Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Edwards, Obama React to VA Tech "massacre"

The Tennessean:

A planned political rally at the Ryman Auditorium this afternoon for presidential candidate John Edwards turned into a moment of remembrance for the victims of the massacre at Virginia Tech.

Among the big names in attendance were country stars Vince Gill, Rodney Crowell and Chely Wright. The Del McCoury Band and actress Ashley Judd were also among those on stage.

The event ended with Edwards and the musicians, along with several crowd members, singing Amazing Grace.

The Democratic former U.S. senator from North Carolina, who once lived in Nashville, said today was not a day for politics.

“We want the people in Virginia, the people struck by this tragedy, the families, to feel us, feel our love,” Edwards said. In evoking empathy for those who had been slain, he alluded to the loss that he and his wife felt when they lost their own child several years ago.

Phillip Mow of Bellevue was among those in attendance. He and his wife, Sonja Mow, are Democrats but are trying to decide who to support in the presidential race.

While they didn’t hear any specifics about politics or policy at the event, they felt the event was fitting.

“We saw. We felt,” Phillip Mow said. “The nation needs feeling.”

Their feelings were echoed by another attendee, Amelia Nettles, who described herself as a yellow dog Democrat. Politics wasn’t appropriate today, she said, but the Ryman gathering set the right tone.

“If it had been one of my children,” she said, “It would have appreciated this.”

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel with (audio of his speech):
If Democrat Barack Obama is the next president, a 2008 win may depend less on his noted fire 'em up stump speeches than on his ability to quietly connect with people as he did Monday night in Milwaukee.

Citing the massacre at Virginia Tech, Obama traded balloons and blaring music for a hand-held microphone and a talk about the insidious violence he said plagues America.
In a 25-minute talk at the 4,000-seat Milwaukee Theatre, Obama cited a speech given in 1968 by Robert Kennedy in the wake of the assassination of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. that described how any violent loss of life degrades the nation.

Obama said the killings were "the act of a madman on some level," and later noted "maybe nothing could have been done to prevent it."

Nevertheless, he said, it should cause the nation to reflect on violence in its culture, including the "verbal violence" shown by radio talker Don Imus in his "nappy-headed hos" comment.

"So much is rooted in our incapacity to recognize ourselves in each other, to not realize we are connected fundamentally as people," he said.

Obama, a first-term U.S. senator from Illinois, later noted that at times not much seems to have changed since Kennedy's comments.

"The reason we don't do anything about it is not technical . . . it's because our politics is broken. We've given up believing we can change things. So we turn away . . . and start worrying about ourselves."

Before Obama spoke, there was only some quiet jazz played over loudspeakers. Afterwards, no rousing send-off, just Obama shaking the hands of a capacity crowd he had won over long before they ever entered the hall.

"I believe he will be the next president," said Lajessica James, 17.

"I agree," said Marjorie Lopez, 16.

Both will be able to vote for the first time in 2008.

"He said we've failed," James said. "He wasn't saying it was the president who failed. He said we all need to do something about it."

Obama's visit to Milwaukee is his second high-profile stop here in the past six months, but the first that comes with the words "presidential candidate" before his name. In late October, Obama appeared at a re-election rally for Gov. Jim Doyle.

Since then, Obama's star has grown only brighter.

Indeed, in the first quarter of the year, Obama out-raised Democratic rival Hillary Clinton, $24.8 million to $19 million - an impressive showing in the critical money race. Clinton, though, has more money in the bank.

Monday's speech was a fund-raiser, with a suggested contribution of $25. Afterwards, Obama was off to a $1,000-per-person fund-raiser in River Hills.

Although the main focus is Iowa and New Hampshire, Obama spent the past days working on his national reach, hop-scotching from South Carolina to Georgia to Florida before Milwaukee.

While here, he picked up the endorsement of Mayor Tom Barrett, among the first big names in the state to commit in the Democratic primary. Barrett praised Obama as "a leader who understands how important it is to bring this country together."

The endorsement could boost Obama a bit in Milwaukee, though plenty of enthusiasm is already there.

Common Council President Willie Hines made that clear, urging those in the crowd: "Let's catch this wave, let's spread the word, let's stay connected and let us begin this race."

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