RAL­LY­ING THE FAITH­FUL

He re­turns to the site of a cam­paign rally – with a more par­ti­san mes­sage this time.

Los Angeles Times - - Front Page - Tim Sloan

Pres­i­dent Obama re­turns to the Uni­ver­sity of Wis­con­sin in Madi­son, where he cam­paigned in 2008. “The biggest mis­take we can make … is to let dis­ap­point­ment or frus­tra­tion lead to ap­a­thy and in­dif­fer­ence,” he told a larger but less ex­u­ber­ant crowd this time in a rally for other Democrats.

Nearly 1,000 days ago, Barack Obama ap­peared as a Demo­cratic can­di­date for pres­i­dent be­fore a rally at the Uni­ver­sity of Wis­con­sin, telling a mas­sive au­di­ence burst­ing with “Yes we can” ideal­ism that he would change the sys­tem and end the schisms and grid­lock that had par­a­lyzed Amer­i­can pol­i­tics.

Obama was back for an­other cam­pus rally Tues­day — this time as pres­i­dent. This year’s crowd was even big­ger, and the ap­plause was rous­ing, if not nearly as fren­zied. But the ex­u­ber­ance has been damp­ened by a sour econ­omy and wrench­ing po­lit­i­cal fights.

When Obama came to the uni­ver­sity on Feb. 12, 2008, the mo­men­tum of the Demo­cratic pri­mary cam­paign had turned in his fa­vor. His in­sur­gent can­di­dacy was cre­at­ing the rarest of po­lit­i­cal coali­tions: Blacks and whites, Repub­li­cans and Democrats, Lati­nos and Asians were lin­ing up be­hind him, he said, sig­nal­ing that an Obama pres­i­dency might bring an end to all the old di­vi­sions.

Much has changed in 21⁄ years. Po­lit­i­cal di­vi­sions are as pro­nounced as ever. Obama is grayer, aged from the pres­sures of of­fice. And his mis­sion is dif­fer­ent. The coali­tion he as­sem­bled in 2008 has frayed, and the pres­i­dent is strug­gling to con­vince Demo­cratic vot­ers to show up in force for the midterm elec­tion Nov. 2 and keep Congress in the party’s con­trol.

“The biggest mis­take we can make right now is to let dis­ap­point­ment or frus­tra­tion lead to ap­a­thy and in­dif­fer­ence,” he said. “That’s how the other side wins.”

For the Democrats and Obama, it’s a tough sell. Obama isn’t on the bal­lot, and many of the young, lib­eral vot­ers he is tar­get­ing are un­happy with what they see as a lack of progress 20 months into his pres­i­dency.

Obama sought to ad­dress the dis­en­chant­ment head-on. He re­minded the crowd of the “Hope” posters from the 2008 cam­paign, the ex­cite­ment sur­round­ing his vic­tory, and Bey­once and Bono sing­ing for his in­au­gu­ra­tion.

“I know some­times it feels a long way from the hope and ex­cite­ment that we felt on elec­tion day and the day of the in­au­gu­ra­tion,” Obama, his voice sound­ing hoarse, told a crowd of about 26,000. “But I’ve got to say, we al­ways knew this was go­ing to take time. We al­ways knew this was go­ing to be hard.”

The mood has changed since Obama has taken of­fice. In 2008, there were more spon­ta­neous chants of “Yes we can!” Obama urged young peo­ple in the au­di­ence to sac­ri­fice for their coun­try and spun a vi­sion of a uni­fied Amer­ica work­ing to­ward a higher pur­pose. The au­di­ence roared its ap­proval over and over, ap­plaud­ing an av­er­age of once ev­ery 30 sec­onds.

This time, Obama’s mes­sage was plainly more par­ti­san. A clear goal was to gin up anger to­ward Repub­li­cans. Obama blamed them for the eco­nomic melt­down, urg­ing Democrats to hold them ac­count­able in the midterm elec­tion for the poli­cies in ef­fect from 2001 to 2009, when Ge­orge W. Bush was pres­i­dent.

“The idea was if you just put blind faith in the mar­ket and let cor­po­ra­tions play by their own rules and leave ev­ery­one else to fend for them­selves, then Amer­ica would grow and pros­per,” Obama said. “But that phi­los­o­phy failed.

“They were in charge; we saw what hap­pened,” he added.

On cue, the crowd booed the Repub­li­cans.

Since the ear­lier rally, the econ­omy has got­ten worse. In Fe­bru­ary 2008, when he de­scribed the econ­omy as “slug­gish,” un­em­ploy­ment was less than 5%. Now un­em­ploy­ment is 9.6%.

Obama de­voted a large chunk of the speech to ex­plain­ing how that hap­pened. Losses un­der Repub­li­can lead­er­ship have proved tough to re­verse, he said. Point­ing to the years the govern­ment was in GOP hands, he said he needed more time for his own eco­nomic poli­cies to work.

“I am telling you, Wis­con­sin, we are bring­ing about change, and progress is go­ing to come. But you’ve got to stick with me. You can’t lose heart,” he said.

A theme of the 2008 rally was Obama him­self. As a can­di­date sell­ing him­self to amass au­di­ence, he laid out his per­sonal story, de­scrib­ing how when he was 2, his fa­ther left the fam­ily.

This time, he stuck to pol­i­tics — though his bi­og­ra­phy is be­com­ing a po­lit­i­cal li­a­bil­ity. Re­cent polls show about 1 in 5 Amer­i­cans mis­tak­enly be­lieve him to be Mus­lim.

Obama was joined at the rally by Sen. Rus­sell D. Fein­gold (D-Wis.), who is bat­tling up­start, “tea party”backed GOP busi­ness­man Ron John­son for re­elec­tion.

Obama tried to rally the crowd’s in­ter­est in the up­com­ing elec­tion amid pro­jec­tions that Democrats will suf­fer heavy losses, pos­si­bly in­clud­ing con­trol of the House and Se­nate.

The pres­i­dent’s ap­pear­ance was part of a se­ries of Demo­cratic ral­lies that the White House hopes will mo­ti­vate vot­ers in the last weeks of the midterm cam­paign.

Say­ing he was “fired up,” he urged the uni­ver­sity crowd to defy the pro­jec­tions of ex­perts and crit­ics.

“They’re ba­si­cally say­ing that you’re ap­a­thetic, you’re dis­ap­pointed,” Obama said. “Wis­con­sin, we can’t let that hap­pen. We can­not sit this one out. We can’t let this coun­try fall back­ward be­cause the rest of us didn’t care enough to fight.”

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