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Obama Town Hall: Comforter in chief brings message of confidence, hope

March 18, 2009 |  4:40 pm

 

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At 3:45 p.m. President Obama entered the room to thunderous applause in Costa Mesa. He thanked Jerome Ruddins, a surveyor/construction manager who introduced him. Obama introduced Democratic officials and apologized to Rep. Dana Rohrbacher, the Republican in whose district the town hall is taking place, for failing to invite him in a timely manner. (The crowd began to boo when the Rohrbacher's name was mentioned, but Obama gestured for them to pipe down.)

Always nice to get out of Washington, the president said. "The climate is a lot nicer and so is the conversation."

Boy, he doesn't mess around. He brought up AIG bonuses right off the bat.

"I know a lot of you are outraged about this, I am outraged too. ... It goes against our most basic sense of what's fair, what's right, it offends our values."

But the bonuses, he said, "are a symptom of a much larger problem ... a culture where people made enormous sums of money taking irresponsible risks."

Did he comfort anxious consumers by saying, "Washington is in a tizzy, all pointing fingers," referring to the financial mess? "Listen, I'll take responsibility, I'm the president," Obama said. "It's my job to fix these messes even if I don't make 'em."

"Hard work, not the bubble economy is what must be rewarded. We don't need these house of cards, these Ponzi schemes even, when they're legal, when a relatively few do spectacularly well while the middle class loses ground ...

"We are not only gonna make it through ... we are gonna come out on the other side a strong and more prosperous nation. ... I can promise you this, there will be brighter days ahead."

He mentioned local projects that will benefit from the stimulus package including an expansion of SR-91, the Orange County highway. There was heavy applause when he mentioned funds for a new hospital at Camp Pendleton, the Marine base.

Obama said he plans to cut the deficit in half by the end of his first term but vowed not to cut investments that will lead to "real growth and real prosperity."

The speech was familiar -- healthcare reform, the importance of an educated work force, reducing U.S. dependence on foreign oil, clean energy, green jobs.

He paused when a man yelled, "We love you, Obama."

"I love you back," Obama said.

The president sounded very much like he did on the campaign trail, where he loved to set up and knock down a straw man: "Obama's trying to do too much they say.

"Now, there are those who say these plans are too ambitious; that we should be trying to do less, not more.  Well, I say our challenges are too large to ignore.  The cost of our health are is too high to ignore.  Our dependence on oil is too dangerous to ignore.  Our education deficit is too wide to ignore. To kick these problems down the road for another four years or eight years would be to continue the same irresponsibility that led us to this point. And I did not run for president to pass on our problems to the next generation, I ran for President to solve them."

The first question to Obama: "Do you have intention[s] of running for president again?"

-- Robin Abcarian

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Photo: Bryan Chan / Los Angeles Times

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