Excuse grammatical mistakes: I'm very tired right now and slept 2 hours last night to go to this thing.
I have to say a couple of things before I really start this post. Directly below this post you will find a nice, long-winded post about what has happened between Yahoo and Microsoft over the span of this month since Microsoft's $44.6 billion cash-and-stock bid. I recommend reading it because it's a great way to catch up on that issue and I put a lot of time into researching what has been happening. I have lots of other tech news to talk about, and I'll have to get to it this weekend (I'm thinking tomorrow or Saturday). The other thing is that I am not a political pundit, nor do I ever claim to be. I give my commentary on technology under the pretense that I do my best to be well-informed and unbiased and knowledgeable in the things I talk about. With politics though, I can't keep up quite as well. I'm in tune a lot more with what Barack Obama has been saying rather than Hillary Clinton, so I'm going to try to not talk about her a whole lot aside from impressions I had of her from the debate. What I'm about to say are just my personal thoughts on this morning and I do not want to be flamed for these opinions. I don't remember all the nitty gritty, you can see this guy for that. Now we can get started.
I know the title is a little corny, but I think it's kind of cute. People were chanting it this morning at the Town Hall that Barack had at the Austin Convention Center. It happened very suddenly, being announced only two days ago, and it was at 9:30 AM this morning. I got up at 5:40 AM and we made it there by 7:00 AM. We got pretty good seats, but we were a few rows ahead of him yet, making it hard to take pictures. Fortunately, I did get to shake his hand though:
I Shook Barack's Hand! from Eptiger on Vimeo.
I think this little girl wanted to shake his hand, too (the T-shirt is cute, too):
He was a little late coming on stage though, and was preceded by a woman who told her vignette about life in Austin, that seemed kind of untrue because she worked at all these non-profits and her husband was a teacher so I don't understand how they could support their kids. We actually did get these 50-page booklets while we waiting for him explaining his policies and focusing a good bit on the economy, which is one of my huge issues so I really liked that.
This was a really exciting thing for me because I have never, in my life, felt so obligated to really get involved in politics. Clinton became president when I was 6 and I didn't know who George Walker Bush was until I was finishing up middle school. I feel like the Democratic Party has lost its way for the past 8 years. I have to say this real quick: it's amazing how Hillary brags about being the more experienced candidate but let the Republicans trample on some of the ideals this country was built on and bring our economy to shambles with an unabashed spending policy and a nonsensical approach to education. Yeah, cutting funds to students will create more jobs. She had more seniority than Barack did, and so she could've been an instigator for change. I look at Barack's voting record, as I have since he first started being on the Daily Show, and I find myself very impressed.
When we were waiting for Barack, I had this total zen moment while reading through his policies in that booklet and I turned to my friend saying, "dude, what if he was our president? Everything would be so different!" Mind you, I don't mean our country would be fixed instantaneously and we'd all be sipping out of golden goblets, but I mean that we'd have a reason to believe in our government for once. We'd be criticizing our president's missteps in policy rather than his overall intelligence. It would just be a complete paradigm shift. Maybe we'd go back to the Clinton days when families would gather around a television and watch their president speak to them. Does anyone really watch the State of the Union address anymore? Honestly?
Getting back on topic, Barack started out with kind of a mild stump speech, you could say. Just generally outlining his policies and what he believes in. This was not his typical rally fare: it was a bare bones explanation of the key tenets of his campaign that he talks about everywhere: get out of Iraq, jumpstart the economy with tax reform and restoring the living wage, and better health care, among a few other things I'm probably missing. It was inspiring, but not energizing the way his rallies are. It's hard for me to explain, but I feel like everyone there (by the way, a lot of older people, but a decent amount of college students) had this understanding that a lot of us supported Obama, but it was early in the morning and this wasn't the rock concert he had in Austin last Friday. Instead, we wanted to hear the answers we've read online and seen on YouTube to more questions and prove to the naysayers that he's not "all hat and no cowboy." For the record, that's a stupid saying. I'm sorry, but you have issues if that's your way of saying that someone is all talk.
