On Monday, I had the opportunity to do something that few Americans have had the chance to, sit down with the President of the United States. It was a real honor, especially considering that I'm barely past one month on the job.
During some short downtime at work, I found an application to apply for press credentials. I figured Obama visiting Boone would provide a good story with some great opportunities for photos. I sent in the form, hoping I heard back but not too particularly fired up about it. Later that day, I received a call from one of his campaign representatives telling me there was an interview opportunity after his speech.
I was blown away. I've talked to a few notable politicians in my journalism career, but nothing compared to this. At the time, I was told to keep the interview under wraps as the secret service checked into my background, and I could barely contain my excitement for those few days.
I got the call confirming the interview last weekend while at the Iowa state fair with a bacon wrapped corn dog slowly digesting in my stomach. The rest of the fair, I barely considered the intricate carvings of the butter cow or the slow regret of my ingesting of said corn dog. I was told I would have the chance to ask Barack Obama one question.
The prospect of asking the leader of the country just one, solitary question weighed heavy on me as I drove to Boone on Monday. I had earlier planned two questions, because I dreaded the prospect of sitting down with the President flabbergasted with nothing to say if one of those questions was asked.
The first focused on the wind energy tax credit and the wind and biofuel industries in Iowa. Considering Obama's and Romney's very different views on energy and the future of that tax credit, plus the jobs those industries provide Iowa, I thought it was a good question. The backup was about the drought and what a continued Obama presidency would mean for Iowa farmers. I was prepared, but still worried.
After having my car searched by police to enter media parking, being scanned through another security checkpoint, and getting my press credentials, I met with Greg Forbes of the Denison Bulletin Review who would also be interviewing the President. After exchanging our questions, which were all different, and discussing the prospect of talking to Obama just months out of college, I felt more at ease and I thank Greg for that.
The event began, and after a prayer and a couple speakers including former Gov. Tom Vilsack, President Obama came up to the podium. Whether or not you, the reader, agree with his actions in office or his platform for reelection, I doubt you would argue he is not a great speaker. The crowd was electric as he spoke in a way that pictures or text cannot convey.
Post-speech, I was lead with Forbes and Doug Burns of the Carroll Daily Times Herald to a tent just behind the podium. We waited for some time in a tent with cool air being pumped into it and a presidential water glass sitting at the only seat at a wooden table without a nametag next to it. It must have been fifteen minutes, but it felt like much longer. Before I knew it, I heard the President speak outside the tent, coming closer, saying it was so nice outside we should have a picnic.
The whole ordeal was honestly much more casual than I expected. Obama, wearing his khaki pants and a simple collared shirt sat cross-legged in his chair and expanded greatly on the morsels of questions we asked. Forbes asked about his legacy and what he would want to most be remembered for. Good, nothing like mine and I was prepared for it. Burns asked about the local economy and the drought. Fine, I don't have a backup but I'm still set.
Not a minute before my turn, last at the table, was at hand, Obama began to discuss wind energy and biofuels. My mind went blank and I sat there questions pouring through my head. I was asked beforehand what I would ask the President, and my mind clashed as I considered changing things up, rephrasing the question, and general panic.
I was writing out some possible questions and rephrasing in my notebook when Obama wraps up his comments on Burns' question when he turns to me and says, "Jim."
The first film I ever saw with my parent's surround sound system installed at my old home in Normal, Ill. was "The Perfect Storm," and I distinctly remember the walls shaking as a huge wave engulfs the ship of the protagonists and their vessel disappears under the unrelenting force of the sea. I bring this up, because it was the same way I felt when the President turned to me and spoke my name.
Thanks to my years of training and probably the energy drink I chugged before the campaign event, I regained my composure and rephrased my question to include other forms of renewable energy as well as putting that energy to work in common uses such as automobiles. As soon as the words left my mouth, I exhaled in relief like I have not since the days of getting finals scores back in college. The President expanded on that and also included more about the difference between him and Romney on wind energy.
After the event, we got a group photo and Obama left for a stop at the Iowa State fair. Driving home, I was relieved the event went so well. The President was friendly and worked well with myself and the other two journalists interviewing him, and I think I did the best I could have for such a unique and amazing opportunity. I hope you, the reader, enjoyed my coverage of the event.
Now let's go see if Romney is visiting anytime soon.