq (I'm not really paying any attention to Mike Gravel), and Chris Dodd is much farther along than some of the others. I thought Edwards had it right on Iraq until he acquiesced to maintaining a troop presence in a country we destroyed and which we intend only to occupy as part of our goal of control distribution of Middle East oil. Of note regarding Hillary and Iraq is that she has been endorsed by Wes Clark. He gets it.

    Oh, yeah, regarding charisma. That is one dangerous two-edged sword. Bebe Netanyahu has charisma. David Koresh apparently had boatloads of charisma. About the only charisma I'm comfortable with is Bill Clinton's, because it is the charisma of easy, intelligent candor. It failed him on the one occasion that it should have: when he lied about his relationship with Monica Lewinsky.

    I do want leaders to be capable speakers, but I really, really distrust charisma as an attractor of followers. Of course, I also don't think much of the idea of followers, especially if it is conflated with discipleship. I go for being an enabler of whoever is intelligent, knowledgeable, insightful, honest, and willing to stick their necks out for the common good. LBJ was and did on the issue of civil rights, and as he correctly predicted, he signed over the South to the Republicans for the next generation (he underestimated how long it would last). Did I mention that I have a visceral progressive Southern contempt for the Republican Party. Yellow dogs are vastly superior to the Republicans spawned by the Nixon crowd. Goldwater, on the other hand, while the wrong person to be president of the United States, was decent, honorable, intelligent, and intellectually honest. He was an opposition leader I could respect.

    Rambling David

  3. Rambling David, I have to concede your point on charisma. In fact, you left out two of the twentieth century's most disastrously charismatic figures, namely Adolf Hitler and Jim Jones. And you're right about Iraq; but what good does it do to vote for the perfect candidate if he (assuming not Hillary for the moment) can't win the election? Although with the Republicans in their current disarray, we might be able to elect an actual donkey - you think?

    Curtis, I too wish Colin Powell hadn't been driven out - I was prepared to vote for him for president even as a Republican, and I don't believe I have ever voted for a Republican for president. As for Obama's lack of passion - frankly I've had enough passion. Dick Cheney has passion. I want someone who will think about things calmly and make rational decisions. Obama may not have the depth of experience that some others have, but he strikes me as a thoughtful, careful man who might be willing to admit it if he realized he had made a mistake. I'd go for that. I'm less sure Hillary would be willing to admit to mistakes.

    I keep coming back to the old saying that the presidency of the United States is too important a position to allow it to go to someone who is crazy enough to want it...