Let me tell you that the people who say that Obama is idealistic and has no real plan for getting anything done has either been watching too much Fox News or too much Hillary. I heard nothing but plans at this Town Hall meeting. It was incredible. I don't know how to describe this feeling, because I've never had it before, but this guy represents how I feel about all the issues that matter to me most: health care, education, fiscal responsibility, taxes, the Internet, technology in general, welfare, and the list goes on. It's like I can finally breathe a sigh of relief that maybe not everyone in politics is completely corrupted. How many candidates for president in the past decade have run campaigns as clean as Barack? How many have actually kept talking about how they're going to cut out special interest groups and make deals between the people and the companies or issue leaders (I need a term here I can't think of because it's 1AM right now) where it really matters. The government has been usurped from us and given to these lobbyists, he's right. Some people say, "oh, that's just politics" and they let it slide. They don't care about the erosion of our privacy. They don't care about the degradation of treating people with equality. They don't care about the rug being pulled under us. Why do people know that Lindsay Lohan was in rehab but they don't know that without net neutrality we could give way to stifling innovation on the Internet? There is something very wrong and haunting about a society where we've become more concerned with our celebrities than our troops, many of whom are coming back from serving in Iraq and having a rough time transitioning back. Just because Barack Obama is saying this as a politician doesn't mean he doesn't believe in it. When I look into his eyes, I see promise. I don't see half-truths and pandering. Do you have any idea how refreshing that is?
Back to his having actual plans though; that's important. There was no fluff, no high level statements (not very many, at least) of what he intends to do, but real answers. I've been so jaded by the Bush administration that I figured that Town Halls were rigged events. As it turns out, this was not such an event. It was completely live, unfiltered questions. Let me tell you that I love Austin, because the questions were diverse and well-conceived (except for a childish one literally asked by a 9 year-old, though it was still a little cute). How do I know it wasn't rigged? Because a very good friend of mine, who will remain nameless at his behest, got to ask the very first question, "One thing that has been hampering growth in the software industry has been the activities of U.S. Patent Office who has been issuing bad patents. Do you have any plans to reform what has been going on with software patents?" Take a minute to watch his answer:
Barack Talks about Patents from Eptiger on Vimeo.
He concludes with Google for Government, which I didn't include because I was trying to keep down the ridiculously large size of these movie files (Canon Powershots aren't known for movie compression). It's going to be an online system where you can see every single dollar the government spends accounted for; so he's a strong advocate of transparency in the government. This is a complete reversal of the Bush administration, and I'd be excited to see what happens. Anyway, this answer was incredible to me because he did not at all gloss over the specifics of what the issue is and how we have to reform the patent office and that we should create a chief information officer to make sure the government is "wired". By the way, Lawrence Lessig from the Electronic Frontier Foundation endorses him, and it's no surprise when Barack supports deploying next generation broadband (spreading it all across the nation, mind you, additionally), protecting the neutrality of the Internet, and investing in the sciences. We're falling behind and losing jobs overseas because we're losing our status in science; and this is a travesty. I love that he believes in that. Oh, and whenever he would mention technology or something related to technology, he would point back at us because of my friend's question. I thought that was pretty neat.
The next question he received was about welfare: a woman who was earning just above the poverty line wasn't getting the benefits she needed when people next door to her keep having kids they can't afford and fleecing the government. I wish I had gotten Obama's response to this on camera because it was truly incredible: people who can work need to be working. He applauded Clinton's welform reforms as a good start and wants to give a $4000 in college assistance annually for community or national service among other things. My summary doesn't do his response justice: he really had it well thought out.
