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President Obama's Speech at the City Club

Our second event on Wednesday involved a visit to Global Center for Health Innovation on St. Clair Avenue because that is where President Obama was scheduled to appear at 3 pm to give a speech on behalf of the City Club of Greater Cleveland centered on middle class economics. As City Club members, we allowed two tickets and Ms. Wong very generously gave one of them to us. We arrived just before 1 pm and stood in line with a very personable administrator from Citizens Leadership Academy named Brian who was accompanied by a young lady named Laura who was a student there and would later be one of the fortunate few who would be chosen to ask a question of the President.

We expected that it would take a long time to get through security but things went smoothly and we got through it very quickly. Once inside, we found a seat in the very front row on the right hand side of the stage where the President would speak. We figured that we would direct Ms. Wong to sit there after she arrived and we would sit further back from the stage. Fortunately, our friend Ms. Helen Sheehan held a seat for us towards the middle. As it turned out, Ms. Wong arrived just before 3pm and chose to stand close to the middle so we ended up in the front row after all.

To be sure, we saw a lot of our friends there and quite a few elected officials like U.S. Senator Sherrod Brown, U.S. Congresswoman Marcy Kaptur, U.S. Congresswoman Marcia Fudge, retired U.S. Congressman Louis Stokes, Cuyahoga County Executive Armond Budish, Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson, Cleveland City Council President Kevin Kelley, and Lakewood City Councilman Tom Bullock.

Before the program started City Club President/CEO Dan Moulthrop spoke for a moment and told us that President Obama would be the fifth consecutive United States President to address the City Club. We honestly expected that due to the President's probably crowded schedule he would arrive later than 3pm so we were a bit taken back when he arrived about 15 minutes prior to 3pm and things actually got going a little early.

As we said previously, the main thrust of the President's speech was how the economy was improving in such a way that it was to the betterment of the middle class and he cited some convincing statistics to prove that this was the case. Among the things that President Obama said were:

***No issue was more important than the economy and no subject was more worthy of debate. Since the recession ended 12 million new jobs had been created and middle class wages were on the rise. The automobile industry was coming back and "factories were opening doors". He echoed what we heard in the program that we attended that very morning on manufacturing when he said that it was growing faster than the rest of the economy.

***Regarding the Affordable Care Act, he contended that 16 million more Americans now have health care coverage because of it and the premiums of the rest of us are not as high as they would have been without it. He brought some humor to his presentation when he said that it was working out better than he had expected.

***President Obama upheld economic policies that directly favored the middle class as opposed to the "trickle down" economics that were the center point of recent republican administrations. He said "when the middle class does better, we all do better." He said that his budget, which he knows will not pass without compromises, reflects these values. On the other hand, the republican alternative involving more tax cuts would cut our investment in education to its lowest level since 2000, cause fewer children to be educated through head start, end the partnership that is assisting the manufacturing sector, take health care away from millions of Americans including families with disabled children, cut back on our security forces, and end medicare as we know it.

***He was keen on improving community colleges and make them "as free as high school is today." He elaborated some more on this during the Q and A and said that he believes community colleges to be underutilized because not everyone needs a four year degree in order to succeed but they might need the type of advanced training that a community college has to offer. He said that he really liked his earlier in the day visit to MAGNET which is he believes is helping to bring jobs back to Cleveland. What's more he is working on reworking the the NAFTA agreement in a way that will bring jobs back to the United States.

During the Q and A:

***The President was asked what was something that really surprised him and he said that it was the difficulty of getting things done that he considered to be not very controversial like improving the infrastructure which has long been in need of repair and expansion. He used this point to segue into comprehensive immigration reform which he said that he favored because our current system is "broken" and "we are a nation of immigrants" so we need to create a "pathway to citizenship" while "strengthening our borders." Overall he was okay with someone disagreeing with him on these points but he couldn't understand how someone who believed that we need to keep undocumented immigrants from entering the United States would refuse to fund the Department of Homeland Security.

***In response to a young student's question about what to do to prepare himself for a political career, the President thought for a moment and urged the youngster to think about what he would like to do vs. what he would like to be. Otherwise, he would find himself in the position of being an elected official without a plan. He went on to encourage the young man to find an area of service and get to work on it now or do something that he had a passion for.

***In response to a question about overturning the Citizens United decision, the President said that this would be a very difficult thing to do but there were other things that could be done that would diminish the power of money in elections like a better system of redistricting because "political gerrymandering is destroying congress."

***Then Laura from Citizens Leadership Academy asked the President if he knew what he knew now, what advice would he give himself at the start of his first and second terms. President Obama said that that was a good question. Then he said that he would have prepared the American people better for the impacts of the recession. He would also have acted quickly and closed Guantanamo Bay immediately after he took office when there was the momentum to do so.

The President concluded his presentation on a note of optimism by saying that he recently stood on the Edmund Pettus Bridge depicted in the film "Selma" and was amazed by the strides that our society has made since the civil rights movement. He wrapped up by saying that the United States has the best universities, the best workers and the most innovative companies in the world so "we've got all the cards" and "we do great stuff each day!"

President Obama then walked around the perimeter of his speaking area and shook hands with as all. When he came to us, we told him that Margaret W. Wong (who helped the President's family on immigration matters) said hello to him and he seemed pleased to hear it.

Ultimately we were very glad that we came to hear the President on this day. Over the years we have had opportunities to go and watch him give a speech but we shied away because we were afraid of being overwhelmed by the potential chaos. Fortunately though, the City Club staff did a very good job so things went smoothly and we had a good day.

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