Obama Responds to Bush's Attack
Friday, May 16, 2008; 2:26 PM
SEN. BARACK OBAMA, D-ILL.: Thank you very much. Well, thank you so much.
Please, everybody have a seat. What a wonderful welcome. There are a number of thank yous that I've got to say.
First of all, I could not have a better friend and a greater supporter than your former senator and majority leader, Tom Daschle.
Tom is what you call an early investor. He was on board when nobody gave us a chance, but that's the kind of person he is. When he believes in something, he sticks with it, even if sometimes it's tough.
And Tom has been with me through thick and thin during the course of this campaign. He has always been one of the greatest public servants that this country has ever seen. And so I'm very grateful for his friendship and his support.
Just a couple of other acknowledgements. First of all, we've got Senator Nancy Turbak Berry and her husband, Dave. Please give them a big round of applause.
Stand up, Nancy. Thank you.
Also, Joel Baccarat (ph), who's a supporter and a board member of the Chamber of Commerce here, I want to thank Joel for all his great support.
Sharon, Sharon Stroschein, thanks for her support. Thank you, Sharon.
I want to acknowledge my regional field director for northeast South Dakota, Maggie Thompson (ph). Where's Maggie? Where is she? She's doing a great job, wherever she is. She's probably out there signing up some more people.
And we've got a couple of wonderful folks who I've gotten a chance to know just recently, Jody Ringling (ph) and Adam Randal (ph). And I'm going to be talking to them -- they're going to kick off sort of the Q&A session of this.
This is a town hall meeting, and so I'm not here just to talk. I want to hear from you. But I do want to offer some initial remarks.
And I was going to just talk about rural issues today, but because there was a little dust-up yesterday about foreign policy, I feel obliged just to make a few comments about that, as well.
So I just hope you'll bear with me. I'll speak for about 15 minutes, and then we'll get to the Q&A. But I do want to say something about yesterday.
You know, after almost eight years, I did not think I could be surprised about anything that George Bush says, but I was wrong. Yesterday, George Bush was before the Israeli parliament, the Knesset, to help commemorate the 60th anniversary of Israeli independence. That's a wonderful occasion and a time for celebration.
But instead of celebrating and offering some clear ideas about how to move the situation in the Middle East forward, the president did something that presidents don't do, and that is launch a political attack targeted toward the domestic market in front of a foreign delegation.
On a day when we were supposed to be celebrating the anniversary of Israel's independence, he accused me and other Democrats of wanting to negotiate with terrorists and said we were "appeasers," no different from people who appeased Adolf Hitler. That's what George Bush said in front of the Israeli parliament.
Now, that's exactly the kind of appalling attack that's divided our country and that alienates us from the world. And that's why we need change in Washington. That's part of the reason why I'm running for president of the United States of America.
Now, that was frustrating enough, but then John McCain gives a speech. Now, he gave a speech at the -- in the morning, where he talked about the need for civility in our politics. He talked about elevating the tone of the debate in our country. He talked about reaching out in a bipartisan fashion to the other side.
And then, not an hour later, he turned around and embraced George Bush's attacks on Democrats. He jumped on a call with a bunch of bloggers and said that I wasn't fit to protect this nation that I love because I wanted to sit down and negotiate with tough diplomacy with countries like Iran, accused me of not being fit to protect this nation, a nation that my grandfather served in World War II, this nation that's given me everything that I have.
So much for civility.
Well, I want to be perfectly clear with George Bush and John McCain and with the people of South Dakota. If George Bush and John McCain want to have a debate about protecting the United States of America, that is a debate that I'm happy to have any time, any place, and that is a debate that I will win, because George Bush and John McCain have a lot to answer for.
George Bush and John McCain have a lot to answer for. They've got to explain why we are now in our sixth year, entering our sixth year of war in Iraq.
We were supposed to be going over there for weapons of mass destruction that we never found. We were told that it was going to last a few months and cost a few billion dollars. We have now spent over $600 billion, thousands of lives lost, and we have not been made more safe.
They're going to have to explain the fact that Osama bin Laden is still at large and is sending out videotapes with impunity.
They need to answer for the fact that Al Qaida's leadership is stronger than ever because we took our eye off the ball in Afghanistan.
They've got to answer for the fact that Iran is the greatest strategic beneficiary of our invasion in Iraq. It made Iran stronger, George Bush's policies.
They're going to have to explain why Hamas now controls Gaza, Hamas that was strengthened because the United States insisted that we should have democratic elections in the Palestinian Authority.
They're going to have to explain why it is that Iran is able to fund Hezbollah and poses the greatest threat to America and Israel and the Middle East in a generation.
That's the Bush-McCain record on protecting this country. Those are the failed policies that John McCain wants to double-down on, because he still hasn't spelled out one substantial way in which he'd be different from George Bush when it comes to foreign policy.
So I'm a strong believer in civility and I'm a strong believer in a bipartisan foreign policy, but that cause is not served with dishonest, divisive attacks of the sort that we've seen out of George Bush and John McCain over the last couple of days.
And, you know, let me just say one -- a couple other things about this. I was going to say one more, but I've got a couple of things.
John McCain has repeated this notion that I'm prepared to negotiate with terrorists. I have never said that; I have been adamant about not negotiating with Hamas, a terrorist organization that has vowed to destroy Israel and won't recognize them.
In fact, the irony is yesterday, just as John McCain was making these attacks, a story broke that he was actually guilty of the exact same thing that he's accusing me of and, in fact, was saying that maybe we need to deal with Hamas.
And that's the kind of hypocrisy that we've been seeing in our foreign policy, the kind of fear-peddling, fear-mongering that has prevented us from actually making us safe.
They're trying to fool you and trying to scare you, and they're not telling the truth. And the reason is, is because they can't win a foreign policy debate on the merits.
