Friday, May 25, 2007

Barack Obama, Good cop/Bad cop, all in one.

Speaking today to a thousand, or so, rank-in-file union members from seventy cities in the U. S. and Canada at the 36th annual Coalition of Black Trade Unionists [CBTU] convention, Senator and Democratic Presidential candidate Barack Obama gave the mostly African-American audience what they came to hear: red meat, but with eloquence, style, energy, and a cadence that was in sync with his audience.

He told them America can have universal health care and by that he seems to mean universal health insurance. They can do that by getting “the fat cats to put a little back.” But, is that really the problem with health care and health insurance in America? Fat cats? Or, do we need to give the market the right incentives and low income people sufficient purchasing power to exercise choice? Obama didn’t say.

Obama seemed to promise that every child can have a quality education by just giving the teachers the resources they need to do it. Do we need to introduce competition into public schools by giving people school vouchers and charter school choices. Obama has said, at times, he would consider vouchers—and on other occasions that he favors charter schools. But, he didn’t discuss any of that today. Perhaps, that is because charter schools and vouchers are very much disliked by teachers’ unions, and perhaps by unions in general. Today’s crowd would not be the place for Obama to discuss Charter Schools, not if he wanted a lot of applause.

Blacks and women who are not paid as much as whites and men can catch up by organizing through unions, Obama seemed to say. This is standard liberal fare. It does not hold up very well at the Harvard or University of Chicago economics departments, but Obama graduated from the Harvard Law School and taught at the University of Chicago Law School, staying away from economics departments. However, Obama must know that a great portion, if not all, of those race and gender pay differentials have to do with education and skill disparities, and are not best fixed by unions. Nevertheless, even if Obama agrees, this wouldn’t be the time or place to say that.

Finally, Obama went out of his way to return fire at Republican Presidential candidates McCain and Romney for their criticism that he was not supporting the troops. Obama would remind his critics that he has grieved with parents whose kids made the ultimate sacrifice and he has visited those severely injured while in Iraq. However, Obama then closed with “let’s put politics and rhetoric aside and show we support the troops by bring them home.” For more on the Obama- McCain/Romney dust-up, see, below and go here.

Most of today's speech by Obama should work well in the Democrat Presidential Primary-- and Obama continues to have a good shot at beating Hillary and certainly anybody else in that race. As to the general election, that could be tougher. Only 13% of the people in this country are represented by unions. How much do you want to play to unions come November, 2008? Even if they did "bring him to the dance," as Obama told the union activists today.

Senator McCain spent more than five years in a POW camp in then North Vietnam and more than two decades in the military, often putting his life on the line for this country. And, he has visited with quite a few grieving parents. How much does Obama want to show his military strength to the electorate at large by telling McCain and the country that he displays his support for the troops, who are still fighting, by saying, “Bring them home now,”—before they have had a chance to make the new policy in Iraq work?

Of course, none of that concerns Barack Obama now. All of the above are issues for the general election. First, he has to win the primary. Who could disagree with that?

But don’t rely on this reporter. Take a listen, below, to Barack Obama, in his own words, speaking today before the CBTU convention at the Hyatt Regency in the Chicago Loop, at high noon for about a half hour:
We don’t need to save money by making nurses work longer hours…we need to save money by making sure that those who are getting fat off the system right now are putting a little bit back so that every single American has health insurance in this country and we can stop having children sent to the emergency room for treatable illnesses, like asthma, we can do this.

[Teachers] want to do right by their children. That’s why they went into teaching. I don’t know any teachers who went into teaching to get rich. …We’ve got to give them the resources to do it and if we do there is no reason why every child in America can’t get a decent education and we’ll make that happen when I am President of the United States.
If we organize, we can do more for the millions of Americans who are being left behind in today’s economy. We know that African Americans are twice as likely to be unemployed as the national average. Those who are employed earned about $13,000 a year less than white Americans, with African-American women earning just 66 cents for every dollar that a white man earns. What’s worse, nearly a quarter of all black families live below the poverty line. That is unacceptable. That is un-American, it has got to change. And, what you are doing right here at CTBU is part of the answer…Thanks in part to the work that you do…one in every five black workers now belongs to a union. And, those who do earn 40% more than those who don’t. We’ve got to make the union movement stronger in this country. We need to have the Employees Free Choice Act so that workers can get organized without intimidation.
By the way, if we organize, we can start ending this war in Iraq. Now, you guys know, because some of you all were there, that I opposed this war in 2002. I knew back then that it was going to cost us billions of dollars. I said then it was going to cost us thousands of lives. I said then publicly that this would make us less safe and distract us from the job of hunting down Al Qaeda and capturing the terrorists…and in January I put in a bill that said it is time to bring our troops home and it is time to redeploy our troops out of Iraq…and [Bush] had an opportunity to sign [a bill that would do that]. We were one signature away from bringing this war to a close—A war that is costing us 275 million dollars a day—money that we could be investing right here in Chicago …and in Los Angeles and in New York—investing in hospitals and in schools and giving workers a decent opportunity in life. We were one signature away and George Bush said no.
Last night, I voted to give our country and our troops a new policy in Iraq that would end this War once and for all and today, apparently, because I rejected George Bush’s approach, John McCain and Mitt Romney thought they could score some political points. They said I don’t support the war on Terror. They said I don’t support the troops. Well, let me tell you something: When I talk to mothers who are grieving for their lost children. When I visit Walter Reed and see 18 and 19 and 20 year olds who lost an arm or a leg, I know the toll of this war.

And, what I know is that what our troops deserve is not just rhetoric—they deserve a new plan. Governor Romney and Senator McCain clearly believe the course that we are on in Iraq is working-- I do not. And if there was ever a reflection of that it's the fact that Senator McCain required a flak jacket, ten armored Humvees, two Apache attack helicopters, and 100 soldiers with rifles by his side so he could stroll through the market in Baghdad just a few weeks ago for a "photo op." That’s the truth in Iraq. The truth is this war has cost us thousands of lives, made us less safe in the world, and resulted in a resurgence of al-Qaeda.

It is time to end this war so that we can redeploy our forces to focus on the terrorists who attacked us on 9/11 and all those who plan to do us harm. So, let’s put aside the fear mongering and let’s put aside the rhetoric and let’s put aside the politics and let’s come together and say all of us support the troops and the way we are going to show we support the troops is by starting to bring some of them home. That’s our message to George Bush. That’s our message to John McCain. That’s our message to Mitt Romney. That’s our message to Republicans in Congress…these are the challenges we can meet, if we organize. That’s what this campaign is all about, working together to bring change to this country… We won’t just win an election but we can transform a country…we can do this…
U.S. Senator and Democratic Presidential Candidate Barack Obama, CBTU Annual Convention, May 25, 2007, Chicago, IL
Jeff Berkowitz, Show Host/Producer of "Public Affairs," and Executive Legal Recruiter doing legal search can be reached at You may watch "Public Affairs," shows with Presidential Candidates Obama, McCain, Giuliani and Cox and many other pols at