Free Press - In Economic Crisis, Obama Offers Detroit a Message of Hope
BY KATHLEEN GRAY
When Michigan is the stop, presidential candidates turn to the economy, and Sen. Barack Obama went straight to work in Detroit on Sunday, railing against Wall Street and Washington for the current financial crisis.
Michigan has the nation's highest unemployment rate, at 8.9%; more than 300,000 manufacturing jobs have evaporated, and the mortgage foreclosure rate is among the highest in the nation.
"We meet here at a time of great uncertainty in Detroit and all across America," Obama said. "The era of greed and irresponsibility on Wall Street and in Washington has led us to a financial crisis as serious as any we have faced since the Great Depression.
"I know these are difficult days, and nowhere has it been more difficult than Michigan and Detroit. But here's what I also know: We can steer ourselves out of this crisis. Because that's who we are. Because that's what we've always done as Americans."
Travonne Young, 42, of Detroit hears hundreds of distressing stories a day from people who need help. As an employee of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, a social services agency in Detroit, she said she believes Obama can help swing the economy back from the brink.
"Four years is not enough to get it all done," said Young. "But at least he can open the door."
The setting of Obama's rally Sunday -- the stretch of Woodward flanked by the Detroit Institute of Arts on one side and the opulent Detroit Public Library on the other -- was a reminder of more prosperous times in Detroit. And Obama said that memory can become a reality once again.
He said he'll cut taxes for people in the middle class and eliminate the capital gains tax on small businesses and start-up companies. He pounded on Republican rival John McCain for supporting deregulation.
"My opponent, John McCain, talks about getting tough on Wall Street now, but you can't make up for 26 years in 26 days," Obama told the crowd, estimated by Wayne County Sheriff Warren Evans, a Democrat, at 30,000 people.
"He's been against the common-sense rules and regulations that could've stopped this problem."
The bailout plan that congressional leaders have been crafting over the weekend is a result of bipartisan work that incorporates safeguards for taxpayers and restrictions against profiteering by executives benefiting from the bailout.
"It looks like we have a rescue plan that includes these taxpayer protections. And it looks like we will pass that plan very soon," Obama said. "But our job is far from over. Because now that we're fixing the mess on Wall Street, we need to move with the same sense of urgency to help families on Main Street."
McCain stayed in Washington to monitor bailout negotiations. He said he would probably end up supporting the plan.
During an appearance on ABC's "This Week," McCain said, "I'm never going to not get engaged when the taxpayers and middle class of America are in danger of losing everything, literally, that they've worked all their lives for."
In a conference call Sunday, U.S. Sen. Joe Lieberman, a Connecticut Democrat-turned-independent who supports McCain, said the bailout plan wouldn't have gained widespread support in Congress without McCain. "He had the guts to get off the campaign trail last week to get something done to protect America's families and businesses," he said.
Obama said McCain simply didn't understand the problems facing ordinary Americans and demonstrated that at Friday night's debate.
"The truth is, through 90 minutes of debating, John McCain had a lot to say about me, but he had nothing to say about you. He didn't even say the words 'middle class.' Not once."
In addition to the rally, Obama attended a fund-raiser in the city, which about 100 people attended.
At the rally, Denise Ilitch, daughter of Detroit Red Wings owner Mike Ilitch, introduced Obama, vice presidential nominee Joe Biden and their spouses, Michelle Obama and Jill Biden, and gave all four Wings jerseys bearing their names.
"You got tickets?" Obama asked someone in the crowd, referring to the Wings' game Sunday night against the Atlanta Thrashers. "Got an extra ticket?"