Presidential candidate Barack Obama outlined his vision of change to a crowd of nearly 6,000 enthusiastic supporters at an outdoor rally Friday at Arizona State University.
The Democrat touched on topics ranging from Iraq to energy to immigration during an appearance that was part campaign speech and part pep rally. He took several verbal jabs at President Bush; and while he didn’t call out his main Democratic rival by name, he suggested that Hillary Clinton was just another Washington insider.
“Some of my opponents in this race talk about, 'Well, you should vote for me because I know how to work the system.’ The system has not been working for us. We don’t need somebody who knows how to work the system. We need somebody who knows how to change the system,” he said.
“We don’t need somebody who knows how to play the game better. We need somebody to put an end to the game-playing,” he said.
The mostly college-aged supporters responded enthusiastically throughout the 50-minute appearance and waved signs that read “Obama Roma!” “Barack My World!” and “Oh, Mama! Vote Obama!” among other messages.
Obama, a first-term senator from Illinois, said he is running for president because he wants to “shake things up” and give Americans a reason to vote for somebody, rather than against somebody.
“People want to sense that somehow we can still rally around a common purpose, that we can recognize ourselves as Americans and rally around a common destiny. People want to sense that we can be proud of being Americans and we can get things done again,” he said.
On the Iraq war, Obama said he hopes President Bush will withdraw U.S. troops before the end of his presidency.
“We can’t wait 15 months, because too many of our young men and women are dying. We can’t wait 15 months, because we’re spending $10 billion to $12 billion every single month that could be spent on college scholarships, that could be spent on health care, that could be spent on infrastructure, that could be spent on clean energy,” Obama said, his voice rising.
If the war has not been brought to a close by the time Obama would be sworn in as president on Jan. 20, 2009, he said the first order of business will be to call in the joint chiefs of staff and direct them on a new mission to start bringing troops home and increase diplomacy.
He said that as president, he would meet with leaders of both friendly and enemy states. “JFK once said that you should never negotiate out of fear. Well, we should never fear to negotiate.”
On health care, Obama said the current system is broken and unacceptable.
“That is why, as president of the United States, we are going to provide health care to every single American that is as good as the health care that I receive as a member of Congress,” he said.
Furthermore, his Congress-class health care system will be in place by the end of his first term as president, he said.
He offered no further details nor specified how such a system would be financed.
On education, he pledged to close what he termed the “achievement gap” by recruiting an entire army of new teachers with higher pay and better training.
He also vowed to make college more affordable, by making grants and student loans more available.
On energy, Obama said he would mandate increased fuel efficiency for cars in an effort to decrease U.S. dependence on foreign oil.
“If we had cars getting 40 miles per gallon, we would save the equivalent of all the oil we import from the Persian Gulf,” he said, adding that such a move would improve the country’s standing on both foreign policy and environmental issues.
On immigration, he advocated securing the country’s borders and providing a pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrants already living and working in the United States. “We are a nation of laws and a nation of immigrants — and those two things are not contradictory,” he said.
Obama said he senses a national mood for change, judging by the crowds of supporters who have attended his rallies across the nation in recent weeks.
Graduate student Farryl Bertmann, 32, of Mesa, said she came to the Obama rally as a Clinton supporter.
“Now I’m 100 percent behind him. So many things he said resonated with me,” she said.
Bertmann was impressed with Obama’s personal touch. After his speech while he worked the crowd shaking hands, he wished the expectant mother good luck with her baby.
“That he noticed that I’m pregnant among all these people, and he looked me right in the eye, how often does that happen?” she asked.
Scottsdale Chaparral High School student Romy Shane, 17, noted that she’ll be old enough to vote in March, eight months before the presidential election. She was impressed with Obama’s speech. “I really enjoyed it. He has lots of energy and is really positive,” she said.
A few students told reporters they were prevented from bringing signs supporting the Republican candidate Ron Paul into the main rally area, though their hand-held signs clearly were visible in an overflow area where nearly 2,000 people watched the speech.
Afterward, aerospace engineering sophomore Travis Sarver, 19, of Queen Creek, a Paul supporter, credited Obama for being a powerful speaker, but noted that Obama never described how he would pay for many of his plans.
Following the rally, Obama appeared at a fund-raiser at a Phoenix hotel. Information about the amount raised at the event was not immediately available.