Sentinel Source: Obama big hit at KSC; touches on many topics
By Ian Bagley
The bright lights and enthusiastic cheers that greeted presidential candidate Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., at Keene State College Monday night were reminiscent of a party convention.
The 2,000-plus seats in Spaulding Gymnasium weren't enough to hold all those who turned out. Several hundred people were relegated to an overflow room to hear Obama deliver his stump speech and answer questions for roughly an hour.
Although the loudest cheers Monday night came when Obama spoke against the war in Iraq, he also voiced his support for higher teacher salaries and early childhood education, more money for local law enforcement, campaign finance reform and universal health care.
"I am making a commitment that we will have universal health care by the end of my first term in office," Obama said at the close of the event, urging the audience to hold him accountable for his words.
He said he met a woman earlier that day when he stopped by the Peterborough Diner - a woman in her late 50s or early 60s who is paying $500 a month for a health insurance plan with a $10,000 deductible. That's "no insurance," he said.
Obama suggested health-care costs could be reduced by more effective management of chronic illnesses, disease prevention and improved medical record-keeping.
Obama said the benefits of a global economy were being distributed unevenly in America, with corporate profits skyrocketing while salaries and wages have remained flat in recent years.
He criticized the tax cuts that passed under the Bush Administration, saying they largely benefited the rich. The people who benefit most from the global economy should "pay a little bit more" in taxes than those who don't, he said.
On the subject of war in Iraq, Obama offered up suggestions about what Congress might do if President Bush follows through on his promise to veto a war appropriations bill, recently passed in the Senate, that calls for a phased withdrawal of troops from Iraq.
Congress could, for example, fund the war in three-month increments to keep Bush "on a short leash," he said. Or Congress could devise a new bill with other constraints that will "ratchet up the pressure" on Bush to change course, he said.
As long as troops are on the ground, however, Obama said he would give them the support they need to come home safely.
"I am proud of the fact that I was against this war from the start," he said, pointing to a speech he delivered against the war five months before it started as evidence of his judgment on foreign policy issues.
"I recommend the speech not so much so I can say, 'I told you so,' so much as to get a sense of the judgment I bring to bear on foreign policy issues, because I anticipated most of the problems, if not all the problems we've confronted since we got there," he said.
Obama said he envisioned making a speech before the United Nations General Assembly in his first few months in office, letting the world know "the days that we act unilaterally, without regard for anyone else in the world, are over."
He also said the county has "the absence of an energy policy," adding, "we are sending over $800 billion a day to some of the most hostile nations on earth, because of our dependence on oil, and in the bargain we're melting the polar ice caps, and changing the fundamental weather patterns of the globe for generations to come."
He said he intended, as president, to review the country's defense budget, and to offer a reduction in the nation's stockpile of nuclear weapons as an incentive for other nations in limiting the spread of such weapons.
Obama, who was elected to the Senate in 2002, addressed his relative newcomer status on the national scene during the speech. He referred to people who think he needs more "seasoning," saying, "I've been in Washington long enough to know Washington needs to change."
The speech went over well with Walpole resident Aileen Silverstone, 47, who said after his speech that she found him "extremely engaging" and "extremely thorough."
"He's given me additional reason to vote for him," said Spofford resident Jeffrey W. Scott, 58, a Vietnam War veteran who said he was impressed, more than anything else, by Obama's "insistence on telling the truth."