Ron Kaye: Uniting with the 'enemy' camp

Anewsie like me needs an angle to lure you into the spider's web of the world he sees, but I wasn't sure I had one Thursday night as I walked out of the South Lake Avenue headquarters of the Pasadena United Democrats, where I had spent the evening among 150 true believers sharing the reelect Barack Obama experience.

It was a full house of convention watchers for the third night in a row — a mixed-race crowd, nearly all middle-aged and elderly, enthusiastic Democrats who wanted to feel like they were in Charlotte themselves, at least a little bit, for a few hours, watching the show together rather than in their homes.

Like those in the convention hall listening to the speeches, they clapped, cheered and chanted on cue. And with the president's rousing finale and call to action, they gave him a long standing ovation, screamed and shouted in excitement, roared their approval and for several minutes clapped loudly in unison as if they could be heard 3,000 miles away.

The woman at the cash register who had been ringing up sales all night of Obama campaign merchandise was overcome with emotion.

“I'm a crier,” Caroline Hine explained with a laugh. “I believe in him so much. He's a great man.”

Obviously in a nation so profoundly divided, split down the middle between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney, not everyone would agree with that assessment.

I had come to the event hoping to understand whether Obama still was generating the passion among his supporters that he did back in 2008, whether the young people who played such a vital role were still so involved, whether he could mount the kind of field operation his campaign pulled off four years ago, whether it really matters here in California, where Obama is a certainty no matter what happens in the rest of the country.

“It's not the same as it was back in '08,” said Darla Dyson, field director for the Pasadena's United Democrats. “He's president now. But you can see there are a lot of people here, and most of them are ready to go to work on the phone-banking, registering new voters, walking precincts. This is really important for the new 41st [Assembly] District and the ballot measures.”

It was the 2008 campaign that got her involved, and she has been a party activist ever since, learning what it takes to run a ground operation in an era of billion-dollar presidential advertising campaigns. It is the retail person-to-person contacts that mean something to ordinary people versus the costly wholesale campaigns that mean so much to special interests and professional political operatives.

Dyson introduced me to three idealistic college students — Alex Acuna, Nathan Tsai and Anthony Reyes — who have volunteered as interns to work on the campaign recruiting high school and college students.

“Obama represents a lot of the values I have on healthcare, more funding for education, the environment,” said Acuna, an urban-environment major at Occidental College. “Romney is the antithesis. I don't think he understands what a lot of people are going through.”

They all agreed the level of student political awareness is pretty low.

“I see a lot of people very concerned about their future, what they're going to do after college, but I don't see a lot of people concerned about how politics works to affect their future or being focused on the big picture,” Acuna said.

“It's like, ‘It's out of my power, I can't do anything about it. So I'm just going to concentrate on my own individual life, not on what's happening in Washington or Sacramento or their own city hall.' It's like they're on their own like Romney says — not that we are in this together like Obama says.”

I watched and listened and talked to a lot of people, even snacked on the dinner provided by Big Mama's barbecue as part of the $10 donation, but I walked out still wondering what my angle was. What light did any of this shed on this contentious moment in our history?

Then I met Carolyn Carlburg.

We were waiting at the crosswalk as car after car raced past us without stopping the way drivers used to years ago out of respect for pedestrians — or maybe because Southern California was so laid-back we weren't anxiety-struck all the time like big-city folks back East.

She is a lawyer, an executive, an African American woman who had worked on Obama's historic 2008 campaign yet didn't villainize Bush One or Bush Two the way most partisans do.

“I don't think there has ever been an election with so much at stake,” she said. “In this election, I think everything is on the table — our economy, our national infrastructure, the future of the military, our standing in the world. The stakes this time are so high, and the difference between a President Obama and a President Romney is so immense.

“Frankly it's up to us. Whoever wins this election, it will be about the American people because the choice is so stark.”

There's the angle that resonates with me: We can't go on like this, deadlocked, gridlocked, vilifying the president as a foreign-born socialist out to enslave us, and the challenger treated as nothing but a greedy capitalist without human compassion out to enslave us.

If we the people buy into an “enemies for life” presidential campaign, the day their battle ends we will deserve what the fates have in store for us.

RON KAYE can be reached at Share your thoughts and stories with him.

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