Yesterday, I was lucky enough to attend the Obama town-hall meeting at the home of the Cobras: Miguel Contreras High School in downtown L.A. Jeff Carr, the city’s gang czar, reverend and friend, kicked off the afternoon’s festivities with a rousing, moving speech. Then, as at any big game, a singer belted out the national anthem.
By now, the crowd had already been worked into a frenzy. Mayor Villaraigosa and Gov. Schwarzenegger hyped the heavyweight champ: the President of the United States.
A deafening roar of applause and shouts of adulation enveloped Obama as he walked through the crowd. The electricity felt as if Springsteen or Bono had walked on stage.
His prepared remarks mirrored his well-honed stump speech, with the obligatory nod to green jobs and green technology, and the importance of weaning ourselves from foreign oil. He rightly focused on the dire state of the economy, but he offered hope in the form of immediate mortgage tax relief and a rise from the depths of recession by the end of the year. An intense show of support greeted his commitment to swiftly ending the war in Iraq.
All great stuff, but the President was just warming up. Obama has no peer when it comes to the town-hall format. He’s even better at extemporaneous response than President Clinton. Obama handled a zany question on the importance of wellness and prevention, a difficult query about the place of disabled persons in the President’s program to create new jobs, and a number of hard questions on improving education while preventing teacher layoffs. He handled nearly all of them deftly and with an amazing combination of humor and seriousness. (Though he kind of whiffed on the role of volunteers in the nation’s economic turnaround.)
The last question came from 8-year-old Ethan Lopez, who stole the show. He had a tough education question that the President handled delicately and with respect to the young student. Obama made it clear that educational funds to California will be tied to conditions such as improved performance, teacher accountability and greater parent responsibility.
Everyone left the gym with a renewed sense of hope despite the relentless bad news we’re faced with daily. There is no doubt that Obama was the coolest guy in the room. Like Kobe and MJ, he’s the guy you want to take the last shot, regardless of the percentages. He has made competence cool again.
I was a little disappointed that no one asked him an environmental question. I still want to know what the administration will do to better protect our rights to clean water, clean air and a safe food supply.
Also, I was a little bummed that no one gave him grief for his March madness bracket. With an 11-5 record on day one of the tourney, Obama showed he is not infallible. Two words: Go Bruins!