Obama campaign stop in Pittsburgh focuses on middle-class struggles

By Gwenn Barney

President Barack Obama spoke at Carnegie Mellon University as the last stop on his tour. (Luv Purohit | Visual Editor ) President Barack Obama said he wakes up every morning to go to work for millions of Americans.

And he wants four more years to continue that.

Over the course of his 30-minute speech, Obama addressed a smorgasbord of major election issues including education, energy and the war in Afghanistan. But the thrust of his speech centered on the economy and the importance of the middle class.

“That dream of a strong middle class — that’s what America’s always been about,” Obama said. “That’s what led me to get into public service. That’s what led me to ask for re-election.”

About 6,500 people braved temperatures in the high 90s to hear the president speak on the College of Fine Arts Lawn at Carnegie Mellon University Friday. The speech was part of Obama’s two-day “Betting on America” bus tour that started in Ohio Thursday and ended with his appearance in Pittsburgh.

“We’re doing everything we can for the campaign, and if that means standing in the heat, then that’s what we’ll do,” said Alexandra Brosovich, a Pitt junior and a fellow for Organizing for America, a community organizing project of the Democratic National Convention.

But despite campaign volunteers’ efforts to cool down the crowd by passing out water bottles and spritzing attendees with water, 13 people were transported from the venue to hospitals by ambulances according to Pittsburgh Emergency Medical Services.

Paramedics treated many others at the event for heat-related issues.

Yet the heat didn’t deter the president from delivering his message. Beginning with a greeting from his family members back home, he progressed into his speech with a discussion of his original motivations for seeking the presidency.

Obama said that part of his reason for running in 2008 was that he saw a strong middle class “battered” during the Bush administration.

“We had seen a decade when the middle class dreams were under assault,” he said.

He described how during that era, gas and grocery prices increased while Americans’ salaries declined.

“All of it culminated in the worst financial crisis seen in our lifetime,” he said.

Obama described the process he and his administration implemented to strengthen the economy as “painstaking” and “laborious.”

“We knew we wouldn’t be able to do it overnight because these problems weren’t created overnight,” he said.

Despite a June job report released this morning that showed no change in the 8.2 percent unemployment rate and the creation of only 80,000 more jobs, Obama remained upbeat when addressing the current economic situation in his speech.

He noted the creation of 4.8 million jobs in the past 28 months and that America has more manufacturing jobs today than in the 1990s.

But he admitted that more work needed to be done for the economy.

“What we all understand is we’ve got so much more today to do,” he said. “Too many of our friends, family members and neighbors are still out of work.”

Obama told his listeners that the way to ensure this work continues is to re-elect him in the November election.

“This election is not just about two candidates or two parties. It’s about two fundamentally different visions of where we take America.”

Obama characterized his opponent’s vision as one based on tax cuts for the wealthy that are funded by cuts to funding for education and decreasing regulations on companies.

The president defined his own vision as “building not from the top down, but from the middle class outward.”

He launched into an explanation of the ways in which he would go about building out from the middle class. One of his key focuses in this regard was higher education.

“Let’s invest in our young people,” he said. “We need to do more to bring tuition down. Higher education is not an economic luxury. It’s an economic necessity.”

Obama suggested taking the funds previously used for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and putting those toward lowering the national deficit and investing in American jobs.

“Let’s put Americans back to work,” he said.

Obama also addressed the Supreme Court’s recent decision to uphold the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act.

“The Supreme Court has spoken — the law we passed is here to stay,” he said to thunderous applause from the audience. “We have millions of young people able to stay on their parents’ health plan because of that health care law. I make no apologies for it. I believe it was the right thing to do.”

The president finally summed up his speech with an appeal to the crowd.

“If you still believe in me, like I believe in you, I hope you’ll stand by me in 2012,” he said.

Other politicians from the area attended the speech, including Mayor Luke Ravenstahl, Rep. Dan Frankel, D-Pittsburgh, and Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald.

“It was great,” Fitzgerald said of the president’s appearance. “He really connects with people here in Western Pennsylvania. It’s a class of people who are hard workers.”

Fitzgerald called the scene of many Western Pennsylvanians standing out in the sweltering heat for hours a “real testimony to the support he has here.”

Mohammed Burny, a Pitt junior and volunteer for Obama’s re-election campaign, supported the president’s message, saying, “This president’s done a lot to make college affordable.”

Pitt alumnus Darrin Dixon agreed, citing a bill that Obama signed after he left Pittsburgh for Washington, D.C., to keep student loan interest rates from doubling.

“There’s no doubt that out of the two candidates, he’s the most pro-student,” Dixon said.

Editor’s Note: This article was revised on July 9, 2012