“Idon’t think top-down economics works. I believe that we grow this economy from the middle out.”
“From the bottom up. I believe the heart and soul of this country is making sure that working people can feel some security in the middle class and we’re growing our middle class, and we’re going back to that basic American bargain that says everybody gets a fair shot and everybody does their fair share, and everybody is playing by the same set of rules.”
Applause."That’s what I believe, and that’s why I’m running for a second term as President of the United States of America."
The crowd roared: Four more years! Four more years! Four more years! Four more years!
President Barack Obama, wearing what has become for him campaign uniform — a shirt with sleeves rolled up and slacks — stepped back, with one hand resting on the podium.
He surveyed the hall — a high school gym in Virginia packed to capacity with 1,400 people — with a satisfied smile. Few people can work that kind of magic on a crowd.
He starts up small, and then builds the tempo, working up notch by notch to a feverish pitch, as the applause gets louder, his own voice rising to be heard above the din he had whipped up.
The state of Virginia would be critical in 2012. Obama won there in 2008, becoming the first Democrat to win a presidential election there since 1964 — it’s a Republican state.
Since that break, Virginia has gone back to being Red, electing mostly Republicans in the 2010 congressional elections. But it remains a battleground state, with no obvious winner.
Cleta Goode, a Virginia Beach resident, said she voted for Obama in 2008, but “I am praying for him this time”. The contest is close not only in Virginia. Polls have generally shown Obama and the presumptive Republican candidate Mitt Romney in a dead heat, with the latter out-raising the president for campaign funds in June.
Obama started Friday a two-day swing around Virginia in a string of events appealing to African-Americans, the young and a few conservative areas that he won in 2008.
His central message was this: the 2012 elections were about two visions for the country. One, held by Romney, was a top-down, let-the-rich-prosper-and-everyone-will-prosper prescription.
And Obama described it with some relish, making it look ludicrously unworkable, and ending with a practiced line: we tried it before, and it didn’t work. “We tried it for most of the last decade. And what were the results? We ended up turning record surpluses into record deficits. Wages, incomes stagnated. Job growth sluggish. And it culminated in the worst financial crisis that we’ve seen since the 1930s.”
And, two, the more workable vision that he has put forth: grow the economy middle up, create more jobs and help more people become prosperous — more for more.
But Obama knows he is vulnerable on economy. Unemployment continues to be high at 8.2%. And that’s been Romney’s chief focus: Obama has failed to create jobs.
Goode, a supporter and a Democrat who volunteered at the Virginia Beach event, said she has indeed been disappointed by Obama’s failure to deliver on his 2008 promise of change.
The reason he disappointed her, she said, was because he wasted time “reaching across the aisle to those who were bent upon killing everything he proposed”. But, “I love the man, and I will vote for him again”.
Obama gets to hear that at almost every campaign, and he never fails to yell back he “loves ... (the caller) too”. He didn’t hear Goode, else she would have gone home happier.
But that’s not the only way he works the crowd.
Leaving Virginia Beach, the president worked the rope line shaking hands with supporters, as he usually does — as every American politician — and he reached out to George Polin.
“He recognised me,” Polin said, as he wheeled himself out of the crowd. He had met the president 10 years ago when the latter was only a Chicago councilman. “A friend of mine and the president (then a rising politician) had a beer,” said Polin, who is wheelchair-bound. He was still shaking his head as he rolled away, pushed by his wife.
Is he going to vote for the president?
“Four more years.”
That’s the top Obama campaign chant, one that walks the president to the podium, who, it always looks, is fighting an urge to break into a lay-up, a move from basketball, a sport he loves.
“Four more years, four more years, four more years.”