In order to incorporate a town-hall style atmosphere, the speech and question and answer session that at times was more like a rally put Obama in the center of Hoosiers who were on folding chairs and bleachers in the 4-H arena at the Wabash Valley Fairgrounds.
Obama spoke specifically on the country’s economic woes, outlining his plans on energy policies, college education, taxes and the war in Iraq, saying he wanted to “clean up the mess that’s been made the last eight years.” Obama said the country’s unemployment rate is the highest it has been in the last five years.
“People are anxious out there,” Obama said. “People are hurting. And they are concerned. They’re concerned about themselves, but they’re also concerned about their children and their futures.”
Obama said one of the things he was “absolutely convinced of is that we are at a defining moment,” referring to the economy as well as national security. He said unless the country improved soon, this could be the first generation to pass on the country to the next generation in even worse shape.
“That is not a future I accept,” Obama said. “That is not a future you accept.”
Obama said boosting the economy would be his “central focus as president,” and criticized Republican presidential nominee Sen. John McCain for supporting President George W. Bush’s tax cuts that do not help the middle class. Obama said he has proposed a tax cut for 95 percent of Americans.
“When middle folks get a tax cut, then the economy grows from the bottom up,” Obama said. “It’s about creating the kind of economy that can allow people to move up the ladder if they’re working hard.”
Obama said tax breaks and his other plans to boost the economy would come from leaving the war in Iraq, which he said is costing the United States $10 billion a month,. Obama called Iraq an “enormous strategic blunder for the United States,” and said we should be spending that money in America.
“What has been missing from this entire strategy is the sense of Iraqis taking control of their country,” he said.
Shannon Shouse, a 29-year-old from Terre Haute who attended the event, said though Obama has been criticized in his speeches for not showing how he’d bring about the change he promises, she thinks it’s because his plans “seem too seamless that people think he’s not laying out a policy, but he is.”
Shouse said she had watched the Republican National Convention on TV last week, but she felt she could not identify with Republicans in terms of race, gender and age when she saw the people in attendance.
“How could you help me when you don’t deal with people like me?” she asked of Republicans. Shouse said she believed the best thing about Obama was his ability to bring together people of all religions, gender and race.
“He brings together the country and that is what America is supposed to be about,” Shouse said.
Recent IU graduate Brooke Owens said though she felt Obama’s speech was “nothing new,” she has more trust in the Democrats’ party platform than the Republicans’.
“I really like to place faith in the idea of change,” she said.
The Illinois senator was introduced by Sen. Evan Bayh, D-Ind., who was originally thought to be on Obama’s short list for vice president before Obama selected Sen. Joe Biden, D-Del., last month. Bayh said he had often talked with Obama about coming to Terre Haute, which is Bayh’s hometown. Bayh joked with Hoosiers that, “This man is one of us – he puts basketball ahead of politics.”
“One of the things I’m proud of this man for doing is reaching out to the millions of Americans who have lost faith and lost hope in this country,” Bayh said. “Barack Obama understands that our country can no longer afford to be divided into red states and blue states but be united into 50 states.”
Obama concluded by emphasizing to voters how important the 2008 election is, hinting that Indiana could have a chance to go blue for the first time in decades.
“This goes to show you this is a change election here,” Obama said. “Just remember what’s at stake and don’t get distracted because I’ve gotta say over the next 60 days, you are going to hear a lot of nonsense and lies. ... That’s just what politics has become. Just stay focused on you and your issues.”
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