Thursday I went to the University at Buffalo to cover President Barack Obama’s speech about the rising cost of college education and his plan to fix it.
I have no intention of discussing the policy initiative as presented. You can hear all about it elsewhere and come to your own conclusion.
Instead what I’m going to do is give you my take of Thursday’s event and provide some details you may not hear elsewhere.
My day started at 6:45 a.m. — at least two hours earlier than I usually roll out of bed — hoping to get to the University at Buffalo well ahead of the 9 a.m. media check in time. I nuked a cup of coffee and sent a message to Heather letting her know I successfully landed my feet on the floor. I turned the water on in the shower and set the temperature at the right level. And I stared at the mechanism of my shower. “How do I get the water to come out of the shower head,” I thought to myself. It took me awhile but I figured it out. I’m so not a morning person. Keep in mind that I get out of work between 1 and 2 a.m.
Heather picked me up around 8:15 and we headed to Amherst — via Tim Horton’s, of course. We got to UB just shortly before 9 and found the media check in. Without asking for our ID’s, they handed us our official White House Pool press passes and sent us to the security checkpoint. Equipment to the left, pocket items to the right, and bodies through the scanner. They checked over Heather’s camera gear to make sure it was really camera gear. They checked over my cell phone to make sure it was really a cell phone. I had placed my extra large triple triple on the table. They didn’t check to make sure it was coffee. It didn’t occur to me until later how odd that was. Security is tighter at Buffalo-Niagara International Airport than at a speech by the standing president (or former president, if you check my column from Oct. 23.)
Inside there was much wandering. And kabitzing. The media is a funny bunch. We all want to be first. We all want to be best. And we all want the other outlets to fail miserably. But when we’re together we’re like dysfunctional cousins at a family reunion.
At my end of the media riser, we watched each other take selfies. We talked shop. We mocked whoever wasn’t in earshot. A reporter from the Olean Times Herald photobombed a selfie Channel 2’s Mary Alice Demler was taking. This lead to much discussion and group photos. It was a party atmosphere.
At the other end of the media riser it was all work and no play, Heather tells me. That’s where all the camera people were. Camera people apparently don’t kabitz. Or take selfies. Although I know better.
So we’re waiting. And waiting. And UB President Satish K. Tripathi speaks. Followed by Education Secretary Arne Duncan. Then UB student Silvana C. D’Ettorre. And finally — although only a few minutes later than originally projected — President Obama.
The crowd went wild. It was my third time seeing President Obama so I was all cool and professional. But really, it’s cool to see the sitting president. If you get the chance, go do it. It’s like the difference between watching a Sabres game on TV or at HSBC. There’s just something about the experience.
In three words, the president inadvertently dissed Congressman Brian Higgins and Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown. Those three words were “Mayor Brian Higgins.” Oops. After some jeering from the crowd, he fixed his error and make a joke at his own expense.
About two-thirds of the way through his speech, some idiot stood up in the back and yelled “Traitor!” followed by something unintelligible and then a second “Traitor!” He was hauled off.
I’d say it’s hard to believe that someone could be so openly uncivilised. But again, I know better. I have Facebook.
Following the speech, the president wandered out into the crowd, much to the chagrin of about a dozen Secret Service agents who all “whooshed” to POTUS’ side — apparently out of thin air. He shook hands. He held a baby. He posed for photos. He swaggered. And he left.
The media said our goodbyes to one another until the next big event, went on our merry way and reverted our trains of thought to being first and best.
Scott Leffler has seen every sitting president in person since Ronald Reagan. He’s always respectful. And he thinks you should be, too. Follow him on Twitter @scottleffler.