Clinton’s blue-collar appeal

by Amy Kingsley

The Hillary faithful formed two long lines outside Forsyth Tech – where the Democratic presidential candidate scheduled the day’s third and final campaign stop.

They waited to hear Sen. Clinton’s prescription for the ailing economy. And they awaited the specifics of her healthcare reform plan – a proposal she’s championed since she served as first lady. And after several hours of patient, giddy waiting, they emptied their pockets, threaded metal detectors, found the gymnasium and waited some more.

Clinton rewarded them at 7 p.m., an hour and a half late, with a sweeping speech on Iraq, the economy, education and healthcare.

“Thank you for your patience,” she said. “I’ve never felt so much pressure in my life. I know that Carolina plays in about thirty minutes. I won’t be the least bit offended if those of you who want to leave… well, maybe you could wait until halftime.”

Clinton unveiled a plan to boost the economy by reworking trade agreements, increasing funding for job training programs and creating incentives for companies that expand the green-collar and high-tech workforce. She said the economy would be her first priority, and she promised to ease the suffering of North Carolinians hurt by the offshore drift of manufacturing.

“I’m going to take a hard look at all the trade agreements,” she said. “I’m all for trade, but I want trade where the other side follows the rules.”

Clinton said she would tighten the rules that govern labor and environmental standards, and that she would enforce them with the help of a trade prosecutor.

“I also want to put an emphasis on manufacturing again,” Clinton said. “You cannot have a strong economy if you don’t make anything anymore.”

Investments in clean and renewable energy could create as many as 5 million jobs in states like North Carolina, she said.

“Energy can be for this generation what space was to my generation,” Clinton said.

In the 1960s, the federal government poured money into science and engineering education, which not only led to the moon landing, but also to technological innovations and economic prosperity.

“We get fifty-two percent of our energy from coal,” she said. “We need to get the cleanest power possible from coal and sell that technology to China, where they’re building one power plant a week.”

Clinton glossed over her healthcare plan during the speech, but she did mention her proposal to cover the 47 million Americans who lack insurance.

“I want to give you the chance to have access to the same healthcare coverage members of Congress have,” Clinton said.

That would be the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program. The plan covers all federal employees – from Congressmen to mail carriers – includes hundreds of plans and costs less than most insurance plans offered by private employers.

Taxpayers pick up between 72 and 75 percent of the premium, which varies depending on the state and the plan. A North Carolina family covered under United Healthcare’s federal insurance plan pays less than $200 a month in premiums. Individuals pay less than $90 a month. The federal government requires insurance programs participating in its health benefits program to insure everyone, regardless of preexisting conditions.

Healthcare is one of the issues that attracted Sarah Marshall to the Clinton campaign.

“I’ve been on the Hillary bandwagon for a long time,” she said. “I’ve always said complex times need complex minds.”

Marshall said she also favors Clinton’s educational proposals. Those include doing away with No Child Left Behind and increasing the government’s role in providing college loans.

“We are driving so many young people deep into debt before they ever start working,” Clinton said. “And the student loan lenders have made out like bandits.”

Graduates who enter public service should have their loans forgiven, Clinton said. And students who choose a technical school or community college should receive more support from the government, she said.

Although Clinton voted for the invasion of Iraq five years ago, she said that she would start withdrawing the troops within her first 60 days in office. Unlike fixing the economy – a problem she insisted would be easy to fix – she acknowledged that ending the war in Iraq would be tricky.

“We are not going to give the Iraqi government a blank check any longer,” Clinton said.

She accused President Bush of treating veterans poorly and recalled her efforts to end the practice of asking wounded troops to return their signing bonuses. In an early applause line, Clinton alluded to the Bush administration’s reputation among civil libertarians for playing fast and loose with the Bill of Rights.

“We have to take our Constitution out of cold storage and warm it up,” she said.

Several Clinton fans brought their children to the event, and she spoke on their behalf.

“We need to think of challenges not in terms of the next election,” she said, “but in terms of the future of our children and grandchildren.”

Clinton saved most of her barbs for President Bush. Sen. Barack Obama, the Democratic frontrunner, wasn’t mentioned by name, although Clinton did tout her experience and wonkiness – traits she’s publicly questioned in her oratorically gifted opponent.

“That’s why I’ve been so specific in this campaign,” she said. “I want you to hold me accountable.”

Marshall said she was impressed by Clinton’s speech. The one-day swing that started with stops in Raleigh and Fayetteville left the candidate hoarse for her Winston-Salem appearance.

That didn’t bother Jeff Chastain, a 38-year-old Clinton supporter from Murphy who drove four hours to see the candidate. He stayed after the event to shake her hand.

“I support her because I think she could change a lot of stuff for the better,” he said.

Chastain said he likes her emphasis on early education, and he said her economic proposals could help his neighbors in Murphy who lost their jobs when textile mills folded. But in the end his support has nothing to do with any policy.

“Her husband was a good president,” he said, “and I think she would make a good president.”

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