US Sen: Brown (D) Kicks Off "Road to Change" Tour
Yesterday I went to the job training center at the Laborers International Union Local 310 in downtown Cleveland to listen as Rep. Sherrod Brown (D-Avon Lake) launched his new statewide tour, backed by signs reading "The Road to Change" and "Jobs for the Heartland." Bill of Callahan's Cleveland Diary was there, and I met John Ryan (formerly of the Cleveland AFL-CIO Blog and presently working for Brown's campaign). There was a sizable crowd of union leaders and members, all of whom were invited to stand around the candidate in a semi-circle while he spoke, leaving only a smattering of reporters and campaign aides (and one blogger) at the huge folding tables.
Being a total dork, I sat and scribbled furiously as Brown rushed through his remarks, barely pausing for breath, the gravelly voice becoming steadily more gravelly. The more experienced Bill Callahan assumed a dignified, arms-folded posture in the back of the room and took no notes. Only toward the end did I notice that the MSM reporter next to me had a handout with the text of the speech, which I was then able to obtain from press secretary Ben Wikler (an eager and very young-looking sort). When I introduced myself, Wikler said that "we" are "fans" of my blog. This made me feel a little better after my trying-to-write-down-the-whole-damn-speech gaffe, but I'm not letting it go to my head, having witnessed the relatively snarky treatment Brown receives elsewhere in the blogosphere. I think I would be a fan of me, too, under the circumstances.
The rapid-fire remarks began with a nostalgic, populist image of the Ohio we knew "when we were kids" (Brown grew up in Mansfield), where the American dream was "a tangible goal" obtainable through school, hard work, and paying taxes, a path which "has become a treadmill of futility" for Ohioans, where "trying to get ahead feels like running in place." Slapping aside the unhappy notion that Ohio's "manufacturing base is a lost cause" and Ohio's communities "are unfortunate victims to the necessary evil of globalization," Brown proposed to put Ohio "on a road to change" by "revamping economic priorities" and "utilizing Ohio's resources."
Brown attacked "job-killing trade agreements" for shipping 185,000 Ohio manufacturing jobs overseas, including 60,000 to China; proposed to help businesses afford employee health insurance by allowing them to join purchasing pools; and called on Washington to make prescription drugs more affordable. He stressed investment for small businesses, as creators of 75% of all new jobs, and called for creating new opportunity for Ohio's 6,500 returning Iraq and Afghanistan vets. He also called Ohio "uniquely positioned" to become "the Silicon Valley for alternative energy development," as a provider of components for wind, solar, geothermal and biomass energy. Regarding the Ohio's "brain drain," he called for full funding of college grant and loan programs and for federal initiatives to help states lower tuition, and also asserted that colleges and universities can be engines of community and economic development, along with mass transit and land reclamation projects.
Brown concluded by returning to the populist theme ("It is time that government is led by Main Street, not by Wall Street") and by decrying the "Bush-Taft-DeWine" policies that have failed Ohio, so that we can realize "a American dream of our own - a thriving Ohio." It was only time in his speech when Brown referred to DeWine by name, and it wasn't even part of the prepared text. It felt more like he was running against Bush and the Republican party generally.
Asked durng the Q-and-A period to compare the Senate with the House, Brown talked about how the House had become much more partisan than the Senate. It is worthwhile fighting for one's beliefs in the House, Brown said, but in the Senate he expects to be able work in a bipartisan fashion with certain Republicans, mentioning specifically Lindsay Graham (R-SC), with whom Brown worked in the House, and Larry Craig (R-ID), an opponent of CAFTA. The Senate is also a much bigger microphone for marshalling public opinion. Asked how he would shore up the Pension Benefit Guarantee Corporation, Brown said it was a good question and that doing so must be a top priority, but I didn't hear a specific answer. He favors extending Medicare eligibility to an earlier age (I think he said 54). Asked about how employers could be allowed to pool together for health insurance purposes, Brown said that the Federal Employee Benefit Health Plan should be opened up to small businesses, with a 25% tax credit as an incentive to join. Questioned about the wisdom of inserting government into administering health insurance, Brown shot back with probably his most fired-up and best answer. "Look at Medicare and Medicaid, and compare them to private insurance," he said. The problem with the new Medicare Part D prescription drug coverage is not that the government is involved, but that "DeWine and Bush routed Part D through their friends in the insurance industry." Finally, on the topic of alternative energy, Brown noted that he supports (and has voted for) higher mileage-per-gallon requirements.
Was it an effective speech? Well, it worked for me, but then I'm part of his base. I liked his focus on economic development, jobs, and health care, and I thought that the populist appeal of talking about the Ohio of his Mansfield youth helped humanize him. I really wonder, however, to what degree this speech will draw in independent or disaffected Republican voters, or southern Ohio voters in general. I think Brown needs to do more in the way of conveying a homespun-but-tough quality, and of speaking in terms of core values and moral rectitude, to reach independents and rural residents. Also, shouldn't he be doing more to innoculate himself against the attacks that we all know the Republicans plan to throw at him? I realize that his speech is specifically addressed to the economy, but if he could at least allude to strong national defense and fiscal responsibility in government I think that would help a lot later.