But it's not going to work. And it's not going to work this time, and it's not going to work this year.
Our Iran policy is a complete failure right now. And that's the policy that John McCain is running on. He has nothing to offer except the naive and irresponsible belief that tough talk from Washington will somehow cause Iran to give up its nuclear program and support for terrorism.
I'm running for president to change course, not to continue George Bush's course.
I believe we need to use all elements of American power to pressure Iran, including tough, principled and direct diplomacy. That's what John F. Kennedy did. That's what Ronald Reagan did when dealing with the Soviets. And that's what the president's own secretary of defense wants to do.
I mean, understand George Bush's secretary of defense suggests that we talk directly to Iran. So I don't know if George Bush is calling his own secretary of defense an appeaser. I don't know who he's talking about.
It's time to present Iran with a clear choice: If it abandons its nuclear program, support for terror, and threats to Israel, then Iran can rejoin the community of nations. If not, Iran will face deeper isolation and steeper sanctions.
But in the Bush-McCain worldview, everyone who disagrees with their failed Iran policy is a "appeaser." And back during his "No Surrender" tour, John McCain said anyone who wants to end the war in Iraq wanted to "surrender."
He even said later on that he would be willing to keep troops in Iraq for 100 years, although I think he noticed that it wasn't polling well, because yesterday he said suddenly that our troops are going to be home by 2013, although he didn't explain how he was going to do it.
He offered the promise that America will win a victory with no understanding that Iraq is fighting a civil war, just like George Bush's plan isn't about winning, it's about staying. And that's why there will be a clear choice in November: fighting a war without end, or ending this war and bringing our troops home.
Because we don't need John McCain's predictions about when the war will end; we need a plan to end it. And that's what I've provided during this campaign.
The American people have had enough of the division and the bluster. Both Bush and McCain represent the failed foreign policy and fear-mongering of the past.
I believe the American people are ready to reject this approach and to choose the future. I think you're ready for change that unites this country, and ends this war, and restores our security and standing in the world, and that is serious about a bipartisan foreign policy.
You can't suggest that you want to be bipartisan and then run the kinds of campaign tactics that we've been seeing over the last couple of days. You've got to start while you're campaigning. That's why we need to bring about some change in the White House.
All right, I just wanted to get that off my chest, guys. That's about our foreign policy.
Now, the change that we're seeking begins not just abroad, but also has to happen here at home, here in rural America. Washington has failed to hear your voices for far too long.
And it's about time that your voices were heard, because when you get out and talk to people across the heartland, you're reminded that there's an awful lot that America can learn from rural communities.
I am reminded of my grandparents, who came from small towns in Kansas, and they brought those heartland values west where they helped raise me. And when I travel across the heartland, I see those values in the people that I meet in small towns and on family farms and ranches: hard work, innovation, rugged independence, joined with the belief in community that says, "I am my brother's keeper. I am my sister's keeper."
These are American values. They're the values that I will fight for as president, and they are the values at the core of my agenda for rural America.
We are at a turning point...
We are at a turning point right now. Our economy is in transition. Our environment faces growing peril, and our communities are changing. Young people in small towns don't know if they can make a good living and raise a family and achieve their dreams without moving far away from where they were raised.
That's what you hear when you go out and talk to people. And that's not a future that I accept.
The problem in part is Washington. Over the past decade, we've handed out $1.3 billion in federal farm money to people who aren't even farmers. We've got farm money going to Fortune 500 companies. That's what happens when rural policy is written by lobbyists in Washington.
Here's what I'm going to do is president. I will cap federal farm payments at $250,000. I will close loopholes that allow big agribusiness to work the system.
I will immediately implement country-of-origin labeling so that American farmers can distinguish their products.
I will stand up for the packer ban and strengthen and enforce laws to ensure that ranchers get a fair deal. That's what I've stood up for in the Senate, but it's what John McCain stood against when he voted against common-sense measures, like country-of-origin labeling and the packer ban. He stood with Washington, and Washington failed to stand by you.
We also need to invest in the opportunities that are being created right here in rural America. I fought, along with Tom Daschle, along with Tim Johnson, for renewable energy sources for a decade, for wind and solar, for advanced biodiesel and ethanol.
And when I'm president, I'll set a goal to produce the first 2 billion gallons of advanced biofuels by 2013 and will invest in clean energy sources, like wind and solar, so that, by 2025, America can meet a new standard that will require 25 percent of all our electricity comes from renewable sources.
And that will help South Dakota, because we've got a lot of wind and we've got a lot of sun right here in the state of South Dakota.
And when we do those things, we cannot only lift up the rural economy; we can also secure our energy future and help save the planet in the bargain, but only if we have leadership that understands that the solutions to our problems are right here in places like South Dakota.
The fact is, when John McCain had the chance to support alternative energy, he rejected the single biggest investment in renewable energy in history, including incentives that contributed to a nearly 50 percent increase in wind-power generation last year.
He's voted against renewable fuel mandates and investment in clean energy over and over again. That's not a record that rural America can count on. That's not the support that we need to show for our rural economy.
Most of all, we need to show young people that they can live their American dream right here in places like Watertown. No child in America...
No child in America should grow up thinking that their hometown is not part of the American story or that they'll have to move away to live their dreams out.
We need to recruit new teachers, and doctors, and nurses, and make new investments in our rural schools and our rural hospitals. We need to invest in broadband and infrastructure to connect the entire country to the 21st-century economy and 21st-century technology.
We need to support small businesses in small towns. And we need to show that small farming and ranching is a big part of the future of this country. That's why...
That's why I've proposed a program to give a hand to the next generation of farmers and ranchers. We'll work with our land grant schools and community colleges with 4-H and FFA to give young people the skills they need to make it. And we'll give them incentives to afford their first farm or ranch, while giving a tax break to land owners who sell to beginning farmers.
