Obama exhorts party faithful

BURLINGTON — “It’s good to be in Vermont!”
That was the understatement from President Barack Obama as he stepped in front of a deafening crowd at the University of Vermont last Friday afternoon. Gutterson Fieldhouse was packed with 4,500 admirers, and they let the first sitting president to visit Vermont in 17 years know he was appreciated.
“Out of all 50 states, Vermont has gone the longest without a presidential visit,” Obama said. “It was 1995 when President Bill Clinton came to Vermont. So, we decided that today we are going to reset the clock.”
It was a welcome change for the president, who has been highly criticized by his Republican opponents campaigning for his job this election year and conservative pundits blaming him for the slow economic recovery.
But Obama seemed energized by this small but highly concentrated show of support in Vermont on March 30, and used the opportunity to tout his accomplishments while in office, campaign for another term and raise money for that campaign.
The Associated Press reported that before arriving at the university, Obama had lunch at a South Burlington hotel with about 100 people who paid between $7,500 and $10,000 to attend the event. The Obama campaign and the Democratic National Committee expected to raise about $750,000 among the events Friday in Vermont and Maine.
“I’m not just here because I need your help,” Obama told the Gutterson crowd, “but because the country needs your help.”
The president thanked Grace Potter and the Nocturnals, who were the opening act for the event, and Gov. Peter Shumlin, for his leadership during last summer’s devastating flooding.
“You’ve got one of the best governors in the country,” Obama said. “When flooding came and disaster struck, he was here every single day working on your behalf. And we couldn’t be prouder of him.”
Obama also noted the tragic murder of St. Johnsbury teacher Melissa Jenkins last week.
“This is a woman, by all accounts, who devoted her life to her community and helping to shape young minds,” the president said. “And I know that Vermont is heartbroken, so all we can do is live our lives in a way that pays tribute to hers, by looking out for her students and her son. And Michelle and I want to express our thoughts and prayers to everyone who knew her. So I know that’s a tough situation.”
Obama then got on to the political task at hand and disputed his opponents’ assertions that he has done little over three years in the White House. He spoke for almost 30 minutes, checking off a laundry list of economic and policy improvements, such as a resurging auto industry, the end of combat in Iraq, the death of Osama Bin Laden, and his healthcare reform bill.
That last policy note elicited a sustained cheer from the crowd, aware that the fate of health care reform is uncertain as the Supreme Court debated the constitutionality of the law. But Obama was unwavering, playing to the many college-age students in the field house.
“It means that 2.4 million young people would have insurance that didn’t have it before because they aged out of their parents’ insurance,” he said to a huge cheer.
The president also noted that these changes have been difficult given the Republican majority in the U.S. House of Representatives.
“None of this has been easy,” he deadpanned. “We’ve had a little resistance from the other side.”
Immediately after that, a woman yelled loudly and clearly, “We love you!” and Obama did not miss a beat.
“Love you too,” he replied, then continued. “Over the past two years, businesses have added nearly 4 million new jobs. Our manufacturers are creating jobs for the first time since the 1990s. Our economy is getting stronger. The recovery is accelerating. All of which means the last thing we can afford to do is to go back to the same policies that got us into the mess in the first place.”
Obama then went on the offensive and talked about the Republican and Tea Party members of Congress, whom he referred to as “the other side.”
“They want to go back to the days where Wall Street played by its own rules,” Obama said. “They want to go back to the days when insurance companies could do whatever they wanted to. Their philosophy is simple: You are on your own. You’re on your own … and they are wrong. They are wrong.”
The president then hit his stride, and his trademark speechmaking skills were on display, with applause punctuating his remarks throughout.
“In the United States of America, we are greater together than we are on our own,” Obama said. “This country advances when we keep that basic American promise — if you work hard, you can do well enough to raise a family, own a home, send your kids to college, put a little away for retirement. And it doesn’t matter who you are, where you come from, what you look like. That’s what has created this extraordinary country of ours. That’s what we’re fighting for. That’s the choice in this election. This is not just your usual, run-of-the-mill political debate. This is the defining issue of our time; a make-or-break moment for the middle class. That’s what we’ve got to fight for.”
The president then talked about his goals should he be re-elected, including improving the education system, and extolled the virtues of quality teachers.
“A good teacher can increase the lifetime earnings of a classroom by over $250,000,” Obama said. “A great teacher can help a child trapped in poverty dream and then live beyond their circumstances. I want us to grant schools the flexibility to teach with creativity and passion, and stop teaching to the test, and replace teachers who aren’t helping kids learn.”
He also talked about the need for continued development of clean energy sources like solar, wind, biofuels and electric batteries and the end of tax breaks to oil companies.
On the issue of taxes, Obama enforced his support of “The Buffet Rule” (named for billionaire entrepreneur Warren Buffet), which states that anyone making over $1 million annually should not have a lower tax rate than a member of the middle class.
“I’m saying if you’re making $1 million every year, then you shouldn’t pay a lower rate than your secretary,” the president said. “That’s a pretty simple proposition. This is not class envy. This is not class warfare. This is basic math — that’s what this is.”
Obama wrapped up by saying that if Americans want more change, they know how to vote in the November election.
“Change takes time,” he said. “It takes more than a single term and more than a single president … We will finish what we started in 2008. Fight with me, and press on with me, and we will remind the world once again just what America is all about.”

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