AP Photo/Alex Brandon
Wednesday, Oct. 1, 2008 | 2 a.m.
Their home values have been plummeting for months and 401(k) plans got gutted Monday (though the market rebounded slightly Tuesday), so it’s understandable that the 12,000 people who turned out Tuesday to hear presidential candidate Barack Obama had a big case of economic anxiety.
Could the Democratic nominee give the crowd at the University of Nevada, Reno, what they wanted: a hope-filled speech to make them believe, if just for a half-hour, everything was going to be all right?
“Sen. Obama gives us hope ... These are terrible times for Americans,” said Erica Spaight, 32, whose house is on the market for $80,000 less than she bought it for two years ago, with the help of an adjustable-rate mortgage.
Sorry, folks, Obama told the crowd when he took the stage at 10 a.m.
“With a crowd this big, I’m usually tempted to give a big, rip-roaring speech. But we find ourselves in a situation, so I hope you bear with me,” he told the crowd.
This was Obama trying to act the statesman. No mention of his opponent, Sen. John McCain. Few lobs at Republicans. Few big-cheer lines or populist railings against Wall Street fat cats.
The only time he uttered the word “Democrats” or “Republicans” was in the context of the political parties working together.
The agreement that failed in the House of Representatives on Monday, sending stocks tumbling, should be strengthened, with more safeguards for taxpayers, and passed by Congress, he said.
“I don’t pretend this is going to be easy. It’s going to be hard. We will all need to sacrifice,” he said.
He took pains to acknowledge the risks.
“Even with all these taxpayer protections, I know that this plan is not perfect or fool-proof. No matter how well we manage the government’s investments under this plan, we are still putting taxpayer dollars at risk,” he said.
Keeping with the hard-truth theme, Obama addressed a question he’d dodged during Friday’s debate with McCain: Some of his campaign promises might have to be cut because of the troubled economy and the bailout.
“It is likely that some useful programs or policies that I’ve proposed on the campaign trail may need to be delayed,” he said.
Explaining why the bailout was needed, he pointed to pension funds and retirement investments tied to the stock market, and small businesses that need access to credit to meet payroll.
“What this crisis has taught us is that at the end of the day, there is no real separation between Main Street and Wall Street.”
No one gasped. But no one applauded either.
Afterward, Clause Sommer, 63, of Reno, shrugged when asked about Obama’s remarks.
“After listening to speeches, they’re all kind of the same thing,” he said.
Of the bailout, Sommer said, “I think it stinks. There should be other options.” But he admitted he didn’t know what they would be, and he acknowledged that, after watching his retirement fund dwindle as the stock market sank, something needed to be done.
“It’s difficult for a lot of people to grasp what’s happening,” he said. “Most of us aren’t accountants.”
Betty Manson, 62, of Sparks, appreciated that Obama had talked about the economy instead of delivering a soaring political speech.
“I think we would have been angry if he didn’t talk about the economy,” she said.
When the bailout plan was first floated, she said, “it was like, ‘Are you crazy?’ Then the stock market dropped, and my retirement went poof.”
Obama’s support of the plan “helped a lot” in getting her to accept it as necessary.
Not to be outdone, McCain’s campaign assembled a conference call with Sen. John Ensign, R-Nev., and McCain senior policy adviser Doug Holtz-Eakin.
Congress needs to act on a “financial rescue plan,” Ensign said. “This is affecting Nevada. We’re on the brink. Several places under construction (are) right now having trouble finishing financing.”
McCain is “terribly disappointed” that the House failed to act, Holtz-Eakin said.
“It appeared some partisanship arose, both in the speech by (House Speaker) Nancy Pelosi and, frankly, the reaction of House Republicans,” Holtz-Eakin said.
On Tuesday, if just for a moment, both campaigns were offering similar messages, with a shade less partisanship, for a country with a big case of economic anxiety.