Crossposted at Pam's House Blend.
(Click here for replay of 4/17 PHB CoverItLive blog of the Obama Town Hall.)
Below are my thoughts about the event, along with some photos and video.
The Barack Obama Town Hall event at the Kerr Scott Building on the State Fairgrounds in Raleigh was fairly intimate affair in comparison to rallies held in large venues. I got there around 10:30, and we didn't get in until around 11:30 as the Secret Service and local police took all press gear (laptops, cameras, etc.) and screened it.
There were about 1200 ticketed attendees; all assembled in an orderly fashion and socialized as it was a pretty long wait before things got started (1PM). The crowd was very diverse -- a lot of young people, and a surprising amount of the over 50 set of all colors. The volunteer staff was plentiful. Many VIPs -- state and area officials, as well as the local black political intelligentsia, were up front near the podium.
Since I had my press pass, I sat in the space allocated in the back for the MSM. The Internet-based press area was behind the risers where the news photographers were set up, so I had to intermittently leave my post and liveblogging to shoot a bit of video or take photos. The press traveling with Obama was off on the side of the room.
Folks in the audience got a little restless after a while, eventually folks started cheering and doing the wave to get the energy level up in the room, though that happened a good 20 minutes before Obama actually came out.
Of course they had local folks come out and speak to warm up th crowd. Folks stood for the Pledge of Alleigance, then an Obama campaign official came out and did something a bit disingenuous. He asked folks to pull out their cell phones (I thought to tell people to turn them off). Instead he asked everyone to text NC to 62262 to be added to Obama updates that will be sent out for the next three weeks! Uh, what about opting out now. He went on to remind folks to do One-Stop Early Voting, which began today in NC.
Showtime...and his comments about last night's debate
"We are not going to be fooled by a lot of bamboozling -- not this time. This time the American people are serious and are going to bring about change."
The crowd erupted when he talked about last night's debate -- it "took 45 minutes before we even started talking about the issues." His attitude was spot on though (you'll see in the Q&A section below the fold). There was a lot of Southern church call-and-response from many in the crowd when there was agreement on a point -- such as fixing our schools and reforming our health care system -- people were on their feet roaring on multiple occasions. There was no new news, though
On health care: Obama stated that he would achieve meaningful change in his first term -- lowering premiums by about $2500, and subsidizing health insurance for those who cannot afford any (good luck with that); he says that those who are happy with their current plans are free to keep them as is. He noted that "if we can spend $10 billion in Iraq, we can keep it and spend it right here to fix roads and schools in the U.S."
He got a big whoop from the crowd when he said
When you have CEOs making more in one day than workers make in a year and then the CEOs receive a tax break and the worker gets nothing -- and when the economy goes to pieces and the CEO gets a bonus and you lose your pension -- something is wrong with that.
The military: he discussed the wise use of the military and to lead this world with diplomacy and not be afraid to learn how to negotiate. He will close Guantanemo.
The Q&A of this Town Hall was next.
This is not a transcript, but a pretty good summary and quotes are close to verbatim.
1st Question: A small business owner is concerned about rising payroll taxes. He feels it will put him out of business. (He is under the impression that Obama would raise them).
Obama: "I'm not increasing the rate but putting a cap on payroll taxes. You need relief on it and simplify taxes. We want to provide tax breaks to encourage creation and growth of small businesses." He wants to consult with experts to make sure any decisions will help, not hurt small businesses. He mentions Warren Buffett only paying on his first $97 million and how that inequity is not fair to the middle class.
2nd Question: What is your strategy to defeat the Republicans in Nov. She mentions how he was pummeled in last night's debate.
Obama: "I know some people were frustrated last night, but that was the rollout of the GOP campaign against me in November; it just happened a little early. These issues have nothing to do with how you are going to pay your bills at the end of the month. We need to focus on what we are going to do about the economy and the war in Iraq. If they come at me (GOP), I will come right back at them (crowd roars). I'll be honest with you, it's harder to deal with a fellow Democrat. I won't have as much
respect for the Republicans restraint with the Republicans."
McCain is running for the 3rd Bush term. McCain wants to keep a military presence in Iraq for a very long time, and it spend money on that instead of here at home...All he cares about domestically is preserving the same corporate loopholes and tax cuts."
3rd Question: about gentrification and how people who have looked forward toward retirement only to find out that they are being displaced because of eminent domain. How do you promote development that is sustainable and responsible.
