Valley News Obama Offers Change of Attitude
By John P. Gregg
U.S. Sen. Barack Obama yesterday said Democrats are "lurching" toward consensus on key issues ranging from the war on Iraq to energy policy and suggested his candidacy offers a fresh start for the country.
"I wouldn't have gotten into this race if I didn't think I have something unique to offer," said the 45-year-old Illinois Democrat, whose black father was from Africa and white mother from Kansas. "I think the day I'm inaugurated, this country sees itself differently and the world sees us differently. ...
"It expresses our belief that anybody can do anything."
Obama, speaking to more than 120 Upper Valley residents at the Earl M. Bourdon Centre in Claremont, also said he was encouraged that he and fellow Democrats are all talking about such issues as health-care reform, energy policy, climate change, and ending the war in Iraq. Obama noted that all but three Democrats in the Senate this week voted for a timetable to end the war.
"I would say the Democrats are lurching towards consensus," said Obama, a first-term lawmaker. "I do think when I'm president, man, we're really going to get our act together."
Obama spoke for almost an hour at the senior center, the site of a much-ballyhooed meeting where then-President Clinton and House Speaker Newt Gingrich agreed to reform the campaign-finance system, an effort that fizzled.
He said voters need to get engaged, with Democrats' victories in November an important step.
"What we've learned is when the American people don't pay attention, Washington gets into a whole lot of mischief," Obama said. "And when we do pay attention, good things happen."
The war in Iraq was a constant theme -- he had seen a flag on the way into town honoring Newport solider Justin Rollins, who was killed in Iraq and has funeral services today. "My thoughts and prayers are with his family and community," Obama said.
In a question and answer session, Charlestown resident Carol Thebarge told Obama her son, who is also 45, had won a Bronze Star in Iraq but that she was concerned he may be sent back for another tour of duty.
"We went over there to do a job, and the job is done," she said. "How long is this going to take?"
Obama said he opposed the war from the start and was an early supporter of setting a March 31, 2008, deadline for the withdrawal of American combat troops from Iraq.
"We are not going to solve the problems in Iraq militarily," he said. "It's time to bring it to a close."
Susan Williams, the chairwoman of Plainfield Democrats, said her town is slated to vote on a climate change resolution today and said she was concerned that Obama had supported a bill to turn coal into liquid fuel.
He outlined his environmental platform, saying he is a chief sponsor, along with U.S. Sens. Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., and John McCain, R-Ariz., of a "cap and trade" bill that would allow polluters to sell and trade credits for reducing emissions, spurring more climate protection by industry. Obama said he also supports higher fuel-efficiency standards for cars, increased production of various types of ethanol, and "sequestration" of the carbon dioxide emitted from coal plants, an emerging, as yet unproven, technology.
"We're not going to eliminate fossil fuel use overnight," he said. "We can see some steep reductions over time."
Bob Dakin, a retired history teacher at Claremont Middle School, suggested that President Bush should be tried for war crimes at the Hague, likening the start of the Iraq war under "false premises" to the onset of World War II because of Adolf Hitler's military aggression.
But Obama adroitly steered away from the bait.
"I don't find the analogy appropriate," he said. "I think this campaign season offers us an opportunity for a fresh start."
After the speech, many attendees sounded satisfied. Thebarge, the Charlestown mother, said his response on Iraq was "awesome" and that she planned to vote for him.
Williams, the Plainfield Democrat, remained uncommitted, yet said: "I thought his priorities are in line with mine. I think he would do a great job in addressing climate change."
But Dakin, the retired teacher, said he was disappointed Obama had not been more aggressive in criticizing President Bush.
"He came to New Hampshire and he brought his ice skates. He ducked it," Dakin said.
Obama met earlier in the afternoon with state legislators at the Concord home of Senate President Sylvia Larsen, but had to cancel a planned town hall meeting in Keene because of the snowstorm.
He greeted several well-wishers as he left the senior center, including a handshake and hug for 73-year-old Marjorie Angier of Claremont, who was retiring yesterday as a receptionist at the Bourdon Centre.
"Wait till my granddaughter hears about this," Angier said.
Polls show Obama in the top tier of Democratic candidates, along with U.S. Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton and 2004 vice presidential nominee John Edwards.
State Rep. Tom Donovan, an uncommitted Claremont Democrat, said Obama represents the type of change that voters appear to be seeking.
"I don't see the old established candidates, even though I supported some in the past, I don't think we need that," Donovan said, citing Clinton and U.S. Sen. John Kerry. "We need new blood."