Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Obama in Iowa City 4/25/2012

A Botched Liveblog

Just enough feeble internet connection to keep giving me hope, not enough to do anything with it. Here's what I came up with.

10:52 and the Deeth Blog is finally on the air at the Field House. The past hour has been struggling with parking - there are no spots closer than my house so I'm on bike - and with technology. I'm still Oh-fer-infinite on successfully connecting a Linux box to UI wifi, so we're testing out the portable wifi hotspot capacity of my Android phone.

The band has just struck up in rousing C-SPAN marching band form; despite the young crowd and the student orientation of the speech we will not be Slow Jammin The News today thank you very much.

12:25 now and after a brief false alarm of connection, I've been grappling with technology for about an hour and a half. I was able to get the Gazette's Jenn Hemmingsen connected to my phone, but I can't connect.
The place had been jampacked since at least 11:15.  Local media (big L on our badges for Loser) is way in back but at least I got a good spot to see the stage. A few local politicos are near the back: Raj and Ravi Patel, Janelle Rettig, Dave Leshtz... and I get scooted away by a zealous local volunteer. At first I didn't realize she wasn't kidding... Other press reported the same issue. Seems this cluster of local politicos was right next to the space saved for CNN and CSPAN, so in our attempts to mingle with the locals we crossed the line that Must Not Be Crossed between local and national media.
Crowd for the most part it looks young, which of course is the idea today. There's a sitdown on the schedule with five lucky undergrads, and the focus of the speech is student loans. I liked it the first time I heard it... in North Carolina yesterday. And in Colorado last night, swing states all. The electoral college math is looking like Obama just needs a couple swing states to win, but Romney has to almost run the table.

But that youth demo is important. Obama needs Iowa, and to get Iowa he needs that high high young voter turnout (Johnson County: 70% Obama last time). And nothing fires up young voters like the excitement and hoopla of an in-person candidate visit, multiplied exponentially by POTUS status. The new to the process people like and expect the personal attention, unlike us jaded old-timers who know how lucky Iowa is... we're likely to see more presidential love as the year progresses.

The pep band has entertained us; I'm reminded of a James McMurtry line: “I can hear the marching band doing the best they can to play Smoke On The Water and Joy To The World” only in this case it's Tear The Roof Off The Sucka and the Time Warp. They really come to life on the Hawkeye fight song, though.

At 12:49 I get a brief false alarm of internet connection. Problems seems to be that I'm timing out before a page can load.

A roar of applause when a guy stands in at the presidential podium for a lighting check.  For some reason the Field House is Obama's fave IC location: a December 2007 pre-caucus visit, the health care victory lap in March 2010, now today. But the acoustics in the place are awful. (Heard a grumble from one of the locals about venue size as well: some folks didn't get in and us old timers all remember that Bill Clinton sold out Carver-Hawkeye in 1996. It would take work but Obama could too.) The place is a concrete bunker and even my 3G signal is weak. The Star Spangled Banner singer gets big cheers for going for, and successfully hitting, the high note in land of the freee-EEEEEEEEEE!

More Hawkeye gear than Obama gear today, and I think that's by design. This is after all a White House Trip, but the feel is Campaign except for the d├ęcor.  I think the band is trying to play Mellencamp's "R.O.C.K. In The USA" which was always my least favorite song on the Scarecrow album. Before you were born, most of the crowd...

The polling seems to show The Youth Vote not as in love with Barack as in 2008, but definitely not moving to Mitt.  So part  of this is a reconnect to the base thing, and again: the People's Republic=70% Obama.

The band stopped for a bit and the lack of music seems to be building the anbcticpation. 1:05 now and the scheduled speech time is 1:20. So most of the crowd has been standing two hours. The line was roughly three blocks long at 10:00 or so when I drove by; since there was no parking closer than home, I parked there and biked up. Band back in business, now repeating the set list.

Sally Mason gets intro'd to at first more boos than cheers (still mad about 21 bars, students?), but then the cheers overcome as enough folks realize "oh, crap, that'll be in the story." A quick crowd recon mission tells me this is about 95% young people here today. I can barely understand a word Mason is saying; “university” and “service” and “President Obama” pop out but no way to follow a sentence.

