Daily Times Herald: Obama 'distressed' about rural Iowa's burden in Iraq war
By Douglas Burns
One in five American soldiers killed in Iraq came from a U.S. town of fewer than 5,000 people.
Nearly half of the American dead hail from places of less than 25,000.
The numbers don't lie. Rural America is shouldering a disproportionate share of the burden, the blood and loss and grief, in Iraq.
This is not lost on U.S. Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., a leading Democratic contender in the 2008 presidential race.
"One of the things I've been distressed about is the way folks in southern Illinois and rural western Iowa, that those are the folks that are disproportionately affected," Obama said in an interview with the Daily Times Herald in Denison Saturday night following a campaign event.
The Associated Press recently reported that diminished opportunities are one factor in higher military enlistment rates in rural areas. According to the AP, from 1997 to 2003, 1.5 million rural workers lost their jobs due to changes in industries such as manufacturing that have traditionally employed rural workers.
"We've got a lot of young people who see the military as their primary opportunity for advancement," Obama said in the interview with the Daily Times Herald in the Denison gym.
He said that speaks to two things.
First, the nation needs to do a better job of creating economic development in rural America, Obama said..
There's another vital point, he said.
"It means that we have to make sure it's not just a certain group of people who are carrying the burden of this war," Obama said.
Earlier this year Obama introduced legislation that would redeploy U.S. forces in Iraq no later than May 1, 2007, with the goal of removing all combat brigades from Iraq by March 31, 2008 - a date Obama says is consistent with the bipartisan Iraq Study Group's expectations.
Obama says his plan allows for a limited number of U.S. troops to remain in Iraq as basic force protection, to engage in counter-terrorism and to continue the training of Iraqi security forces.
There are more issues for young people in rural areas than Iraq.
Since the Farm Crisis of the 1980s Iowa politicians - and those seeking votes here - have had various prescriptions for dealing with the brain drain, the migration of young people out of state.
In a line of questioning about Iowa's graying demographics, which reveals itself with the dearth of young people at civic events in rural areas, Obama says he's actually seeing a young Iowa, one that belies the census numbers.
The estimated crowd of 500 people in Denison, mostly older people, wasn't the usual Obama audience in terms of age breakdown.
At other venues around the nation - and in the university towns of Iowa City and Ames - young people have turned out in droves. Obama typically sees an Iowa that appears younger than it is. Not in Denison.
"This is unusual," Obama said of Denison. "Generally speaking, the youth response to this campaign has been powerful and I think part of it is because my message is one of turning the page and starting something new."
Obama said young people understand the challenges before America now are ones they will have to deal with in coming decades, issues like global warming.
"As a consequence I think we're finally reaching young people the way they communicate as opposed to using traditional methods," Obama said.
Obama said the west-central Iowa crowd, peopled with voters experienced at "kicking the tires" on presidential candidates, was more measured than ones he finds in urban areas, and that he appreciated the atmosphere in the Denison High School gymnasium as a counterpoint to the mad crush of people that besiege him in places like Austin, Texas, or larger coastal cities.
"I thought people were asking terrific questions," Obama said. "I thought people were a little more restrained here. I think it's that sort of Midwestern style. There's been some places where people have grabbed us and you couldn't get out of the place. Here, I think, people were more measured, and I like that."
Obama added, "I want to win people's support based on substance and not just the fact that they saw me on TV."
Carroll Countians find Obama's message of hope 'refreshing'
By Douglas Burns
DENISON - Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama barnstormed through western Iowa last weekend and delivered a message of optimism and renewal to thousands of people in several packed venues.
"What's stopping us is the smallness, the timidity and the negativity of our politics, and that's what I want to reverse," Obama said in Denison Saturday night. "And that's the reason I'm running for president."
A Zogby Poll last week showed a close race in the Iowa caucuses on the Democratic side with former U.S. Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina at 27 percent, U.S. Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., at 25 percent and Obama, a first-term U.S. senator from Illinois at 23 percent.
Speaking before a crowd school employees estimated at more than 500 people at Denison High School, Obama reminded the audience of his long-standing opposition to the war in Iraq and spent much of his 50 minutes on health-care and education questions.
Among the Denison audience were at least a dozen people from Carroll County including Kathy Richardson of Carroll, a pediatric nurse practitioner.
"There's nothing pretentious about him," Richardson said. "He's just a regular guy, no phoniness. Yet his persona was almost scholarly, his demeanor was calm, yet confident. He would make a great negotiator with other countries."
Carroll County Democratic Party chairman Butch Heisterkamp said he's remaining neutral in the caucus process at this point. But he urges people to listen to Obama.
"When the people get to hear him and his views and how he thinks he makes you think there is some hope," Heisterkamp told the Daily Times Herald moments after Obama's speech and question-and-answer session in the Denison gym. "I think that resonated with all the people here tonight. I mean I think they just loved it."
Former State Rep. Jim Drees, a Manning Democrat, said Obama's speaking style is exemplary and that the presidential aspirant appears to have the ability to learn quickly.
"The way he had people asking questions, he did an excellent job of putting a program on," Drees said.
Richardson, who works for Crawford County Public Health, said she was impressed with Obama's positions on health care.
"Senator Obama stated our health care system in the United States is, 'disease care' instead of 'prevention care,'" Richardson said. "He said that if we invested more money, private and government, into prevention efforts, the savings that would derive from that endeavor could help offset the cost of health insurance for those who cannot afford it. Obama was very articulate, knowledgeable and specific on the issues, and appeared to be very genuine and sincere. He was impressive and refreshing."
Besides speaking in Denison Obama also had campaign events in Council Bluffs, Sioux City, Ida Grove and Onawa over the weekend. He conducted an interview with the Daily Times Herald in Denison after the event (see related story on Page 1).
Early in his Denison speech Obama noted he has been a vocal opponent of the war in Iraq since before it started in 2003.
"We have a war that I believe never should have been authorized, never should have been waged - a war that has cost us half a trillion dollars so far with no end in sight, a war that has cost us over 3,200 of our bravest young men and women," Obama said.
He said the war in Iraq has made the nation less safe from terrorism and diminished the U.S. position in the world.
Several educators were in the Denison audience, and Obama told them he supported more funding for early-childhood education as well as higher teacher pay. In fact, in his best-selling book, "The Audacity of Hope," Obama says high-achieving teachers at the top of their careers should be able to make $100,000 annually.
But echoing the 2004 Democratic convention speech that rocketed him to fame and front-tier presidential candidate status, Obama said the public sector doesn't bear the sole responsibility for education.
"Parents, we've got to get a little more serious than we are right now about our children," Obama, the father of two young girls said. "Our children watch more television than any children on earth. They play more video games. When our kids come home we've got to turn off the TV set. They've got to sit down, do their homework."
Success is not a birthright in America, and schools and parents need to drill this into young people.
"They're not going to be competing against just kids in Cedar Rapids or Chicago," Obama said. "They're going to be competing against kids in Beijing and Bangalore."
China and India are producing six to eight times as many engineers as the United States, he said.
"Our young people are not going to be able to get the jobs of the future if we're just thinking we're automatically going to be the greatest economy on earth," Obama said. "That's not automatic. We've got to work for it."
Obama said he sympathized with one audience member who said he'd lost jobs because of cheap labor in foreign countries.
"All the benefits shouldn't be going to Wall Street, and all the burdens shouldn't be falling on towns like Denison," Obama said. "We've got to figure out how we structure the rules so everybody benefits in America."
The United States can't stop companies from moving offshore because in a capitalistic system and global economy people have the right to invest where they wish, he said.
"We can make sure we're not giving them tax incentives to invest overseas," Obama said.