Monday, November 03, 2008
I drove down with several other out-of-state volunteers to attend the last McCain rally in south Florida. Held at the BankUnited Center on the University of Miami campus in Coral Gables, the turnout was amazing for a midnight rally on a Sunday evening. The auditorium holds 8,000 in the seats, and by the time McCain arrived the seats were full and the floor was also packed. I believe there were at least 12,000 people there, and remember this was at midnight on a Sunday with only a day's notice.
The rally opened with several local Latin bands playing salsa and mambo music, and the crowd came alive with people dancing and singing and waving campaign signs. Obviously, in Miami, a disproportionate number of attendees at a Republican campaign rally are going to be Cuban-Americans, but there were numerous folks from many Latin American countries. I talked to a woman who expressed her love for Cuba to me, along with her love for America which she considered her "second mother, the one who embraced me when I fled Casto and everything I had." There was another, older man whom we met, who had been a political prisoner in Cuba for almost thirty years(!), and who had made it to America a few years ago who was as effusive in his praise for McCain as he was vehemently disdainful of Castro. The ache for Cuba that is still present among second- and even third-generation Cuban-Americans, along with their open love for America, convinces me that they would like nothing better than to return to Cuba... and quickly add it to the US as the fifty-first state. Alexandra, the Colombian-American woman who came to the rally with us, told me that the Cubans in many ways were blessed by their forced emigration to America; even though they came here with nothing they worked hard, helped each other to save and invest, and took full advantage of the opportunities here in America to prosper. Ironic, isn't it, that perhaps the people who really understand America and what makes this such an exceptional country are those who came here with nothing.
Another frequent comment by the many people who were originally from other countries was about how Americans really don't understand what socialism means, and what it will do to the US. Many Cubans remarked how the Cuban people originally supported Castro, believing him to be moderate and an improvement over the petty corruption of the Batista regime, and believing his promises only to realize what 'social justice' really meant. No Che Guevara fans here, that's for sure. I heard much the same from a Venezualan-American concerning Chavez. Our Colombian-American companion Alexandra remarked how Americans didn't understand what it was like in much of the world. Her stepmother was kidnapped and ransomed by the guerrillas in Colombia, and she remarked on the level of violence in that country for much of the past three decades. Bombings, assassinations, the kidnapping and murder of judges and other political figures, the rise of the paramilitaries (extra-legal groups of military and police) to combat the terrorists and drug lords who used bribes, extortion, and violence to evade judicial punishment.
Americans, she said, don't understand what it is like to live in such an environment. Perhaps maybe only our military, who have fought against much of this in Iraq, can fully appreciate how good we have it here in America.
After several hours of discussions, dancing, and great music (the above is the third band led by Albita Rodriguez who put on an incredible show), the McCain entourage finally arrived, to thunderous applause and cheering. As McCain has been quoted on television, "Maybe we should have all our rallies at midnight!" In addition to his wife Cindy and his daughter Megan, Kelsey Grammer and his wife Camille, and Joe Liebermann were present. (I have to ask, if Obama is the Great Uniter, why aren't Republican senators at his rallies?)
McCain delivered his rally speech, polished to the bare essentials, and hit his talking points. "Commander-in-Chief versus Redistributor-in-Chief." "If Barack Obama wanted to run against George Bush, he shoulda run four years ago!" He even tried an ad-lib, telling the crowd that, perhaps in Little Havana, "we would have a 'Pepe uno Plumbero'!" It was corny, but the crowd loved it. McCain was interrupted numerous time by thunderous applause, chanting of "John McCain!" and "USA" and clearly seemed to relish the warmth and enthusiasm. Not that I've been to a lot of campaign rallies, but I've been to a few, and this one was by far the most enthusiastic one... just look at the faces in the crowd to understand how strong McCain's support is in south Florida.
After about 20 minutes, McCain wrapped it up with his "Never give up! Fight!" closing, which brought the crowd to its feet throughout the auditorium. The applause and shouting went on for almost a minute, and it was deafening. McCain and his family then made a quick circuit near the stage to shake hands, and then exited stage right to thunderous applause and cheering. The whole experience beat any rock concert I've ever been to.
All in all, a very inspiring event, and one that gives me great hope for McCain to win Florida and then the election.