Obama's Progressive, Populist Agenda: "Now Is Not the Time for Small Plans"
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Barack Obama opened the final phase of the 2008 presidential election by unveiling an unabashedly populist, progressive agenda to renew America's promise in the 21st century.
Speaking at the final night of the Democratic Convention before tens of thousands in Denver, Obama said that "we are a better country" than the sum total of our current problems and the legacy left by decades of conservative Republican domination of the nation's politics.
Obama forcefully challenged Sen. John McCain, the Republican nominee, saying he looked forward to debating McCain on virtually every issue raised by Democrats during the primary and caucus season, and even those raised by McCain.
Obama specifically detailed more than two dozen policy areas where he explained why the approach taken by the Bush Administration has not worked and would continue not to work for ordinary Americans. He said McCain, whose politics mirror Bush's, would not bring America the solutions that it needs.
"The record's clear: John McCain has voted with George Bush 90 percent of the time," Mr. Obama said. "Senator McCain likes to talk about judgment, but really, what does it say about your judgment when you think George Bush was right more than 90 percent of the time? I don't know about you, but I'm not ready to take a 10 percent chance on change."
Obama's speech recapped aspects of prior speeches, but broke much new ground. As he has said many times before, the country is at a historic crossroads.
"We meet at one of those defining moments, a moment when our nation is at war, our economy is in turmoil, and the American promise has been threatened once more," Obama said.
"Tonight, more Americans are out of work and more are working harder for less. More of you have lost your homes and even more are watching your home values plummet. More of you have cars you can't afford to drive, credit cards, bills you can't afford to pay, and tuition that's beyond your reach.
"These challenges are not all of government's making. But the failure to respond is a direct result of a broken politics in Washington and the failed policies of George W. Bush... America, we are better than these last eight years. We are a better country than this."
Obama spoke of "keeping the American promise alive," saying that while McCain was an honorable man, he simply did not understand what was going on in America.
"Now, I don't believe that Senator McCain doesn't care what's going on in the lives of Americans; I just think he doesn't know," Obama said. "Why else would he define middle-class as someone making under $5 million a year? How else could he propose hundreds of billions in tax breaks for big corporations and oil companies, but not one penny of tax relief to more than 100 million Americans?
"How else could he offer a health care plan that would actually tax people's benefits, or an education plan that would do nothing to help families pay for college, or a plan that would privatize Social Security and gamble your retirement? It's not because John McCain doesn't care; it's because John McCain doesn't get it."
Obama said Democrats have a different view of what constitutes progress in America.
"You see, you see, we Democrats have a very different measure of what constitutes progress in this country," he said. "We measure progress by how many people can find a job that pays the mortgage, whether you can put a little extra money away at the end of each month so you can someday watch your child receive her college diploma. We measure progress in the 23 million new jobs that were created when Bill Clinton was president...
"We measure the strength of our economy not by the number of billionaires we have or the profits of the Fortune 500, but by whether someone with a good idea can take a risk and start a new business, or whether the waitress who lives on tips can take a day off and look after a sick kid without losing her job, an economy that honors the dignity of work," he said. "The fundamentals we use to measure economic strength are whether we are living up to that fundamental promise that has made this country great, a promise that is the only reason I am standing here tonight."
Obama also laid out the Democratic agenda in the most specific terms of the campaign to date.
"Let me spell out exactly what that change would mean if I am president," he said. "Change means a tax code that doesn't reward the lobbyists who wrote it, but the American workers and small businesses who deserve it.
"You know, unlike John McCain, I will stop giving tax breaks to companies that ship jobs overseas, and I will start giving them to companies that create good jobs right here in America. I'll eliminate capital gains taxes for the small businesses and start-ups that will create the high-wage, high-tech jobs of tomorrow. I will -- listen now -- I will cut taxes -- cut taxes -- for 95 percent of all working families, because, in an economy like this, the last thing we should do is raise taxes on the middle class."
Obama then turned to energy and energy independence.
"For the sake of our economy, our security, and the future of our planet, I will set a clear goal as president: In 10 years, we will finally end our dependence on oil from the Middle East," he said. "We will do this. Washington -- Washington has been talking about our oil addiction for the last 30 years. And, by the way, John McCain has been there for 26 of them.
"And in that time, he has said no to higher fuel-efficiency standards for cars, no to investments in renewable energy, no to renewable fuels. And today, we import triple the amount of oil than we had on the day that Senator McCain took office," he said. "Now is the time to end this addiction and to understand that drilling is a stop-gap measure, not a long-term solution, not even close.
"As president, as president, I will tap our natural gas reserves, invest in clean coal technology, and find ways to safely harness nuclear power. I'll help our auto companies re-tool, so that the fuel-efficient cars of the future are built right here in America. I'll make it easier for the American people to afford these new cars. And I'll invest $150 billion over the next decade in affordable, renewable sources of energy -- wind power and solar power and the next generation of biofuels -- an investment that will lead to new industries and 5 million new jobs that pay well and can't be outsourced."
Obama described how he would pay for these initiatives and concluded by drawing on the memory of Dr. Martin Luther King's "I have a dream speech," urging the country to join him in taking bold steps into the future.
"America, now is not the time for small plans," he said.
Steven Rosenfeld is a Senior Fellow at AlterNet.org, where he reports on elections from a voting rights perspective. His books include Count My Vote: A Citizen's Guide to Voting (AlterNet Books, 2008), What Happened in Ohio: A Documentary Record of Theft and Fraud in the 2004 Election (The New Press, 2006), and Making History in Vermont: The Election of a Socialist to Congress (Hollowbrook Publishing, 1992). An award-winning journalist, he has been a staff reporter at National Public Radio, Monitor Radio, TomPaine.com, and at daily and weekly newspapers in Vermont.