( – promoted by Clark)

(Originally published on Daily Kos)

Last weekend I was in Springfield, IL, for the rollout of the Obama-Biden ticket, which I wrote about here.  It was a great and exciting event, and I left very charged up to do my part for the campaign.

While researching items for my writeup on the Obama-Biden rally, I ran across an item in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch about a McCain rally to be held in O’Fallon, MO, on August 31st.  While I was definitely not relishing spending time amongst the R’s, I thought attending might be useful to gauge the enthusiasm level of the McCain campaign at this point.  It also occurred to me that this would be the first time in any election cycle that I would see both major-party candidates for President–not a bad thing for a political junkie like me.

Your man in O’Fallon, doing his best Keith Olbermann impression, and getting set to take one for the team.

How did it go?  Read on:

The first step was to obtain a free ticket from the McCain campaign.   Finding the nearest campaign office was an education in itself.  The McCain campaign has no offices in St. Louis itself; all of the area offices are located west of the city, in St. Charles County; obviously they are conceding the heavily Democratic stronghold of St. Louis and St. Louis County itself.    

Last Monday I found an office in St. Peters, and emailed them to request a ticket.  A volunteer emailed back and said a ticket was reserved for me.  Later, I recieved a call from another volunteer to check and see if I still needed a ticket, and I told him everything was arranged via email.  

Then on Friday, I found the office, which turned out to be a Republican Party office.  I had taken the precaution of using my bride’s car, which had no political stickers on it, and dressing as neutrally as possible.  The office was very busy, mainly fielding requests for tickets or giving them out to those that had already reserved them.  I asked for my ticket and gave them my name.  They didn’t have a ticket for me, and asked me to sign a waiting list to get one.  I explained that I had an email stating that a ticket was reserved, politely pointing out also that I had driven down from Alton (31 miles) to pick it up.  The staff kind of hemmed and hawed, but at length another man, who had just picked up 5 tickets, gave me one of his.  I filled out my address on the bottom of my ticket, gave the volunteer that part, and left the office after that.

(Why did I give them my name and address?  Because then they will waste resources and time sending stuff to me and calling me.  I figured I’d string them along and only tell them I was voting for Obama just before Election Day.  Evil, I know.)

My part of the rally ticket, which is instructive in itself.  When I went to see Barack Obama last October, their rally tickets were printed grayscale on card stock.  An offset-printed full color rally ticket suggests that the McCain campaign either has a lot of money to work with, or at least think they do.

The day of the rally was going to be warm, so I dressed comfortably in shorts and a red, white, and blue polo shirt (the better to fit in with the super-patriots).  The longish (38 mile) drive to T. R. Hughes Stadium proceeded without incident, and I arrived at 1 PM, three hours before the event start time.  Those of you that are veterans of Obama rallies know that three hours ahead isn’t near enough time to get a place close to the stage, let alone finding a place to park–but I found a parking spot just 1 block away, and when I reached the lineup, I was easily within sight of the USSS security checkpoint.

A scary hat and button spotted while I was in line.  About 40% of the people I saw had on McCain wear of one sort or another, while others favored a patriotic look.

McCain volunteers ran out cups of water to people in line–a great idea, except that they were little styrofoam cups.  Bottled water would not be allowed through security, so I drank my bottle up before going in.  To my dismay the bottles and cups from the crowd went into trash instead of recycling.

Yes, the Obama-as-Communist meme is still out there.  (heavy sigh)

The gates opened at 1:30, and after clearing security I found a spot on the fenceline much more easily than I would have expected.  The crowd wasn’t that large at first and stayed small for a long time, only building up significantly towards 3:30 or so, when the speeches started.

Democrat for McCain!  Crowd right in!  Er….crowd…right…in.  (actually a few did show up.  Read on:

The event emcee was a rather scary-looking guy who spent some of his time exhorting the crowd, and leading them in chants he hoped they would do when the candidates arrived (they didn’t).  What was funny is that when the chants fell apart, he’d yell back, “what are you doing?  You’re Republicans!”  (Only an authoritarian party can perform good chants, I suppose.)  I did have some subversive fun during the chant practice, with me saying, “Yes We Can” to the same rhythm as the crowd’s “U-S-A” or “John Mc-Cain.”  

You might wonder about who I talked to, and what we talked about.  Actually I did very little talking.  The heat was making me sweat, and the sunscreen I had put on was running into my eyes continually.  It was easier to stand and keep my eyes closed, than open them and keep wiping them clear.  No one tried to strike up conversations with me, with the exception of the old man next to me who said, “do you want our Governor from Illiniois?  You can have him.”

I replied “Yeah, I’ve heard that before,” and turned away.

One black supporter for McCain amongst the lily-white crowd.  This was taken an hour before the event start time.

Speaking of the crowd, it was overwhelmingly white, and I’m talking Ivory Soap (99 44/100% pure) white.  I saw exactly 6 people of color in a crowd the Rivertown Rascals (owners of the stadium) estimated at 14,000.  Many but not all were my age (49) or older, but there was a smattering of young people in the mix as well, not a few of them looking like the types of kids I used to see in Oklahoma that had recieved a little too much church and not enough spirituality.

The Rough Riders perform.  They were actually good!  (Note to Obama campaign: you guys really need some live entertainment before the rallies.  It speeds up the wait a lot.)

We were entertained by a local country band (natch) before the speeches
began.  Thankfully they were a good band, and even better, they avoided playing “God Bless the USA.”  

