By Leslie Jorgensen
THE COLORADO STATESMAN
PUEBLO — Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama told a southern Colorado crowd that the debacle on Wall Street proves that Republican policies over the past eight years have, “shredded consumer protections, loosened oversight and regulation and encouraged outsized bonuses for CEOs while ignoring middle-class Americans.
It’s unity among Democrats as Sen. Ken Salazar, Sen. Barack Obama and Gov. Bill Ritter join hands at a rally in Pueblo.
“The result is the most serious financial crisis that we’ve seen in generations,” asserted Obama, speaking of the previous day, Sept. 14, “Black Sunday” on Wall Street.
Obama’s “change we need” message blasted Sen. John McCain’s “more of the same” voting record.
“When it comes to this economy, you stood solidly with George Bush,” Obama charged, as if McCain were standing next to him.
“We can’t afford four more years!”
Nearly 14,000 people boisterously booed every mention of McCain and cheered Obama, vigorously waving “Change We Need” signs in the Colorado State Fairgrounds Stadium Arena.
“I don’t think John McCain gets what’s happening between the mountains in Sedona, where he lives, and the corridors of power in Washington, where he works,” said Obama. “If he got it, he wouldn’t say that we’ve had great prosperity under George Bush.”
“Why else would he say — today, of all days, just this morning — that the fundamentals of the economy are strong? Senator McCain, what economy are you talking about?” quizzed Obama.
The day before Obama’s Sept. 15 speeches here and in Grand Junction, reports rippled of the collapse of Lehman Brothers — a global investment bank that had survived the Civil War and the Great Depression. Merrill Lynch agreed to be acquired by Bank of America Corp. for half of the asking price.
The Federal Reserve indicated it would not bail out American International Group Inc. with a $40 billion short-term loan, leaving the world’s largest insurer teetering on the brink of failure. (The following day, the federal government granted an $85 billion loan to AIG in an effort to keep the crisis from bleeding into hundreds of government entities, financial institutions and businesses.)
A couple of hours before Obama spoke in Pueblo, the Dow had plummeted to 504.48 points — its worst drop since Sept. 17, 2001, the day the market reopened after the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Some financial experts were predicting that the crisis would result in a $700 billion loss in retirement funds, government pensions and investment portfolios.
Hewlett Packard, which acquired Electronic Data Systems, announced plans to eliminate 24,600 jobs, half within the year. Locally, the company has already begun cutting EDS employees in Louisville and HP employees in Colorado Springs, where it will close its facility.
McCain’s economic statement revisited
Earlier that day, McCain told supporters in Jacksonville, Fla., “There is tremendous turmoil in our financial markets and Wall Street … people are frightened by these events. Our economy, I think, still the fundamentals of our economy are strong, but these are very difficult times. And I promise you we will never put Americans in this position again. We will clean up Wall Street.”
Later, McCain appeared on MSNBC to explain his remark.
“I was talking about the fundamentals of America, which is the workers, their productivity, their innovation, their incredible performance for many, many years,” McCain said, reading part of the statement. “…Wall Street has betrayed us. They’ve broken the social contract between capitalism and the average citizen and the worker.
“And workers are paying a very heavy price, while a lot of [CEOs] are not only emerging unscathed but some of them are left with packages of a hundred million dollars or so. This is a result of excess and greed and corruption. And that’s exactly what is plaguing Americans today. And we’ve got to fix it, and we’ve got to update our regulatory system.”
Obama told Coloradans that McCain’s first statement was crystal clear and that the Arizona senator’s clarification — extolling the virtues of American workers — had been clouded by his voting record.
“Now come on, Senator McCain,” pressed Obama. “We know you meant what you said the first time because you’ve said it before. And your chief economic adviser — the man who wrote your economic plan — said that we’re in a ‘mental recession’ — that this is all in our head. That we’re a nation of whiners.”
In July, former Sen. Phil Gramm, R-Texas, told The Washington Times, “You’ve heard of mental depression. This is mental recession … We may have a recession. We haven’t had one yet. We have sort of become a nation of whiners.”
McCain disagreed with those remarks. Gramm has resigned from the McCain campaign.
