Whatcom Democrats mostly cheer president's speech


BELLINGHAM - It takes a lot of political passion to get excited about a presidential speech on the same week the local football team is going to the Super Bowl.

But political passion always has been abundant in Whatcom County. An overflow crowd of mostly Democrats met at Round Table Pizza in Sunset Square on Tuesday, Jan. 28, to watch Barack Obama's fifth State of the Union address on the big screen.

Fueled with pizza, dark beer and chablis, the partisan crowd mostly cheered approval for the president's statements about health care, education and equality for women. But on some points, Obama didn't go far enough for the liberal Bellingham audience.

"It's more of the same yakety yakety yak," Mariam Beddill said after the speech was over. "I didn't hear any strong statements on any of the major issues I think we should be concerned about." Beddill mentioned what she called the unnecessary expense of the country's overseas military bases, and a lack of attention from the president to lesbian-gay-bisexual and transgender equality.

A passing reference from Obama to marriage equality "fell well short," Beddill said.

The annual ritual of the State of the Union address is often dismissed as trite or just boring. But this time around, political watchers have said that a lot was riding on this particular speech.

Obama can take the opportunity to pick himself up after a decidedly bad year that was punctuated by a rough launch of the Affordable Care Act and controversy over the federal government's spying on its own citizens.

The address also has been billed as Obama's last, best chance to set an agenda for Congress. One year from now, Obama's address will be overshadowed by the 2016 presidential race.

For a majority of the crowd at the pizzeria, Obama did a good job with the speech. The charisma that helped get him elected twice - especially in 2008 - still had an effect.

"He's very cute," one woman in the front of the room said.

The president's comeback against Republicans who tried dozens of times to repeal the Affordable Care Act, which they derisively call Obamacare, got an especially favorable response. The president asked Republicans to stop being negative and propose health care reform of their own.

"Put something on the table or get over it," said Riley Sweeney, a Whatcom Democratic Party vice chairman and the host of the viewing party.

Rosalinda Guillen, executive director of Community to Community Development, put the president's speech in a larger context.

"This is a president on his way out, laying the base of a direction," Guillen said. "He pointed out barriers set up to his first announced promises. ... Republicans haven't budged. He's setting the direction for whoever comes after him."

Reach Ralph Schwartz at 360-715-2289 or ralph.schwartz@bellinghamherald.com. Read his Politics blog at bellinghamherald.com/politics-blog or get updates on Twitter at @bhampolitics.

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