The Citizen Of Laconia: Obama offers message of hope
Out on the trail just one day after reporting a record $32.5 million in second-quarter donations, Illinois Sen. Barack Obama brought his campaign to downtown Laconia for his first appearance in Belknap County.
"I saved the best for last," said Obama, who delivered to the crowd of about 400 his message of hope and how Americans have always risen to every challenge they've faced, from the Civil War through the Great Depression to the Cold War, and come out a stronger and better nation.
"They call me a hope-monger, a hope-peddler," he said. "Well, I'm convinced that's what Americans are looking for."
Obama received enthusiastic applause throughout his 30-minute speech and the question-and-answer period that followed but none as loud as when he spoke of the challenges the country faces from global warming and the continued war in Iraq.
"We have no good options right now in Iraq," said Obama, calling for a phased deployment before the end of next year and a redeployment in Afghanistan where he said al-Qaida is regaining strength.
"We should have been hunting down bin Laden. It's been five years and I don't know why he's still rebuilding al-Qaida," Obama said, arguing that the country needs to rebuild its status in the world by making sure it's cooperating with other countries, by increasing the number of Arab linguists, and investing in homeland security.
"We can fight terrorism as aggressively as necessary and we can do it in a way that fosters global cooperation," said Obama, getting rousing cheers from the audience as he emphasized how he would tell the rest of the world he would work with them and not against them to end terrorism, to end global warming, to end the genocide in Darfur, to end the spread of HIV-AIDS and poverty, and to end nuclear proliferation.
"And while we're at it, we're going to close Guantanamo and restore habeus corpus," he said, emphasizing how his campaign is one "from the bottom up" and is a vehicle for "hope and change."
Answering a questions about the recent immigration debates, Obama reminded everyone that "we are all immigrants."
He called for stronger border security and stricter penalties for employers who hire undocumented workers. As for the people who are already in the country, "well, we're not going to send 12 million people home," said Obama, adding many of them have children who are U.S. citizens and spouses who are lawful residents.
He said continuing to let undocumented workers work "in the shadows" and drive down domestic wages is the most damaging thing the nation's leaders can do.
He reminded the audience of who their ancestors were, citing past opposition to waves of immigrants in our not-so-distant past. "Ultimately that's how America grows. Let's not forget who we are and where we came from," he said.
When Lauren Smith, who identified herself as Jewish, asked Obama about Darfur, he spoke about his recent trip to Chad to interview refugees and how he was not allowed in the Sudan for his constant opposition to the politics of its leaders.
"When we say, 'never again,' we should mean it," he said, stating that, as president, he would call for tougher trade sanctions on Sudan, tougher talk with the Chinese, and conversations with the international community about enforcing a "no-fly" zone over the country.
What he would not do is enforce it alone because the rest of the world would just see it as another U.S. invasion of an Islamic country, he said. He supports strengthening the United Nations in its capacity to help control the "ungoverned spaces" in our world spaces Obama said are most likely to encourage terrorism and threatened the U.S. and the rest of the world.
When fifth-grader Amy Johnson asked him how he was going to help her get a better education, he asked her if she is studying hard.
"Despite the slogans, millions of children are being left behind," he said, repeating that he would pay teachers better, hoping to encourage young people to become teachers to replace the nearly 1 million he said would be retiring in the next decade.
"Education begins at home," he said, encouraging Amy and the rest of young America to turn off their televisions and play fewer computer games.
He said he would support more early childhood education and better training and pay for teachers. He said there needs to better assessments and one of his biggest problems with No child left Behind is that it forces teachers to teach to one test.
"I just paid off my student loans," said Obama, who is 45-years-old. He said he would take the $8 billion that goes to the middlemen who distribute education money and redistribute it to the students who need it.
"We need to expand grants, not just loans," he said.
With the purple T-shirts of the "I'm A Health Care Voter" crowd scattered throughout the crowd, Obama said he would encourage medical technology and preventive health care measures to save $125 billion a year, directing that money into funding a universal health care system.
"By the end of the next president's first term by the end of my first term," he said, correcting himself to cheers and applause, he said the country could have a universal health care system.
"What's missing is not the technical know-how; what's missing is the political will," he said.
Obviously thrilled with his recent fundraising efforts, Obama said the real significance is the number of small donations he received from everyday Americans.
"There's a sense the country as a whole is adrift. We as a people need to come together with the sense of a common purpose, a higher purpose," he said.
'We don't take money from federal lobbyists," said Obama emphasizing that 90 percent of the $32.5 million raised came from people giving less than $100.
"People said we can't compete by trusting Americans," he said, but his campaign is based solely on the faith in the basic core decency of the American people and 250,000 of them proved this by donating to his campaign.