HOUSTON, May 9, 2015 — President Obama delivered the commencement address this week at the Lake Area Technical Institute, a community college in Watertown, South Dakota. He had claimed prior to this that South Dakota was the only state he had never visited. By visiting South Dakota, he could proudly brag about having been to every state in America.
His claim is false.
Forget the jokes about him once claiming that there are 57 states. That was an honest misstatement. The real issue is that he has not been to all 50 states that really do exist.
To those who wish to reflexively defend or attack Obama, this has absolutely nothing to do with partisan politics. This is about a serious travel debate that rages among people who take travel seriously.
Do airports count?
Anyone who brags about visiting all 50 states is a travel purist. For travel purists, airports absolutely do not count.
President Obama has really only been to 48 states. The article celebrating his achievement offers the contradictory evidence.
“Two states, in fact, have seen Obama only in transit. Alaska has played host only during refueling stops for Air Force One on long trips. And the only time Obama was in Nebraska was when his plane landed at Offutt Air Force Base in 2012. Obama spent a matter of minutes there before being driven across the Missouri River into Iowa, where he had campaign events scheduled.”
As the Commander-in-Chief, Obama can just issue an executive order stating that airports count, but he would be lying to himself. The American experience has to involve an actual experience.
Otherwise the achievement is hollow.
Obama can even have fun with the last two states. So can his GOP opponents. President Bill Clinton was told near the end of his presidency that he had also only visited 48 states. Ironically Nebraska was one of the last two holdouts, along with Alabama. After Clinton visited Alabama, the Nebraska Republican Party held a rally to declare themselves the only “Clinton-free” state. The air, water and land were all Clinton-free.
Naturally, Clinton then held an event in Nebraska. It was all in good fun, and Clinton got to meet some good Nebraska folks.
The fact that Alaska and Nebraska are Republican states that would probably not want him to visit is irrelevant. Visiting is the right thing to do if he truly wants to check off the last two boxes.
As somebody who has truly visited and spoken in all 50 states, I can assure Obama that reaching number fifty truly is a joy. It is a memory that lasts forever. By visiting people, one gets to experience things that cannot be had from just hanging around an air hangar.
The first 46 states came easy for me. The last four were so difficult to reach that it truly magnified the meaning of the moments.
For the sake total honesty, while I have spoken in all 50 states, only 48 of those states involved political speeches. Numbers 47 and 48 were brief speeches about Judaism at Jewish events in Vermont and Louisiana, respectively.
Those speeches were given only after lengthy conversations about whether such speeches “counted.” Again, travel people take this stuff seriously.
Number 49 was a speech to the Cass County Young Republicans in Fargo, North Dakota. The hamburger joint where we had the event had a special, where if you purchased one gourmet burger, you received another one for free that you could take home and eat the next day.
This may be the best burger place in America.
I have since been back to North Dakota, met the local rabbi, and done another event at a local bookstore. One of my North Dakota friends even came to Los Angeles and stayed in my home.
My last holdout was Kansas. Despite frequently being so close to various Kansas borders, events got canceled. Finally, on September 24, 2013, I gave a speech to a Tea Party in Hays, Kansas. Hays is located halfway between Kansas City and Denver.
If Obama truly cares about visiting all 50 states (he does, because he mentions it), then he needs to actually visit them. Even the most powerful man in the world will experience a quiet satisfaction from accomplishing this goal. When my speech in Kansas was done, I went to a quiet room for a moment and pumped my fists. All 50 states had been visited. It mattered.
For the rest of my life I will remember Hays, Kansas.
I have visited and given speeches in all 50 states but have never given a political speech in Louisiana (I have twice been interviewed by a Louisiana political radio personality in his studio but that does not count) or Vermont. It will happen at some point.
President Obama must be honest with himself. He has not been to Alaska or Nebraska. To visit an “aska,” all he has to do is ask. Heck, he is the President of the United States. It would take little effort after touching down to walk a few minutes to the local mini-market and speak to a few of the locals.
With Summer approaching, Obama has no excuses. Everybody else can organize the trips for him. All he has to do is show up.
Until then, he has only visited 48 states and cannot claim anything more than that.