Sunday, March 2, 2008

In Ohio, Barack Obama talks about clean energy

by John McCormick

NELSONVILLE, Ohio – If he was trying to appeal to the working-class residents of Ohio's Appalachia region, it did not look like it, at least on the surface.

In a region long economically depressed, Sen. Barack Obama's first event Sunday did not have the stereotypical blue-collar feel one typically associates with political events in such locations.

The 100 or so invited guests were well dressed, there was little talk about trade or union issues, and classical music (including the "Wedding March") played before and after his appearance.

There even was a multimillionaire in the room: Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.), who endorsed Obama late last week.

Obama, meanwhile, talked about the future, not the past, as he argued for clean-energy technology and again stressed his religious practices to counter Internet-driven rumors that he is not Christian.

In his introduction, Rockefeller showered Obama with praise that even surpassed the highly flattering tributes he typically gets from those who serve as his warm-up acts.

"We grew up in different circumstances," Rockefeller started. "My life was a little easier than his."

Rockefeller said Obama's life experiences have prepared him for both domestic and international matters. "I've always had a feeling that true leaders understand the people they lead and the only way to do that is to be amongst them," he said.

Rockefeller said Obama's ability to inspire would help him fight for the nation's poor.

"The rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer," he said. "They need someone they can look to who they trust, who is calm, who has incredible judgment and who is brilliant. The word brilliant is used all the time about Barack Obama and it ought to be used everyday by everybody."

Saying his position as chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee puts him in a position to "pretty much know what's going on in every part of the world all the time," Rockefeller said he often saw Obama taking the time to study intelligence briefings in greater detail than most senators. He said he believes he is capable of the "nuanced judgments" necessary for a successful foreign policy.

Rockefeller said he sees Obama's poise when he starts taking "incoming fire" in candidate debates.

"You and I might react differently," he said. "He's always calm. In no way, misinterpret that to think that he's weak…He just is unflappable because he knows himself, because of his brilliance and because of his belief in doing the right thing for America."

Obama made a very brief visit to Rockefeller's state last night, spending the night at a Holiday Inn Express in Mineralwells, a newer hotel that was situated between a strip club and adult bookstore.

With solar panels outside and a flexible-fuel car parked near his podium, Obama spoke at length about the possibilities of a clean-energy economy.

Obama took note of a shoe and boot manufacturer that shut down in the town several years ago, saying that 177 jobs were lost and "many of them were shipped overseas."

Still, Obama said he was "hopeful" about the town's future because they are looking to technology, including alternative energy and fuel cells, for growth.

"What you’re doing, here, is what Americans have always done in times of challenge and times uncertainty: you’re standing up to say that your destiny will not be written for you, but by you," he said. "You’re reclaiming your own future."

Obama repeated his plan for a $150 billion fund over 10 years to boost the green energy sector.

"I’ll pass a law that says 25 percent of our electricity has to come from renewable energy sources by 2025, which will spur the development of new technologies and could create hundreds of thousands of new jobs on its own," he said.

Countering suggestions that he is some kind of policy romantic, Obama said his ideas are not "pie in the sky" and noted the nation has in the past made huge investments in its infrastructure.

With coalfields nearby, Obama noted that he comes from a coal state and repeated his pitch for clean-coal technology and made clear he believes coal will continue to be a vital part of the nation's energy supply.

"Clean-coal technology should be part of that mix," he said. "We are the Saudi Arabia of coal."

Obama maintained that the United States could profit from developing clean-coal technology and then licensing the techniques to other nations like China and India. "This could actually end up being an export," he said.

Asked about his faith, Obama said it is a topic that has been subject to "so much confusion that has been deliberately perpetrated." He was referring to Internet rumors that he is a Muslim.

"I pray to Jesus every night, try to go to church as much as I can when they're not working me," he said. "I used to go quite often. These days…I haven't been home on Sunday for several months now."

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