Mountain Area Information Network

Obama rocks huge rally at Asheville high;
pledges health reform within four years

By Wally Bowen

Sen. Barack Obama leaves Asheville High stadium after addressing more than 25,000 faithful in one of the largest political rallies in WNC history. (Photo by Evan Hayes, 5th-grade student at Isaac Dickson School.)

Barack Obama brought his campaign to western North Carolina on Sunday, pledging to pass health care reform “before the end of my first term” and to pay for it “by ending Bush's tax breaks for people making more than a quarter of a million dollars a year,” he said.

Speaking at an outdoor rally in Asheville High's football stadium, Obama polled the crowd of more than 25,000, asking all those making more than $250,000 a year to raise their hands. “I would like to get a contribution from you,” joked Obama as he scanned the crowd, apparently seeing no prospects.

He was introduced by Liz Allen, a Mission Hospital cardiac care nurse, who prepped the crowd for the health care theme. Health care has long been WNC's largest employment sector.

Allen noted how often she sees patients struggling with a life-threatening illness, with the added burden of worrying about no health coverage. “There is no greater insult,” said Allen, than facing serious illness with no health insurance.

Obama picked up the theme, noting that health care reform is a “personal” issue for him. “This afternoon, I am thinking about my mother,” who died of ovarian cancer in 1995 at the age of 53. “She was lying on her hospital bed arguing with the insurance company, ” he said, because the provider claimed her illness was a pre-existing condition. “That's not good enough,” he said.

Health care reform is long overdue, he added, and then launched one of his biggest applause lines of the day: “Asheville, enough is enough!”

He said health care reform will not be easy, warning that the insurance and drug company lobbyists “will do anything and say anything” to prevent passage of his plan, which aims to cover most of the 45 million Americans who lack coverage.

He stressed that using the plan is optional. “If you've got a plan you like, you get to keep it. If you've got a doctor you like, you get to keep your doctor,” he said.

Obama blasted McCain's health plan, based on a $5,000 health care tax credit, calling it inadequate and misleading. “The average family's health coverage costs $12,000 a year. Where does that leave you? It leaves you broke.”

Obama added that McCain's health plan taxes employer-provided health benefits, so that savings from the tax credit would be offset by the tax on benefits (a claim upheld by “It's the old Washington bait and switch” tactic, said Obama, calling the tax on health benefits “the beginning of the end of employer-based health coverage.”

“He's hoping that we don't notice,” Obama said. “But I've got news for you John McCain, we notice. We know better.”

He tied McCain's health plan to “the same bankrupt” policies of the Bush administration that led to the current financial crisis. He also blasted his GOP rival for saying that it was time to “turn the page” and talk about issues other than the economic meltdown.

Warning that McCain's “turn the page” metaphor is code for Swift Boat ads and tactics, Obama urged the crowd not to be “hoodwinked or bamboozled” by misinformation.

“Sen. McCain and his operatives are gambling that they can distract you with smears rather than talk to you about substance,” Obama said. “They would rather tear our campaign down rather than lift this country up. That's what you do when you're out of touch, out of ideas, and running out of time.”

The Nov. 4 election “is one of those defining moments in our nation's history,” he said. “We are a people who write our own history, rather than having it written for us.” END