Local Politics

Obama: Talk About Issues, Not Politics

Posted April 17, 2008 1:03 p.m. EDT
Updated April 17, 2008 10:18 p.m. EDT

— Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama said Thursday that America needs to start talking more about issues and less about politics.

In a town-hall meeting at the North Carolina State Fairgrounds, Obama said people must work together to improve the nation's economy, end the war in Iraq and improve health care, education and transportation.

"When people are unified, I believe there's no challenge we cannot meet," he told more than 2,000 people at the Kerr Scott Building.

Obama, a U.S. senayor from Illinois, complained that his rival for the Democratic nomination, U.S. Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York, was more interested in political fighting. A Wednesday night debate between the two in Pennsylvania focused too much on side issues like his relationships with controversial figures, he said.

"It took us 45 minutes before we started talking about a single issue that matters to the American people," he said.

When asked if he will accept an invitation to debate Clinton April 27 at the RBC Center, he hedged, however. He said he's trying to do as much campaigning in North Carolina and Indiana as possible in the coming weeks and still doesn't know if the debate, to be broadcast by CBS, would fit his schedule.

"It's not as if we don't know how to do these things," he said, noting he and Clinton have debated more than 20 times nationwide."If we do it in North Carolina, then the folks in Indiana will say, 'What about us?'"

Reiterating points he's made throughout the campaign, Obama promised to end the Iraq War next year, provide tax relief for the middle-class, create college tuition credits and revamp the nation's health-care system.

"The economy is in a shambles. Wall Street just figured this out, but Main Street knew this a long time ago," he said. "People are angry and yes, bitter, about this economy."

The "bitter" comment, which drew applause from the audience, referred to controversy over a recent talk with supporters in which Obama said some working-class people had fallen back on religion and guns because they were bitter about the economy.

Asserting that "anger fuels hope," he said Thursday that people have to be angry about their situation before they can work to improve it.

In response to a question about reforming the health-care system, he said he would work toward lowering insurance premiums, expanding coverage to uninsured people and emphasizing more preventive care.

Obama complimented Clinton's efforts to reform health care in the mid-1990s but said he would be more open about his plans and would work with drug makers and insurance companies so they couldn't spread misinformation to defeat a reform effort.

"Insurance and drug companies will be given a seat at the table. They just won't be able to buy every chair," he said. "I'll put my plan out there and say, 'I want your ideas.'"

A man from Fayetteville asked him about the role of Fort Bragg and the military in an Obama administration, and the candidate said more emphasis needs to be placed on diplomacy than on waging war.

A multinational effort will be needed to stabilize Iraq as U.S. troops are withdrawn, he said. Maintaining momentum in Middle East peace talks also would be a priority for his administration, he said.

To help senior citizens with rising taxes, Obama said the federal government needs to fully fund health and education programs and not pass some of those costs to states and municipalities, which use taxes to pay the bills. He also promised to eliminate income tax on Social Security benefits for people making less than $50,000 a year.

People lined up early Thursday to attend the event, saying they were eager to learn more about Obama's plans to revive the U.S. economy.

"I'm making less now and spending more on gas. I want to hear what his policy is on economics," said Chris Temple, an undecided voter.

Before heading into the Kerr Scott Building, Obama met with several people who couldn't get into the event, and the screaming crowd along the barricades treated him more like a rock star than a politician.

Obama ended his appearance with a get-out-the-vote plea on North Carolina's first day of early voting before the May 6 primary.

"You already probably took a little time off work or school. You might as well just go cast your ballot," he said.

"Just getting out there and voting is very important," Obama supporter Todd King said. "The country's in so much turmoil. Being a Republican or independent doesn't matter now. Everyone's looking for change, and he's the one to do it."

No Democrat has carried North Carolina in a presidential election since Jimmy Carter in 1976, but supporters like Sharon Hall said Obama has a chance to break that dry spell.

"He seemed very in touch with what's going on," said Hall, whom the Clinton campaign has targeted in seeking support. "I want there to be a woman president too, but I want it to be the right woman for the job. I think, for this election, Barack has the better chance."

Being able to remain focused on issues and brush off political attacks will be key to succeeding, Obama said.

"I think not just Democrats, but independents and some dissaffected Republicans, are interested not in a bunch of attack politics but in solving problems," he said in an interview with WRAL. "That's what we've been trying to do in this campaign, and that's how I think we can build a broader coalition that could potentially win here in North Carolina."

Later Thursday, Obama held a rally at East Carolina University’s Williams Arena at Minges Coliseum in Greenville.