Amidst the murmur of the first applause, which came late in Obama's speech, a voice shouted out from the crowd.
"This is very important. ["Let me finish ma'am," Obama tried] It's not Congress, it's you sir. There are 102 people on hunger strike. These desparate people ["I'm about to address it, but you've got to let me speak," said Obama]. You are Commander In Chief. You can close Guantanamo today." She continued on, citing specific prisoners and where they were from.
"Why don't you let me address it?" Obama replied, because he was in fact just about to lay out his plan to close Guantanamo Bay prison. "Why don't you sit down, and I'll tell you exactly what I'm going to do." Eventually he gave in and let her finish.
"Ma'am, thank you," said Obama, over scattered clapping. "Thank you. You should let me finish my sentence."
"Ma'am, let me finish. This is part of free speech is you being able to speak, but also you listening and me being able to speak."
What happened next, however, showed Obama at his best: a calm, respectful guy who doesn't lose his cool when someone messes up his big moment: he made the protestor a part of the big moment. No, he didn't bring her up on stage, but he mentioned her more than once in the remainder of his speech (emphasis mine):
"Imagine a future – ten years from now, or twenty years from now – when the United States of America is still holding people who have been charged with no crime on a piece of land that is not a part of our country. Look at the current situation, where we are force-feeding detainees who are holding a hunger strike. I'm willing to cut the young lady who interrupted me some slack, because it's worth being emotional about. Is that who we are?"
The young lady interrupted him again, and after making three attempts to talk over her, Obama simply waited her out.
"We're addressing that ma'am," he replied, and started to move on, but then doubled back to speak about the protestor again:
"You know I think that, and I'm going off script as you might expect. The voice of that woman, is worth paying attention to. Obviously I do not agree with much of what she said. And obviously she was not listening to me in much of what I said. But the idea that we can gloss over these issues is wrong."
He then slipped smoothly back into his script. If I had not been following along with the transcript of Obama's remarks, I would have missed the moment Obama transitioned from speaking about the protestor to going back into his prepared remarks.
The protestor was silent for the rest of the speech, but she did get one more mention, when Obama described American resiliency in his last few sentences (emphasis mine):
"Victory will be measured in parents taking their kids to school; immigrants coming to our shores; fans taking in a ballgame; a veteran starting a business; a bustling city street. A citizen shouting her concerns at a president."
I have voiced certain qualms with Obama's policies and negotiating style (some of the former he addressed today), but in terms of demeanor, he is exactly the guy I want in the Oval Office, and he proved why today.