Fresh off a Hawaiian vacation, the presumptive Democratic presidential candidate, Senator Barack Obama, paid a visit to Raleigh, NC to conduct a town hall meeting with about
Yesterday’s Town Hall began with the usual invocation and pledge, followed by the personal account of Gloria Craven, a former mill worker, who emphasized the struggles she has faced in the current faltering economy. Obama then opened with a speech touching on a number of issues: the smears by the McCain campaign, rebuilding trust in government, transforming the economy, alternative energy, Iraq, education, health care, veterans’ issues, and foreign policy. The majority of that speech can be seen in the clip below.
The floor was then opened to questions from the audience. The first query was by a mother of a child with down syndrome, asking what Obama would do to assist those with special needs. Obama viewed photographs of the child and praised the mother for facing the hardships associated with raising him. Obama elaborated on the challenges society and government have placed on those with special needs and went on to say he will press for full funding for special education.
The second question dealt with the challenges faced by former felons and addressed the large percentage of African-Americans incarcerated. Obama spoke about the bipartisan Second Chance legislation he helped push in the Illinois and United States Senate. He addressed the importance of fair courts, better parenting, and school programs to help guide impressionable youth down the right road.
The third question was how to deal with the ways in which the Bush administration has deeply politicized scientific research. Obama praised RDU as a model for research and development. He criticized Bush for making his first presidential veto against stem cell research and for denying global warming existed for the majority of his term. He refelected on the role of technology in American history, citing the cotton gin, steam engine, and the telephone. Barack emphasized that modern America simply cannot compete on labor alone and said he plans to double funding for scientific research across the board and focus on new energy stating, “We can’t have national security and our economy held hostage by Vladimir Putin and Hugo Chavez.” He criticized McCain for changing his stance on off-shore drilling after meeting with big oil executives, which in return made sizeable donations to the Republican’s campaign. Obama went on to say he will invest 15 billion dollars every year for ten years into alternative energy.
The fourth person asked the Senator’s opinion on reserving 1% of televised airwaves for political campaigns to ease the burden of fund-raising required to obtain public office. Obama said he would like to see bipartisan support for such action, acknowledging the inherent resistance by big media. He elaborated on the need for transparency in the system and the need to expose lobbyists in order to bring real change in Washington. The audience member also asked if Obama would ban pharmaceutical ads. Obama commented on how the ads depict happy people running in fields and often leave the viewer unsure of what the drug is even for “...except for that one ad, you know whats that for,” joking about Viagra. He addressed the free speech concerns but cited such a measure could be pursued if addressed through the lens of public health concerns. He also said one of the biggest problems is “...we don’t negotiate with drug companies for the cheapest drugs.”
The next audience member asked about the division of the Democratic party, as a result of a heated primary with Senator Clinton, heading into the Democratic National Convention. Obama shot down such speculation, deriding it as “hype by the media.”
Obama was asked how he plans to utilize his vice president. Obama began by saying what he will not do, essentially throwing jabs at the Bush administration. He said he won’t blindly hand over an energy policy to his VP, won’t have his VP determine national policy, and won’t let his VP act as a fourth branch of government that acts above the law. “The buck will stop with me because I will be president.” Obama went on to lists qualities he will expect of his VP: integrity, independence, capacity to be president, and having a shared passion for issues facing the American people.
The next question addressed children’s health and education, specifically the schools’ potential to help prevent the obesity epidemic in the United States of America. Obama cited the staggering amounts of money spent on health care as a result of obesity. He reminisced about playing outdoors in his childhood and called on parents to encourage physical activity over television and video games. He called on schools to serve nutritious foods and educate on both health and fiscal matters, saying poor food choices often result from budget complications. He also said school sports need proper funding and that our agricultural policy should reflect health concerns and support local farmers.
The final query of the evening came from a disabled American veteran who lives in a homeless shelter with 200 other men, half of which are veterans. The veteran also cited his troubles in getting his disability compensation. Obama stepped off the stage and shook the veterans hands, thanking him for his service to our country. Obama said veterans are seven times more likely to be homeless because they do not have enough help transitioning back to civilian life. He said we must start screening all soldiers upon discharge for post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury, the two signature Iraq war injuries, and offer immediate care. He also said there is zero tolerance for homeless veterans and advocated for housing assistance, job training, substance abuse help, and better mental health services before thanking the enthusiastic crowd and saying good night.
In the spirit of citizen journalism, below are a few snapshots I took at the Obama Town Hall. For high quality shots, see Raleigh Skyline’s photos from the press platform.