Hey all. Sitting here in the spin room at the Kodak Theater prior to tonight’s Democratic debate. The place is kind of swamped with media, and I guess Blitzer’s doing his live show just outside, so there are a lot of sign-holders afoot.
Earlier today I was down at Los Angeles Trade Technical College, a community college near downtown, to watch a townhall meeting with Senator Barack Obama. A lot of his Southern California supporters were on hand, including Assemblyman Ted Lieu, labor leader Maria Elena Durazo, Congressmen Xavier Becerra and Adam Schiff, LA City Councilmembers Yvonne Burke and Bill Rosendahl, and State Senators Dean Florez, Gil Cedillo, and Majority Leader Gloria Romero. I have as much respect for Senators Cedillo and Romero as anyone in the State Senate. They have been at the forefront of taking on tough issues; in the case of Sen Romero, prison and sentencing reform (Obama expressed support for eliminating the crack/cocaine powder sentencing and for a more intelligent criminal justice system that deals with nonviolent offenders in a different way), and in the case of Sen. Cedillo, immigration measures like driver’s licenses and the DREAM Act (which Obama said he would sign). It means a lot to me that they are on board Obama’s campaign.
After a pre-program which included all Spanish-language music (LA Trade Tech is a heavily Latino and black college), the overarching them was one of unity. The very first thing Obama stressed in his opening remarks was the black-brown divide. There were several signs passed out by the campaign that said “Si se puede.” And he again talked about how he abhored the divisive tone of the immigration debate, where we “let lawmakers turn us against each other.” He talked about helping the struggles of the middle and lower classes as “the cause of my life” (a pull from John Edwards?), and told the crowd that “you are determined to make something of yourselves – you just need the government to provide a little help so you can realize your dreams.” The podium carried the sign “Reclaiming the American Dream,” which is new messaging AFAIK.
After remarks which covered health care, education reform, relief for homeowners caught in the mortgage crisis, and making college affordable, Sen. Obama took questions. The first was about the Iraq war and yielded familiar comments; the second, about homelessness, was a completely new topic to hear in this campaign. I think Obama’s answer was key. (paraphrase):
“We must build more shelters, but we also need to look at how we prevent more homeless. A quarter of the homeless are veterans who come back from war with PTSD or brain trauma, they don’t get the help they need, and they self-medicate with alcohol or drugs. So we need to fix that. But we have an issue with mental health services generally in this country. I want to see mental health parity. Insurers need to cover mental health the same way they do physical health. Because depression can be as debilitating an illness as a broken arm, and probably more. It will save us money in the long run, because all types of services come into play when you deal with homelessness – police, EMT, the judicial system, our jails, etc. Another thing you’re seeing is more homeless families on the street, because the government has gotten out of the affordable housing business. We need an affordable housing trust fund so that people of modest means can find a place to live in their communities.”
I don’t think you can read the response to that question and say that Obama is somehow a Reagan disciple. His State Senate district in Chicago faced these issues head-on. This is not typically a plank in someone’s platform. Politicians don’t often talk about homelessness for whatever reason. But he showed an understanding of the issue and it really appeared that he would take it seriously were he to become President.
Other questions included Darfur, making college affordable, immigration, K-12 and early childhood education (which Obama stressed as very important), and the economy. Another question that jumped out was about racial profiling. The questioner was very animated about it, and apparently there was a recent incident on campus. Obama said that he was the only candidate who’s ever passed a racial profiling bill, which got the support of both parties in the Illinois State Senate. Police departments learned to work with the law and believed that it aided their performance and showed areas where they needed to improve.
Unfortunately, we don’t have a political system, and certainly not a political media, that pays attention to these issues. But I do believe that this is how regular people want to make their choices. They get a load of crap tossed at them about superficial issues and there’s a lot of clutter to cut through. But people have real questions and real values they want to see expressed in a President, certainly more than they’re getting now. If the media listened for a change to what answers people were actually seeking, perhaps they would provide them.