In a speech delivered to thousands of people at Calder Plaza in downtown Grand Rapids, Democratic Party presidential candidate Barack Obama focused primarily on the economy and the current Wall Street crisis. Obama strongly advocated passage of a bailout bill–which he voted in favor of yesterday in the Senate–arguing that it was an essential measure to improve the economy. He also advocated tax assistance for middle class families, healthcare reform, and the development of green energy as a way of boosting the economy. His comments were all couched in rhetoric that people now can rise to the challenge of addressing this problem as the country has in the past, tapping into a sense of patriotic mythology
After giving a round of thanks to a number of folks working with the Obama campaign, Obama opened by talking about the Wall Street crisis. For people in the United States, Obama said that the massive changes in the financial system show exactly how high the stakes are in this election. With one of the largest declines in the stock market in decades, Obama argued that the economic news is not only troubling but that it effects all of us.
However, Obama said that this isn’t really news for people in Michigan as Michigan residents know how bad the economy is. He said the unemployment rate is almost double in Michigan and that a new study coming out tomorrow will show it is the 9th straight month of job loss. Despite this, Obama said that McCain has claimed that the fundamentals of the economy are strong. In response, Obama said, “where I come from, there is nothing more fundamental than a job.” He said that the US needs a president who understands that the economy is not strong. Obama told the crowd that he understands the losses that many workers are facing and that he has been there with workers who have lost their jobs or who have been forced to walk the picket lines. Obama said he is running for president to change this reality.
Obama said it isn’t just jobs, but home prices, rising food prices, and rising gas prices that are contributing to the crisis. These are “the storms” facing families and that the only way to address them is to pass the bailout bill with the understanding that while it won’t solve all the problems, it will deal with the current crisis. In a nod to Michigan, he said that the crisis will effect the auto industry if people are not able to get loans to purchase new automobiles.
Obama said that it is an outrage that the US is in this situation. However, he said that it is important to remember that it is a direct result of a system that is broken and based on greed. He said it is based on an economic philosophy that says we should give a lot to the wealthy with the hopes that it will trickle down and a philosophy that opposes even the smallest kind of regulations. He said the financial crisis is a final verdict on this philosophy and he is running to put an end to it.
Obama criticized McCain for claiming that he opposes this, yet he has consistently supported this system. He criticized McCain for saying he is taking on lobbyists while having lobbyists working for his campaign. He said McCain is “out of touch” for wanting to give $200 billion in tax cuts to corporations, tax cuts to CEOs, and offering a tax plan that leaves out middle class families.
Obama said that with Michigan’s help, this can all be changed. He put this in the context of US history, arguing with familiar rhetoric that the US has always risen to challenges. He said that a key challenge facing the country right now is winning passage of the bailout. He said people were outraged about it, which is why he fought for a plan that has protections for taxpayers. He said while it isn’t perfect, it is a step towards a solution. Obama said that if he is president, the plan would be the beginning of efforts aimed at improving the economy. He said that as president he will pursue assistance for middle class families, healthcare, and education. Responding to critics who say that the bailout plan is so large and costly that it may hamper his agenda, Obama said that there is no doubt that some proposals that he has made on the campaign trail may take longer to enact because of the plan, but he is sure that the middle class can prosper.
To create new jobs, Obama said he will rebuild crumbling infrastructure, help the automobile industry in Michigan build cars that run on alternative fuels and with higher fuel efficiency, and building a green energy sector. He said his administration would invest $15 billion a year in developing green energy that will lead to 5 million new jobs. Part of this will mean retooling factories and farms that have declined, directing them towards new purposes. He further said that in 10 years the US will end its dependency on Middle East oil.
Obama said he wants to rewrite the tax code so that it benefits families and small businesses. He said he will eliminate capital gains taxes for small businesses and start-ups, will cut taxes for 95% of all working families–making tax rates less than they were under Regan–and taxes will not increase for people making less than $250,000. He claimed that his tax plan offers “three times the tax relief the McCain plan does.” Obama argued that his healthcare plan will boost the economy by lessening costs on businesses. He said that his plan will make people’s current care cost less and offer a new plan for those in need. He further said that he will improve the education system, offering that if people serve their community–through the military, peace corps, etc–he will guarantee that they can afford to go to college.
Obama said that to pay for these programs, he will eliminate programs that don’t work by going through the federal budget “page by page.” He said a good place to start would be “ending a war in Iraq that is costing $10 billion per month.” Obama–who has never offered a plan to truly end the war–made his argument in terms of Iraq’s surplus of $71 billion. He said he will close overseas tax havens. He further said that billions could be saved by managing programs better. He also pledged to end “no-bid” contracts and “sweetheart deals.” Obama said that while lots of politicians say these things, he means it because he has not been funded by lobbyists. He said that his support has come from small donors giving $5 checks and that is who he is constituency. However, the reality is more complex while Obama has received about half his contributions from people giving $200 or less, he has also raised substantial amounts of money from wealthy supporters and bundlers.
Obama said that making some of the changes–particularly as they relate to the financial crisis–will be long-term and require sacrifice. He said that there is no separation between “Main Street” and “Wall Street” and that the success of the middle class and Wall Street are tied together. Obama–returning to familiar rhetoric–said that this can be another moment in US history when the US “battled back from adversity” to address the problems facing the country. He said that while he understands why people might be disenchanted by the process, they need to “believe” that they can help make these changes. He said that everyone has a story in their family about someone making a substantial sacrifice to make the lives of their children or family better and that is what America is about. He invited people to work with him by “doing a little community organizing” to help win this election.