Pool report was filed from the sitdown with the five students at 12:59 so it won't be long. I'm picking up about every other word of Mason. There are a couple of sweet spots in the Field House where the acoustics work; I'm not in one.

The presidential seal has been affixed to the presidential podium (apologies to Paul Simon), known in the business as a “blue goose.” An attempt to get a U-S-A chant going fails. 1:17...

Dave Jacoby hustles in at 1:21. I'm spotting relatively few local politicos but that may be just my seats. (Later I spot Dave Loebsack and Tom Miller. Miller didn't have any more luck with parking than I did and was walking several blocks to downtown Iowa City.)

1:24 and national press rushes in. That means it's zero hour. UISG president gets the intro. Even less audible than Mason. Beatle-esque cheers for Obama. And much like the Beatles I can barely hear a word; can't wait to get the transcript so I can know what he said.

University of Iowa
Iowa City, Iowa
1:28 P.M. CDT
     THE PRESIDENT:  Hello, Hawkeyes!  (Applause.)  It is good to be back in Iowa!  (Applause.)  Can folks please give it up for Blake for that outstanding introduction?  (Applause.)  And I want to thank the University of Iowa Pep Band for firing everybody up. (Applause.) 
 There is some good hospitality here, and I should know.  I spent a little time here in Iowa, spent a little time here in Iowa City.  I’m glad that my hometown of Chicago will get to return the hospitality when your football team kicks off its season at Soldier Field.  (Applause.)
Thank God, no Bears reference. 
 I want to thank a couple guests -- first of all, your Congressman, Dave Loebsack, is here.  (Applause.)  Attorney General Tom Miller.  (Applause.)  State Treasurer Mike Fitzgerald.  (Applause.)  Your Mayor, Matt Hayek.  (Applause.)   The President of the University of Iowa, Sally Mason.  (Applause.)
He mispronounces Matt Hayek's last name which as an ex-Hayek supporter I fund amusing.

So I have come to the University of Iowa to talk a little bit about you and some of the issues you guys are dealing with every single day.  Now, I believe that college isn’t just the best investment that you can make in your future -- it’s the best investment you can make in your country’s future.  And I'm proud of all of you for making that investment -- because it’s never been more important.  (Applause.)

In today’s economy, there's no greater predictor of individual success than a good education.  That's at the top.  Right now, the unemployment rate for Americans with a college degree or more is about half the national average.  Their incomes are twice as high as those who don’t have a high school diploma. A higher education is the single clearest path to the middle class.

I know that those of you who are about to graduate are wondering what’s in store for your future -- because not even four years ago, just as the global economy was about to enter into freefall, you were still trying to find your way around campus, and now, four years later, you're looking at what it means when you leave this campus. 

The good news is, today our economy is recovering.  That's the good news.  (Applause.)  But I'll be honest with you.  It has not yet fully healed from the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression.  Our businesses have added more than 4 million jobs over the past two years.  (Applause.)  But there's still a lot of Americans who are out there looking for a job or at least finding a job that pays the bills and helps cover the mortgage.  There's still too many families who don't have that security, that basic middle-class security that started slipping away even before this crisis hit.

But what I want all of you to know is that the degree you earn from Iowa will be the best tool you have to achieve that basic American promise -- the idea that if you work hard, if you give it your all, if you're responsible, then you can do well enough to raise a family and own a home, send your own kids to college, put a little away for retirement.  It’s the idea that each generation is going to have a little more opportunity than the last.  (Applause.)  That’s at the heart of the American Dream. 

And I can tell you, as a parent now, when I see Malia and Sasha doing well, there's nothing more important to me.  And that’s true for American families everywhere, and it's the hope your parents have for you.  That’s the hope you'll have some day for your own kids.  And keeping that promise alive is the defining issue of our time.  I don’t want this a country -- I don’t want this to be a country where a shrinking number of people are doing really, really well, and then a growing number are barely able to get by.  I don’t want that future for you.  I don’t want it for my daughters.  I don’t want it for America.  (Applause.) 

I want this forever to be a country where everybody gets a fair shot, and everybody is doing their fair share, and everybody is playing by the same set of rules.  (Applause.)  That’s the America I know.  That’s the America I love.  And that’s the America within our reach if we work for it.  (Applause.)

