Obama calls on blacks to look inward

July 14, 2008 5:50:59 PM PDT
Democrat Barack Obama looked Monday to deepen support among the African-American community in a speech to the annual convention of a leading civil rights group that raked corporate greed "that puts their bottom line ahead of what's right for America." The Illinois senator - who would be the first black elected as president - also returned to his message that blacks must "do more in our own lives, our own families, and our own communities," a theme that prompted civil rights activist Rev. Jesse Jackson to say last week he wanted to castrate Obama for talking down to the black community. While Jackson apologized when the remarks were made public, the incident laid bare generational tensions in the U.S. civil rights movement.

Obama also pounded home his opposition to the Iraq war, writing in The New York Times that he would not relent from withdrawing American forces by 2009 and announced a plan - if elected - to deploy an additional 7,000 troops to Afghanistan.

In remarks prepared for delivery in Cincinnati to the convention of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, Obama said the 2008 presidential election was "about the responsibilities that corporate America has - responsibilities that start with ending a culture on Wall Street that says what's good for me is good enough."

"It matters little if you have the right to sit at the front of the bus if you can't afford the bus fare; it matters little if you have the right to sit at the lunch counter if you can't afford the lunch," he said, citing the work and sacrifices of U.S. civil rights giants like the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and Roy Wilkins.

But he called on black Americans to look inward as well.

"If we're serious about reclaiming that dream, we have to do more in our own lives, our own families, and our own communities," including, he said, "teaching our sons to treat women with respect, and to realize that responsibility does not end at conception; that what makes them men is not the ability to have a child but the courage to raise one."

Republican John McCain, meanwhile, told Hispanic voters he had earned their trust by backing immigration reform, a measure that nearly sank his campaign a year ago. He abandoned revamping the system after fellow Republicans rose up in opposition and has since focused on tightening U.S. border security.

At the same time, McCain issued one of his strongest endorsements of free trade and called himself "an unapologetic supporter of NAFTA," an agreement that many Americans feel has cost them jobs.

"I reject the false virtues of economic isolationism," McCain told the National Council of La Raza, a major Hispanic organization, at its convention in San Diego. "Any confident, competent country and its government should embrace competition," he said. "It makes us stronger."

The Arizona senator has often supported free trade, but his speech Monday was among his most detailed and robust defenses.

"Lowering barriers to trade creates more and better jobs, and higher wages," he said. "It makes goods more affordable for low- and middle-income consumers."

Citing his recent visit to Colombia and Mexico, McCain said he understands "how vitally important it is to the prosperity and security of our country to strengthen our trade, investment and diplomatic ties to other countries in our hemisphere." He said he fully supports the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), the Central American Free Trade Agreement and the Colombian Free Trade Agreement.

Congress approved the NAFTA agreement with Mexico and Canada in 1993 and the agreement with six Central American nations in 2005, but has blocked the agreement with Colombia.

Acknowledging that some Americans do lose jobs "to foreign competition," McCain said he has proposed "a comprehensive reform of our unemployment insurance and worker retraining programs."

"And for workers of a certain age who have lost a job that won't come back," he said, "if they move rapidly to a new job we'll help make up the difference in wages between their old job and the new one."

Obama, has been much cooler to free trade agreements and wants to revisit some aspects of NAFTA.

While the Illinois senator hammered away on his opposition to the Iraq war, he acknowledged that American forces had "performed heroically in bringing down the level of violence (since 30,000 additional forces were added last year). New tactics have protected the Iraqi population, and the Sunni tribes have rejected Al Qaida greatly weakening its effectiveness.

"But," he wrote in the Monday New York Times, "the same factors that led me to oppose the surge still hold true. The strain on our military has grown, the situation in Afghanistan has deteriorated and we've spent nearly $200 billion more in Iraq than we had budgeted. Iraq's leaders have failed to invest tens of billions of dollars in oil revenues in rebuilding their own country, and they have not reached the political accommodation that was the stated purpose of the surge."

McCain insists an American victory in Iraq is at hand and would be upended by removing troops too quickly. He has said he would be ready to leave some U.S. forces in the country indefinitely, as in South Korea, Germany and Japan.

Obama plans to travel to Europe and the Middle East later this month. He was to be in Iraq for only his second visit since the war began - which McCain has been quick to contrast with his own eight trips to the country.

While in that region, Obama was also stopping in Israel and, a top Palestinian negotiator said on Monday, the Democrat would also go to the West Bank to meet Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. Saeb Erekat said Obama will travel to Ramallah on July 23.

McCain visited Israel last March but did not meet with the Palestinians.

Meanwhile, Obama's campaign blasted The New Yorker magazine Monday for running a "tasteless and offensive" cartoon on its cover showing the candidate dressed in Muslim garb and depicting his wife as a black militant terrorist.

The illustration on the issue, titled "The Politics of Fear," depicts Barack Obama wearing sandals, robe and a turban, and his wife, Michelle, dressed in camouflage and combat boots, with an assault rifle strapped over her shoulder.

The couple is shown in the White House Oval Office doing a fist tap in front of a fireplace in which an American flag is burning. Over the mantel hangs a portrait of Osama bin Laden.

In a statement Monday, the magazine said the cover "combines a number of fantastical images about the Obamas and shows them for the obvious distortions they are."