Obama's visit as good as it gets in modern era
Thursday, August 25, 2011 3:20 AM
I know from history books and old news footage that previous presidents from Dwight Eisenhower to Franklin D. Roosevelt once upon a time campaigned before and while in office from the back of a train throughout the United States. Harry Truman was the most well-known president for his whistle-stop tours and one of the most famous news photos of all time shows him standing on a train car platform holding up a copy of the Chicago Tribune with a banner headline stating "Dewy defeats Truman," which turned out to be not the case at all.
Photos and film footage from that time show how accessible the president is to the crowds of people gathered to watch the train go through their towns.
The automobile replaced the train as the predominant mode of transportation, but presidents were still exposed to crowds of people. President John F. Kennedy used a motorcade to travel through cities as president and anyone my age remembers his last one in Dallas in 1963. His assassination was a defining moment in the lives of people my age who were in elementary school at the time, and in the life of our country.
Presidents since then have used air travel as the most predominant mode of transportation. They fly into prearranged visits, where security is tight and exposure to the public is limited, then fly back to Washington, D.C.
Since we aren't located near a major airport, no president, or at least not one since Roosevelt's time, has ever visited the towns in our geographic area that our newspapers cover.
President Barack Obama changed that bit of historical record last week Although there were criticisms that it was a campaign ploy and that he shouldn't be spending money on a trip when the economy is reeling, most local residents, even those who aren't fans of his policies and don't plan to vote for him, were excited about the prospect of seeing the president travel through our area.
The crowds came out, but there wasn't all that much to see outside the specific events already planned in Cannon Falls and Decorah. One spontaneous stop in Chatfield, though, got that community buzzing.
Apparently, advance scouts saw the children from Valleyland School Age Childcare and decided the children would make up a good crowd to meet the president. He hugged the children, posed for photographs with them and greeted the staff during his brief stop.
The images brought back thoughts of those days of old when presidents mingled with crowds. However, this wasn't quite as spontaneous as it appeared. The streets of Chatfield were swept prior to the visit, cars were removed from the highway, Secret Service prohibited town people from approaching the area and the crowd was screened prior to his arrival.
For those outside of Chatfield, his motorcade also brought back thoughts about the old days when presidents traveled the country. Again, there were differences. Obama was enclosed in a million dollar bus - another will be built for the Republican nominee for president - that has impenetrable windows and flashing blue and red lights. The president was barely visible waving through the smoke-colored windows of the huge, black bus.
People were allowed to line the highway for his motorcade. However, Highway 52 was blocked to public travel and no vehicles were allowed to be parked on the highway. Bridges were inspected prior to the motorcade's arrival and many, many other security precautions were taken for this trip through the Midwest.
In the end, the security became the star of this trip as the talk around the towns he passed through focused on all the steps taken to protect the president.
It's a reality that we must live with, not only because of the slight possibility of terrorists, but mostly because of exposure to deranged citizens such as Lee Harvey Oswald, who shot down JFK.
It's no wonder there is a disconnect between the president and "common" people of the United States. Modern society requires an impenetrable shield between the president and the people.
For a brief moment last week, that shield appeared to be lifted, at least enough to get people excited about being "close" to the president as he made his way down the back roads of southeastern Minnesota. It may not have been the same as in Truman's day, but it is good as it gets these days.
However you see it, the day was historical as the people lining the highway or those getting the chance to come into even closer contact may never have that opportunity again.