And this is personal for me -- 

AUDIENCE MEMBER:  We love you, Barack!

THE PRESIDENT:  I love you back.  (Applause.)  I love you guys, and I believe in you guys -- that’s the most important thing.  I believe in you.  And I believe in your future.  (Applause.)
It wouldn't be an Iowa City Obama stop without a Love You Back.
 And I think about my own life.  My grandfather had the chance to go to college because this country decided that every returning veteran of World War II should be able to afford it through the GI Bill.  (Applause.)  My mom was a single mom -- my dad wasn't around -- and she raised two kids by herself with some help from my grandparents because she was able to get grants and work her way through school.  And I'm only here today, and Michelle is only where she is today, because scholarships and student loans gave us a shot at a great education.  That’s how we succeeded.  (Applause.)
 This country has always made a commitment to put a good education within the reach of everybody who's willing to work for it.  That’s part of what made us special.  That’s what kept us at the forefront of business and science and technology and medicine.  That’s a commitment that we need to reaffirm today.  
 Now, here's the challenge we've got.  Since most of you were born, tuition and fees at America’s colleges have more than doubled.  And that forces students like you to take out more loans and rack up more debt.  The average student who borrows to pay for college now graduates with about $25,000 in student loan debt.  And in this state, it’s even higher.  Americans now owe more on their student loans than they owe on credit cards.
 And living with that debt means you’ve got to make some pretty tough choices.  It might mean putting off buying a first home or chasing that great startup idea that you’ve got.  Maybe you’ll have to wait a little bit longer to start a family or save for retirement.  And when a big chunk of every paycheck goes towards loan debt, that’s not just tough on you, that’s not just tough on middle-class families -- that’s not good for our economy, because that money that could be going into businesses is going just to service debt.
 And as I said, this is personal for me.  I know something about this, because Michelle and I, we went through it.  And it wasn’t that long ago.  We’ve been in your shoes.  We didn’t come from wealthy families.  We needed loans and we needed grants to get our way through.  (Applause.)
 And that meant that when Michelle and I graduated from college and law school, we had a mountain of debt.  When we got married, we got poorer together.  (Laughter.)  So we combined our assets and they were zero.  (Laughter.)  Then we combined our liabilities and they were a lot.  (Laughter.)
1:36 and from what I'm hearing it IS the same as the NC speech, complete with the “we got poorer together” and “we just paid off our student loans” lines. I'm spotting national press checking their Facebook. Their headline is probably pre-written: PRESIDENT CONTINUES TO PRESS GOP ON STUDENT LOANS. The locals don't care--well, they do and they're largely in agreement but that's not the important part. The important part is he's HERE. Not in Berkley or Austin or any other college town in a safe blue or red state. Here in black and gold and very blue Iowa City in purple Iowa.

