Obama’s economic message gets noticed

By Chris Bragg

GOLDEN — Way back in March, Sen. Barack Obama delivered a speech near Manhattan’s Wall Street in which he presented a six-point plan to tighten regulation of the U.S. economy and strengthen financial oversight. The ink on the government’s contract to bail out Bear Stearns was barely dry, but hardly anyone paid attention to the wonky details of Obama’s plan.

Photo by John Schoenwalter/The Colorado Statesman

Barack Obama makes his detailed observations on the current U.S. financial crisis.

Ah, but Obama had yet to win the presidential nomination and had no Republican adversary to scorch with his critique of irresponsible deregulation.

All that had changed by the time he again offered his six-point plan in a speech in Golden on Tuesday morning. The world had just seen the Treasury takeover of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the failure or sell-off of three of America’s five largest financial institutions, and — just the day before — the sharpest stock market drop in seven years.

This time, the senator from Illinois had the country’s ears.

And he also had a Republican opponent to go after.

During a 40-minute address at the Colorado School of Mines, go after Sen. John McCain he did. Obama noted the foresight he had demonstrated by giving that March speech — and three others before it, dating back to February 2006.

His point was clear: He understands the economy, and McCain is out of touch.

“Senator McCain’s approach was the same as the Bush administration’s,” Obama said. “Support the policies that made the crisis more likely, do nothing as the crisis hits, and then scramble as the whole thing collapses. My approach has been to try to prevent this turmoil.”

“I called for a new, 21st century regulatory framework to restore accountability, transparency and trust in our financial markets,” Obama said, referring to the March speech. “Just a few weeks earlier, Senator McCain made it clear where he stands: ‘I’m always for less regulation,’ he said, and referred to himself as ‘fundamentally a deregulator.’ ”

Obama cited a couple of possible recent missteps by McCain in reaction to the financial crisis.

“We are in the most serious financial crisis in generations. Yet, Senator McCain stood up yesterday and said the fundamentals of the economy are strong,” Obama said.

Later on Monday, McCain would explain that he meant to say that American workers — whom he considers the fundamental underpinning of the economy — are strong.

In addition, McCain suggested Tuesday morning, before Obama’s speech, that a new “9/11 Commission” be formed to study the collapse of the financial market.

Obama responded that McCain had offered up “the oldest Washington stunt in the book. You pass the buck to a commission to study the problem.”

“But,” Obama added, “here’s the thing. This isn’t 9/11. We know how we got into this mess.”

In a race that had recently devolved into interpretation of the phrase “lipstick on a pig,” Obama’s speech was meant to refocus the race on the floundering economy. As he spoke to about 2,000 people Tuesday, he offered highly specific solutions.

Whether voters will agree with them — or even understand them — is another question.

Obama called for more aggressive regulation of Wall Street, health care for all Americans, reformed bankruptcy laws and dedication to the development of renewable energy. Obama praised efforts by Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter in regard to the latter, and said he wants to invest $150 billion over the next decade in new energy technologies.

He also touted a $50 billion “Emergency Economic Plan” that would allow states to avoid budget cuts and save a million jobs by putting people to work repairing infrastructure and school buildings.

In addition, he said he would provide 10 million middle-class homeowners 10 percent off their interest rate through a universal mortgage tax credit.

Obama also promoted his tax plan, which would raise taxes on those making more than $250,000, but cut taxes for the other 95 percent of

Obama suggested that McCain’s “outrage at Wall Street would be more convincing if he wasn’t offering them more tax cuts.”

After the speech, Colorado Democrats took their turn at bashing McCain.

“McCain’s remarks yesterday are only the latest in a series of out-of-touch remarks on the economy from McCain and his advisers,” said Pat Waak, chair of the Colorado Democratic Party. “Despite 26 years in Congress, McCain still doesn’t understand the economy, and he’s out of touch with Americans’ economic struggles.”

The McCain campaign, meanwhile, immediately responded to Obama’s comments in Golden.

“Aside from inflating his own resume, Barack Obama offered nothing new except for sharp criticisms of the most fundamental elements of the American economy and pessimism about genuine efforts to restore our country’s prosperity,” said McCain spokesman Tucker Bounds.

“More important than understanding that raising taxes on small businesses during a struggling economy is a bad idea, is respecting the strength of American workers and ingenuity. Sadly, Barack Obama demonstrates neither,” Bounds added.

Another indicator that Obama is putting the economy back at the forefront is the re-emergence of Obama’s top economic adviser, Austan Goolsbee.

Goolsbee has been touring the battleground states and made two stops in Colorado on Wednesday.

In February, Goolsbee made a comment during a meeting at Chicago’s Canadian consulate about the North American Free Trade Agreement. After the meeting, word leaked out that Obama — according to Goolsbee’s alleged account — wasn’t really as serious as he said he was when it came to protecting blue-collar workers in the Midwest against the negative impact of such free trade agreements as NAFTA.

Goolsbee denied having said any such thing, but his supposed statement became ammunition for Sen. Hillary Clinton, helped her win the Ohio Democratic primary and removed Goolsbee from the public spotlight — until now.