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Category: Politics

Accepting the Nomination, Obama Takes On McCain

| August 29, 2008

After a month of incoming fire, Barack Obama used his acceptance speech to hit back at Republican John McCain, saying he was out of touch with the suffering of ordinary Americans today.

“It’s not because John McCain doesn’t care. It’s because John McCain doesn’t get it,” Obama said, winning a huge swell of applause from the more than 80,000 people squeezed into the Denver stadium. 

“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?”

Obama said Republicans talk about an Ownership Society. “But what it really means is you’re on your own. Out of work? Tough luck. No health care? The market will fix it. Born into poverty? Pull yourself up by your own bootstraps—even if you don’t have boots. You’re on your own.”

It’s time, he said, for Republicans “to own their failure. It’s time to change America.”

He challenged McCain’s claim of independence from President George Bush. “What does it say about your judgment when you think George Bush has been 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.”

In laying out specific policies to bring about that change, Obama made his politics personal.

He said immigrants flock here not because of this country’s strong military or its great universities but because of the promise of the American dream: that hard work is rewarded, that parents sacrifice to give their kids a better life, that there is an expectation of both “individual responsibility and mutual responsibility.”

He talked about how that dream played out in his own life.

His grandfather “signed up after Pearl Harbor, marched in Patton’s Army and was rewarded by a grateful nation with the chance to go to college on the GI bill.” His mom reared him and his sister on her own, working and earning her degree, turning once to food stamps to stay afloat “but was still able to send us to the best schools in the country with the help of student loans and scholarships.” When he heard a woman talk about the difficulty of starting her own business, “I think about my grandmother, who worked her way up from the secretarial pool to middle management, despite years of being passed over for promotions because she was a woman. She’s the one who taught me about hard work. She’s the one who put off buying a new car or a new dress for herself so that I could have a better life. She poured everything she had into me.”

He then took on McCain’s recent ad characterizing him as a “celebrity” candidate, not one of experience or substance.

“I don’t know what kind of lives John McCain thinks that celebrities lead, but this has been mine. These are my heroes. Theirs are the stories that shaped me. And it is on their behalf that I intend to win this election and keep our promise alive as president of the United States.”

And that promise?

  • That “each of us has the freedom to make of our own lives what we will but that we also have the obligation to treat each other with dignity and respect.
  • That “the market should reward drive and innovation and generate growth but that businesses should live up to their responsibilities to create American jobs, look out for American workers and play by the rules of the road.”
  • That “government cannot solve all our problems” but should do “that which we cannot do for ourselves – protect us from harm and provide every child a decent education, keep our water clean and our toys safe, invest in new schools and new roads and new science and technology.”

In essence, Obama said, “our government should work for us, not against us. It should help us, not hurt us. It should ensure opportunity not just for those with the most money and influence but for every American who’s willing to work.” On policies, he would:

  • Change the tax code to reward not lobbyists but U.S. workers and small businesses who deserve it, including ending capital gains taxes for small businesses and startups who will “create the high-wage, high-tech jobs of tomorrow.”
  • End tax breaks for corporations sending jobs overseas and give them to those creating jobs here,
  • Cut taxes for 95 percent of all working families,
  • Set a goal of ending dependence on Middle Eastern oil within a decade by investing $150 billion in renewable sources of energy (which he said will help create five million new jobs that can’t be outsourced); investing in clean coal technology and safe harnessing of nuclear power and giving auto companies incentives to retool to build fuel-efficient cars here at home.

Obama noted that Washington has talked about ending the country’s addition to foreign oil for 30 years “and John McCain has been there for 26 of them. “In that time, he’s said no to higher fuel-efficiency standards for cars, no to investments in renewable energy, no to renewable fuels.” Oil imports have tripled since McCain came to Washington and more drilling now “is a stopgap measure, not a long-term solution. Not even close.”

He put expanded access to health care as a top priority and, again, made it personal.

“As someone who watched my mother argue with insurance companies while she lay in bed dying of cancer, I will make certain those companies stop discriminating against those who are sick and need care the most.”

He also said:

  • “Now is the time to help families with paid sick days and better family leave because nobody in America should have to choose between keeping their jobs and caring for a sick child or ailing parent.
  • “Now is the time to change our bankruptcy laws, so that your pensions are protected ahead of CEO bonuses and the time to protect Social Security for future generations.
  • “And now is the time to keep the promise of equal pay for an equal day’s work because I want my daughters to have exactly the same opportunities as your sons.”

Obama sought common ground on some of the social-policy nettles that have split the parties.

  • “We may not agree on abortion but surely we can agree on reducing the number of unwanted pregnancies in this country.
  • “The reality of gun ownership may be different for hunters in rural Ohio than for those plagued by gang violence in Cleveland but don’t tell me we can’t uphold the Second Amendment while keeping AK-47s out of the hands of criminals.
  • “I know there are differences on same-sex marriage but surely we can agree that our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters deserve to visit the person they love in the hospital and live lives free of discrimination.
  • “Passions fly on immigration but I don’t know anyone who benefits when a mother is separated from her infant child or an employer undercuts American wages by hiring illegal workers.”

And, finally, he unleashed a bit of anger about recent McCain ads implying that Obama would do anything to win the election, including willfully hurting his country.

“The stakes are too high for this same partisan playbook,” he said. “Let us agree that patriotism has no party.”

Those fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan “have fought together and bled together and some died together under the same proud flag. They have not served a Red America or a blue America—they have served the United States of America.

“So I’ve got news for you, John McCain. We all put our country first.”