At Knickerbocker, Obama’s Base Yawns

Dolly Moye PhotosFifty New Haveners in the heart of Obama Country gathered to wait for the president to take on Mitt Romney Wednesday night. They ended the night still waiting.

If there was any evidence needed that Democrat Barack Obama fell short in his first presidential campaign debate against Republican Romney, it was here at this “viewing party” at Newhallville’s Knickerbocker Club, one of New Haven’s most venerable African-American community social clubs where Obama’s election as the first black president was a vindication of decades of striving. This, as much as anywhere, is Obama’s base.

The hope of the event was to inject some campaign energy into the base. Instead, the base ended the night deflated. It wasn’t much of a party, even though the crowd remained committed to voting for Obama.

Almost everyone at the party, besides Mayor John DeStefano, former Democratic Town Chairwoman Susie Voigt, and some aldermen, was black and politically engaged.

The gathering at the Sherman Parkway clubhouse remained quiet throughout the the 90-minute debate. Hardly an occasion to cheer or call out. Romney didn’t win any votes here, of course, but Obama won few cheers.

While charged-up Romney seemed perhaps overly excited to attendees, they kept waiting for President Obama to take him to the woodshed. Waiting, and waiting.

When the debate turned to health care, and Gov. Romney stated that Americans would face huge bills under the Affordable Health Care Act, aka “Obamacare,” President Obama responded, “If you’re 54 or 55, you may want to listen to this.” And he looked into the camera, the Knickerbocker crowd for one time let out pent-up whoops and laughs and applause.

When moderator Jim Lehrer asked Romney to give details in how his own alternative health care plan would work, Romney began,“There will be no changes for current retirees.”  The room gave off a collective grumble and began to buzz. “He’s not answering the question.” “Of course—you got money!” “What is he talking about?”

When Romney began to advocate introducing private insurance industry competition for Medicare dollars, and referred to those who may not be able to pay for the plan as “our poor,” the room began to grumble again.

“I have no idea what he’s talking about. You’re off script!” said an exasperated City-Town Clerk Ron Smith. “Awwww.” And people cheered when the president said, “If you’re for more regulation, then you should vote for Gov. Romney.”

That exchange stood out as much for its passion as for its contrast with the rest of the evening.

Most of the evening, Rochelle Bradley, a 60-plus-year-old communications retiree, watched intently, rooting for Obama on. At the end of the night she expressed disappointment. “To be honest, they were both all over the place. It seemed the moderator lost control,” she said with a shrug.

“But Romney lied about all the stuff he’s been saying. He changed everything!” Bradley continued, raising her hands in the air. “But Obama tried to stay on point. He wouldn’t fight as much as I wanted him to.”

“I wanted him to be a lit-tle more aggressive,” she said squeezing her eyes shut and and making the squeeze sign with her thumb and index finger. “Romney was talking over the president, dominating the whole conversation.”

“I wanted him to fight”.

Some on their way out called Romney a “bully.”

The top officials past and present spoke more about the substance of the candidates’ remarks than the stylistic boxing-match score.

“Romney focused on how bad things are, and tried to make his argument about change simple,” observed Mayor DeStefano, sitting next to Knickerbocker stalwart Melvin Wearing, New Haven’s first black police chief. “Romney focused on how bad things are and tried to make his argument about change simple. President Obama said, ‘Wait a minute,things are more complicated than this.’”

“Obama clearly won,” Wearing claimed. “I like all his policies. [I like that he’s] working with the middle class. ... That ‘top down thing’ that Romney’s for ...” Wearing then shook his head. “I’m voting to put [Obama] back in another four years.”

Schools Superintendent Reggie Mayo (pictured with parking authority chief William Kilpatrick) gave Obama “a B plus.”

Post a Comment

Commenting has closed for this entry


posted by: robn on October 4, 2012  9:50am

Lest we forget the President Obama had complete control of Congress for his first two years in office. he could have done anything he wanted to, not limited by Congressional minority filibuster because thats just a rule that the majority party can change at any time with impunity.

posted by: GGK77 on October 4, 2012  11:49am

robn: Lest *you* forget, Obama did not have complete control of Congress for his first two years of office—he only had a 60-vote filibuster-proof majority in the senate for four months, from September 25, 2009 (when Kirk was sworn in to take Kennedy’s seat after he passed away) until February 4, 2010 (when Brown won Kennedy’s seat). Of a possible 94 legislative days during that period, the Senate was only in session for 67 days, and the House was only in session for 54—clearly not enough time for Obama to “have done anything he wanted to.”