Around 3:15 or so the speeches started.  The undercard speakers were state and local politicans, including Gov. Matt Blunt (Roy Blunt’s dummy son), Sen. Kit Bond, Rep. Kenny Hulshof (running for MO Governor), former Sen. Jim Talent and his wife, and MO-9 candidate Blaine Luetkemeyer.  These speakers were interspersed with ordinary citizens telling their stories.  I didn’t take notes (I figured a notepad would arouse suspicion) but to a great extent I didn’t need to, because all the speakers sang from the same hymnal, so to speak (Obama is a scaaary liberal who will raise your taxes and go talk to our enemies, etc.  Oh, and he isn’t pro-life.)  

The baby-killer and tire gauge (yes, it’s still around) tropes about Obama came up more than once also.

I was more sickened than surprised, and it took some effort to keep my mouth shut, especially since I was close to the speakers themselves.  But no speaker, not even the politicians, incensed me more than Jennifer, introduced as a Hillary Clinton supporter who had switched sides.  She said she had voted for Hillary because “she was the most experienced” but when Obama won the nomination, she switched to McCain for the same reason, conveniently leaving out his travesty of a choice for running mate.

Oh, and it gets better.  Supposedly the campaign had bused down some other Hillary supporters who had switched to McCain.  When introduced, these people (about 7 or 8 total) stood up and waved Hillary signs with “Another Democrat for McCain” stickers attached.

The PUMAs roar!  They were billed as having been “bused down from Chicago.”  If so, it must have been the short bus, if you know what I mean.

The other thing that really bugged me were the speakers talking about the great response of the Republican governors of MS and LA to Hurricane Gustav.  I kept thinking about how the Shrub administration sandbagged Gov. Kathleen Blanco when she was screaming for help before Katrina.  (I had also just heard an NPR story that the assistance money given to MS, intended to help people rebuild, had been instead placed in a so-called rainy day fund.  The homeowner interviewed said that “if you’re not a casino, they’re not interested in helping.”  That figures.)

You gotta love the McCain campaign: only they would think handing out phalluses Thunderstix with the candidate’s name on them was a great idea!

By this time both the heat and the Concentrated Stupid was seriously affecting me; I was feeling slightly light-headed, my pulse was elevated, and a headache was starting to form (OK, technically this is heat stress only–but I stood twice as long in just as much heat in Springfield, and I did much better).  They finally introduced John McCain and Sarah Palin at 4:15.  I was in a perfect spot to photograph them as they made their entrance, after they literally drove the Straight Talk Express bus into the stadium.  I got my photos, and decided right then to leave.  Two others went with me, interestingly enough, both younger men.  We plowed through the crowd to the outfield, which was sparsely populated.  The first thing I did was go to a water station and drink as much water as I could stand. I then went to a food stand and grabbed a large handful of napkins to wipe my face and blow my nose.  As I was leaving, I heard Mike Huckabee at first, then Mittens.  On my way to the car (after stopping to buy a bottle of water) I could just hear the nasal tones of John McCain himself.

The Grand Entrance of the Blessed St. McCain and his new squeeze running mate Sarah Palin:

Oh look: Multiple Choice Mitt is joining the fun also!

Best shot I could manage of the Republican ticket, through severe head pain, burning eyes, and nausea:

The drive back was painful.  I had a bad headache and was nauseus, though fortunately I didn’t throw up.  When I got home I went straight for the couch!  Nancy took good care of me, and after a few hours, a shower, Ibuprofen, an anti-emetic, and some crackers, I felt vaguely human again.

Twenty-four hours removed, these are my thoughts about what I saw and experienced at the rally:

1.  Up to last week McCain had not drawn more than 3,000 to one of his campaign events.  He drew 10,000 on the day he announced Palin as his running mate, and 14,000 at O’Fallon, which at least suggests that adding Palin to the ticket has energized the McCain supporters enough to show up on a hot day in a baseball stadium to see the ticket.  Granted, O’Fallon is a very Republican stronghold in the St. Louis metro area, but it is still an impressive turnout for him.

2.  The snatches of conversation near me, when they covered politics, sounded straight from Fox News, Rush Limbaugh, etc., and they seem to quote obvious misinformation about our candidate as fact.  We need to continue to push back, and hard, against this.

3.  Palin is a much better stump speaker than her thin resume might suggest (I watched the speech on C-SPAN after I got home; the video is available from their front page, though it is scrolling down).  Her speech sounded more like a State Of the State Address to the Alaska lege than a national campaign stump speech, but I suspect her new handlers only wanted her speaking about what she knew.  In any case, she is not going to be a pushover on the stump; the crowd in O’Fallon really liked her, and I suspect subsequent crowds will like her also.

4.  Oh, and she pitched the Bridge to Nowhere lie–again–and the audience ate it up.  One more zombie lie to kill.

5.  The organizers of the rally made a distinct point to have at least one of the speakers (I forget which one) highlight McCain’s “emotional maturity” in selecting a woman to be his running mate, which to me is a direct play at the disaffected Hillary voters.  The busing in (or not) of the 6 or 7 “Hillary supporters for McCain” and seating of them in the most prime spot in the stadium for the cameras–directly behind the candidate’s speaking platform–further reinforces this in my mind.

6.  Keeping quiet when Republican lies are going on all around me is extremely difficult.  My discipline is much better than I expected, though I paid for it with physical discomfort.  

7.  I hope they don’t blacklist me, because I can see much mischief-making potential should I get into a town ha
ll!  Otherwise, I’ve took my shot for the team; one of y’all needs to be next!

Me at the end of a difficult day:

WARNING! Prolonged exposure to Concentrated Stupid can lead to severe headaches, physical weakness, burning eyes, and nausea.  DO NOT TRY THIS AT HOME!

Oh yeah, and John McCain is Number 1!