After that was a biggie: fiscal responsibility. The guy asking the question was willing to accept tax increases for these reforms that our economy direly needs (including relief for those stuck in the subprime mortgage crisis and screwed by debt from inaccurate loan disclosure), but he wanted to know how important keeping a balanced budget was to Barack. I loved this response, too: we establish a rule that we don't spend money unless we can get the money for it from cutting spending somewhere else or raising it elsewhere (as through cutting down on loopholes in corporate tax code that cost us a lot tax dollars and bringing the tax rate for the high income brackets back to the rates they were under Clinton). He was really emphatic that we not borrow from the Bank of China, and that was one of my "OMGI<3U" moments because he understands that we can't keep borrowing money from abroad. He ceded that he wouldn't have a "fetish" for reducing the national debt, a really strange term to use there but I suppose valid, because we need to invest in our country first. He also mentioned something I've kind of been thinking about also for a while: why oh why didn't we set aside money when we had a surplus back in the prosperity of the mid-90s? **UPDATE** Barackobama.com posted a video from the Town Hall with his answer to this question:
The next topic was education. Again, I'm a firm believer that we need to seriously reform our education if we want our children to have a bright future and we want our country to keep its competitive advantage for talented skilled workers. He hit a home run here for me. No Child Left Behind is a mandate that requires standardized testing that is unfunded by the federal government and takes money away from programs like music and PE that our schools so direly need to improve our children's capacity to learn and grow. It really doesn't make sense to administer a standardized test a few months into the school year to replace teaching material with teaching how to take a test, and it's better to have a test at the beginning and at the end of the year to gauge students' progress and provide valuable information to teachers. Plus, under NCLB the schools that underperform get penalized despite if weaker students end up progressing. His booklet goes on to talk about recruiting, preparing, retaining, and rewarding teachers as well as expanding summer and after school activities and addressing the dropout crisis. These are all truly excellent ideas for education. **UPDATE** They posted a video from later that day where the first couple of minutes is extremely similar to part of this answer in Austin.
I think that the next thing he spoke about was foreign aid with regard to a question about helping out the "motherland" (a Black guy did ask this question, though Africa was theoretical my motherland at some point also because of tectonic plate movements). The question was actually preceded with praise for running a clean campaign (earning a standing ovation) among a couple of other things. Unfortunately, I was so absorbed in this point at thinking over what else he had been saying that I can't give you a comprehensive rundown of what he said here. He was trying to get the point across that foreign aid is important for the long-term because we do need these countries to be part of the global economy. Any economist will tell you that free trade and a truly global economy is really efficient and very beneficial to consumers as a whole.
The last question was from a little girl (he wanted to give the last question to the next generation, and I have to admit that he picked a great diversity of people so this made sense in that context). She asked if he would sign her book (which I think he did later) and about jobs for young people and health care, as well. By young people, I think she meant 9 year-olds, not college students (though that's covered by child labor laws and his health care plan to guarantee coverage for children). Still, he answered the question as if it was for young adults. I wish I had recorded this answer, as well, to confront the claim that he's too idealistic. He spoke to us very frankly and explained quite pragmatically that he can't create all the jobs we need immediately or necessarily in his first term. It takes time and he's going to do all he can but he needs help and support from us, and I just loved that he wasn't promising us the impossible. He wants to put us back on the right directions and he's going to do this, this, and that to do so, but that's all he can do. He doesn't promise change in a box, he's trying to incite change from the bottom-up.
I think that's what I really love most about Obama: he wants to get people involved with the government. I can't remember the last candidate who really aimed to do that. For him, it's more than just a vague part of a hype speech, it's what he fundamentally believes in. We have to get involved in making change happen, and what he's really selling us is hope (by the way, I'm at the point of conclusions now so I'm past quoting things he said and making my own statements). This country needs hope though. Does Hillary give us hope? Look at this. She's more interested in muckraking than inspiring her supporters. I think that she lost the debate last week simply because she was being so catty and focusing more on Obama's campaign than his beliefs. That mistake cost her some swing voters who didn't understand how they differed but probably just saw Obama as being nicer overall and a better speaker (ok, that's arguable, but I think he is). Hillary wants partisan change, Obama wants to unify. Hillary will say she wants to unify, too, but only because she likes to play politics. Just read this uplifting editorial from the The Daily Texan; I'm not alone in claiming these things. Even if Obama can't achieve everything he believes and evangelizes, isn't it enough that he gets some of it done and promises the rest in the long-term? And how does he back up these promises? With the inspiration he plants in people that makes them want to start change from the bottom-up. You've probably already seen it with this amazing grassroots movement for his campaign, if you're from Texas. It's really quite incredible. Can we fix this country? Can we put it back on the right track? Can we recover from years of being gradually bludgeoned? Can we change the paradigm of how we look at our own government? Can we make a difference? The answer is quite simple: yes we can.
Texans: please vote today or on Tuesday, and then go caucus on Tuesday night. The eyes of the nation are upon us, and the Democratic primary is now partially in our hands.