Daschle stumps for Obama at Macalester

By Amy Ledig

Former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D., spoke to a crowd of 90 Tuesday afternoon in Kagin Commons, encouraging the audience to support Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill, in the Minn. caucuses on Feb. 5. The event was orchestrated by Mac for Obama and drew students, faculty and community members to hear Daschle speak about the candidate as a person as well as his plans to increase access to higher education and health care and unite the country.

Wes Alcenat ’10, co-chapter coordinator for Mac for Obama, warmed the crowd up with Obama’s trademark, “Fired up, ready to go,” call and response. He told the audience that Tuesday would be a chance for what is seen as a “generation of cynics and apathetics” to “flex our political muscle.”

Daschle then took the floor, listing a number of issues presently pressing American voters, including declining national prestige, inaccessibility of health care coverage, the growing effects of climate change and eroding respect for constitutional principles.

“We are on the wrong track, and this election above all else is about change,” said Daschle, adding that voters have the “choice between the politics of fear we’ve experienced for the last seven years and the politics of hope.”

He promised Obama would “bring a new attitude” of hope to the nation. Among the issues Daschle said Obama would tackle were increased access to higher education, universal health care coverage and climate change.

Health care was a significant part of Daschle’s speech. Responding to a question about Obama’s health care plan, he listed a number of statistics that show how the United States’ health care system ranks poorly among developed nations.

“We don’t have the best health care system in the world, [yet] we pay the most,” he said. “If we came in 35th in the Olympics, how long would it be before we got new teams and a new coach? We can’t afford not to have health care reform and we need to elect a president committed [to that].”

Much of Daschle’s speech focused on Obama as a person rather than as a policymaker.

“I understand how comfortable he is in his clothes and how committed he is to putting this country on a new path,” Daschle said.

After the speech and a formal question and answer segment, he took some time to answer questions from audience members.

“I think the biggest reason Barack Obama would be good for the country is that he can unite the country,” Daschle said after his speech. “I chose to support him because I think he’s that person most able to lead and I like his vision for the country. He has a capacity to lead we haven’t seen in a long time.”

Getting Daschle to come to campus was a major accomplishment for the Mac for Obama group, and reflects the chapter’s strong support for the candidate.

“Our campus is one of the most active in Minnesota, in the Midwest too. Although we’re a small campus, we caught the eye of the campaign in Chicago,” Alcenat said, explaining that it was this energy that led the Obama campaign to send Daschle to Macalester.

Most students in attendance seemed encouraged by the event.

“It was certainly interesting,” said Katie Whitmore ’10. “I was sure I was going to vote for Obama,” she said, adding that even though the speech did not answer all of her questions, it was helpful.

“I’m an Obama supporter because he’s idealistic and hopeful and I am too, and I need that in a candidate,” said Zach McDade ’10. “I was kind of disappointed. I asked Senator Daschle a question about [Obama and Sen. Hillary Clinton’s health care programs] and he didn’t really answer.”

However, McDade said that he still plans to support Obama at the caucus.

Obama will be speaking at the Target Center in Minneapolis on Sunday. Doors open at 1:30 p.m. More information is available at mn.barackobama.com/minneapolis.