Obama: References the SCOTUS ruling on eminent domain last year. When counties or cities bundle land together for commercial development, the government needs to ensure that local government should not abuse eminent domain.
He brings up the mortgage crisis - 20,000 are losing their homes each week. It's important to step in aggressively, which Bush has not. McCain took 3 tries to come up with a foreclosure prevention plan and it's insufficient. Obama says that "we have to get together with the lending institutions and government to switch adjustable to fixed rates. We can stabilize the system and stop the predatory lending -- with oversight."
4th Question: Have you made a decision about the debate on the 27th. (There is one slated in Raleigh on April 27th; he hasn't accepted yet).
Obama: he's mentioned that they already had 21 debates, but he raised the earlier debate on 4/19 that he agreed to but Clinton declined; he thought that scheduling one for the 27th would be difficult, but he would resolve it as soon as possible. (That was a dodge, and folks weren't happy about it).
5th Question: a young man from Greenville Elementary School asks how he can be president one day.
Obama: he kids with the young man and asks how many debates he had to have to win class president (?). Not sure I heard that. Noted that at his age, he wasn't thinking about being president. asks what he can do to become president.
Obama takes this opportunity to talk about education, saying the economy has changed and the country has to change with it. At one time it was possible to work with or without a HS education, but those days are gone. It's time to invest in new technologies and training -- biotech, etc. He mentions how this part of NC has done well because of the development of the Research Triangle Park. Invest in early childhood education. Too many kids aren't learning, and at-risk parents aren't able to provide the foundation for their kids. Teachers need to be paid more, but they need more professional development as well. "We don't do mentorship, we abandon them, and most give up within 5 years. That's got to change."
No Child Left Behind: Bush left no money for NCLB. "I believe in highest standards for our kids. I don't think they are measured by a single test. What is happening all around the country is that they are being taught to the test and the teachers and students are uninspired."
Obama wants to make sure they are learning music and art as well as science.
6th Question: What measures will you take to deal with health insurance companies.
Obama: we've been talking about this for years, Harry Truman was knocked down for trying to propose national health care. $1 billion is spent by Big Pharma to lobby against changes that help consumers. "Things are too cozy in Washington."
He wants to ensure rural doctors so that those residents are getting regular screenings (preventive health care). Invest in info tech to lower costs, reduce errors.
Hillary has a good health care plan, he says, they are about 96-97% the same. The problem isn't who has the right plan, it's how we get past the drug and insurance companies. He mentions what mistakes Clinton made in 1992 with the closed door meetings, while Big Pharma went on the hill and started lobbying. and the plan was DOA.
He will ask doctors, nurses, hospitals, average people and have a more open process. He doesn't care about Democrats or Republicans -- he wants to hear all possible ideas that could work, and he wants it all televised on CSPAN.
7th Question: From Fayetteville -- talks about the importance of Ft. Bragg. When will you bring the countries around the world together to talk about a peace.
Obama: he will not hesistate to use our military if the country is threatened. It should be used wisely with diplomacy as the first line of defense. It's how we need to bring the war in Iraq to an end. Even as we are withdrawing troops, we must redouble diplomacy -- get the regional countries to agree on a stabilization plan, discover where our common concerns are. Even Iran has a self interest in a stable region. He lauds Condi and Bush on their effort to hammer out a Middle East peace agreement, but noted that his timing -- when Bush is least popular in the last year of his term -- is nearly fruitless if you're trying to tackle a problem that has been going on for generations.
8th Question: Man, I can't hear this one well. I think it's about dealing with property taxes and possible losing her house(?).
Obama: he notes how angry the woman is (I can't see her). He says that seniors are ill-equipped to deal with large increases in property taxes. They are local concerns, not federal ones. What I can do is make sure states aren't hurt economically by federal mandates that aren't funded (e.g. NCLB).
And then it was a wrap, as "Signed, Sealed, Delivered" played in the background. People exited quickly. Barack Obama had another event in Greenville, NC, so he was probably whisked over to RDU for a short plane ride to that city.
This felt more like a rally than a town hall; no one really challenged Obama on any particular issues; the tone of the questions suggested that people were seeking different kinds of solutions, a different approach to problem solving. There's nothing wrong with that, of course; at least these folks didn't ask any asinine, irrelevant questions like Charlie Gibson and George Stephanopolus did at the Philadelphia debate.