Obama says Clinton not “ready to lead” — attacks over Social Security

Illinois Senator/Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama is due to speak at a senior center a few blocks from the Iowa State Fairgrounds in less than half an hour.  One hundred chairs (I counted) are arranged for the expected crowd.  This was the site of an Al Gore campaign stop in the 2000 campaign and I remember  the place being packed.  This morning the Obama camp has assembled the familiar true blue curtains and eight American flags as a backdrop.

Kim Tu of West Des Moines and her husband were among the first to arrive.  She is no senior citizen.

"I like a lot of his values.  We have small children so I like all of his values with the family and medical insurance and values for the middle class and I’ve been with him since day one.  I’d like to see him go all the way to the White House," Tu told me. 

So why isn’t Tu, who works full-time as a veterinary technician, supporting Hillary Clinton? "I wasn’t a huge fan of Bill Clinton, actually, and I just feel much more stronger about (Obama’s) values," Tu said.

Tu’s husband, who works full-time intalling heating and cooling units, hasn’t made up his mind yet — and that’s why Kim brought him here this morning.

"I just don’t know yet," he said.  Health care is his main issue.

A field organizer was first to speak to the crowd, inviting people to other Obama events around the city.  Then, one of Obama’s precinct organizers spoke. 

"I’ve been a Barack supporter for four years….Go Barack!" she says.  "Caucusing is the beginning…It’s kind of a heavy responsibility to know that we’re going to start this whole ball rolling, but it’s pretty neat," 

She aska a few of the questions on the Obama quiz that has become a staple of Obama events.  But for the first time since I’ve been sitting through these things, this question was asked:  "what denomination of church do Barack and his family belong to in Chicago?"  If you were here, and answered first and answered correctly, you’d get an Obama t-shirt.

Tod Bowman, a teacher at Maquoketa High School, is now speaking to the crowd.  He’s been invited here because he asked a question of Senator Clinton at one of her campaign events recently.  The subject matter was Social Security.

"I got the feeling she didn’t really want to answer my question," Bowman told the crowd.  After the event, Clinton came up and spoke to Bowman.  "This time, she gave me a conflicting response.  It left me feelign disappointed…If a candidate won’t answer a question on the campaign trail, how can we be sure she’ll be honest with the American people when she’s president?

"….When I look at the important issues of the day….I have to wonder which presidedntial candidate will always level with me and the American people….I’m sold. (Obama) will be forthright and honest….I’m supporting Barack Obama," Bowman tells the crowd.

It’s 1:04 p.m. now and Obama takes the stage.  The crowd stands and Obama tells them, "I’ll shake every hand here before I leave.  I guarantee it."

Obama continues:  "I hope I can earn the support of everybody who is here….I’m looking forward to taking your questions…..We have these events to interact….But before I start taking questions, I did want to say a few words about one of the issues that is important….(retirement security)….This is an issue that is a personal one for me.  As some of you know, I was raised by my grandparents and I think of them as some of America’s best….They worked hard all their lives and they earned a secure retirement…But a secure retirement is being threatened today….Tax breaks aren’t enough.  We also have an obligation to protect Social Security…the cornerstone of the social compact in this country….Here in Iowa, more than 95 percent of seniors rely on their monthly Social Security checks.

"But we also know the system has problems….and needs to be overhauled….The underlying system is sound,.  The actual problem is a projected cash flow problem that can easily be solved….The question is how to solve this problem….When Senator Clinton was asked about it, she wouldn’t say what she thought needed to be done…But she’s not alone in avoiding…ducking the issue because conventional thinking in Washington says Social Security is the third rail in politicis…I reject that notion…

(Now, get ready for the central the quote) "You’re not ready to lead if you can’t tell us where you’re going," Obama tells the crowd.  That is a direct hit at Hillary Clinton who often tells crowds herself that she is "ready to lead" and just in case they haven’t heard her, the slogan often is printed on campaign signs.

Obama is continuing with his speech; I hope to link to the text when provided by Obama camp..

Obama’s remarks wrapped up after about 10 minutes.

Now, questions from the crowd.  The first question came from a man who asked about his stand on abortion and gay marriage.

Abortion is a "difficult moral issue," Obama responds.  "…I believe,though, that women are in the best position to make that decision…They anguish over it, so my position has been that we should make sure that it’s safe…that they should be making decisions….in terms of how to approach this….I am not in favor of gay marriage, but I have said very clearly that I am in support of civil unions….I don’t think that they should be discrminiated against….and so, again, my position I think on that issue ahs been extremely clear….These are social issues that speak to who we are as people….but I also think they’ve been used as ways to divide Americans….We have so much more in common…and our politics should reflect some of our common ideas and ideals."

Steve Richardson, a former State Representative from Indianola, is up telling Obama he is undecided about whom to support, but has narrowed it down to Obama, Edwards or Richardson.  He’s asking Obama who he’d select to be Secretary of State.