We can do these things.
We can do these things, but only if Washington understands the struggles that rural America is facing. We can't afford another president who say he'll veto a farm bill that will help South Dakota farmers and ranchers, and yet that's exactly what John McCain says he'll do in the White House.
That's not the change we need. That's exactly what we've had from George Bush for the last eight years, and it just won't do.
We know the farm bill isn't perfect. We'd like to see more reform, and that's what I'll pursue as president. We'll close loopholes that let agribusiness break the rules, and we'll put more fruits and vegetables into our schools and fight hunger. We'll help farmers do more to conserve their habitat so that they have the stability that they need.
But we won't turn our back on legislation that gives rural America a hand. And that's what George Bush and John McCain have promised to do.
It is time to come together, all of us, urban, rural, from every state, from every race and every religion, with a sense of urgency so that our politics work for the people of America. We can't settle for anything less.
We can't settle for anything less than fundamental change, so that your voices are heard in Washington. We have to fight to ensure that the child in Codington County can dream as big as the child in Chicago, because the dreams of rural America are worth fighting for. That's what my rural agenda does, and that's what I'll do as president of the United States.
All right, thank you, everybody.
Thank you. Thank you.
Now, all right, thank you. Thank you very much. Thank you. Thank you very much. Thank you. Thank you. All right, now, we've got Jody and Adam here as sort of guinea pigs for us, because sometimes it's hard to get people to open up and start, you know, asking questions and giving comments.
And so what we wanted to do was to start off just by letting me ask a couple of representatives of your community about what they're seeing, the kinds of help they'd like to see from Washington. And then I'm just going to open it up for questions from everybody.
All right, so, Adam, you've got a ranch. You're a fifth- generation rancher. What are the biggest challenges that you're facing? And you're going to school at the same time. You're an example of a young modern rancher getting your degree. He's getting his M.A., and smart guy, knows all kinds of stuff.
But what are the biggest challenges that you're facing? And what do you think would be most helpful, in terms of federal policy or from Washington that would make sure that you've got a sixth, and a seventh, and an eighth generation of ranching here in the Watertown area?
(UNKNOWN): All right. I guess the first thing, obviously, in order to raise cattle, and to finish them off, and get them into the grocery store for everybody to enjoy a nice steak at night takes corn to get the cattle to that point.
Everybody knows right now that corn prices are high, and a lot of the farmers are liking that. It's been a long time coming that they've finally been making a really good living currently.
However, fuel prices are becoming a little out of hand for the agricultural community. Our input costs are definitely going extremely high. Fertilizer to use on the fields to plant that corn and get it to the cattle are all getting a little out of control.
And if we could get our input costs a little lower, with the biggest example being our fuel that we're using, would definitely help out a great deal.
OBAMA: So your fuel costs have gone up, just like people's prices at the gas pump has gone up over the last year?
(UNKNOWN): Yes, that's right.
OBAMA: Right. And that means that, even if you're able to sell your product at a higher price, in terms of what you're profiting, what you're netting, it's not what it should be.
(UNKNOWN): That's correct. That's correct.
Jody, anything that you'd like to see? Obviously, fuel prices are critically important, and we've got to bring those down.
(UNKNOWN): Oh, yes. OBAMA: What else are...
(UNKNOWN): You know, it's kind of a trickle-down effect. You know, there are so many petroleum-based products. And it just drives everything, you know. It makes it really, really hard for the small family farmer.
My husband and I are fourth-generation farmers and ranchers in South Angel, South Dakota (ph). And, you know, the fuel, of course, and the price of corn is just out of the roof.
And but another thing that I see -- and it's so nice to see Adam here, as a fifth-generation farmer and wanting to come back. But there are so many young people in the state of South Dakota who can't come back. You know, the corporate farms move in and the big confinement sheds and whatnot. And kids can't afford to farm.
OBAMA: Just the capital requirements for farming at that scale are prohibitive?
(UNKNOWN): Yes. Yes.
OBAMA: Now, has there been a lot of consolidation? Are a lot of folks getting bought out?
(UNKNOWN): Yes. You know, back home, of course, we have a lot of -- the pheasant hunting thing is a big deal. And maybe several areas around here have pheasant reserves and whatnot, but we see a lot of people, and they're corporate people that come out of state into our state and buy up land.
Well, you know, not every kid, even us, we can't afford $1,500 an acre for land, you know. And the cost has just -- it's just gone through the roof. It's been really, really hard.
OBAMA: One other thing that -- you know, in my home state, Illinois, obviously, is an agricultural state, as well. And when I talk to farmers, something that is of deep concern to them is also health care, because they're essentially business people, and getting your own health care these days is tough. What do you guys do, in terms of health care coverage?
(UNKNOWN): Well, obviously, when you're an independent family farmer, you don't -- you have to get your own insurance.
(UNKNOWN): And I was just thinking the other day, I think, you know...
OBAMA: You look really healthy, by the way. So you don't look like you get sick that much, but it's always nice to have a back-up plan.
(UNKNOWN): Well, you know what? I have a grandmother that lived to be 98. I'm hoping... OBAMA: See? Good genes. Right.
(UNKNOWN): I'm working on that. Anyway, for us, we have to buy our own insurance. And we are insurance poor, I'll tell you. You know, between health insurance, you know, just insurance, any kind. You know, it's crazy. It's insane.
OBAMA: The costs have really gone up high for you.
(UNKNOWN): Yes. Yes.
OBAMA: Absolutely. Absolutely.
You have some applause for that. Now, the other thing, part of -- I was mentioning this farm bill that we just voted on, very imperfect. I mean, there were aspects of it that I wanted to change.
