Edwards And Obama Bring Hope To TBA Conference
"There's something in the wind out there. There's something stirring, there's a hunger in this country right here and right now, longing for something new that we haven't seen in years," said Obama in opening his speech. "People are hungry to turn the page and write a new chapter in American history."
After talking about his activist start in politics and his work registering voters in low-income areas of Chicago, Obama spoke of his time as a young law professor. "I started teaching Constitutional law because, unlike some occupants of the White House, I actually believe in the Constitution,"
he said to a roar of approval from the crowd.
Obama lit into the Bush administration as a "can't-do, won’t-do, won’t-even-try kind of government."
And, of course, the Iraq occupation was front and center in the Illinois Senator's speech.
Speaking of the "persistent stubbornness of a president who refuses to end this war in Iraq," Obama invoked Team Bush's talk about supporting the troops and how few actions have actually backed that up.
"They'll talk about defending the troops and then leave them to fend for themselves after they serve our country," he said.
And Obama, who was against the war even while in the Illinois State Senate, reinforced his belief that Iraq was a calamity waiting to happen and that Congress should never have provided the initial authorization to Bush.
"So many of us knew this back then, even when it wasn't popular to say so," said Obama. "We knew back then this war was a mistake. We knew back then that it was dangerous diversion from the struggle against the terrorists who attacked us on September 11th. We knew back then that we could find ourselves in an occupation of undetermined length, at undetermined cost, with undetermined consequences."
"We are sixteen votes away in the Senate from ending this war. And so we need to keep turning up the pressure on all those Republican Congressmen and Senators who refuse to acknowledge the reality that the American people know so well. We will call them, and knock on their doors, and we will bring our troops home."
Obama drew thunderous applause when he talked about a national health care system that will insure every American and pledged to all in attendance that he will "sign a universal health care plan that covers every American by the end of my first term in office as your President. Count on it."
John Edwards had a hard act to follow, taking the stage to a very enthusiastic reception after the charismatic Obama, but he came to the microphone with a broad smile on his face and instantly drew the crowd into his speech.
"I want to start by talking about this war in Iraq, because we need to bring this war to an end," said Edwards, grabbing onto what is clearly the dominant issue for most conference attendees. "I voted for this war and I was wrong to vote for this war. I take responsibility for that and I will have to live with that."
"But Congress had a mandate as a result of the election last November. The American people made it very, very clear what they wanted. They wanted to see a change, they wanted to see a different course in Iraq and they wanted to see America leaving Iraq."
This brought a loud cheer of approval from the energized crowd and Edwards used the moment to lash the Democratic Congress for giving George W. Bush a blank check with which to continue the war.
"It was time for the Congress to stand firm, to stand strong and to have courage. Unfortunately, that did not happen. But we need strength and conviction in the Congress because this president has no intentions of ending this war."
The former North Carolina Senator then went on a tear that proved to most in the room that he belongs on the same rhetorical stage with Obama and he told the crowd his core beliefs to building applause:
"To be very simple about this, whether it's the war in Iraq, whether it's universal health care, whether it's getting off our addiction to oil, whether it's the issue of dealing with climate change, whether it's dealing with an issue that's enormously important to me, which is the inequality that still exists in this country or 37 million people who wake up every day in poverty, for me, it's very simple.And Edwards talked at length about the moral leadership that America needs to once again show, promising the standing-room-only audience that "on the first day that I'm sworn in as president of the United States, I will close Guantanamo."
"And this is it: No more pontificating, no more vacillating, no more triangulating, no more broken promises, no more pats on the head, no more 'we'll get around to it next time,' no more taking half a loaf, no more tomorrow.
"For the men and women who are leaving this country to go serve in Iraq, there is no tomorrow. For women around this country who have, like my wife, been diagnosed with cancer or breast cancer, you can't talk about putting universal health care in tomorrow.
"We need to do these things now. We -- our party -- we need to be bold, we need to have backbone, we need to have courage. It is time for us to lead again. It is time for us to show the leadership that America and the world needs from us."
That was the tone of Edwards' entire speech and it seemed to strike all the right notes with a crowd that embraced him as much, if not differently, than Obama.
He ended by describing the difficult decision faced by his family in the face of the return of his wife Elizabeth's cancer and said that both he and his wife decided that this mission of his must continue because it so closely defines who he is as a person.
"This is what I intend to do for the rest of my life. I will speak for the poor, I will speak for the uninsured, I will speak for the disenfranchised -- this is my life and I'm going to do it as long as I'm alive and breathing," he said, while asking for similar committment from his audience. "My question to you is this: What are you willing to do? How much are you willing to give? How much do you love this country? To paraphrase Gandhi, 'You've got to be the change you believe in.' Your country needs you. Everybody in America needs you."
Both Edwards and Obama were mobbed after their speeches by autograph seekers and those simply trying to snap a picture or get close to two people who just might become the next president.
And the consensus at the conference seems to be that we would be fine with either one.