Once I'm reasonably sure it's the same speech, I give up on listening closely and focus on photography.
So we ended up paying more for our student loans in the first few years that we were married than we paid on our mortgage each month when we finally bought a small condo.  And we were lucky to land good jobs with a steady income, but we only finished paying off our student loans about eight years ago.  Think about that.  I’m the President of the United States -- (laughter) -- it was only about eight years ago that we finished paying off our student loans.  (Applause.)
 And let me tell you, it wasn’t easy making those payments, because once we had Malia and Sasha, we’re trying to save for their college education even as we’re paying off our own college educations. 
 So this is personal.  This is at the heart of who we are. We’ve got to make college more affordable for more young people. We can’t put the middle class at a disadvantage.  We can’t price out folks who are trying to make sure that they not only succeed for themselves but help the country succeed.  We can’t price the middle class out of a college education.  (Applause.)  We can’t do it -- especially when most new jobs in America will require more than a high school diploma.  Higher education whether it’s at a four-year institution or a two-year program at a community college -- it can’t be a luxury.  It’s an economic imperative every family in America should be able to afford.
 Before I came out here I had a chance to meet not just with Blake but with a number of other students, and we had a little roundtable.  And the stories they told me were so familiar.  One young man -- single mom, she had lost her job.  He was already about $30,000 in debt.  He was only halfway through here at University of Iowa.  Another young woman, her dad had been laid off at Maytag.  They were trying to figure out how to make ends meet.  She’s about to graduate.
Good local reference; lot of Maytag folks still haven't landed on their feet. (Only quibble with the student roundtable: five undergrads. Nothing wrong with undergrads, despite what the city council thinks, but a grad student at the table would have been good.)
 Now, what I told them is, you’re making the right decision, because over the lifetime of earnings you will more than earn back this investment you’re making.  But making it more affordable would sure help.  It would sure help.  (Applause.)
 Now, I’m going to have a specific request for you.  I’m going to need your help, Iowa, but let me briefly tell you what we’ve already done to try to make college more affordable, because I’m not just interested in talking the talk, I want to walk the walk.  (Applause.) 
 So before I took office, we had a student loan system where tens of billions of taxpayer dollars were going to banks who were the middlemen on the federal student loan program.  So they were getting billions of dollars in profits managing a loan program where they had no risk because it was all federally guaranteed loans.  So we changed that.
 And there were folks in Washington who fought tooth and nail to protect the status quo.  One of them said it would be "an outrage" to change the system where banks are managing this thing.  But the real outrage was letting them serve as middlemen and siphon off profits, while students were working two or three jobs just to get by.  So we kept at it, and we fought and we fought, and today we don't have middlemen.  That money is going directly where it should have been to -- the first place.  It’s going to help more young people afford college.  (Applause.)
 And then last fall, I acted to cap student loan payments faster, so that nearly 1.6 million students who make their payments on time only have to pay 10 percent of their monthly income toward loans once they graduate, which means if you decide to become a teacher or a social worker or a guidance counselor, something that doesn’t pay a lot of money, you can still afford to do it because you’ll never have to pay more than 10 percent of your income in order to stay current on your loan.  (Applause.) 
     And then we decided, you know what, you guys need more information about this whole process.  We want students to have access to a simple fact sheet on student loans and financial aid, so you can have all the information you need to make your own choices about how to pay for college.  So some of you know we set up this new Consumer Finance Protection Bureau to look out for consumers -- (applause) -- and so they’re now putting out a fact sheet called "Know Before You Owe."  Know before you owe -- which is something Michelle and I could have used when we were in your shoes.
 And then what we said was it’s not enough just to increase student aid.  We’ve also got to stop subsidizing skyrocketing tuition, or we’ll run out of money.  So the schools themselves have to keep their tuition lower.  (Applause.)  So we put out the challenge to colleges and universities.  And I’ve told Congress, steer federal aid to those schools that are doing a good job keeping tuition affordable and providing good value, and serving their students well.  And we’ve put colleges on notice:  If you can’t stop tuition from skyrocketing, the funding you get from taxpayers is going to go down.  We’re going to put money into the schools that are doing a better job.  (Applause.)  And we’re going to hold schools accountable. 
 Of course, as public universities like this one know, states and state legislatures also have to do their part by making higher education a higher priority in their budgets.  (Applause.) Last year, over 40 states cut their higher education spending. 
AUDIENCE:  Booo --
