18 February 2009
This morning, I attended President Barack Obama's speech at Dobson High School in Mesa, AZ along with roughly 1500 other people. The President used this speech to talk about the housing crisis facing America, specifically focusing on how his new stimulus package, which he signed into law yesterday, will work to promote healthy lending to fix the economy. When I arrived at Dobson, there was a line nearly as long as the one I stood in on Monday outside the school for people who had tickets to the event. I was near the end of the line, as I arrived a bit later than I'd hoped. Protesters from a variety of issue areas lined the sidewalks making it difficult to sort out who had a ticket and who was there to protest. I saw people from "Impeach Obama," "Stop Sheriff Joe Arpaio," anti-abortion activists, pro-religious activists from a variety of religions, and of course, the people with signs talking about lessening federal spending and cutting pork out of stimulus packages like this one. Eventually, the line got shorter and shorter and we left the protesters outside the secure area and had our tickets checked and passed through metal detectors. Secret Service members were everywhere, of course, and members of the Obama advance team, the Democratic Party of Arizona, and volunteers from what I can only assume were the ASU Young Democrats were also all over the place directing people into the building, in orderly lines, and taking signs and things that weren't allowed at the event. Once inside the gymnasium, we filled in the bleachers along the north wall - the only available seating left in the room. At least since Dobson has a pretty darn small gym (compared to my old one at Skyline HS, anyway) even from the very back we were able to see everything quite well. I picked out a few faces from the crowd - Jan Brewer, governor of Arizona; Terry Goddard, Arizona Attorney General; Congressman Raul Grijalva (CD-7); Congressman Harry Mitchell (CD-5); Congressman Ed Pastor (CD-4); Jim Pederson, 2006 challenger for Jon Kyl's Senate Seat; Rich Crandall, Republican legislator for LD19; Steve Irvin, ABC15 News evening anchor; Ned Norris Jr., Chairman of the Tohono O'odham Nation; and Randy Pullen, Chairman of the Arizona Republican Party. After a short wait, the Dobson High School choir sang a few songs for the crowd, and they did the Pledge of Allegiance and the singing of the National Anthem. About 15 minutes later, with the anticipation among the crowd almost palpable - cell phones and cameras held high above heads in the wait to snap a photo of the President - the person working the loudspeaker announced, "Ladies and gentlemen, the President of the United States." And, of course, the crowd went nuts, clapping and screaming their heads off as President Obama took the platform and called for everyone to sit. The President's speech was essentially what I expected, a run-down of how the housing crisis will be alleviated following four main points: 1. Allowing 4 to 5 million people who are currently "underwater" - owing more on their houses than the value of the property itself - to refinance their loans at lower rates. 2. Increasing the number of incentives to lenders who work with buyers to modify the terms of loans for people in at-risk-of-foreclosure situations. Essentially, this increases regulation over the banking industry to provide more "goodies" to subprime loan lenders who "play nice" with borrowers and renegotiate loan terms. Those lenders participating would be required to reduce loan payments to no more than 31% of a person's income. And, "there is a cost" for this - though President Obama never mentioned how much, instead saying that if we don't pay it now, we'll be paying much more in the future - in his view, now "it is a price well worth paying." 3. $200 billion will go toward ensuring that Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac will be able to continue to "stabilize markets and hold mortgage rates down" while making sure that the process remains open to "transparency and strong oversight so that they do so in responsible ways." 4. Reforming bankruptcy rules to allow judges to order lower payments on people defaulting on loans as long as those people continue to stay in good standing with their banks. 5. In addition to those four, $2 billion will go toward competitive grants for communities who come up with innovative ways to prevent foreclosures. Possibly the best and most honest part of the speech was when President Obama talked about the need for personal responsibility when dealing with fixing the economy. He said, "So solving this crisis will require more than resources – it will require all of us to take responsibility. Government must take responsibility for setting rules of the road that are fair and fairly enforced. Banks and lenders must be held accountable for ending the practices that got us into this crisis in the first place. Individuals must take responsibility for their own actions. And all of us must learn to live within our means again." And he's absolutely right. For as much as I don't like the direction he is taking the government's stake in the economy, government does have the obligation to set rules that are fairly enforced upon all citizens of the United States. Banks need to take responsibility and not provide loans to people who obviously cannot repay them. And individuals need to step up and not sign for loans or buy properties they cannot afford in the first place. I must say that I am impressed with how good a speaker President Obama is. He is articulate, and he absolutely connected with the audience in the room in terms that even the high school students who got tickets could understand. The audience, as a counterpart, received the President well - it was actually a lot more subdued than any Republican event I've been to, which was kind of eerily strange. When the President had finished speaking, he left the podium, shaking hands with those in the front of the room along the cordon as he went. Meanwhile, I stood at my seat in the bleachers. You see, there was only one exit from the room for the listeners, including all the Congressmen and other titled guests, and my seat was pretty much right there. So while everyone left, I got to shake a few hands with people like Rich Crandall, Randy Pullen, and some of the Democratic leaders. Overall, I enjoyed the event. It was fun to be at a presidential speech here in Mesa, even if the key component of the speech was a healthy dose of liberal socialism and big government. I hope I get this type of opportunity again, perhaps next time with a Republican leader instead of a Democratic one so I can really get excited about what he has to say!