So, I ended up working the Palin rally last night. The call centre was shut down to concentrate attention on the event, so it wasn't as if I had anything better to do. It was my first political rally, well, ever. Unless you count walking past the Bush and Gov. Brown rallies on Old Main Lawn on the way to classes in '92, which I don't, since I didn't really care that much at the time.
I hadn't gotten around to getting a ticket for the event last weekend, so I just walked up to the waiting line to see if there was anything I could do. Ran into the guys running the county campaign operations, and Anthony gave me a volunteer badge & recruited me to go help with line control.
While we waited for the volunteers to be let into Rec Hall, I spotted some performance-artist protesters with the usual ugly signs. I went over to talk to them, to see what they thought they were accomplishing. Got into a minor debate with a clown-Palin-impersonator, and was a little intemperate. Not terribly, but a little. She kept chirping about her opinions... wish I had remembered the line about "opinions are prejudices with a college education". I said something about being sorry about what their politicians will do to them if their hopes come true, and then I think I turned off the Palin-pierrot by being sincere. She was looking for validation, not pity. Especially after I told her little group that I was technically pro-choice, and compared what they were doing to the pro-life protesters with the screaming-horror posters, back in the old days of the abortion clinic in the HFL Building. That kind of intrigued her less flamboyant friend, and we chatted a bit about my beliefs and priorities, until Anthony gave me a poke and I saw that they were letting the volunteers into the building.
Inside, I was tasked to play human traffic cone, and keep the folks moving into the bleachers and around the room until we filled things up. This took more energy than you'd think, if not an awful lot of mental acuity. Somebody had told one of the reporters following the Palin campaign about me, and I spent a good chunk of my time as a human traffic cone being interviewed by one Eli Saslow, or being photographed in action by a staff photographer.
I hope I wasn't too impolitic, but I tried to be as honest and forthright as I could be about what it is I do for the campaign here at the grass-roots, and what I expect and hope and fear for in the election. I said I was "half enthusiastic and half fey", and talked about why I "went all in", and what that means in terms of a volunteering commitment. I also talked about how many Democratic volunteers there are with the campaign in Centre County, and pointed him at Anthony Biviano, the door-to-door guy who basically canvassed the better part of College Township by his lonesome.
After about two-and-a-half hours of this, the Centre County staffers told the volunteers to go find the reserved section, and I went on up to take a seat. By that time I was both hoarse and tired, so I was glad for the rest. It looked like somebody had been deliberately sending the folks with Obama shirts and stickers to the volunteer section, presumably to keep things under control if there was any acting up. In the event, everyone was well-behaved and perfectly civil, so there wasn't any disruptions or unpleasantness. I had missed the Benninghoff and Thompson speeches while I was still playing traffic cone, but got into the stands in time for the Hank Williams, Jr. set.
I've never been a big fan of modern country, but I have a CD of Hank Williams, Sr., and I can appreciate the younger Williams' material for what it is. He was playing up the hillbilly angle pretty fiercely, and was a little un-PC at times, but in general it was a pretty good performance. He's written a campaign song for the trail, called 'McCain-Palin Tradition'; as campaign songs go, it wasn't half-bad. He played some of 'I Walk the Line', and that was cool.
They got the crowd pretty riled up for Gov. Palin, and then a small woman came out on stage, but it was just an aide coming out with the Governor's speech, then a procession of other aides cleared off Williams' equipment, and I amused myself by reading parts of the Governor's prepared speech over the shoulders of the operators of the teleprompter. Eventually, the Governor came out, and gave a pretty good stump speech, partially from the version on the teleprompter, and partially improvised. She's clearly given versions of this speech often enough to barely glance at the teleprompter, and to wander on and off the script as the situation and circumstances warrant. It was a good, solid, beautifully-delivered stump speech, hitting all the necessary elements of the address I'd expect from a Republican running for national office. I've heard parts of it from the convention speech, and parts of it from the vice-presidential debate, and others I've read in campaign coverage. I yelled myself a little more hoarse along with the rest of the crowd.
She really is an excellent, excellent politician. It was a beautiful performance; I can't imagine any of the vice-presidential candidates of the last forty years doing a better job; there may have been VP candidates with better policy chops - Jack Kemp comes to mind, and there may have been VP candidates with better experience and gravitas - Admiral Stockdale leaps immediately to mind. But Jack Kemp had the personal charisma and presence of an asthmatic beagle, and the press & a bad vice-presidential debate shattered the Admiral and made all of his heroism and sacrifice invisible, blotted out by the black shadow of a bad SNL skit.
There was about a hundred and fifty O-bots making noise and waving pictures of their Dear Leader at the rally attendees as we left the building. Some of the O-bots had ginned up a giant "Obamaville" banner on an oversized sheet strung between two two-by-fours. I couldn't believe they'd deliberately evoke Hoovervilles by associating the concept of shanty-towns strung together by the evicted homeless victims of a prior Great Depression - with *THEIR HERO*! I said as much to a journalism student, and we chatted a bit about my concerns about Obama supporters and their cult-of-personality habits and inclinations, pointing out their fondness for blown-up photos and images of their idol. I suppose you could call it my second interview of the evening, or possibly my third, if you count the protest-pierrots at the beginning of the evening.
I'd guess that there was at least five thousand in Rec Hall, and probably northwards of 6500 - there officially is seating capacity for 7200, but they had a section across the top of the auditorium blocked off by a big "Country First" sign. It was pretty much a full house, and we had kids with Obama shirts sitting in the stairs & folks leaning on the upper wall around the running-track during the speech proper, and the hundreds standing on the floor between the press stands at mid-court and the stage. Northwards of 6500 seems exceedingly likely, I would think.
Update: CDT says 7500, H/T rightwingprof @ Right Wing Nation.