There is more to say about the Obama event in Aberdeen than about the Clinton event a couple weeks ago in Bath. I will try to be as brief as possible, but get ready for a long post. I got there later than Prof. Blanchard and consequently did not have as good a seat, therefore my pictures are from a distance. It didn't help that I had bright stage lights pointed at me that screwed with the camera.
Apparently the Obama people put the number of attendees at 2,200. That's more than I would have guessed. I thought it was more like 1,200, but I trust 2,200 is more accurate.
The Obama people were better prepared than the Clintons. They had more volunteers, some from out of state, and security was a breeze. The volunteers were pretty young, with the young men unable to tuck in their shirts and those in neckties tugged at the unfamiliar piece of apparel. I counted 31 people with laptops at the press table, far more than at the Clinton event.
Burt Elliott and Jim Hundstad were there, even though I got a recorded call this morning from Rep. Elliott asking me to vote for Hillary Clinton.
Obama was introduced by a local woman, Leslie Schnell, whose husband works for the school district. She told us of the dire straights she and her husband are in, what with rising costs and stagnant wages. She is a Republican who will be voting for Obama. Obama, she said, has shown he can work with Republicans through his work with on the Ethics bill. He will also take on the oil companies to bring relief at the pumps. She then introduced Obama.
The first thing to note is that he got the name of the city right. He was at Mt. Rushmore yesterday, which he described as "cool." He had a funny line, saying they couldn't put him up on Mt. Rushmore because there isn't enough granite for his big ears. He also mentioned the support he's getting from Aberdeen's favorite son, Tom Daschle.
Obama believes that there isn't time for him to "wait his turn" for the presidency. There are important problems now. He started his policy talk with the war in Iraq (an aside: unlike Hillary Clinton, Obama did not cater his talk to South Dakota issues, preferring it seems to go with the standard stump speech). Obama seems to paint Afghanistan as the "good war," the one against the real perpetrators of 9-11, versus Iraq, a war that should have never been waged.
He then turned to the economy. Sounding a populist note, Obama said the economy is growing and corporate profits are up, but that middle-class wages have stagnated. Ordinary folk are left behind as the cost of food, gas, etc., goes up.
He claimed the schools are underfunded and teachers are underpaid.
He stated that he is running because he has faith in the American people. We need to lift up, not tear down. We need to stop heeding special interests. We are tired of division; the divisions of race, religion and party.
He said the Democratic will not be divided. He praised Hillary Clinton as a quality candidate. They will unite against the policies of George Bush and Dick Cheney. John McCain is running for the third term of George Bush. McCain accepts both Bush's economic and foreign policy, Obama claims. He cites Scott McClellan as proof that George Bush hyped intelligence on Iraq. When McCain attacks me as inexperienced, Obama said, don't forget that I was against the war from the beginning. That shows he is qualified to be commander in chief. He argued that Iraq distracted us from fighting Al Qaeda. McCain will have us in Iraq indefinitely.
An aside: judging by the number of people who did not stand during standing ovations, about a third of the audience were not Obama supporters.
He bashed McCain on the gas tax holiday proposal. Here he mentioned when he was in "Grand Rapids" yesterday, but then corrected himself by saying Rapid City. He argued that the oil companies will just pocket all the savings from the tax holiday. His proposal is to close tax breaks on the oil companies and use that money to eliminate taxes on Social Security for those who make under $50,000 and he'd give $1,000 tax credit to middle-income earners and below. The real way to fight fuel prices is by investing in alternative energy and increasing fuel efficiency standards.
He then talked up his health plan. It's complicated, so just go to his website. He promised to have it enacted by the end of his first term.
Quick hits. We need to rebuild our infrastructure. We need to make college affordable for everyone. More money should be spent on early childhood education and we need to pay teachers more. No Child Left Behind should be "fixed."
Obama spoke for 25 minutes and then took questions. I will whip through the Q&A period. The first question was on small business development. The second question was about the media. His answers on these questions were not all that notable. The third was on the national debt. Obama claimed that when George Bush took office the national debt was $5 trillion and is now $9 trillion. Bush is no fiscal conservative. To be fair, Obama said, after 9-11 we were going to have to spend more money. But we didn't have to give tax cuts that went to the richest 1%. We can balance the budget by ending the war in Iraq. Even if we use some of that savings to rebuild the military and help out vets, there will be money left over. Obama touted "paygo," i.e., pay as you go. If we are going to raise spending here, we need to cut it there.
The next question was on education. Obama said parents need to turn off the TV and video games. Parents are the first teachers. But, we need to pay teachers more. He also advocated "billions" in new grants for professional development for teachers. Obama bashed standardized testing and suggested we need to come up with other methods of assessment.
The next question was on Latin America and then there was a question on the Pledge of Allegiance. I will not comment on these matters except to mention that Obama is for keeping "under God" in the Pledge because that is part of our "common commitment" to our nation. The seventh question was on juvenile justice. I will also skip this. The last question appeared to be a plant on alternative energy. In the course of answering the question he mentioned we should have an Energy Corps like the Civilian Conservation Corps to bring energy alternatives to the nation.
Obama concluded by saying he would not make promises he couldn't keep and would try to govern honestly.