On a rainy Sunday, Obama focuses on God’s creation

It’s been raining for hours here in Des Moines, with thunder periodically rattling the windowpanes.  A couple of hundred people have filed into the meeting room here in the downtown Des Moines Public Library, seating themselves in chairs arranged in a half-moon shape, focused on a lectern with a placard that reads: "THE JUDGEMENT TO LEAD" pasted on the front. 

The event has been billed by the Obama campaign as a forum to "highlight the role of faith in fighting global climate change."  A woman who had the microphone for a few minutes mentioned Nobel Prize winner Al Gore and his movie.  Now, Des Moines Mayor Frank Cownie is talking about several "green" city initiatives.  "Get out and do the right thing," Cownie urges the crowd  The event start time is listed as 10 a.m. — it’s five minutes after right now. 

I spy out-going State Representative/2006 Democratic gubernatorial candidate/John Edwards backer Ed Fallon standing in the back of the room.  He sees me, walks over, and says, "I’m scouting out runningmates."

Obama is introduced to the crowd at 10:10 a.m.  The crowd stands and applauds.  Some cheer.  Many hold the campaign-issued blue Obama placards.  I’m guessing this ruins the camera shots for some of the photogs because the lectern isn’t that high — and the ceiling is pretty low.

"This is a pretty good turnout for a rainy Sunday morning," Obama begins. 

Obama is wearing a black suit, a white shirt and a dark gray tie. 

"For the last several months, our campaign has been holding faith forums…to get a discussion going about the role faith plays (in politics and our private life)…I’ve always defended the separation of church and state…to protect the church from the state."  Crowd applauds.

"I’ve said repeatedly that whatever we once were, we are not just a nation of Christians…and it is important for us to recognize that, but I don’t believe this separation means we should leave our faith at the door when we enter the public square," Obama says. 

Obama continues:  "I was not raised in a particularly religious household…(tells crowd he "confronted my spiritual dilemma" when he went to Chicago)….I could sense that the Christians I worked with recognized themselves in me…they sensed that a part of me remained removed, detached…without a commitment to a particular community of faith at some level I would always remain alone, apart….It came about as a choice, not an ephiphany…The questions I had didn’t magically disappear….In time, I came to see faith more than just a comfort to the weary…throughout our history men and women of faith have waded into battles (abolition, civil rights, temperance)…Faith has been a running threat in our politics….By summoning a higher truth, they inspired ordinary people to achieve extraordinary things….yet somehow…faith started being used to drive us apart….because some religious leaders use faith to exploit what divides us…((This is much the same as the speech he gave in Fort Dodge this summer.)…

"This is obviously a timely issue in part because former Vice President Al Gore received the Nobel Peace Prize this week…(crowd applauds….his grace after a bitter defeat, to rise up and actually transcend and do even more than one could have even imagined to highlight this issue.

"The Bible tells us that when God created the Earth….(God issued a call to stewardship)…but in recent years science has made it undeniably clear our generation is not living up to our obligation….The polar ice caps are now melting faster than anyone could have predicted….250 million people (could be forced from their homes due to famine)….We are not living up to the resonsibility God entrusted to us if we allow 250 million of God’s children go hungry….We’re not acting as good stewards of God’s earth (when profit motive prevails)…(Crowd applauds)

"We cannot allow another year to go by (without action on climate change)….(references evangelical leaders’ letter to Bush)….I believe that people of all backgrounds and beliefs are ready, too….People are willing to sacrifce and they’re willing to contribute to a cause larger than themselves.  What’s missing (is a willingness on part of politicians to take action)….We haven’t had that kind of leadership in Washington for quite some time….We are actually more dependent on oil today than ever before….I don’t believe that climate change is just an issue that’s convenient to bring up during a campaign…(applause)….I believe it’s one of the greatest moral challenges of our generation….(crowd applauds Obama talking about his fuel efficiency standards speech in Detroit)…They will have to make cars that use less oil.  I have to admit the room was really quiet….I believe Americans have heard enough from politicians who tell you what you want to hear…You have to speak the truth.

"…Last week I laid out my plan to combat global climate change….(It involves penalties on polluters and using those fines to bankroll energy efficiency projects)….We will share our technology and our innovation with all the countries of the world….and we will help build a future for poor underdeveloped nations that is clean and energy efficient.

"…Meeting the threat of global climate change…will take time…sacrifices…and something more than just the right politicies themselves….So many of the problems we face today….are moral problems and they’re rooted in societal indifferences…and the imperfections of humanity… (it will require an active, searching faith to solve this)….While we’re not going to solve every problem here on earth, we can make a difference.  That’s the kind of faith I have.  As a candidate for president, that’s the kind of faith I will call upon the American people to have and I ask all of you to join me."

Speech over.  Obama grabs the microphone in one hand, and a bottle of water and starts roaming the stage. 

"Let’s do some Q&A," Obama says, then takes a swig of water. 

First question comes from a woman who just returned from China, and she makes reference to Wal-Mart in China.  Obama says China allows some govt-sponsored unions to work in Wal-Marts in China "which is ironic," according to Obama.  "For us to lecture them or scold them without recognizing per capita we emit more greenhouse gases than (the Chinese do)….For us, a much wealthier nation per capita….when we are just…wasting energy all the time, that’s a difficult conversation to have and that’s why it’s so important for American to lead….by deed."