"I actually think foreign policy is one of my strengths….When I asked myself whether or not to run…we had three major questions….Could our family survive the rigors of a presidential campaign?….Could I win?  Listen, I undetstood we would be competing against the most established brand name in the Democratic Party…but when people knew me…we did extremely well, so our key was to get well known in the early states….the last question…Is there something that I can do as president that I can do that no one candidate can….The next president has to…heal damage around the world….I believe that I can be more effective that anybody else…to restore our moral standing in the world….I’ve been on the right side.  I’ve shown good judgment…(mentions war opposition)….We have, I think, a record…and I think my track record holds up well….The next president is going to have to engage in the kind of personal diplomacy…do something exceptional….rally the world back around our cause….Not just our friends, but our enemies….Strong countries and strong presidents talk to their adversaries talk to their enemies and tell them where we stand….If I convene a meeting with Muslim leaders around the world, I can speak with the credibility of someone who lived in a Muslim country…I can also also tell (Africans) i have a grandmother who lives in a small village in subSaharn Africa…and that gives me credibility to speak out against corruption…That is one of the things that will make me a much more effective president than anybody else."

Obama’s now talking about his standards for choosing cabinet members. Competance, integrity, Independence.  "I don’t want yes people around…I want them to disagree with me….That’s what I’m looking for," Obama said.

"You’d be surprised the number of former Clinton people who are now advising us," Obama tells the crowd. 

Next question from a woman in the audience.  "People need to work to make a living," she asks.  "What can you do to keep businesses in America."

Stop giving tax breaks to companies that are moving overseas, Obama replied.  "Something that I’ve been adovcating for a long time…Make sure trade relationships are fair….A lot of trade from China is actually from companies that used to be located in the United States….make sure that our trade relationships are fair."

Now, Obama’s talking about re-training workers, investing in "new opportunities" in emerging industries like wind energy. Obama indicates barring foreign investment in US companies is tricky.  Now, he’s talking about fuel efficiency standards for cars and its impact on importation of oil from the Gulf. 

The woman asks a follow up; she is off mic but it appears to be about banning foreign purchase of American companies. 

Next question, from a woman, is about Social Security, about how a stay-at-home mom doesn’t get "credits" and benefits.

"It’s a terrrific question and it’s the first time I’ve heard it in a town hall meeting.  As my wife often reminds me, at home care….is hard work, just as hard as any work out there and historically it’s been underappreciated and undercompensated.  We can’t afford to extend benefits to at-home caregivers….without looking at how that would impact the solvency of the system."

The same woman asks a follow-up, pressing Obama on whether he’d consider the idea.

"I will have my staff immediately start running the numbers and see how is impacts the solvency of the system," Obama replied.

Now, a question from a man in the crowd about making an engine that would be more efficient…and then, "would you get our troops out of the Middle East?"

"Yes," Obama replied.  The crowd laughed.  Now, Obama’s talking about global warming.

One last question.  Obama calls on a man in the crowd.  The question is about Social Security and the revenue generated for the fund. Man contends Social Security is linnked to private sector and he asks if Warren Buffett would get a bigger benefit if Buffett pays more.

Obama:  "It’s your payroll tax.  It’s not just in prviate enterprise….but there’s no doubt that you are paying into the system…It doesn’t go into an account….You are paying for current retirees and we hope that our children will pay for us when we retire so part of the reason that I’m opposed to privatization…If we had suddenly my or your payroll tax….somebody’s got to make up fo rthe money for current retirees….but there’s a bigger, more conceptual issue….Social Security is a social insurance program and what that means is your benefit is not tied to the ups and downs of the marketplace…..It is something that you know is there….You know that once you qualify for it, it’s always going to be there…and the reason that’s important is because some of us are going to be unlucky or have made bad decisions….We want to encourage people to invest in the stock market….We want you to be able to save above and beyond SS but that SS is there as the floor."

Regarding Buffett’s benefits if Buffett pays higher payroll taxes:  "We don’t have precise calculations," Obama says, adding the payout would not be dollar-for-dollar.

Next question from a man….about family planning.

"I believe that we should be basing our family planning decisions based on science….I went to Rick Warren’s church…He’s sold a lot of books…and he’s a wonderful pastor….He organized an AIDS conference and I commended and was proud of the work that these evangelical organizations were doing…Red and Blue states were coming together….I’m all for abstinence education, but if people are dying of AIDS, I’m not going to restrict people from distributing condoms….Let’s not give people a death sentence…I think that my administration will follow the science.  We have to stop death and disease and devastation, but there’s nothing wrong with talking about changes in behavior."

Event over.  It lasted 45 minutes.

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About O.Kay Henderson

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


  1. I support Barack Obama. This time we want a smart president!