Obama calls for middle class bailout

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — Braving chilly temperatures and the threat of rain, a crowd estimated by local media at 16,000 turned out Thursday morning to hear Barack Obama emphasize the need to bail out working families not just Wall Street.

At his campaign stop at downtown Calder Plaza here, Oct. 2, Obama laid out his concrete proposals for turning tough economic times around.

He began with the financial meltdown on Wall Street, saying the credit crunch is already beginning to harm the ability of working families to get loans to buy homes and cars, and even to send their kids to college. In addition, the financial crisis has hit savings accounts and pensions, he noted. Something has to be done in the short-term to reverse what is fast becoming a dangerous problem for the whole economy, he said.

Expressing sympathy for the anger many working families feel about the push to bail out Wall Street, Obama said, ‘This financial crisis didn’t happen by accident. It is the direct result of the greed and irresponsibility that has dominated Washington and Wall Street for years.’

The Illinois senator didn’t stop there, though. He linked the financial meltdown to the right-wing economic philosophy that propelled the dismantling of federal regulation of banks and Wall Street activities. ‘This crisis is nothing less than the final verdict on that failed philosophy,’ Obama noted. ‘Enough is enough.’

Still, Obama urged passage of the Senate Wall Street rescue package, arguing that small and large businesses will collapse if the credit crunch continues, pushing the unemployment rate even higher. He emphasized, however, that ‘solving the immediate financial crisis on Wall Street alone is not going to solve the long-term crisis here in Michigan.’

‘For so many of you here in Michigan,’ he continued, ‘it isn’t really a new story.’

Obama pointed out that for the first eight months of 2008 the U.S. economy has hemorrhaged over 600,000 jobs, with experts estimating further job losses in September. Michigan has lost 30,000 of those jobs alone. Michigan cities like Grand Rapids, Flint, Saginaw and Detroit suffer with unemployment rates nearly double the national rate, he noted.

‘And just two weeks ago, John McCain said the fundamentals of the economy are strong,’ Obama added.

‘I don’t know about John McCain, but where I come from, there’s nothing more fundamental than a job,’ he thundered. ‘The fundamentals of our economy are not strong, and it is time we had a president who understands that.’

Working Americans need a president who is able to empathize with working families who have been laid off or forced to walk picket lines, Obama said. The president has to be ‘able to understand what it’s like to listen when a grown man chokes up because he’s just lost his job. He’s lost his pension. He’s lost his health care. He has to figure out how he’s going to go home that day and explain to his wife and his kids that they’re in trouble, and that he may not be able to take care of them the way he wanted to.’

‘There’s something wrong about that,’ Obama continued. ‘The reason I’m running for president is to change that.’

Obama also noted that in addition to job losses, home values have plummeted, wages have flat-lined and inflation is up. ‘These are the quiet storms our families have been facing for months if not years,’ he said.

He reiterated his pledge to create new jobs by investing in rebuilding the country’s infrastructure and in renewable alternative energy sources. He also called for reforming the health care system to provide universal coverage, mainly by offering Americans the same health insurance members of Congress have given themselves. He pushed for new investments in education and in research and development of alternative energy sources.

In addition, Obama reasserted his plan to provide direct tax relief to the 95 percent of working families earning under $250,000 per year. Obama argued that his plan would reduce tax rates for working families lower than under any president since Ronald Reagan, providing a second economic stimulus that Republicans in Congress have continued to block.

For Michigan, Obama specifically pledged to be an ally of the auto industry and provide incentives for revitalizing Michigan’s manufacturing economy. His plan is to help automakers retool to produce alternative energy cars and to beef up the state’s emerging renewable energy sector.

He rejected the idea that bailing out Wall Street means that little will be left over for working families. In fact, he insisted, no economic recovery can happen if the government stops with a Wall Street bailout, no economic recovery is possible if nothing is done to help working families solve the problems they are facing.

How would he pay for these reforms? Obama said a bailout for the middle class could be paid for by ending tax breaks for corporations that move jobs out of the country and by ending the war in Iraq, a notion that may have received the loudest cheers from the swelling crowd. He said, ‘If we can afford to build bridges and roads in Iraq, we can afford to build them here at home and create new jobs.’

The crowd at Thursday’s event surpassed by five times the audience for an appearance by John McCain and Sarah Palin here earlier in the month. Obama is scheduled to make several more appearances throughout the state in the next day or two.

jwendland @ politicalaffairs.net