By Mannix Porterfield
Barack Obama’s campaign mantra of “spreading the wealth” by squeezing more tax dollars from higher-income Americans and putting them into the hands of the less productive is a popular theme among his West Virginia admirers in this region.
Supporters agreed at a Beckley rally Saturday with the Democratic presidential hopeful’s assertion that only the “selfish” are reluctant to pay more taxes and sacrifice for the benefit of low-income earners.
“Take from the rich and give to the poor,” reflected Eddie Steelman of Beckley, who defined the rich as those earning millions.
“It’s a new change that’s coming on. I believe he’s the right man for the job.”
Steelman feels the Illinois senator can help the economy by another means, halting the practice of outsourcing American jobs to foreign lands, and that he will quickly end the war against terrorism in Iraq.
“All the young men and young women have been over there long enough,” he said of the Middle East conflict.
Earlier in the week, Obama lashed out at John McCain and running mate Sarah Palin for branding his economic and tax policies as “socialistic,” charging the two Republicans had made “a virtue of selfishness.”
Media personnel were hampered Saturday by the Obama staff, which herded reporters into a narrow, fenced-in corral like a cattle stall, blocking them from reaching the larger public area where former President Bill Clinton spoke. To do interviews, reporters had to beckon spectators over to the media section.
A ban was in force that kept any would-be protesters from holding up signs on the sidewalk paralleling the park. One woman carrying a small placard to protest Obama’s support of abortion was forced to take her First Amendment rights across the street. After a while, she left the area.
Abortion was the key issue that convinced Democratic voter Kenny Crook to endorse McCain.
“I’m supporting McCain on that particular issue, but other issues also,” the retired Beckley businessman said.
“I don’t have anything against Obama. He has a lot to be respected for, his rise to power. I’ve just always voted more conservative. The big issue with me actually is abortion.”
Crook termed McCain a man of “great character ... he has served our country well over the years, day in and day out.”
For Karen Holliday, a health care provider in the McDowell County town of Gary, the long drive to see her hero was worth the trip.
“I’ve been waiting for years and years to see Bill,” she said with a wide smile. “I just couldn’t let this chance pass. I think Obama stands for everything that America stands for. I think Obama is like the American dream. He inspires me. I’ve never been into politics. Never cared.”
Holliday agreed with Obama’s leftist approach of slapping higher taxes on the “rich” and giving more to the “poor,” however the two classes may be defined.
“My biggest concern for America right now is the economy and how (President) Bush has run the economy into the ground, and not just Bush, but I feel the Republican Party did it,” she said.
“They could have let us know before. I feel like things are just far in the ditch, like Obama says. But it’s going to take us a while to come out of that, no matter who is president. But I’m sure it’s going to be Obama. It’s going to need something with intelligence that Obama has to bring us out of the ditch.”
Working coal miner Rick Ryan, an officer of United Mine Workers of America Local 2286 in Madison, has been trailing Obama in Ohio and Virginia in recent days, and agrees the economy is the pivotal issue.
“We just need somebody that’s going to go back and help the middle-class people,” he said, adding the Democratic ticket is the solution to the need of middle Americans.
“They recognize that the unions is what made the middle class,” Ryan said. “Labor laws has been against the union on trying to organize for so long. If we can get the Employee Free Choice Act in, I believe it will even the playing field.”
To some extent, Ryan said he supports the “spread the wealth” concept of Obama.
“I look at it when Bush went into office, he fixed it for the people that are rich, where they got out of paying a lot more taxes and the middle class had to pick that up,” he said.
“Somebody’s got to pay it. I feel like it’s time for the middle class to be able to keep a little bit of money. They’re the ones that gets out and spends it at your stores. The rich people that’s making $1 million a year, that money don’t get released back out into your local stores like it does from the middle class. So I feel, you know, that’s what they’ve (Obama and running mate Joe Biden) got a heart that is looking out for the working man.”
Delegate Clif Moore, D-McDowell, one of several political notables at the rally, said Obama can lift the nation back to a higher level of respect, not only among Americans, but around the globe.
“If the American people elect Obama, we all win,” he said.
“If the American people choose to elect John McCain, we all lose. To me, it’s a very clear-cut choice. It’s Obama all the way. He’s talking about restoration, transformation, leadership, wisdom and hope. He brings that to the table. Obama is going to bring everybody together. He’s not going to be divisive. He’s going to lead everybody to safe shores on safe waters.”
To another Obama backer, Tom T. James of Beckley, removing U.S. troops from war-riddled Iraq is necessary, although he doesn’t support a hasty withdrawal.
“Not right away,” he said. “There’s no use in killing no more people.”
James said he agrees with Obama “100 percent” on all issues, and said Obama is correct in feeling that anyone who balks at paying higher taxes to spread the wealth is self-indulgent.
“I like his personality,” James said. “The way he carries himself.”
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