 THE PRESIDENT:  Yes, that’s not good.  These budget cuts are one of the biggest reasons why tuition goes up at public colleges and have been over the last decade.  So we’re challenging states: Take responsibility.  If you can find new ways to bring down the cost on college, make it easier for students to graduate, then we’ll help you do it at the federal level. 
So that’s what we’ve already done -- helped more families, more young people afford a higher education; offer incentives to states and colleges and universities to keep costs down.  That’s what we’ve been doing.  Now comes the tricky part -- we got to get Congress to do their part.  And that’s where you come in.  (Applause.)
There are a couple of things I’d like Congress to be doing this year.  First, they need to extend the tuition tax credit that we put in place when I first came into office, because it’s saving middle-class families thousands of dollars.  They get a tax break when they are helping their kids go to college.  That’s important.  (Applause.)
Second, we need Congress to safeguard aid for low-income students, so that today’s freshmen and sophomores know they’re going to be able to count on it.  We’ve got to make sure the Pell grants are there for people who need them.
Number three, we’ve got to give more young people the chance to earn their way through college by doubling the number of work/study jobs over the next five years.  That’s an achievable goal.  (Applause.)  And then most immediately -- and this is where I really need you guys -- Congress needs to act right now to prevent interest rates on federal student loans from shooting up and shaking you down.  That’s where you come in.  (Applause.) 
You see, five years ago, Congress cut the rates on federal student loans in half.  That was a good thing to do.  But on July 1st of this year, which means about two months from now, that rate cut will expire.  And if it expires, interest rates on these loans will double overnight.  And for each year that Congress doesn’t act, the average student with these loans will rack up an additional $1,000 in debt.  That’s basically a $1,000 tax hike on more than 7 million students around America, including 250,000 students right here in Iowa. 
 Now, let me see.  I’ll do a quick poll -- this may be unscientific.  How many people can afford to pay an extra $1,000 right now?
 THE PRESIDENT:  I don’t think so.  Stopping this from happening should be a no-brainer.  (Coughs.)  It makes me sick just thinking about it.  (Laughter and applause.)  Helping more young people afford college should be at the forefront of America’s agenda.  And it shouldn’t be a Republican or Democratic issue.  This is an American issue.  (Applause.)  The Stafford loans we’re talking about were named after a Republican senator; Pell grants named after a Democratic senator.  When Congress cut these rates five years ago, a majority of Democrats voted for it, but 77 Republicans in the House of Representatives voted for it too.
 Now, the good news is, the Senate introduced a bill last night that would keep student loan rates from doubling.  That’s the good news.  (Applause.)  And what’s also good news is some Republican senators look like they might support it.  And I’m ready to work with them to make it happen.  That’s good.  (Applause.)
 But I’ve got to tell you, the Republicans who run the House of Representatives have not yet said whether or not they’ll stop your rates from doubling.  And they’ve hinted that the only way they’d do it is if they cut things like aid for low-income students.  So let me scratch my head there for a second.  Think about that.  We’re going to help some students by messing with other students.  That’s not a good answer.  How many people think that’s a good answer?
 THE PRESIDENT:  No, I didn’t think so.  One of these members of Congress -- sometimes I like just getting these quotes, because I’m always interested in how folks talk about this issue. You’ve got one member of Congress who compared these student loans -- I’m not kidding here -- to a "stage-three cancer of socialism."
 AUDIENCE:  Booo --
That would be Todd Akin (R-MO). Worked better in North Carolina where they had a local loon to quote. The one time you really need Steve King, and he doesn't come through for ya.
 THE PRESIDENT:  Stage-three cancer?  (Laughter.)  I don’t know where to start.  What do you mean?  (Laughter.)  What are you talking about?  (Applause.)  Come on.  Just when you think you’ve heard it all in Washington, somebody comes up with a new way to go off the deep end.  (Laughter.) 
 And then, you’ve got the spokesman for the Speaker of the House who says, we’re -- meaning me, my administration -- we're just talking about student loans to distract people from the economy.  Now, think about that for a second.  Because these guys don’t get it -- this is the economy.  (Applause.)  This is the economy.  This is about your job security.  This is about your future.  If you do well, the economy does well.  This is about the economy.  (Applause.)
What economy are they talking about?  You are the economy.  If you’ve got skills, if you’ve got talents, if you’re starting a business, if companies are locating here in Iowa because it’s got a well-trained workforce, that’s the economy.  That’s how we’re going to compete.  Making sure our next generation earns the best education possible is exactly America’s business.  (Applause.)  Making sure that education is available to everybody and not just the few -- that is America’s business.  Our future depends on it. (Applause.)