But one thing that was in there that I thought was really important was permanent disaster protection and relief, because I know that's something that a lot of farmers want, just some security that you don't -- if there is a drought, if there is a flood, that you're not having to wait for a year or a year-and-a-half to get everything processed, but people have some assurance, some stability there. But, obviously, you also want to deal with fluctuations in market prices.
When you think, Adam, about -- and you're studying this right now. What do you think would be the best way to structure our farm support system so that you guys are -- so you can do business and make a go at things, knowing that you're working hard and you're not looking for a handout from Washington?
(UNKNOWN): Yes. I think that is maybe one of the biggest misconceptions of people that aren't in the farming industry themselves. The farmers aren't always looking for that handout and wanting the money, but there's really no other way.
A disaster comes through, drought or hail, a flood or a few late blizzards like we had here this spring, can definitely take a lot of the profit away from the year and put you down in the hole pretty quick, even, if you're not careful and extremely good manager of what you're operating.
However, there really should be something for a time when there is a large disaster, that there's at least something for that producer to keep going. With your increased fuel costs and increased input costs, they're not going to call you back up after you have a disaster and give you your money back for what you lost on that year
So definitely having something that would give the farmer or the rancher a little bit of money when all is lost would definitely be a big help.
OBAMA: And one last question I wanted, and then -- I promised I wasn't going to put them on the spot the whole time. And they've done great.
One last question I want to ask about it, and either of you can answer it, and that is, you know, when you think about conservation and the land, obviously, you know, one of the things that America has been blessed with is just this unbelievable natural resource.
And not only do we see strains on the land from overdevelopment, and farmland being bought up and being paved over, and a lot of housing development, but also sometimes farming processes themselves can put a strain on the land.
How do you guys think about those issues? How important is that? Is that something that affects you, as ranchers, as much as it does those who are growing crops? Because one of the things in the farm bill we wanted to do was to encourage more conservation, give people more incentives to be good stewards.
(UNKNOWN): Well, you know, I think that, if you are a good farmer, you are going to be a good steward of the land and you are going to take care of your land.
No doubt about it.
OBAMA: And, you know, one of the things -- this is something that was a positive in the farm bill. It did boost money for conservation programs, because sometimes farmers want to do the right thing, but it may be a little more costly to do things in a more environmentally friendly way. And that's, again, an area where we can be really helpful.
But as president, I'd like to increase that conservation funding even a little bit more. And, again, that's where giving...
... you know, that's where giving big billion-dollar subsidies to big agribusiness operations that are already doing really well doesn't make much sense, because every time you're giving that money away, that's money that could be used for family farmers to do the right thing. And that's something that I'm going to try to encourage.
So, everybody, give Adam and Jody a big round of applause. All right. They did great.
You guys can just -- all right. I want to -- we've got a lot of people in here. I probably won't get to every question. I just want to warn you. So what I'm going to do -- the only rule is, just raise your hand. There are some microphones in the audience. And what I'm going to try to do is go boy-girl, boy-girl, so it's fair.
All right? So we're going to start with this gentleman in the white cap right there. There he is. Can we get a mike over there?
And introduce yourself, if you don't mind. I guess you're a dad. That's what it says, is that it?
QUESTION: Yes, I am.
OBAMA: Yes, it's working.
QUESTION: We as South Dakotans and in this nation, we have to maintain a budget. How can we get the federal government to reduce our deficit and become in budget?
OBAMA: Good. Well, look...
You know, this is an example of the debate that we're going to have in November, because the Republicans, George Bush, John McCain, talk a lot about being fiscal conservatives, fiscal conservatives, right? I mean, you hear that all the time.
Except when Bill Clinton left office, we had a huge surplus. We now have huge deficits, and George Bush has added $4 trillion worth of national debt, $4 trillion. Keep in mind, the first 42 presidents, they amassed $5 trillion worth of debt, the first 42 of them. The first couple of hundred years-plus of American history, we accumulated $5 trillion. Now we're at $9 trillion.
That's just bad -- that's not being fiscally conservative. And so we're going to have to change our policies.
Now, it's going to be -- let me say this. It's not going to be completely easy, because we're in a hole. And the first thing you do when you're in a hole is what?
(UNKNOWN): Stop digging.
OBAMA: Stop digging. Who got that right? There you go. You stop digging.
So the first thing that we're going to have to do is to stop adding to our deficit. And that's why I'm a big proponent of something called PAYGO. Tom Daschle is a big supporter of it. Our neighbor to the north, Kent Conrad, senator from North Dakota, is a big proponent of it.
And it's a very simple principle that you live by every day, which is that, if you want to spend more money, you either got to cut something else or you've got to raise revenue. And if you want to cut taxes, then you've got to cut spending or you've got to find some offsetting tax cut that you're going to take away.
The point is, you can't get something for nothing. And if you want to -- for example, I've already said, I want to provide health care for every American. And...
If you've already got health insurance on the job, we're going to lower your premiums by $2,500, working with your employer. If you don't have health care, you're going to be able to buy in a plan that is as good as the health care that I have as a member of Congress. And you won't be excluded for pre-existing conditions.
And so, for somebody like Jody, even though she's going to live to be 98 and never get sick, if we're going to get her some health insurance, she can buy into a big pool government plan that will be cheaper than the one she gets. And we won't exclude for pre-existing conditions, and we'll negotiate for the cheapest available price on drugs with the drug companies to lower premiums for seniors.
Now, about half of the savings or about half of the costs of this program we can get just by making the health care system more efficient, for example, by putting more money into prevention, so that people are getting regular check-ups and regular screenings, instead of going to the emergency room for treatable illnesses.
But about half of it we're going to have to pay for to make sure that everybody is covered. And the way I will pay for it is I will roll back the Bush tax cuts on people making over $250,000.
