It’s been nearly 50 years since a current U.S president has been to the University of Washington. Not since JFK visited in November of 1961 and delivered a centennial address for the University has a sitting president come to campus. No wonder, then, that President Barack Obama’s visit on a golden October morning drew such a crowd of, and a roar from, Seattleites and UW students. A whopping 10,000 people packed Hec Ed this morning, with another 3,000 spilling over into Husky Stadium next door.
And that was after he stopped at Top Pot Doughnuts, was handed a cup of coffee (according to Gov. Christine Gregoire), attended a small backyard discussion in northeast Seattle, met with the UW women’s volleyball and cross country teams, and ran out of the tunnel and into Husky Stadium cheering “Go Huskies!”
Truth is, as we all know, the President was in town to stump for Senator Patty Murray. And, he did it well. There were funny anecdotes—including one that had an imaginary Murray and the President pushing a car out of a mud-filled ditch (“It was a really deep ditch,” he said, “and it was really reckless driving”)—and the expected calls to vote. Of course, there also was the President’s signature ability to lead the crowd into chanting “Yes We Can” at every turn. Yes, he was stumping, playing the politician, attempting to drive votes for his team.
And that’s what many of the students who managed to get into today’s event were there for.
“I’m hoping he’ll inspire voters,” said Sadie Bingham, a grad student in the masters of social work program at the UW. “I want him to make it apparent that we can make a difference in this election, instead of being disgruntled and staying home.”
It was a rally, it was fun, though there wasn’t much talk about higher education as I, or some other Huskies, had hoped.
“Since he’s at a public university, I hope he’ll talk about how funding public education is important,” said Emily Wing, a junior psych major, before the speech. Her friend, Samantha Lin, agreed. “A lot of people here have experienced firsthand how budget cuts have affected their education. It would be cool for him to talk about that.”
And when you could hear him over the crowd, to a small extent he did talk education. After calling for jobs to stay in America, and for Americans to have the skills and training to make the solar panels, wind turbines and electric cars of the future, the President argued that his competition wants a 20 percent cut in education. “You know what? China’s not cutting education by 20 percent; South Korea’s not cutting education by 20 percent; Germany’s not cutting education by 20 percent. They’re not playing for second place, and the United States of America doesn’t play for second place.”
To which the back of the arena responded with a chant of “U-S-A. U-S-A.”
Back to education. No, the President did not talk about how he might better fund education in the future, other than to say that the tens of billions of dollars in tax payer subsidies that once went to big banks is now going to the average citizen, including what sounded like a plan for a tax cut that included $10,000 in tuition relief for every student. Obama wasn’t on campus, though, to talk about education and that was okay. He was here to raise spirits, to get people excited, which he does exceptionally well. As he finished his speech, students gathered to shake his hand and take his picture. Then, his black hair heavily salted with gray, Obama slipped out of the arena and passed below the iconic purple-and-gold W, while the crowd could be heard chanting one last thing.