I confess that I did it. I hied myself down to the GE main plant yesterday for the ceremonial appearance of President Obama, and I further confess that I did not regret it.
True, if there had been a boisterous Tea Party demonstration outside as there was when Obama visited Hudson Valley Community College about a year and a half ago, I would have attached myself to that event instead, simply because it would have provided me richer material, but there was no such demonstration.
So I went, and as jaded as I am with politicians and as immune as I am to the allure of celebrities, I still could not help being impressed, like any tourist. “There he is!” I said to myself. “He looks just like his picture.”
The same long-faced frown, the same sudden grin. The guy is a charmer, and, as we all know, he is eloquent.
Yes, the Teleprompter was in place, one transparent screen on this side of the lectern, one on that side, and I watched how he alternated from one to the other, slowly shifting his gaze from side to side as if speaking to the entire audience while actually reading, and it didn’t matter. He managed to convey conviction and spontaneity in spite of reality.
The reality is he reads a text written by a speechwriter. The convincing impression is that he speaks from the heart: “Hello Schenectady! … America is still home to the most productive workers in the world … I want plants like this all across America … We’re going back to Thomas Edison’s principles — we’re gonna build stuff, and we’re gonna invent stuff … you’re heirs to a great tradition.”
I know I wouldn’t have felt this way about this previous president, who often managed to sound awkward even when reading a speech that was well written. Obama radiates intelligence and eloquence even on a scripted occasion like this one.
It was jolly that he latched on to GE’s chairman and CEO Jeff Immelt as “one of the nation’s most respected and admired business leaders” to head his Council on Jobs and Competitiveness.
That seemed to give Schenectady some civic pride right there, and certainly the GE workers who were in attendance showed by their cheers that they appreciated it.
Also in attendance amid the industrial machinery, besides the predictable collection of state and local government officials, were several people notable for serving the community in ways other than running profit-making businesses.
Right in the front row, for example, was Mike Saccocio, director of the City Mission, which helps people turn their lives around when those lives have run into the ground.
“I was a little overwhelmed by that,” he told me later, noting that he had not requested an invitation. “I thought somebody was extremely kind,” even assigning him a prime seat.
It’s the way I would do things if I were in charge.
Also up front was Rowie Taylor, director of the YWCA, and Philip Morris, director of Proctors.
There’s more to a community than the business, business, business that politicians are always talking about, and I was glad to see that the organizers of this event recognized it.
We jackals of the press, meanwhile, were kept behind barriers where we could not bite anyone, though even at that, we were not far removed.