President Barack Obama speaks on economic reform, taxes and education in the high school gymnasium in Osawatomie last Tuesday. He said investing in education should be a priority for the U.S. and that America has the best colleges and universities. Armando Pinion/The Bulletin
OSAWATOMIE — Saving the American middle class, restoring the economy and making higher education a priority were among the themes of President Barack Obama’s historic speech in Osawatomie last Tuesday. The high school gymnasium in the small Kansas town with just over 4,000 residents was packed with audience members.
The president said the process of restoring the economy begins with education.
“We’ve got to up our game…it starts by making education a national mission,” Obama said. “In this economy, a higher education is the surest route to the middle class.”
The president also said it was good to be back in Kansas and that he had roots here.
“I’m sure you’re all familiar with the Obamas of Osawatomie,” he joked.
But he chose the small Kansas town for its historical ties to President Theodore Roosevelt, who in 1910, delivered a speech at John Brown Park, just down the street from present-day Osawatomie High.
Roosevelt’s speech later became known as the “New Nationalism Address,” according to the Kansas Historical Society’s website, and the crowd’s reception varied.
Obama received several standing ovations during his speech, but the crowds’ biggest, most supportive response came when he mentioned the need for education investment.
“We shouldn’t be laying off good teachers right now – we should be hiring them,” he said. “We shouldn’t be expecting less of our schools –- we should be demanding more. We shouldn’t be making it harder to afford college – we should be a country where everyone has a chance to go and doesn’t rack up $100,000 of debt just because they went (to college).”
Obama said the unemployment rate for Americans with a college degree is about half of the national average, and their incomes are twice as high as those who do not hold a high school diploma.
Providing opportunities for students to further their education in areas of science and engineering, Obama said, should be a priority.
“No one has better colleges. Nobody has better universities…investing in things like education that give everybody a chance to succeed…that’s what will transform our economy,” Obama said.
This summer, Emporia State’s teachers college was recognized by the U.S. Department of Education for excellence. According to their website, ESU cultivates educators with “the knowledge, skills, resources and fortitude to lead and succeed in the twenty first century.”
“It’s wrong,” Obama said, “that in the United States of America, a teacher or a nurse or a construction worker (who) maybe earns $50,000 a year, should pay a higher tax rate than somebody raking in $50 million.”
Balancing the national debt, which now stands at more than $15 trillion, according the U.S. Department of Treasury’s website, was a focus of Obama’s speech.
“If we want a strong middle class, then our tax code must reflect our values,” Obama said. “We have to make choices. Today that choice is very clear. To reduce our deficit, I’ve already signed nearly $1 trillion of spending cuts into law and I’ve proposed trillions more.”
Last spring, Obama officially announced his candidacy for reelection in 2012. Kansas last sided with a Democratic candidate in 1964, when Lyndon Baines Johnson was elected president.
Kenzie Templeton/The Bulletin