  And then, some of them suggest that students like you have to pay more so we can help bring down the deficit.  Now, think about that.  These are the same folks who ran up the deficits for the last decade.  They voted to keep giving billions of dollars in taxpayer subsidies to big oil companies who are raking in record profits.  They voted to let millionaires and billionaires keep paying lower tax rates than middle-class workers.  They voted to give folks like me, the wealthiest Americans, an average tax cut of at least $150,000 -- and that tax cut would be paid for by cutting things like education, and job training programs that give students and workers opportunities to get what they need to succeed.
 Now, does that make any sense?  Does that sound like folks who are really concerned with the deficit?
      AUDIENCE:  No!
      THE PRESIDENT:  How can we want to maintain tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans who don’t need them and weren’t even asking for them?  I don't need one.  I needed help back when I was your age.  I don't need help now.  (Applause.)  I don't need an extra thousand dollars or a few thousand dollars.  You do.
Pace and applause building...
We need to make sure everybody pays their fair share.  How can we continue to subsidize an oil industry that's making record profits instead of investing in things like clean energy that will help shape our future?  (Applause.)  Do we want to jack up interest rates on millions of students?  Or do we want to keep investing in the things that help us in the long term -- things like education and science, and a strong military, and care for our veterans?  Because we can’t have it both ways.  We can't do all things on the cheap. 
 And one thing I want to be clear about -- because when I talk like this, sometimes the other side, they get all hot and bothered, and they say, he’s getting -- he’s engaging in class warfare.  This isn’t about class warfare.  We want every American to succeed.  That's the point.  I want all of you to be rich.  (Applause.)  I want all of you to be successful.  We aspire to it.  That's what Americans do.  We work and we hustle, and we study, and we take risks -- to succeed.  And we don't expect a handout.  But we also understand we’re in this thing together, and America is not about just a few people doing well, it’s about everybody having a chance to do well.  That’s what the American Dream is all about.  (Applause.)
 You look at this auditorium -- everybody who's here, you’re here because somebody made a commitment to you.  First, your parents.  But it wasn’t just your parents -- the folks who decided, you know what, we’re going to set up a public university.  It was the folks who made a decision early on in this republic that said we believe that all men are created equal, that everybody is endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights -- those were commitments that were made by previous generations to future generations. 
 So somebody here had a parent or a grandparent who said, maybe I can’t go to college, but some day my son can.  (Applause.)  Maybe I can’t start my own business, but some day I can picture my daughter starting her own business.  Maybe I’m an immigrant, but I believe that this is the country, this is the place where no matter who you are, no matter what you look like, no matter where you come from, no matter what your last name is, you can make it if you try.  (Applause.)  That’s what we believe. (Applause.)
That is what we believe.  You and me, all of us -- we’re only here because someone, somewhere, felt a responsibility not just to themselves, but to this country’s future.  And now it’s our turn to be responsible.  Now it’s our turn to keep that promise alive.  That’s where I need your help. 
I’m asking everybody here, anybody who’s watching, anybody who’s following online -- send your member of Congress a message. Tell them you’re not going to set your sights lower.  Tell them you’re not going to settle for something less.  Call them, email them, write on their Facebook page, tweet.  (Laughter.)  We’ve got a hashtag -- #dontdoublemyrate.  (Laughter and applause.)  #Dontdoublemyrate.  #Dontdoublemyrate.  (Applause.)
  We asked students at North Carolina, then at University of Colorado to do this yesterday -- they got it trending worldwide for a while.  Let’s see if you guys can do even better.  (Applause.)  See how the Hawkeyes can do.  Because we’ve got to keep the heat on Congress until this gets done.  And I need your help to do it.  I need you to be heard.  I need you to be counted.
 Now is not the time to double the interest rates on our student loans.  Now is not the time to double interest rates.  Now is the time to double down on starting investments that build a strong and secure middle class.  Now is the time to double down on building an America that’s built to last. 
 If we work together, with clear eyes and a common purpose, I guarantee you we’ll meet our challenges.  We will rise to this moment.  And the reason I know that is because I believe in you. I believe in you.  (Applause.)  And it’s because of you that we will remind everybody just why it is that this is the greatest nation on Earth.
 Thank you, Iowa.  God bless you.  God bless the United States of America.
                    END               2:57 P.M. CDT
Cadence-wise it's vintage Obama, whipping the crowd up to an excited finish. By 2:06 he's done and gone. The handshake scrum puses oh so close to me, but there's a gulf of space between me on press side and the president on crowd side. That's OK, today wasn't for old guys like me anyway.

By 2:06 he appears to be gone.


Sick of Spin said...

Valiant try on the live blogging John.... I also commend you for calling this what it was, a campaign event, as opposed to a policy speech.

John said...

Fair enough, but incumbency does have its advantages.