In rural Iowa swing, Democrat offers every student $4,000 for college
"A child in Storm Lake should dream as big as a child in Des Moines, or Chicago, or New York, or anywhere."
With that, Barack Obama laid out his plans for investing in better schools and making college education more affordable, during a campaign stop that attracted about 400 students and supporters at Storm Lake High School Monday.
To the sound of "Ain't No Stopping Us Now" pumping out of rock concert-style speakers, the senator and presidential candidate strode into the gymnasium to a standing ovation.
Obama sounded his familiar campaign themes, calling for universal health care availability, a rapid withdrawal from the war in Iraq, and an end to the policies of the Bush administration.
Only in response to a question from the audience did Obama delve into the controverial issues of immigration.
"We're not going to round folks up and send them off," Obama said. "It's not who we are."
The law enforcement system and jails couldn't begin to handle a mass deportment of all the undocumented workers in the country, he said.
Some of the undocumented immigrants' families have lived in places like Storm Lake for years. Their children may be legal citizens. Some came here as young children and know nothing of their native counties. Still, Obama admits, they have broken the law.
The candidate says he would make these people learn English and pursue citizenship if they wish to stay, but he would send them "to the back of the line," putting them on a path to earn citizenship that could take 10 years, he said.
The result would bring immigrants "out of the shadows," preventing employers from taking advantage of them and allowing American workers to compete with them for jobs on even footing.
Obama said he would pair his version of amnesty with stronger border controls and documentation, and punishment for companies that hire illegals.
For years, politicians have been trying to make points off immigation, but have done little to fix the problems. "We're not going to solve it just by shouting about it," he told the crowd.
For many in the crowd, the issue is key in the coming election.
"I think immigration is the big issue, and it isn't as bad for the country as most of the candidates make it out to be," student Eddie Banuelos reflected while waiting for Obama.
"There are worse things out there," he said, adding that so far, he likes what Obama is saying on the issue more than what he hears from the other candidates.
Others students were less engaged.
When interviewed in the halls, several said they didn't know what the issues were, and said they didn't particularly care about any of the candidates.
One girl, while waiting to pose in a staged picture with Obama, said that she was impressed by the candidate, but that she was still trying to decide between Obama and Clinton. "I think probably more students here would lean toward Obama than any of the other candidates," she said.
Obama at times aimed his remarks directly to the students who chose to attend.
He said he knows what to do to fix the nation's schools - invest in more early childhood education, pay teachers better, and "don't pass a law like No Child Left Behind, and then leave the funding behind."
Schools need to bring back emphasis on music and art, he said. "We can't have our students learning only how to take tests."
He stressed that he would offer $4,000 tax credits every year for all students attending college, but said that to return the favor, students would be required to perform some public service.
He mentioned more grants for community colleges and more networked technology for rural schools.
"We also need to make sure that students are being trained for the jobs that are out there," he said.
The money for education and other issues exists, he claimed, since the ggovernment is currently spending two billion dollars a week in Iraq.
Still, candidates can't promise tax cuts and continue spending at current levels, Obama said, and for any new programs that are proposed, existing ones will have to be cut or eliminated.
The Illinois senator hit on rural issues throughout his swing through northwest Iowa.
He said that wind turbines, which his motorcase passed coming into Storm Lake, are the "wave of the future" along with alternative fuels, and said that he feels that communities should have a say in whether large lifestock confinements should be allowed.
He said that Iowa Senator Tom Harkin had fought to craft a Farm Bill that stressed conservation and supported family and specialty farmers, but expressed displeasure with the outcome.
"Once again the lobbyists stepped in to make sure that big agribusinesses got the multimillion-dollar giveaways that they've come to count on," said Obama.
He said that he does not accept Political Action Committee donations, and suggested that corporate lobbyists would find little voice in his White House.
He promised adjustments in minimum wage every year to deal with cost of living increases.
"The CEOs of large corporations make more in 10 minutes than their workers do in a year, but it is the CEO who gets the tax breaks," Obama said.
Locked in a tight race with Hillary Clinton and John Edwards headed into the Iowa Caucuses Jan. 3, Obama isn't mentioning either opponent, but reserving his ire for the sitting President.
"This is a big one," he said of the 2008 election. "People are excited about it, because George Bush won't be on the ballot. Neither will my cousin Dick Cheney. I was really embarrassed. When people started looking into my genealogy, I hoped to find out I was related to George Washington or Willie Mays."
He said that Bush had promised compassionate conservatism, but delivered only a botched response to Hurricane Katrina and wire-tapping.
The message seemed to resonate with some in the crowd. "I'm a Republican, but I do like what he has to say," Storm Laker Bonnie Phillips said, shortly after receiving a post-speech hug from the Democrat.
Obama said the election comes at a "defining moment" - one that finds the U.S. entangled in war that he said should never have been waged, with the planet in environmental peril, and citizens forced to work harder and harder just to get by. People have lost faith that their leaders can do anything about it, he said.
"We can't run a conventional campaign. Not this time."
Obama, who appeared fresh and energetic despite what he said has been 10 months of uninterrupted campaigning, at one stage asked the crowd about how many were still undecided on who they would like to vote for.
Hands slowly went up, perhaps 15-20 percent of those attending.
"There," the candidate said to his campaign staff. "Those are the ones you want to get."
In other issues addressed by Obama:
* Fuel conservation - The candidate said that if all cars can be made to reach an average of 40 miles per gallon, the equivalent of all the oil obtained from the Persian Gulf could be offset. "Imagine what that could do for the environment and for the economy?"
* International relations - "I won't just talk to our friends, but to our enemies... Strong presidents and strong countries talk to their adversaries."
* Choosing a running mate - Obama named no names, but when asked, said he would choose and independent rather than a "yes person" who would agree with him on everything. "That's part of what happened to the Bush Administration." * China trade - When asked by an exchange student from China, Obama said he felt a relationship could be formged that would allow both countries to prosper, but said the trade imbalance in which China is sending much more goods to the U.S. market than it accepts would have to change.
* Health care - Obama continues to promise a plan that would make it possible for all Americans to afford or be provided health care insurance before the end of a first term as president. Thos who already have insurance should save about $2,500 a year, he said, which they could save for college or other investments.