The point is, I will -- there's not a program I've proposed that I don't pay for by closing a -- I'll give you another example. I want to give every middle-class American a tax cut, $75,000, $50,000, if you make that much money, I want to give you $1,000 offset on your payroll tax. So you've got an extra $1,000 per family to deal with rising gas prices.
Now, how am I going to pay for it? That costs money; that's money out of the Treasury. So what I do is I'm going to close corporate tax havens and corporate loopholes and stop giving tax breaks to companies that ship job overseas. We're going to give those tax breaks to the American people.
All right, so step number one is paying as you go. Step number two, ending this war in Iraq. We are spending $10 billion a month in Iraq. We can't afford to spend $10 billion a month. We can't afford it.
And if we start bringing our troops home in a careful, responsible way -- nobody's talking about bringing them home instantly, but one to two brigades a month. It'll take about 16 months to get our combat troops out.
Some of that money we're going to have to devote to our veterans, because we have not been caring for our veterans properly, and they've got to get the services that they need and the disability payments that we need.
We've got a couple of veterans right here in the front, and I want to thank them for their service...
... and, you know, make sure that we're always treating our veterans properly.
But some of that money we can start putting into rebuilding our roads and rebuilding our bridges and bringing down our deficit.
The last point I want to make, in terms of deficits, there really are some programs that are wasteful in government. Our government -- you know, you remember the bridge to nowhere. We're going to have to, I think, do a much better job of planning how we spend our money.
So, for example, our capital budget, how we build roads and bridges shouldn't be determined by politics. It should be determined by what roads and bridges actually need to be rebuilt. And we should have experts and engineers making these determinations. So we can squeeze some waste out of government.
And the final thing is our health care bill. That's the thing that we're most concerned about, Medicare and Medicaid. And that's why I want to have universal health care, because if everybody is healthier, they are less expensive to treat, and that will bring overall health care inflation down. That will help solve our budget problems over the long term.
All right? OK.
So it's a young lady's turn, right there in the black, black T- shirt, right there.
QUESTION: Thank you, sir. My name is Carlotta Carr (ph), and I'm actually a member of the Sioux Falls community in Drollop (ph) today, because, as Michelle has praised you for, your darling, lovely wife...
OBAMA: Yes, she's wonderful.
QUESTION: Isn't she? She's one of my favorites, as well.
OBAMA: She's terrific.
QUESTION: She said you've never missed a piano recital or a parent-teacher conference. And my daughter tonight at 7 o'clock has a piano recital across the street from the Sioux Falls rally, so I couldn't make that bad decision to not be there for her. OBAMA: You had to be there, so you had to come down here. Thank you so much.
QUESTION: You're very welcome. Thank you for showing us all how to be a better America, as well.
I want to just thank you for running for office. You know, I'm a very hard-working woman. I have four children. I have 20 employees. I'm a sales manager.
And every day, my husband and I find it harder and harder to care for our four children. We picked up some paper routes. We do whatever we can, and I just appreciate the comments on balancing the budget and helping us who are working so hard. So thank you for that, as well.
But my question really is, coming back to Michelle a little bit, is I appreciate when she talks about wanting her time as first lady to be about helping women who are trying to care for their children and be working mothers.
And what kind of programs do you see that you will bring in your presidency to kind of have Michelle help us with all that? What does that look like?
And then, two, as your campaign has been about bringing about change from the bottom up, how do you see your presidency helping to inspire or maintain this optimism that you've brought to America...
QUESTION: ... during your presidency? And what can we do to help you with that, so that we do continue every day in America to be brothers and sisters for one another and doing more to help poverty and helping each other...
... to really make that change in our country?
OBAMA: Well, let me say, you know, I was raised by a single mom and my grandparents. And my grandmother, who is an amazing lady -- she's still alive -- she never went to college. She worked her way up from a secretary to become a vice president of a bank, one of the first women vice presidents in the state.
So I come from a family of strong women. And I've seen how much they have to struggle to hold things together, and I've watched Michelle, my wife -- you know, when I was in the state legislature, I'd be away, and she was working full-time and looking after the kids. And juggling and trying to balance all that is extraordinarily difficult.
A couple things that we need to do. Number one, I think it's very important to make sure that women are paid the same as men. So that's a good start.
You know, we've got to make sure that our civil rights laws are enforced. If women are doing the same work, they should get the same pay, and they should have the same opportunities.
I've got two daughters. And my attitude is that my daughters should be able to do the exact same things that two boys could do. And they shouldn't be punished in any way. And that's point number one.
Point number two, no matter how much we like to think, us husbands, that we're enlightened and helping around the house and all that, the fact is that women still carry a larger burden when it comes to child-rearing.
And so making sure that we've got high quality daycare, making sure that we've got an expanded Family Medical Leave Act, so that people can actually take advantage of it, and that you can get paid for, you know, some leave for maternity leave, making sure that, if your child gets sick, you're not going to be penalized on the job because you're taking care of a sick child, those are really important.
And I actually want to make -- I want to expand not only Family and Medical Leave Act to apply to caring for an aging parent, but I also want to see if we can help states so that they can provide paid leave. Because even if you have leave, if you're getting so paid so little that you just can't afford to take the day off from work, especially when you're paying an extra $100 for gas that month, then the program is not going to do any good.
So if we can try, at least for larger employers, institute a system of paid leave, I think that would make a lot of sense. And...
OBAMA: Oh, oh. What's going on there?
It is a test. All right. All right, everybody stay calm.
So child care very important, family and medical leave very important, making sure women are getting paid properly very important, expanding the child tax credit, that is very important.
And just making the tax code fairer generally, you know, I get so frustrated when I see -- when I read stories about CEOs who are making millions of dollars a year and they're paying a lower tax rate than you guys are.
Oh, here we go.
All right, see how long the test is. I'll bet Bush planned this.
