A very good time at a rally for John Kerry.
"Friday night on a farm in Bloomer, Wis., (pop. 3,364) surrounded by a green sea of knee-high rows of corn, Kerry rolled up his sleeves and delivered a 35-minute stump speech to 5,000 flag-waving supporters.
At sunset, he accompanied a harmonica-playing congressman amid the percussive barrage of fireworks, strumming his guitar onstage to the folk tune "This Land is Your Land." He stayed for more than an hour after the event, signing autographs and shaking hands, which some in attendance said they appreciated. The only visible dissent was a Bush sign placed in a field on the horizon."
--Washington Post, July 4
During the Friday evening local news a week ago, a little after six o'clock, I heard the announcement that John Kerry was scheduled to speak at 8:00 to a rally just twenty-five miles away, in a farmyard near Bloomer, Wisconsin. It had not occurred to me that I would have a chance to "see for myself" but it took me less than a minute to decide to go. As I changed into long pants—for mosquito protection, not formality, because the rally was in a farmyard--Donna made me a sandwich. Then I lit out.
The sun was still high when I got there before seven o'clock. I didn't know the farm, but I knew the church adjacent to it because our community choir had sung its Easter concert there last year. Already the cow pasture behind the church and stretching toward the farmstead was filling up with hundreds and hundreds of cars. After being directed to a parking spot--it was a very large pasture--I attached myself to the end of a line, about four abreast and a quarter of a mile long, leading to the farmstead. I had thought to bring my cane, a mixed blessing; it is invaluable when standing for a long period, but I had to be careful not to penetrate with it one of the numerous cowpies on our route.
The security check was about as detailed as at an airport.
Several thousand people were there; later estimates ranged from five to six thousand, about twice the population of Bloomer. My companions in line introduced themselves by saying they had driven a hundred miles to come.
The event organizers expected a large crowd, given the ample parking, the uniformed security agents, and the number of volunteers (One of them even offered to find me a seat because of my cane; but it is a walking stick, not a necessity, so I said no). There were a great many opportunities to buy Kerry tee shirts, buttons, and playing cards, but I passed on those. There aren't many places for a conservative pastor of a conservative rural church to wear a partisan button. I can and do wear a Peanuts tee shirt, but a Democratic symbol would be hard for some of my congregation to swallow.
I was a bit disheartened when the warm-up speakers resorted to tired cliches like "saving the family farm," but that portion of the program didn’t last long. Family farms are indeed worth saving, but if we could have we would have, thirty-five years ago. After the pre-lims, the Rally got down to business.
Wisconsin does well on Capitol Hill. Both Dave Obey, a senior member of the House of Representatives, and Russ Feingold, dubbed by some (not all!) "the conscience of the Senate," were present at the Rally, along with Congressman Ron Kind and Governor Jim Doyle. I loved Feingold’s comment about Kerry, as did the audience in general. Feingold had voted against the war in Iraq, while Kerry had voted for it. Kerry had changed his mind when he saw how the President was handling it. The Republicans were making hay of this change of mind. Feingold said, "They call it flip-flopping, but I call it maturity."
Finally it was Senator Kerry's turn. He was good: good at relating to an audience, clear in articulation, specific in his imagery. It was no doubt his "stump speech," but he knew how to put it across without bluster or talking down to his hearers. He said a lot more things I agree with than I don't, all of them pertaining to necessary changes in the Executive Branch.
There was substance. Contrary to the cynical statement, "If you can fake sincerity, you can fake anything," it is actually very difficult to fake sincerity. And even if it were a show without substance, as opponents inevitably say, it was still a better show than is now playing in The White House. From the moment Kerry took the stage until he finished his gig with Congressman Obey and the band, I had the impression that at the end of a very long day Kerry loved his audience, loved the occasion, and believed his own words. The audience stayed with him. He knew which buttons to push. Perhaps the hottest one, with the most enthusiastically positive response, was his call to join Nancy Reagan in her campaign for stem-cell research.
I get tired standing for as long as an evangelical songleader wants me too, but I stayed on my feet for an hour and a half during this rally and don’t regret it. It was that compelling. Something powerful was going on that night, and I am unapologetic about being part of it.
Perhaps, in some obscure office somewhere, or on a backbench of Congress, there is a man or woman better qualified than Kerry for the Presidency. Better qualified, that is, in every way but the crucial one: the ability to win the office against formidable opposition. Kerry has that ability. I think he will win, I think he should, and I think the country will breathe a sigh of relief when he does. A mature leader will again be in charge of national affairs.
At that rally I went from being in the "Almost Anybody But Bush" camp to the "For Kerry" camp. To say "I like him," is not a substantive answer, but it’s the one that will drive most of the votes in November.
I like him. You may see that as my problem, but I'll live with it. I suspect the country will too.