If Gallup polled the attendees, President Obama's approval rating would have been higher than Vladimir Putin's re-election margins. Despite Mr. Obama's strong poll numbers nationwide
, this was definitely a company party.
I spent the hour leading up to State of the Union interviewing the crowd to get their opinions on the President, his first two years in office and their hopes for the rest of his term. Many responses were predictable, but some truly caught me by surprise.
President Obama's Greatest Success
When asked for their thoughts on President Obama's greatest success during his first two years the answer was overwhelming - Health Care Reform. Yes, the issue has long been a Democratic dream and one could reasonably expect the OFA crowd to stand behind it. What stood out for me was the number of people who said, "this law will help me."
One of the OFA volunteers, Alia Horwick, a recent law school graduate and cancer survivor believes the bill will be the only way she will be able to get health care in the future due to her preexisting condition. For her, repeal of the bill could have deadly consequences.
Mark Haeseler, an interior designer who is self-insured, said that the health care bill will allow him to afford insurance for him and his children. Mr. Haeseler added that he was very disappointed by the lack of a public option but credited the President for doing more than anyone thought possible.
After health care, the second most popular Obama accomplishment was the repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell". I was amazed by how much this measure impacted the attendees - both gay and straight. Many political observers, myself included, categorized DADT as a largely symbolic measure. I can tell you now with complete confidence that this issue has teeth. The people I spoke with ranked it as more important accomplishment for the President than the Stimulus, Wall Street Reform and any foreign policy measure.
President Obama's Biggest Disappointment
Unlike Mr. Obama's successes, there was little consensus about the President's failures over the last two years. Answers varied from person to person and included things from the President's style - "I wish he were more assertive" - to issues such as compromising on health care reform, and lack of attention to global warming and immigration reform.
Though the attendees cited a number of different issues, their analysis followed a similar pattern. The OFA attendees wished the President had moved more to left and taken a harder line with the GOP.
None of the attendees surveyed thought the President should have worked in a more bipartisan manner, been more pro-business or done more about the deficit - some of the most common complaints about Mr. Obama. It was also telling that none of the attendees were disappointed by the pace of job growth or the effectiveness of the stimulus package.
This departure from popular commentary might have had to do with the group's geographic location (Chicago), income level or partisanship. Whatever their reasons, the attendees' responses defied conventional wisdom.
The Next Two Years
When asked what they hope President Obama will accomplish over the next two years most people listed improving the economy and withdrawing from the wars in Iraq/Afghanistan. Political priorities from a pub in Roscoe Village were obviously different than inside the Obama Administration as the President used his address to talk about improving education, upgrading American infrastructure and tackling the deficit.
Despite the fact that few of the OFA attendees cited these initiatives as priorities for the country, Mr. Obama can rest assured that the group received his speech more kindly than the Republican and Tea Party responses that followed.
While Mr. Obama has a tough road ahead of him and re-election is anything but certain, he can take heart knowing that in his hometown "Obamacare" is thought of as a complimentary word and people still believe in the candidate for "Hope and Change."
Contact Jeremy Berrington at firstname.lastname@example.org
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