Obama pictured with an interpreter for those who couldn't hear -- which was pretty much all of us.
You'd hear your favorite band better with headphones, but wouldn't you'd still go see them live?
8:43 and while Eric Clapton's "Change The World" may be on message for a candidate, it's also easily the wimpiest thing Eric Clapton ever recorded, out-wussing even acoustic "Layla."
Our Own Chase Martyn called and told me Obama was running late shaking hands in Grinnell, so things should be later than the announced 9:00 start time.
"Walk of Life" by Dire Straits -- does that mean doorknocking? The students and staffers are marking time making a series of event opportunities, but it's virtually inaudible. Muddy and echo-ey, but something the speaker is saying merits boos from the crowd.
It's about 98% student here, but Senator Bob Dvorsky is working the edges of the crowd. "They're putting some of the old folks behind (Obama)," he jokes.
Meanwhile, the inaudible speech rolls on. We make out "December 13," but can't attach any significance.
Looks like Obama will be in an in the round setup, surrounded by the corwd except for an entrance/exit/handshake corridor. The stage itself is very small, about the size of two large kitchen tables. The sound coming out of the speakers themselves is fine -- actually, more than fine when they're playing 'Higher Ground" by Stevie Wonder -- but the inherent nature of a big concrete room is insurmountable.
The big Obama news in eastern Iowa is today's endorsement by state Sen. Joe Bolkcom of Iowa City, the last Democratic member of the Johnson County delegation to hold out on endorsing.
Student speaker at 9:10; the words "hope" and "change" pop out and... holy cow he's here.
Offers a "Chicago in the house?" to fair amount of applause. Hometown pride -- or just teasing us on that student caucus thing? Starts out talking at length of his organizer days, thanking his own organizers, bringing them on stage, keeping them there while he discusses the student caucus issue at 9:16.
Urges in state students to caucus with parents, friends, neighbors... offers a long list but stops short of housepets. "If you are out of state for the holidays, I want you to come back and caucus on January 3." "I have gotten some grief from some of the other candidates..." (boos)
"Don't let people tell you that Iowa students can't caucus in Iowa."
9:20 moving into content of speech. Crowd is easily into the four digit zone.
9:25 -- some extended anti-Bush-riffing with cousin Dick Cheney joke included. Leading into "this is a historic moment, the kind that comes along maybe once in a generation." Sounds like a big-picture speech, not a bullet-point speech.
The print press zone seems to be the acoustic dead zone of the whole hall. I have to pop up to hear every so often, like a whale surfacing for air. He's got the orator skill of waiting for the echo and speaking in short bursts, so he's adapted well.
Says we can't worry about what "Rudy or Fred or Mike" will say. "If we are serious about winning, we can't live in fear of losing. We need to lead not by polls but by principles." Defining a difference without naming any rivals.
"echo echo echo President of the United States of America" applause.
9:38 and starting to touch on actual policy points. Still with a comparative bent: "I'm tired of Democrats who think to sound tough they have to vote like George Bush Republicans." And "My opponent's won't be able to say I voted for the war in Iraq because I didn't" and several other such lines. Still talking in big themes, not dates or numbers.
Seems to be winding down with the "I don't want to be president of the red states or blue states but the UNITED States of America... I want to shift the tone of our politics."
9:51 and the speech has wrapped. 3/4 of the crowd is packing it in, the rest are pushing forward in varying degrees of intensity.
Epilogue: During a half hour of orbiting the parking ramp to get out, I interview a professional audio engineer, who happens to be my brother. "Ooh, a big concrete gym can be a nightmare," he says, "but you can do it, it's all in the setup."
If you want to see every play of the ball game, you watch it at home, on your big screen TV, with the instant replay and the yellow first down line. But you'd still go to the stadium if you had tickets. right?
If you really want to hear the nuances of your favorite band, you put on the headphones and cue up the album or CD or iPod or however old you are. You'll catch every note in your isolation. But that's nothing like seeing them live. You'll be in a big noisy hall, or a hot uncomfortable stadium, and you won't catch every note. Maybe all you'll hear is the bass, the beat. But you'll be surrounded by your fellow fans in a communal experience, with the excitement of actually being in the same physical space as them, and maybe even catching a guitar pick.
That's what tonight was -- and maybe the last chance in this particular setting.
The night before the 2004 caucuses, at least three candidates were on or near the University of Iowa campus pushing for student votes. But this time the calendar is different. For as much as the student vote has been discussed, and for as well as Obama made his case for it tonight, the clock is ticking and finals are approaching. Endgame for the student vote will play out by email and cell phone, and the result will depend on who's got the best ability to make their list happen.