Sen. Barack Obama Makes Quiet Appearance Here
By MIKE SECCOMBE
Following a frenzied weekend of rallies for two of the 2008 Democratic Presidential contenders, the third of the front runners, Barack Obama. slid quietly into the Vineyard early this week for a closed-door high-ticket fundraiser and no fanfare.
It is now understood that Mr. Obama is staying on the Island for a weeklong vacation with his family. He was expected to be here until at least today, with no public events planned.
Mr. Obama spoke on Tuesday night to around 300 people, nearly half of them African American, at the home of Ron and Judith Davenport in Oak Bluffs. Tickets cost $1,000, or $2,300 for a smaller group who had personal meetings and photographs with the Presidential hopeful.
But unlike his rivals Hillary Clinton and John Edwards, who both put on $50-a-head events, Mr. Obama did not hold a low-cost function.
The Tuesday fundraising event was closed to the media, but people who attended said Mr. Obama gave a stirring speech in which he defended himself against the cynicism of pundits who say he is too naive and inexperienced for the Presidency.
Those Washington pundits, Senator Obama said, are apt to roll their eyes and complain: "Oh, he's talking about hope again. He's so naive, so inexperienced. He's a hope peddler. He's a hope monger."
A tape recording of his remarks was obtained by the Gazette.
Mr. Obama said he remained hopeful because he was constantly reminded of the fundamental decency of the people, notwithstanding the past success of the current administration in distracting them and making them fearful.
It was that fundamental decency, not restricted to Democrats, which carried the nation through a revolution, a civil war, two world wars, a depression, slavery, Jim Crow laws, a depression and the cold war. Each time, a new generation had rallied to the cause.
"But they've got to have leadership and that's why I'm running for President," Mr. Obama said. "That means defeating cynicism as much as it means defeating any political ideology."
As for the pundits who say he lacks experience, he noted that the former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and Vice President Dick Cheney had the best resumes in Washington, which showed how much more important good values and good judgment were than experience.
"I don't mind having this experience debate because I'll put my life next to anybody's. I'm ready to put my judgment against anybody's," Mr. Obama said.
He spoke about the need for health care reform, saying savings of $150 billion a year by the end of his first term could be devoted to preventive health and broader coverage.
He spoke of the need to strengthen early childhood education, to train and pay teachers better, and of the need for a radical new energy policy. A fuel efficiency standard of 45 miles per gallon for cars would save the equivalent of oil now imported from the Persian Gulf, he said.
He predicted going to the United Nations general assembly as soon as he was elected and saying: "America's back, and we're ready to lead, but not just with our military but with our ideas and values and lead by example and by deed."
That means things like stopping genocide in Darfur, treating AIDS in Africa, more actively brokering peace in the Middle East, closing the prison at Guantanamo and restoring habeas corpus.
And of course getting out of Iraq. "A war that should never have been authorized, cost half a trillion dollars, thousands of lives and had not made the country more safe, but had fundamentally diminished America's standing in the world," he said.
Mr. Obama's speech was not heavy on policy detail; he spoke mostly about values and inspiring a sense of mutual responsibility in the country.
"We may be the first generation that's leaving behind an America that's a lot poorer and a lot meaner than the one it inherited," he said. "There's something un-American about that."
Where there was individual poverty, he said, the nation was impoverished. Homelessness diminished patriotism. There was a sense, most obvious in the situation in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, that the government had stopped caring about its citizens.
Instead of the current administration's political philosophy of "you're on your own," there needs to be a new one, he said: "I have a stake in you and you have a stake in me."
He concluded with an anecdote which he said illustrated the potential for individuals to affect change.
Sleepy and grumpy after rising at 6 a.m. for 90-minute drive in the rain to a small town in South Carolina, he arrived at a function attended by about 20 people, who, like him, looked tired, wet and unenthusiastic.
Then a tiny woman about 60 years old, began repeating the words "fired up" and "ready to go."Others took up the chant.
"Here's the thing," said Mr. Obama. "After about two minutes of this, I'm feeling kind of fired up. I was ready to go."
He led the Oak Bluffs crowd in the same chant before taking questions.
Those present were indeed fired up; numerous guests later described the speech as inspiring. But many also raised the question of why it was not delivered to a wider audience.
The answer may be that Mr. Obama simply wanted a week's holiday with his family.
"This is the only holiday I will get all year," he told the Oak Bluffs crowd.
He spoke with warm affection about the Vineyard, where he has visited before, calling it "one of those magical places where people of all different walks of life come together. Where they take each other at face value.
"I can wander around in shorts and not shave in the morning and no one talks about it."
Judith Davenport, who hosted the fundraiser, said it was a relatively last-minute thing, only a couple of weeks in the planning. It was the Island's character that first attracted Senator Obama, she said.
So what are the chances the Vineyard might again become the Summer White House?
"I don't know," she said. "But boy, wouldn't it be nice?"