You think? No, but, you know, when a family budget is squeezed, a lot of times women are the ones who are handling the family budget. And that puts a lot of strain on everybody.
So that's why I want to pass this middle-class tax cut, an extra $1,000 per family, just to relieve some of the burden. And we can afford it. And, by the way, rich people are still going to be rich. All we're doing is talking about rolling back the tax cuts that George Bush put in place, but you remember when Bill Clinton was president. It wasn't like Warren Buffett was starving to death. He was doing just fine.
And he, by the way, is an example of somebody who -- he admits, he says, "I think I should be paying my fair share." He's embarrassed about the fact he pays less in taxes than his secretary, in terms of percentage. Obviously, he pays more total. But as a percentage, he actually pays less, and that's just not fair.
All right? Thank you. All right. Here you go.
QUESTION: I'm Robert Fleming (ph). And, you know, I'll tell you what, I've been kind of a farmer and a freight man, too. And I think this fuel prices is ridiculous. That's the way I'll put it. When it costs you about -- just to fill up your combine or your tractor, when it costs you about $400 or $500, you know, a tank, I don't even know how they can make it, really. So that's something that's got to be taken care of.
Now, just one minute now. Now, I'll tell you what, I was a very good union man. And I think this is what's happened in this country. Our unions are going out. And I don't know if it's our younger generation or what it is, but in the trucking business, I started in 1955, so you know how old I am. And I've been retired for 21 years this month.
But I said it's just -- our government, I'll tell you what, back, it would be about 20 years ago, you know, they deregulated all this, so if you had a little truck, you could go hauling whatever you wanted. And this is what ruins our country.
I'll tell you what, they was hauling basket loads and all that's left is our non-union. Now, if you can tell me what's wrong with this country, I know. It needs a good trimming up.
(LAUGHTER) OBAMA: All right, well, listen, thank you. You asked two questions. Question number one, gas prices. It's killing everybody. And, look, I got in an argument with John McCain about this, because when gas prices starting going up, he proposed this gas tax holiday.
And I guess he thought that it would be good politics. But it's bad policy, and here's why. The federal gas tax only accounts for about 5 percent of what you pay at the tank. So a gas tax holiday at best would give you about 30 cents per day for three months, for a grand total of $28.
That's how much you would save. That's if the oil companies passed on the savings to you, but think about it. If they took away the gas tax, what's the likelihood that the oil companies are going to lower their gas prices by the same amount that the gas tax was reduced? Not likely.
What's more likely -- and I know, because we passed this in Illinois when I was in the state legislature, and we discontinued it after about six months, because the money wasn't getting to consumers.
But here's the other problem. The money for the gas tax goes into our federal highway fund. That's what's used to rebuild our roads and our bridges. And if we empty that out, then we're not going to be building our infrastructure. That's a problem.
So the real solution to our gas problems long term is we've got to invest in alternative fuel, we've got to invest in cellulosic ethanol, we've got to think about how can we use woodchips and prairie grass and all kinds of different non-food stocks to create alternative fuels. We've got to focus on that. And I've committed to putting in billions of dollars into that effort.
The second thing is we've got to raise fuel efficiency standards on our cars and trucks and tractors. We've got to invest in high, advanced technology to make it -- you know, we've got the technology right now. You could be getting 100 miles a gallon on your car. The technology is there.
The problem is, is just that we haven't invested in the technology to scale it up and make it cheap enough for consumers to buy the automobiles and to set up the distribution network for, let's say, a plug-in hybrid, where you could just plug in your car at night. It would charge up, and then it would go during the day.
We know how to do it, but we just have to invest more money into making it more commercially available. That's going to be a top priority when I'm president.
In the meantime, to give you relief on gas prices, we'll look at market manipulations and price gouging by oil companies. We will impose a windfall profit tax on oil companies that we reinvent in renewable energies.
And I'm going to give you that tax cut of $1,000 per family to cover those rising costs, as the technology catches up and as people start adapting with higher fuel efficiency standards on their cars.
All right? Now on the union issue, I'm a pro-union guy. I believe in unions.
I think that -- if you think -- if you're wondering why it is that the average wage and income for families actually went down by $1,000 over the last seven, eight years, even though corporate profits were skyrocketing rates, it's because the union movement has been weakened.
And that's why I want a Department of Labor that believes in labor. And I want to make it easier for unions to organize. If a majority of workers in a plant want a union, they should be able to get a union. And that's something we're going to fight for when I'm president of the United States.
So it's a woman's turn. Here's the young lady right here. Can we get a mike over here? Here we go.
OBAMA: Hi, how are you?
QUESTION: They all want me to tell you what I just did this morning when I got in line outside.
QUESTION: I've been a strong Republican all my life, and I just switched to the Democratic Party.
OBAMA: Oh, I like that. I like that. That's what we need. That's what we need.
QUESTION: Because I believe that you are so down-to-earth and real and genuine.
OBAMA: Well, I appreciate that.
QUESTION: I believe what you say.
OBAMA: Thank you. I appreciate that. Thank you.
QUESTION: It's not so much a question, as it is that -- man, I'm just shaking.
OBAMA: You're doing great.
QUESTION: All the big companies right here, the factories, a lot of them are closing down half of it and shipping it over to China. It's affecting all of our families. They're closing down and, you know, of course they're getting better wages over there, but I would like to hear your views on that again please.
OBAMA: Absolutely. Yes, look, this has been -- one of the problems that we have is the decline in manufacturing in this country. We're not making things the way we used to. We're letting other people make things, and we're shuffling paper, or our service industry is growing.
Now, part of that is just advances in technology. If you got to a steel mill now, you need one-tenth of the workers that you used to need to make the same amount of steel. So as an economy matures, inevitably you need fewer workers for manufacturing.