Obama said McCain’s record undermined American workers.
However, he said he agreed with Senator McCain’s assessment that “American workers are the backbone of our economy, and they aren’t getting a fair shake in Washington.”
“I’ve been making that case for 19 months,” he said.
However, the Illinois senator said McCain had failed to stand up for American workers during his 26-year tenure in Congress.
“It would’ve been nice if he didn’t vote against [raising] the minimum wage 19 times, or if he didn’t vote to privatize Social Security and hand it over to Wall Street,” Obama declared.
“It would’ve been nice if he had opposed the tax cuts for corporations that have shipped American jobs overseas, or the hundreds of billions of dollars in corporate tax giveaways that have helped plunge our country into crippling debt.
“It would’ve been nice if he had a plan to lower health care costs of American workers — or get them any health care at all — and if he had championed a single plan to make college more affordable.”
Obama reiterated his goals to revive the economy, increase the minimum wage and protect American workers.
In 50 days, he said the election will determine the “future for Colorado, the future for Pueblo, the future for America. That’s what this election is about…”
His words became inaudible as the crowd yelled, “Yes we can! Yes we can! Yes we can!”
The election, he said, will determine the future of the nation’s economy, foreign policy and war, and values.
“It’s not about Britney Spears. It’s not about lipstick. It’s not about pigs!” the Illinois senator declared.
The crowd broke into laughter and applause, recalling the GOP TV commercial equating Obama to a “rock star” and the McCain campaign construing the Democrat’s “lipstick on a pig” quip as an insult to Republican vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin.
Touching the hearts of working class Coloradans in this arena, Obama said the election will determine the ability of Americans to obtain and keep jobs, sell their homes for what they are worth, build and protect retirement funds, send children to college and find affordable health care.
McCain lays hands on “change message” — hands off Colorado water
Obama jabbed the McCain campaign for switching its “experience” slogan to a “change” message.
“Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery,” said Obama. “Instead of borrowing our lines and slogans, I wish he’d borrow some of our ideas.”
Obama questioned the integrity of McCain’s claim to be a maverick who had fought lobbyists, considering that his campaign is served by seven lobbyists associated with key industries such as insurance, oil, lending, investment and foreign interests.
In contrast, Obama said, “Washington lobbyists do not fund my campaign.” As an Illinois legislator, he said he’d reformed rules to prevent lobbyists from giving cash contributions to politicians.
Citing McCain’s record of having voted with Bush 90 percent of the time, Obama said, “I don’t want 10 percent change — I want 100 percent change.”
Obama said that McCain’s idea to change the 1922 Colorado River Compact, which governs how seven western states share water, would “take water from Colorado to give to Arizona.”
In July, McCain told The Pueblo Chieftain, “I don’t think there’s any doubt the major, major issue is water and can be as important as oil. So the compact that is in effect, obviously, needs to be renegotiated over time… certainly adjust to the new realities of high growth, of greater demands on a scarcer source.”
Colorado Democrats as well as Republicans bristled at McCain’s comment. It was interpreted as a call to send more Colorado River water to Arizona and California.
“Over my cold, dead, political carcass,” responded Republican U.S. Senate candidate Bob Schaffer. “Opening it for renegotiation would be the equivalent of a lamb discussing with a pack of wolves what should be on the dinner menu.”
A month later, McCain clarified his remarks in a letter to retiring Republican U.S. Sen. Wayne Allard.
“My recent remarks may have been mistakenly construed as a call to rescind the Colorado River Compact and commence negotiations for new water allocations. Let me be clear that I do not advocate renegotiation of the compact … under no circumstances would I move forward with Colorado River policies not supported by all states involved.”
Obama touched on familiar themes from his nomination acceptance speech in Denver last month, and previewed economic talking points on which he would elaborate further in Golden the following morning.
Calling for “Change We Need,” Obama implored the ecstatic crowd to “knock on some doors, make some calls and do some community organizing.”
Obama waved and shook hands in the crowd roaring with approval as the audio speakers turned up Stevie Wonder singing, “Here I am, baby! Signed, sealed delivered — I’m yours!”