Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton on Saturday called the Bush administration incompetent, the federal Katrina response an embarrassment and the national health care crisis a moral imperative. She called on the crowd's support to "take our country back." But the occasion of her speech - an old-style political stump with over 2,000 Vineyard people at the Tabernacle in Oak Bluffs - she called an overwhelming homecoming.
"As many of you know we have been coming to this magical Island as a family for 14 years," she said, nodding to her daughter Chelsea and her husband, former President Bill Clinton, who were with her. "No matter what was going on in the world, we always felt so welcome and so great and so supported."
And so it was on Saturday.
The late afternoon sun streaming through the stained glass above Mrs. Clinton was punctuated with flashes and the glow of cell phone cameras trying to capture her image. Everyone rose to their feet to greet her, the front-running contender in the Democratic primary race to become president of the United States in 2008. Oh, and to see Bill, whose appeal was evidently still intact.
Outside on the Camp Ground, behind the yellow ropes circling the Tabernacle, another few hundred spectators unwilling or unable to pay the $50 admission price (the event was sold out and then some) had set up lawn chairs and spread out blankets from the middle of the afternoon. Meanwhile in the checkout aisles at Reliable Market and other Circuit avenue shops, Islanders asked each other if they were headed for the event billed as "Make History with Hillary Clinton." A girl of about nine wore a Hillary sticker on her T-shirt and told anyone who was interested she was going to see the woman who would be the first woman president.
The girl was there with her family when candidate Clinton finally came onto the stage, among red white and blue banners reading Ready for Change, Ready to Lead. The youngster did not look out of place for either her age or her shorts and flip-flops; this was a very Vineyard event, with a wide range of age, color and acceptable dress. The coiffed and polished lined up their Prada sandals next to those still sticky with beach sand, queuing for brown T-shirts reading Hillary in contemporary turquoise script. They bought posters, badges and bumper stickers and filled out obligatory forms to be on Hillary's mailing list.
They clapped loudly for the Phil daRosa band, swayed with Carly Simon, Ben and Sally Taylor's rendition of Devoted to You, sang along on the high notes as Jimmy Webb sang Up Up and Away: "And we can fly . . ."
They laughed at host Mary Steenburgen's pleading with her cohost husband Ted Danson, not to sing. The punch line of the double-act's joke came when she called on a member of the audience to sing instead, and it was Jim Thomas, who led a choir in some spirituals. When a soloist belted out lyrics calling for the day she'd "see a woman leading this free land," the throng whooped.
By the time Ms. Steenburgen announced her honorary big brother, friend of 30 years, and "favorite president so far," Bill Clinton, she had already whipped up the enthusiasm, describing the Clintons as obsessive problem solvers. "And, call me crazy, but I like that in a president," she said.
The former president began his introduction in low-key style, wandering the stage in pink shirt and blue blazer, sighing about his age, noting: "As a lifelong Democrat I like this election because even though I have a strong preference, I like all the people that are running."
Then he slid into the serious push for his former First Lady. She'd been working on climate change more than anyone, she'd been on the armed services committee, she knows the responsibilities of a commander in chief. World leaders he met regularly had said his wife needed to win: "The world needs to be with America again," he said they told him.
And then he slid effortlessly into the tear-jerker. You see, a caddie had recently seized the former president between holes on a Westchester course, only he wasn't just a caddie; he did that to supplement his income as a New York fire department captain. He detailed the help she'd given firefighters after 9/11 and said: "Because of her, some of us who would have died, have lived."
Telling the story, Mr. Clinton's Southern tongue choked up. "I still can't hardly talk about it," he said. The caddie told him, and he told the rapt crowd, that "I will do anything in my power to make her president - and so . . . should . . . you." He punched out the words, and the crowd was up again. Hillary Clinton took the stage.
Now the lawn chairs and blankets were utterly abandoned, as people stood five-deep outside the ropes, and three-deep even inside at the back. Those who had defended space on benches were up standing.
Mrs. Clinton strode the stage and began her crusade with a nod to all. "I am just so grateful you would take time out on a beautiful day of a summer that is ending too soon," she smiled.
But it was a good thing they did, it seemed, because there was a country to take back, and Mrs. Clinton delivered a campaign speech to the faithful.
Arms outstretched, she said, "I'm going to be a president who gets back to setting big goals." There was applause.
They applauded her goal of quality affordable health care for every single American, with 45 million Americans uninsured today.
They were no less enthusiastic when she said, "If hot air could provide electricity, based on everything that's been talked about our problem would be solved," and "What a change to have a president who would say the words global warming."
Mrs. Clinton derided the Bush administration for bringing a sense of fatalism to the national discussion on energy. "That we can't do what Germany has done which is now getting 40 per cent of their electricity from solar, that we can't do what Denmark has done with wind. It will wreck our economy and destroy the future of our children if we don't deal with energy and with global warming," she said to more applause.
As for her economic plan, she harkened back to the previous Democratic administration, without calling it the Clinton one: "Getting back to economic policies that work. Twenty-two million new jobs in the 1990s lifted more people out of poverty. It's the way America should grow." More applause.
She promised universal pre-kindergarten education. She promised an end to what she called the No Child Left Behind underfunded Band-Aid. She promised to make college affordable. Round after round of applause.
She was on a roll when she said: "Let's get back to an old-fashioned idea: let's appoint qualified people." She said she would send Americans from both parties around the world to show America was back in the diplomacy business. And she'd start with bringing the troops home from Iraq.
Mrs. Clinton's final goal - to be the first woman president - brought the home crowd to its feet again.
The event ended with a reprise of the spiritual Don't You Let Nobody Turn You 'Round, as people rushed the stage to get her autograph or a photo and perhaps offer a plea or support. About 30 minutes later, Mrs. Clinton was still there, and people were still perched precariously on folding chairs to catch a closer look. A couple of twentysomething girls walked behind the crush calling out "Giuliani, Giuliani," but mostly for laughs. Older women rushed to tell friends they'd shaken Bill's hand.
When at 7 p.m. she finally headed out to the black sedan taking her to 450 higher-paying patrons at a private home, the recorded sound track had moved on, to Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic.