Sounding out themes for his convention speech and teeing off fresh economic news from a U.S. Census Bureau report, Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., stood in a Kansas City, Mo., airplane hangar this afternoon to decry how his Republican opponent is deaf to the economic struggles of the American people.
"The truth is, this economy is not working for average Americans," Obama said to the crowd of roughly 150 union members and 100 local Obama activists sitting in an American Airlines Overhaul Base that has been the site of many job cutbacks in recent years.
"I’m just going to remind everyone here, this election is not about me, it’s about you," Obama said. "It’s about who is going to be fighting for you, who is going to be listening to you, who has been, for the last 20 years, standing side-by-side with you. Making sure that unions can organize, making sure that people who don’t have health insurance can get health insurance, making sure that kids can go to college who couldn’t go before. Who has a track record of fighting for you?"
Obama told voters in this swing state that they "need somebody who, every single day, ‘gets it,’ and understands that you’re not looking for a handout. That you are willing to work as hard as you can to create a better future for your children. All you want is just an American government that is on your side, that is making things a little easier, that is giving you a few more handles to climb up that … ladder of success — that is what I want to provide as your president."
Obama seemed to be previewing new riffs and refrains — perhaps ones he will use Thursday night when he accepts his party’s nomination for president.
"Over the last eight years, you’ve been falling behind," Obama said, easing into an oratorical pattern. "Over the last eight years, your lives are less secure; over the last eight years, you are more likely to have lost your health insurance; over the last eight years, you are more likely to not be able to save; over the last eight years, your home values have started to drop."
He concluded, "That’s the track record, those are the facts. And John McCain is not promising to do anything different than George Bush did. So, if you think that the last eight years have been good, then you need to go ahead and vote for John McCain. But if you think that we need to change this country fundamentally, then I think that you need to get involved in this campaign and help us bring about the kind of change that America’s looking for."
As the roar of nearby jets taking off and landing filled the air, Obama cited numbers from today’s "Income, Poverty, and Health Insurance Coverage in the United States: 2007" report, indicating that "816,000 new people fell into poverty in 2007, including 500,0000 more children."
The official poverty rate in 2007 for the U.S. was 12.5 percent, which the census says is not statistically different from 2006, though it does constitute an increase in the number of people who have fallen into poverty — 37.3 million people in poverty in 2007, up from 36.5 million in poverty in 2006.
The census statistics showed that 1.3 million more Americans have health insurance this year than had it last year, largely because of the increase in those who have joined the ranks of Medicare and Medicaid. But Obama chose to, instead, focus on the millions more uninsured since Bush took office, instead of the increase in the number of those insured since 2006.
"Under this president," Obama said, "seven million Americans are newly uninsured."
"Those are the statistics," said the Democrat. "Those are the facts."
He mentioned other bleak economic news, including home foreclosures and sinking property values, rising gas prices and grocery prices — "eggs are up 20 percent," he said, "bread is up 30 percent" — as well as anticipated home heating oil price increases.
"You’d think both parties would be scrambling to come up with a way of how do we come up with a new direction," Obama said. "But that’s not what John McCain’s doing."
Obama ran through a number of statements McCain has made in which he praised the fundamentals of the U.S. economy, as well as McCain’s apparent inability to say how many homes he owns. He also referenced the comments of McCain economic adviser, former Sen. Phil Gramm, R-Texas, saying the U.S. was in a "mental recession" and had become "sort of a nation of whiners."
"This is the guy who’s got the inside track to be secretary of the Treasury!" Obama said of Gramm.
"I don’t think John McCain says these things because he’s a bad person," Obama said. "I just don’t think he gets it … I think he is out of touch. I don’t think he understands what ordinary Americans are going through. But I do, and that’s why I’m running for president."
– Jake Tapper and Sunlen Miller