This story was written by Cate Harding, The Chronicle
Focusing on economic policies, Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama launched his two-week "Change that works for you" tour Monday at the North Carolina State Fairgrounds in Raleigh.
About 500 people attended the speech, including former N.C. senator John Edwards, N.C. Gov. Mike Easley, Mont. Gov. Brian Schweitzer and W. Va. Gov. Joe Manchin. At the event, which was by invitation only, Obama presented his short-term policies aimed to alleviate the problems he said middle-class Americans face under the current economic conditions.
"You don't have to read the stock tickers or scan the headlines in the financial section to understand the seriousness of the situation we're in right now," he said. "You just have to go to Pennsylvania and listen to the man who lost his job but can't even afford the gas to drive around and look for a new one."
Obama focused the speech on his short-term stimulus plan for struggling families that would include another round of tax rebates, increased unemployment benefits and a foreclosure prevention fund. He also said he plans to decrease health care premiums by $2,500, offer a $4,000 annual grant for students who participate in community or national service and reform the tax code and bankruptcy laws.
Obama called the Bush administration's fiscal policies "the most irresponsible in history" and said the economic crisis was brought on not by a flaw in the business cycle, but by a misguided philosophy.
"For eight long years, our president sacrificed investments in health care and education and energy and infrastructure on the altar of tax breaks for big corporations and wealthy CEOs-trillions of dollars in giveaways that proved neither compassionate nor conservative," he said.
He also urged voters to embrace change. Obama said electing Republican presidential candidate John McCain in November would simply be a continuation of George Bush's policies.
Obama conceded that the economic problems did not begin with the Bush administration and likely will not disappear when he leaves office. But he said he remains hopeful that the American people's hard work and ingenuity will lead to economic prosperity.
"I know that this nation has faced such fundamental change before, and each time we've kept our economy strong and competitive by making the decision to expand opportunity outward, to grow our middle-class, to invest in innovation and most importantly, to invest in the education and well-being of our workers," he said.
A nurse from Pittsboro, N.C., who is a mother of four and a lifelong Republican, introduced Obama's speech by telling how she has struggled to pay for the increasing costs of health care, gas and education. She said she believes he is the right candidate to solve the economic problems the nation is facing.
Obama also alluded to his long term vision for economic prosperity, which he said he plans to address in his tour across the country over the coming weeks. He said he will highlight the need for job training and education, advances in science and technology, renewable energy sources and a way to make free trade work for American workers.
Obama finished his speech by calling on the American people to once again believe in an economically prosperous country where anything is possible.
"As we set out on this journey, let us also forge a new path-a path that leads to unrivaled prosperity, to boundless opportunity, to the America we believe in and a dream that will always endure. Thank you, and may God bless America."