US fuel standards are lower than China’s, according to Obama. 

"…Remember acid rain?  It was going to destroy every forest….and we put a cap on those emissions that were causing (acid rain)….20 years later, we don’t have an acid rain problem and it turned out to be much cheaper than anticipated…Once you put a price on these emissions, people realize — hey I can make money here by creating clean technologies, so we can’t underestimate the power of incentives….Once we create that marketplace and we spur that technoology, we are in a position to export that technology….to make sure that some of these poorer countries get some of this technology for free because we’ve got a stake in (poor countries being clean)."

Next question, from a woman, is about the plight of women in poor countries and population growth.

Obama:  "I’m a believer in educating women because it turns out when you educate and empower women, they educate children…to be more sensible….so that’s one very important issue….The second issue is just raising the standards of living for individuals, those county’s birth rates go down….A quick personal story — as some of you know, my father’s from Kenya and Kenya has some of the most amazing real estate on earth….This is God’s country out there, just remarkable game parks….significant tensions among Kenyans because there are a lot of subsistence farmers (who would encroach on game parks)…The answer was not juet to shut down these folks and say you can’t feed your families….so you start hiring some of these individuals as game wardens…and they suddenly become invested, economically, in conservation."

Next question, from a woman, is about clean coal technology, how to justify the use of coal.

Obama:  "I would not have signed what Bush signed, which is basically to say it’s ok to just lop off the top of mountains….Coal is extracted from my home state of Illinois….We can suggest no coal….and my suspicion is we will lose that fight because like it or not a whole bunch of us are getting electricity from coal…and there are whole states dependent on coal….cheapest, most abundant resource….We will hamper ourselves from potentially dealing with a legit resource….Strong regulation can prohibit (mountain desecration)….We’ve got to develop coal sequestration technology that works….What i’m basically saying is….plants will have to be retrofitted or they’re going to be paying really high premiums….The only way that we can use this coal efficiently is if we come up with coal sequestration technology that captures the carbon and doesn’t emit greenhouse gases…That then allows us to not only use the technology ourselves, but send it to other countries which are building a power plant a week….I can’t just tell people what they want to hear….on the front end, at least, when you set up a cap, that is going to increase costs for companies…they’re going to pass it along to you….If we’re serious about dealing with global warming, there is going to be a spike in the unit cost of electricity.  We can adapt by making our energy use more efficient…Everybody’s going to have to think about…all of the things that will reduce our energy usage…but some (poor) folks simply cannot adapt…They are in a bad way and if we’re serious about global warming to make sure that those who are vulnerable (to price spikes) are protected….On the front end, there’s going to be some costs and we can’t pretend like there’s going to be a free lunch…when I’m president, I don’t want all you folks complaining to me….We’re also going to have to use some of that money to help because there may be some dislocated coal workers….It goes back to what I said about Kenya….you can’t just tell them don’t feed your family."

Next question, from a man, about the "immoral war" in Iraq and the backlash against "war tax."

Obama:  "I think there was a backlash because we have been sold this bill of goods….that somehow there is such a thing as a free lunch…the only reason we haven’t been feeling the pinch is because China….and Mexico are lending us money….So I believe in the basic principle that you pay for what you initiate…the idea of a war tax is a little late…I would have liked to see that before we spent $600 billion….I do believe in the basic principle that you pay as you go…If you are cutting taxes, you’ve got to find corresponding cuts in spending…and I want to adhere to that in our military spending as well as in our domestic spending….(He’s referencing the "cookie lady" and the free pens from the "Sensible Priorities" people)…Even as we end this war, there are going to be some costs to resetting our military, dealing with our veterans…We do need to examine whether weapons systems designed for the Cold War are keeping us safe."

Next question, from a woman, about the Iowa National Guard soldiers who’ve been denied their GI Bill education benefits because of the way their military orders were written.

"We are going to be working to make sure they get a fair shake," Obama tells the crowd.

Next question, from a man, referencing JFK.  "You remind me a lot of John Kennedy," the man says.  The crowd applauds.  "Are you going to be the person who elevates this issue (of climate change)?"

"I am the man," Obama says, to which the crowd whoops and hollers.  "Let me say this in closing.  I want all of you to take a look at the details of the plan we’ve put forward…(urges crowd to read his plan on campaign website)….I’m very proud of this plan.  I think it gets the job done and we have done it in a way that is honest to the American people….Just to end with a little bit of politics, I want everybody to really udnerstand that we’ve got a window in this next election where the country’s up for grabs.  George Bush has been a really good advertisement for the Democratic Party and progressive values…but people don’t want to just be against something.  They want to be for something….What presidential candidate can bring the country together in order to achieve this broader vision….versus just working incrementally to reverse some of George  Bush’s policies?…Who can repair our image around the world?  and I think that that is the reason I’m running for president because I believe I can bring the country together….and send a message to the world that America’s back.  I can only do that with all of you.  Just in case you didn’t realize it, I really want you to caucus for me….If you’re not already a supporter, we want you to sign up."

Event over.  Cameras rush to capture Obama as he interacts with crowd. 

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About O.Kay Henderson

O. Kay Henderson is the news director of Radio Iowa.


  1. I’m 80 years young. Barack Obama has such great energy and honest delivery for the solving of human problems. Twenty years from now, we will all owe Mr.and Mrs. Obama and their children, our gratitude and affection for his leadership as our President.