The April 1 issue of LJ includes a current events roundup review of 14 new books that consider the state of U.S. presidential elections. These books offer a long perspective, in counterbalance to the media’s focus on the last candidates standing today.
Barack Obama is of course one of the last candidates standing, but our veteran book reviewer Karl Helicher actually got to see him sit down, live, for a one-hour appearance on a "College Tour" edition of Hardball with Chris Matthews yesterday, filmed at West Chester University of Pennsylvania. Karl, who directs the Upper Merion Township Library in King of Prussia, PA, was an invited member of the audience.
If you watched the show you may have felt its electricity at high-watt. This morning, Karl’s dachsunds agreed to give him a small break from their affection so that he could write me about what it was like.
"I’ve attended football and basketball games for 40 years at my alma mater, West Chester University, but the loudest roar I ever heard was when Senator Barack Obama walked across the makeshift stage in Hollinger Field House to be interviewed by Chris Matthews. The audience was so energized that they even gave Hardball‘s stage manager a raucous ovation when she went over the ground rules with them about when to applaud, when to be quiet, when to snap photos, and even when to go to the bathroom.
Until Matthews, and then Obama, took the stage, the students entertained themselves by chanting "O-BAM-A!", lunging for free Hardball tee shirts and caps, and enjoying the Golden Rams Marching Band. Philadelphian Matthews was well received, but the afternoon belonged to Obama.
He responded confidently and gentlemanly to Matthews’ and the students’ questions. The hardest hardball was from Matthews: "Are you as tough as Dick Cheney to ignore the public attacks that you’ll likely get from Republicans when you pull the troops out of Iraq?" Obama responded, "You don’t ignore public opinion; you shape it. And you better believe I’m tough enough to attack our enemies: al-Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Those are the people who killed 3000 Americans."
During the commercial breaks Obama greeted students and posed with them for photos. He received a number of good questions from the students, e.g. about educational funding, as West Chester was formerly a teacher’s college and still produces many certified teachers each year. "I want to restore student aid, expand Pell grants, and offer a $4000 tuition credit, but it’s not going to come free. Students will be required to do community service," he said.
Race will play a role in the April 22 Pennsylvania primary, well-explored by the Washington Post. Obama remarked "that as a black man with a white mom I have a great appreciation of people," quipping that "I have some relatives that look like Margaret Thatcher and others that look like Bernie Mac."
The hour went by quickly. What will linger for many years was our recognition that we were at a historical event. West Chester University was a stop on the Underground Railroad . The great abolitionist Frederick Douglass spoke there several times and gave his last public address, "Against Lynch Law," there in 1895. The appearance of Obama, as America’s first African American presidential candidate in serious contention, is a tribute to the legacy of the Underground Railroad and to Frederick Douglass’s eloquence."