Also: The majority can’t change the filibuster rule at any time with impunity. That’s not how the Senate rules have ever worked—a rule change regarding the filibuster has to happen on the first day of the session. That’s why Harry Reid finally came out and admitted that not holding a vote to change the filibuster rule is his biggest regret of this last Senate session:

posted by: DavidK on October 4, 2012  11:50am

President Obama, you can fool some of the people all the time but you can’t fool all the people all the time.

posted by: Honda on October 4, 2012  1:27pm

Hello, I’m so very sorry for the mix up in this article and I dear not take the credit away from the organizers of the Knickerbocker Golf Club for all of the hard work in which they have put into hosting the Presidential Debate on last night.  I Honda Smith did not organize the Presidential Debate I was asked to post the event on my Face-book page to invite my friends to the viewing party and thank you all for showing up, to all of the Knickerbockers members it was a great event and I hope you will invite me to many more.

posted by: robn on October 4, 2012  1:48pm


The Democratic majority Senate could have invoked the “nuclear option” at any time and effectively nullified the macro-minority 41 Senator supported filibuster.

posted by: streever on October 4, 2012  2:39pm

Many of the “Democrats” in office at the time vowed to fight the President on health care reform and other liberal initiatives, because, they were democrat in name alone—in traditional red districts, they rose to power under the excitement surrounding President Obama, but were never particularly liberal or supportive of leftist policies.

You are speaking as if we had a cohesive team at the National level, but we didn’t, and never have—only Republicans get to really enjoy the unqualified support of their party.

posted by: GGK77 on October 4, 2012  3:22pm

robn: I think you’re being far too casual in your invocation of the “nuclear option”—the reason they call it that is because it’s supposed to be a maneuver of last resort. And, incidentally, both legal and legislative scholars have pointed out that there’s a legitimate question as to the legality of the “nuclear option” because it has no precedent in Senate practice—in other words, there’s no guarantee that it would be upheld, and you’d be right back to square one. (The “nuclear option,” by the way, is different than merely changing the Senate rules on the first day of the legislative session, and the only scenario under which the nuclear option has even been seriously considered is in the context of overcoming filibusters to judicial nominees.)

The real source of the problem is the unprecedented use of the filibuster by the GOP. That fact that you’re even suggesting that the Democrats should have exercised the “nuclear option” is an indication of just how relentlessly the GOP has abused the filibuster since Obama took office. You don’t go nuclear unless you’ve got a really big problem on your hands…

I think this all serves to undermine your original point about Obama having been in “complete control of Congress.” I don’t see how you can fault Obama for not being able to enact his preferred legislative agenda when the GOP was invoking the filibuster with reckless abandon. If the only scenario under which Obama could have gotten his bills passed in the Senate, according to you, is one in which Senate Democrats would have been required to invoke a procedural maneuver that has no precedent in Senate practice as a prerequisite, then I think your original argument loses a lot of force because it demonstrates not a “complete control of Congress,” but rather its opposite…

posted by: robn on October 4, 2012  3:24pm


You underestimate the power of the presidency. GWB was barely literate but even he knew that procedural bureaucratic control of the ebb an flow of budgeted dollars was a powerful tool for keeping his party in line.

posted by: robn on October 4, 2012  4:42pm


The nuclear option would, by parliamentary rules, set the new precedent; and its perfectly legal.

After 8 years of unbridled financial deregulation, zero recognition of climate change, two unwanted wars and a financial market collapse, Americans voted for change but instead they got more of the same.

Obama had his chance for change, but he consciously chose pseudo diplomatic inaction. Progressive democrats need to open their eyes.

posted by: Marie Hynds on October 4, 2012  5:50pm


posted by: SaveOurCity on October 4, 2012  6:56pm

Last night, we learned that Obama is not a very impressive speaker without the aid of a teleprompter.  Now its more clear why he has struggled dealing with foreign diplomats. 

Hoping for change this election…

posted by: FrontStreet on October 4, 2012  10:23pm

Presidential election will be decided by specific demographic groups in 3 - 4 states.  Obama was not debating for the liberal firebrands of New Haven (he already has my vote and will carry the northeast and new england easily, with the very unlikely possibility of New Hampshire).

Cohorts such as suburban female voters in Colorado and Virginia, Reagan democrats in Ohio, Pennsylvania and Michigan, and latinos in Nevada and Florida, are the voters who will decide whether he gets another four years.

See how the CNN “undecided women voters” line perked up when Obama spoke?  That’s your road to victory right there.

Obama with over 300 in the electoral college.  Game over.

posted by: Edward_H on October 5, 2012  12:58am


You hit the teleprompter thing right on the head. He also seems to need a crowd to react to his words to feed his ego.

posted by: robn on October 5, 2012  7:22am


And that’s the problem. Because CT is a lock state for Democrats we continue to be a donor state paying profoundly more in federal taxes than we get back resulting in the highest property tax rates on the country. On this issue alone Democrats should resist.

posted by: HhE on October 5, 2012  9:17am

Do we really believe that debates are what drives foreign policy?  This administrations’s foreign policy has been its strength.  Far better than the unilateral approach of the previous administration or the “This week’s polls tell me I ought to do this” of Clinton’s first term.

robn, that is because we lost the War Between the States, and are stuck paying war reparations to The South.

Yes I am disappointed in President Obama (and also the weak willed Democrats that let the GOP walk all over them).  I will be voting for him just the same.  Mitt Romney has demonstrated to me that he has no moral center whatsoever—no “this far, and no father” line.  Even George Bush the Younger had a set of values that he was committed to.  Those values were profoundly flawed, but we all knew where he stood.