But a lot of it has to do with the fact that we, number one, haven't had trade agreements that are fair, I think, to American workers. China devalues its currency to make our exports more expensive and their exports cheaper. They take our intellectual property. They don't allow us to sell into those markets.
It's not just China. You look at Korea. They sold hundreds of thousands of cars in the U.S. market. You know how many cars, U.S. cars we've sold to Korea? Five thousand last year, fewer than five thousand, because they've got all kinds of restrictions and barriers.
Same thing with cell phones. You can't sell cell phones into South Korea because they've got all kinds of restrictions. And it's also affecting farmers and ranchers directly. I mean, you can't get beef into Japan and Korea, even though, obviously, we have the highest safety standards of anybody, but they don't want to have that competition from U.S. producers.
So we've got to have a president who's a tougher negotiator and, when we have tougher negotiations, that means that other countries are going to have to allow us to sell into their markets.
And there are businesses, like John Deere and Caterpillar, that are doing very well with the export market. But we've got to expand that. So that's point number one.
Point number two, though, is we've got to invest in new manufacturing and new technologies. And that's where energy is so important.
You know, I was in Philadelphia. I was in Philadelphia visiting an old steel mill that now builds windmills. And you go in there, and you've got unionized steel workers.
But instead of building steel or processing steel, what they're doing is they're making wind turbines, windmills, and there's no reason why we couldn't make South Dakota the hub of wind technology, create factories all across South Dakota...
... put the windmills up right here. The one thing that we're going to have to do in order to fully realize the potential of wind technology, though, is we're going to have to fix our distribution grid.
Our electricity grid is old and aging, and we've got to figure out how to get electricity that's produced here to places that need it. That's an example of why we need to re-invest in our infrastructure.
And, by the way, when we rebuild our infrastructure, our grid, our roads, our bridges, that puts immediately people back to work. We can put 2 million people to work right now rebuilding our infrastructure, but it also then lays the groundwork for new technologies and new manufacturing.
And that's why I'm going to invest $150 billion over 10 years in clean energy technology and create a $60 billion infrastructure fund to rebuild our infrastructure. We do those two things; there's no reason why we can't make manufacturing move forward in the future.
All right? OK. We're going to get -- this gentleman right here has had his hand up.
QUESTION: Senator, we just love to hunt and fish in this country. We spend a lot of time outdoors. And we really appreciate our lakes and our water.
And each year, the federal requirements on our agricultural industry, as far as what they need to do to protect our water, increases. The demands from the federal government increases, while the money that comes from the EPA decreases every single year.
We talk a lot about protecting our environment, but from the federal level we're not providing the resources to help us take care of it. Can you help us out?
OBAMA: I am going to expand our conservation funds. I'm going to expand our funding for the federal Forest Service. We've got to enforce our clean air and clean water laws.
And, you know, this has been one of the sad legacies of George Bush's presidency. They have weakened, in some cases, our laws. And where the laws have been strengthened, they haven't provided state and local governments with the funding to do what's needed.
And, by the way, that also means providing incentives to private landowners to preserve this land, you know, creating conservation easements and other approaches that will give private owners the incentives they need to do a good job in preserving the land. So this is going to be an important priority, and I want to listen to rural communities, farmers, ranchers, stakeholders as a whole, because sometimes there is a conflict on the ground between conservation and economics. There shouldn't be, but sometimes people perceive that there's a conflict.
And part of my job as president is going to be to bring everybody together, sit down, say, "Here's the federal resources that are needed. Let's figure out how we move forward in an effective way."
By the way, while we're on the issue of hunting and fishing, I want everybody to be clear, because I know this is always an issue every election year. There are a lot of Republicans who are mainly Republican because they're worried the Democrats are going to take away their guns.
And so let me -- I want to just go ahead and speak about this. In Chicago, we've had a lot of deaths as a consequence of illegal guns and gang shootings. And so, in a lot of parts of the country, you've got illegal firearms falling into the hands of gang bangers and criminals and people with mental problems.
I want to restrict their access to guns. But I do not...
But I want to be absolutely clear about this: I will never take away the right of lawful gun owners to hunt, to engage in sport shooting, to protect their family. I recognize it's a tradition and a way of life in rural communities all across America, including my home state, so don't let anybody tell you that I'm trying to take away your right to bear arms.
I believe in the Second Amendment. I will protect it as president of the United States. Don't believe it.
Don't believe it.
All right, I've only got time for two more questions.
I think it's a girl's turn. I've been kind of biased against this side of the room here. All right.
OK, this young lady right here. Go ahead. Go ahead.
QUESTION: Hi, Senator.
QUESTION: Good morning. I've been standing in line since 5:30 this morning.
OBAMA: Oh, goodness. You look great. I would look tired. QUESTION: Thank you. I met a student. He's a freshman. He's 14 years old. And you are his hero. And I would like to give my question to him.
OBAMA: Oh, see that? I don't know though. That was a trick.
That was a trick. I forgot -- by the way, your mayor is here, and I wanted to make sure -- stand up now. Come on, Mr. Mayor. Give him a big round of applause. Thank you.
I was bamboozled. Go ahead.
QUESTION: I was wondering what your thoughts and views on funding gifted education are.
OBAMA: Well, obviously there's a gifted student. You could tell.
You know, let me just talk about my education agenda generally. You know, we were talking earlier about manufacturing and the changes in the economy. Even if we bring back manufacturing to the levels that it should be, the days are over where you're going to be able to go -- our young people, our children and our grandchildren -- are going to be able to go into a factory without an education and suddenly are going to be able to make a living.
In fact, the days are over when a farmer or a rancher is able to operate a farm or a ranch without some education. I mean, look at Adam right here. He's getting his master's degree, because if you want to be effective, you've got to know, you know, the biological sciences, you've got to know how the financial markets work. There's a lot of stuff that goes into being a successful farmer these days.
