Voters say Obama’s speech a call to lawmakers
LAS VEGAS (AP) – President Barack Obama’s intense focus on jobs in his first State of the Union speech hit close to home for the millions of Americans who are in a bad mood over their financial distress a year into his term.
But it was another line in Obama’s speech that highlighted their deep skepticism that the programs the president discussed will ever lead to any real change. Obama called it a “deficit of trust – deep and corrosive doubts about how Washington works that have been growing for years.”
Many Americans wondered whether lawmakers from both parties would be politically inclined to get jobs and economic plans moving, and whether the nation would be in the exact spot a year from now.
“I just hope that he gets cooperation with it, because you know that if he doesn’t and this creates gridlock and nothing gets done, next year we’re going to be in the same place that we are right now,” said Mary Bartels, a 47-year-old registered nurse who voted for John McCain in 2008 but has since warmed to Obama.
“That’s a very scary thought.”
Obama acknowledged in his speech that the change he wanted everyone to believe in “has not come fast enough” and that economic devastation remains – in joblessness, shuttered businesses and declining home values.
Many citizens who tuned into the president’s speech ached for solutions but were wary of his words – aware that in many places voters are no better off than when they lifted Obama to the White House.
Voters have grown tired of politics and promises, and want action from Obama and other lawmakers.
“You could tell by the body language, how the Republicans just sat there for so much, that tomorrow it will be business as usual,” said Ethan Ehrlich, a 32-year-old nurse-anesthetist from Miami Beach.
Obama’s plan to create jobs was closely watched in states like Nevada and Michigan.
Nevada posted the highest foreclosure rate in the nation last year, with more than 10 percent of housing units hit with at least one foreclosure filing. December unemployment was 13 percent in the state, where rapid tourism growth has collapsed in a spectacular two-year meltdown of job losses, foreclosures and bankruptcies.
Bartels has endured many levels of the financial crisis. Her fiance was laid off from a plumbing job in September and their house fell into foreclosure. She spent months before her foreclosure unsuccessfully trying to persuade lenders to adjust her mortgage, but received few responses. She eventually left Nevada last month and wound up in Washington state.
While she hoped Obama would have talked more on Wednesday about stemming foreclosures and abusive credit card company practices, she said she thinks he is sincere in his attempt to change Washington’s ways.
“He’s trying to get everybody to work together, stop the bickering and the arguing and work together to try to find solutions,” she said. “I think opening that door … that’s huge.”
Anton Fellinger, 47, of Washington Township, Mich., said he thought Obama was humble and stern at different times during his speech. Fellinger, who lost his job nearly a year ago selling marble and tile for new homes, said he gives Obama “a B-minus or C-plus,” for his first year, but credits him for trying to “get things going.”
Michigan’s unemployment hit 14 percent in 2009 amid a historic collapse of the auto market.
“As I look at it, he came into a very difficult situation,” Fellinger said. “He probably got a bit of a wake-up call when he got in and saw what he’s up against.”
But 60-year-old Carolyn Briggs of Tampa, Fla., thought Obama’s speech was negative and insulted the Supreme Court, former president George W. Bush and the American people. She called the address “well-presented,” but not enough to stop her from protesting the president’s Thursday appearance in her hometown.
“He insulted the people who didn’t go along with what he wanted,” she said.
That sentiment was shared by Al Melquist, a 41-year-old unemployed software engineer from Las Vegas who had to abruptly move last year after a bank foreclosed on his landlord following 13 months of missed payments.
Melquist said he felt like he was a child when Obama was speaking to him – a far cry from the Obama he saw on the campaign trail and voted for.
“When he campaigned, it was more like me and you versus the world,” Melquist said. “Now it’s like, ‘I’m King Kong, this is the way it is and if you don’t like it, then I’m not going to give you all the other stuff you need.”‘
Frank Beaty, a 55-year-old Las Vegas man who has been raising money for nonprofits while bouncing back from a 2005 bankruptcy, said Obama cleverly challenged lawmakers to scrap their political objectives and asked the public to keep an eye on their motivations.
Beaty, who said he had not voted for a president before Obama and was not sure before the speech whether he would support him again, said the message was exactly what he wanted to hear.
“The country will only survive what we’re going through right now, economically and politically, if somehow we can motivate the public to push politicians to come together and work together for the good of the country and to abandon political posturing,” he said.
Associated Press writers Jeff Karoub in Ferndale, Mich., Laura Wides-Munoz in Miami, Tamara Lush in Tampa, Fla. and Ron Todt in Philadelphia contributed to this report.