Fanning the Flames: The Freedom Project Blog


'Biden' Time in Springfield

By kgpatia
At 2:30 AM, early Saturday morning, my cell phone alerted me that I had a text message. I (albeit groggily) read the message from Senator Barack Obama’s campaign letting me know he had selected Senator Joe Biden to be his running mate. While good news to me, it was old news, as earlier in the evening word had spread quickly around a gathering of friends that the New York Times had reported Biden as Obama’s vice presidential running mate.

Just three short hours after receiving the Obama campaign’s text message, I was up and off to catch an Amtrak train down to Springfield, Illinois—my hometown—to watch Obama “introduce” Biden to his campaign, and America. The 7:00 AM Amtrak train might as well have been called the “Obama Express.” As I walked the length of the train, I saw a plethora of Obama shirts, buttons, and signs. Despite the early hour, people seemed cheery and enthusiastic.

By the time the train pulled into Springfield at around 10:15 AM, lines had formed around several city blocks. Luckily, I was able to join family in line, although there were probably hundreds of people still ahead of us in line. According to one of the many police officers working to keep the downtown area in order, people had already stated forming a line at the early hour of 3:00 AM, when the officers started their shift. While the prospect of waiting over 12 hours ahead of time for a political event seems shocking, it is heartening to see people devote the kind of time usually reserved for waiting in line to buy season tickets or the latest video game system to the political process.

By 11:30 AM, we had made it through the intense security and secured a spot on the lawn of Springfield’s Old State Capitol. With a fairly decent view, all that was left to do was wait—a feat not made any easier by the blazing sun and close quarters, as people packed in to hear the senators speak.

The last time Senator Obama spoke in Springfield, when he announced his candidacy last February, people struggled to keep warm in the blistering cold. Now, nearly 19 months later, a reported crowd of 35,000 people, roughly twice the size of the February crowd, battled heat exhaustion, dehydration, and sunburn for a chance, as many stated, to “be a part of history.”

When the event finally kicked off at around 2:00 PM, all of the inconveniences of the day were forgotten as the crowd came to life. Springfield’s mayor, Tim Davlin, gave a brief speech, which was followed by a lengthy, but apt invocation led by the leader of a local church. Two members of the Obama campaign followed this, informing the crowd of ways to get involved in the campaign.

After hours of waiting, the crowd erupted when Senator Obama finally made his appearance and began his speech. Although the text of the speech is now available from many news sources, and could be viewed on all the major networks, hearing it in person was quite the experience.

I have long-admired Senator Joe Biden’s work in the Senate, and in the early stages of the presidential campaign, when the three frontrunners dominated the news, I had hoped that Biden might find his way into the winner’s administration, perhaps as Secretary of State.

Listening to Obama detail Biden’s life story, experiences, and accomplishments, I was confident that the senator would greatly compliment the Obama campaign. As Obama noted, because of his experiences, Biden is uniquely suited to be his running mate. For although he has been in the Senate for nearly 36 years, Biden has managed to maintain a reputation as somewhat of a maverick. Biden brings experience, especially much-needed foreign policy experience, to the table without tarnishing Obama’s outsider image. After all, as Obama pointed out in his speech, Biden never moved to Washington, D.C. in all his years in the Senate, instead taking an Amtrak train home each night.

Furthermore, continuing in Obama’s vein of building coalitions and “coming together,” Biden represents a figure with respect on both sides of the aisle. On Friday, I found myself doing something rare: agreeing with the (relatively) conservative columnist for the New York Times, David Brooks, as he outlined the reasons Obama should select Biden as his vice presidential nominee.

Biden does have a history of speaking off the cuff whatever is on his mind, which has gotten him into trouble in the past. However, as Brooks notes in his column, “voters are smart enough to forgive the genuine flaws of genuine people.” There are even many individuals that appreciate him for this perceived “flaw,” rather than in spite of it (as Jonathan Alter aptly summarizes in a piece in Newsweek).

When Biden took the stage in Springfield after Obama’s introduction, he appeared energetic and enthusiastic as the crowd on the capitol lawn cheered his welcome. This represents an exciting start to the lead-up to the Democratic National Convention in Denver, CO, which begins this week.

Although I will unfortunately not be attending the convention in Denver, I will post throughout the week with updates and commentary on the convention activities. Shawn Healy, Resident Scholar at the McCormick Freedom Museum, will be attending the Republican National Convention in Minnesota the week after, and will post with updates from the convention.

All in all, it seems that no matter what your political leanings, this is gearing up to be an exciting and interesting election.

(photos taken by author)


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Managing Director

McCormick Freedom Project

Shawn is responsible for overseeing and managing the operations associated with the McCormick Freedom Project. Additionally, he serves as the in house content expert and voice of museum through public speaking and original scholarship. Before joining the Freedom Project, he taught American Government, Economics, American History, and Chicago History at Community High School in West Chicago, IL and Sheboygan North High School in Wisconsin.

Shawn is a doctoral candidate within the Political Science Department at the University of Illinois at Chicago where he received his MA in Political Science. He is a 2001 James Madison Fellow from the State of Wisconsin and holds a bachelor's degree in Political Science, History, and Secondary Education from the University of Wisconsin at Madison.

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About Fanning the Flames and the McCormick Freedom Project

Fanning the Flames is a blog of the McCormick Freedom Project, which was started in 2006 by museum managing director Shawn Healy. The blog highlights the news of the day, in hopes of engaging readers in dialogue about freedom issues. Any views or opinions expressed on this blog represent those of the writers alone and do not represent an official opinion of the McCormick Freedom Project.

Founded in 2005, the McCormick Freedom Project is part of the McCormick Foundation. The Freedom Project’s mission is to enable informed and engaged participation in our democracy by demonstrating the relevance of the First Amendment and the role it plays in the ongoing struggle to define and defend freedom. The museum offers programs and resources for teachers, students, and the general public.

First Amendment journalism initiative

The Freedom Project recently launched a new reporting initiative with professional journalists Tim McNulty and Jamie Loo. The goal is to expand and promote the benefits of lifelong civic engagement among citizens of all ages, through original reporting, commentary and news aggregation on First Amendment and freedom issues. Please visit the McCormick Freedom Project's news Web site, The Post-Exchange at