So there's no job that doesn't need an education. We've got to upgrade our education system. It starts...
So it starts with early childhood education. We have to make sure that every child is prepared when they get to school. And some kids aren't, especially low-income kids, especially kids in inner cities, some rural communities, Native American reservations. A lot of kids just need some initial support so that, when they start school, they're not behind.
Second thing, we need to pay our teachers more money.
I really believe that. And so I've got a federal proposal to make sure that we are paying -- that we're helping local governments pay their teachers more, but also to give teachers more professional development and support. That's very important, as well, because a lot of new teachers aren't given the training that they need. And, typically, if a teacher drops out, it's in their first five years, because they're not getting the kind of training and support that they need. That's number two.
Third thing, we've got to make college more affordable. So...
So what I want to do is I want to provide a $4,000 tuition credit, every student, every year, in exchange for some community service, working in a veterans home, working in a homeless shelter, joining the Peace Corps. If you want to be a teacher, we'll pay your way to be a teacher if you commit to working in a hard to -- an underserved school.
If you want to be a doctor or a nurse, we'll pay your way, if you're willing to work in an underserved hospital or an underserved community. That will help, by the way, rural communities attract more doctors and more nurses.
Now, I also do want -- I want to make sure that we have fully funded gifted programs. Part of the way to do that is to change the way No Child Left Behind works, because...
... because part of the problem with No Child Left Behind is that it had the right idea. We want high standards. But everything revolved around a single, high-stakes standardized test. And if your money is going to count on how your kids do on this test, what ends up happening is everybody teaches to the test and teachers are measured by the test.
And so there's not a lot of room for gifted programs. There's not a lot of room for art or music or literature or civics, because everybody is just getting that test pounded into them.
And that's why I want to change how we assess school success. I have nothing wrong with a standardized test at the beginning of the year to see how kids are doing, maybe another one at the end to see what kind of progress they made, but I don't want that to be the only measure of school success.
That way, teachers can teach, schools can expand various programs.
But one last point that I want to make. I was talking to Jody about this. If we really want to improve our education system, we can't just expect the schools to do all of it. Parents have to parent. Parents have to do their job.
(APPLAUSE) And, you know, some of you may have seen this ad on TV...
... but he had such a thirst for knowledge that he became not just one of our most brilliant presidents, but...
... in history....
... you've instilled that thirst for knowledge. And we as parents have to do that with our kids.
OK, I've got time for one more question. And it's a young lady now, because -- I'm going to go for this young lady, because I got tricked over there.
QUESTION: Mine's actually kind of similar to what he was asking. I'm a senior and a single mom at South Dakota State University. And I'm applying to medical and dental school this summer, and I'm wondering what you're going to do to make it more applicable for us to be able to come back to rural communities, leaving medical school or dental school with $300,000 worth of loans.
OBAMA: Well, I hope you don't have $300,000. Yikes. OK.
OBAMA: Well, what are we going to do with her?
I already mentioned -- for undergrad, I want to give a $4,000 tuition credit every student, every year. That will help pay for about two-thirds of a public college education undergrad.
I also -- for those who qualify, I want to expand the Pell Grant program, make it more generous than it is right now, because...
... look, keep in mind, when Michelle and I graduated from law school, we had combined debt of, I think, over $100,000. And so we were paying the equivalent of a mortgage every month just in student loans, because I didn't come from a rich family, and Michelle, her dad worked as a shift worker. He never went to college himself.
And so we didn't have a lot of money. We had to borrow all our money. So I know how burdensome this is.
Pell Grants -- the nice thing is they don't have to be repaid. And so that will help to provide some relief, as well. By the way, if you want to know how to pay for this, we have to cut out the middle man. The banks and the financial intermediaries, they oftentimes -- they're taking out several billion dollars worth of profits overall in the student loan business.
And we could give those loans directly to students -- the government knows how to administer them cheaply -- and take those billions of dollars and re-invest them to make interest rates lower and provide more grants. So that's a second thing.
The third thing I already mentioned, which is, if you end being a dentist in a underserved community, then we'll give you a full scholarship. If you're willing to be a doctor or a nurse or a teacher in an Indian reservation or in a rural community that really needs help or in an inner city, then we will give you a full scholarship.
So that's also going to be important, as a way of not only helping you get your education, but also providing health services in communities that are really neglected.
And, by the way, dental service is something that people don't often think about, but it -- when a child isn't getting their dental work, I mean, that is a huge barrier for them getting a good education. You've got a toothache all day long -- we know that heart disease increases if you've got gum disease.
I mean, there are all sorts of reasons why we've got to focus on dental care, along with the other medical needs that people have.
Well, listen, guys, I wish I could answer every single question here. I can't. If you haven't gotten your question answered, my Web site is BarackObama.com. My whole rural agenda, by the way, is on there, if you want to take a look at that in more detail.
Let me close by saying this. We have a little more work to do. South Dakota is going to be the last primary, along with Montana. It has been an extraordinary journey over these 15 months.
What I have learned is that the American people are ready for change, they are eager to get involved, and I'm going to need you to get involved.
The second half of your question I never answered back there, and that is change doesn't happen from the top down. It happens from the bottom up.
I will promise you -- I will promise -- I promise that, as your president, I will listen to you, I will tell you what I think, I will be honest with you about the challenges that we face, and I will spend every day thinking about how to make your lives a little bit better.
Every single day, I'll be thinking about you. But I'm going to need your help to hold Congress accountable. I'm going to need your help to stay involved and stay engaged in the political process.
If we can sustain the kind of active citizenship that we've been seeing in this campaign, then I promise you we will not just win this election. We'll change this country. We can change the world. Thank you. Thank you, Watertown. I appreciate you. Bye-bye.