Far From Capital, Obama Still Finds Its Woes
Share with others:
ATKINSON, Ill. -- When President Obama called on Alex McAvoy, a sandy-haired boy who had just turned 11, he may have figured he would get a break from the drumbeat of questions about lost jobs, collapsed housing prices and threats to Social Security that flowed through his town-hall-style meeting on Wednesday at a seed-corn warehouse here.
No such luck.
The boy said his grandfather owned an ethanol plant, and he wanted to know what the president planned to do to help keep it running. Mr. Obama defended his commitment to biofuels while arguing that the industry needed to move away from food crops like corn toward grass and wood chips.
It has been like that across the Midwest this week, where the president wrapped up his three-day bus tour in two Illinois farm hamlets: the welcome mat was out, but the mood was somber. Even here, in the state where he began his political career and makes his home, Mr. Obama got tough questions from people who said they were fearful about their future, frustrated by the paralyzed job market and fed up with a political culture in Washington that produced the debt-ceiling imbroglio.
A real estate agent told Mr. Obama that her phone had stopped ringing after the debt debate, setting back what had been a nascent recovery in housing prices. A corn and soybean farmer complained about new government regulations on noise and water pollution. A young man asked whether his grandmother's Social Security check would be adjusted to account for rising prices.
As he has at every stop, Mr. Obama did his best to sympathize.
"There have been folks who wonder, 'Are our best days still ahead of us, or are they behind us?' " he said, kicking off the session.
"There is nothing wrong with our country right now," he insisted. "There is something wrong with our politics."
The News Media Weigh In
The Midwest tour, White House officials said, is aimed as much at local news outlets as at the national media. On that score, Mr. Obama fared decently, getting generous airplay on two TV stations in Missouri, a key state for his re-election prospects.
KSDK, the NBC affiliate in St. Louis, sent a crew more than 250 miles to Peosta, Iowa, for a five-minute interview, in which Mr. Obama held forth on his efforts to revive small businesses. WDAF, the Fox affiliate in Kansas City, did the same, though its correspondent, Phil Witt, grumbled that the tour was "as much campaign re-election event, really, as it is fact-finding and public policy-making."
In Dubuque, Iowa, on the other hand, the local paper, The Telegraph Herald, welcomed Mr. Obama to the region with a withering front-page editorial, telling him he should have stayed home and instead steered the money for the bus tour into flood relief for Dubuque County and northwest Illinois. The paper followed up with a feature about a 7-year-old girl who is the only Obama supporter in her family.
Big, Canadian and Armored
After three days of cruising past barns and silos, the president's high-tech black armored bus has become a familiar presence -- or at least a less ominous presence than when it first pulled up next to Air Force One in Minneapolis.
The Beast, as the president's heavily armored limousine is nicknamed, has nothing on this intimidating vehicle, with its huge profile, dark tinted windows and red-and-blue flashing lights. In a naming contest sponsored by Mike Allen of Politico, it has been christened Ground Force One.
The custom-made bus is the latest addition to the Secret Service's fleet of protective vehicles. The agency bought two of them at $1.1 million each; in the past, it has leased buses and retrofitted them with armor plating and other high-tech gadgetry.
"We're probably overdue for having an asset like that in our fleet," said a Secret Service spokesman, Ed Donovan. Not surprisingly, Mr. Donovan declined to share details about the secret gizmos on Ground Force One, but he said, "You can assume that most of these things have a security component."
The bus was built by a Canadian company -- awkward, given that here in Atkinson, Mr. Obama called for the "Made in America" stamp to be emblazoned on goods exported all over the world. It was outfitted by Hemphill Brothers of Tennessee, which specializes in deluxe buses for touring performers like Aerosmith and Beyoncé.
As for the jet-black color, Steve Atkiss, who was a special assistant to President George W. Bush and oversaw the retrofitting of his campaign bus in 2004, said, "The Secret Service obviously has a culture of the 'black car,' so they were trying to get as close to that as possible."
Taking the High Road
What separates an official presidential trip from a campaign swing? Strictly speaking, it is whether taxpayers pick up the tab or the campaign does. Aside from that, the distinctions can be few -- a fact made evident this week as Mr. Obama has stood before a camera-ready assortment of red barns, green tractors and obligatory bales of hay.
At a public forum Monday in Cannon Falls, Minn., Mr. Obama spoke against a backdrop of red-white-and-blue bunting, with loudspeakers blaring anthems like "City of Blinding Lights" by U2 and "Only in America" by the country duo Brooks & Dunn. He did not ask the audience to vote for him, though he did tear into the Republican Party for blocking his agenda.
By Wednesday, the campaign vibe had faded a bit. In Atkinson, the audience was treated to Vivaldi's "Four Seasons" while waiting for the president.
First Published August 18, 2011 12:01 am