Main Street Warned: Wall Street Needs Reined In
STEVE INSKEEP, host:
It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Good morning, I'm Steve Inskeep.
RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
And I'm Renee Montagne.
President Obama's well-known eloquence faces a test this week. The president has been getting a lot of what he wants, from the stimulus bill to health care. He's still trying to persuade many Americans, though, that he's on the right course.
INSKEEP: So the president is talking with people across the Midwest. He's visiting Des Moines, Iowa today, before moving on to Missouri and Illinois. He's already toured small towns in southeastern Iowa.
NPR White House correspondent Ari Shapiro followed along.
ARI SHAPIRO: So far this trip has had the feel of a presidential campaign: stops at a factory, a farm, a community college, even a slice of pie. In fact, this is a campaign of sorts. President Obama wants to convince rural voters who helped to bring him to power, that his economic policies are helping them.
So Mr. Obama's first stop was a factory that might not be open today, but for economic stimulus package.
President BARACK OBAMA: What does this material do?
Unidentified Woman #1: This is fiberglass.
President OBAMA: This is a fiberglass on the outside...
SHAPIRO: He toured this Siemens Energy plant in the town of Fort Madison. Huge gray-green blades for windmills lay on the ground like beached sea creatures waiting to be lifted up.
You may not know that Iowa gets 20 percent of its energy from wind, that's more than any other state. And this plant is about spreading the benefits.
The president told a few hundred cheering employees that they are helping stake a claim on America's clean energy future.
President OBAMA: It's even more remarkable when you consider that just a few short years ago, this facility was dark, it was quiet, nothing was going on. And today, it's alive and humming with more than 600 employees, almost two-thirds of whom found themselves unemployed before they were here.
SHAPIRO: President Obama said the plant is open because Siemens took advantage of a three and half million dollar tax credit for clean energy, as part of the Recovery Act.
President OBAMA: So when people ask you what was the Recovery Act about, what was the stimulus about, it was about this - this plant.
SHAPIRO: Then the motorcade hustled down a country highway to a small farm, Mogo Organic, where a young woman named Morgan Hoenig recently rebuilt her family's old barn and brought the farm back to life.
Ms. MORGAN HOENIG (Owner, Mogo Organics): Just planted some apple trees and pear trees...
President OBAMA: Right. Right.
Ms. HOENIG: ...and blueberries. And the vegetables are my big thing.
SHAPIRO: Now, if this were a presidential campaign, the motorcade would have gone, next, to a diner famous for its pie. No such stop was on the schedule. But sure enough, the motorcade pulled over at Jerry's Restaurant. The president ordered a slice of rhubarb and a cup of coffee. Then it was on to a town hall meeting at Indian Hills Community College in Ottumwa, Iowa.
(Soundbite of cheering)
President OBAMA: Hello, everybody. Hello, Ottumwa.
(Soundbite of cheering and applause)
SHAPIRO: Mr. Obama called community colleges one of the most underappreciated assets in America. He reminded the joyful crowd that Iowa can take credit for driving him to the front of the Democratic presidential race in 2008.
President OBAMA: It is just good to be back in Iowa.
Unidentified Woman #2: Yes.
(Soundbite of cheering and applause)
President OBAMA: If it weren't for Iowa, I wouldn't be president.
SHAPIRO: And then he turned to the issues of 2010. He called Arizona's strict new immigration law poorly conceived.
President OBAMA: If you were a Hispanic American in Arizona, your great grandparents may have been there before Arizona was even a state. But now, suddenly, if you don't have your papers and you took your kid out to get ice cream, you're going to be harassed. That's something that could potentially happen. That's not the right way to go.
SHAPIRO: And he had even stronger words for those who are blocking a financial regulatory bill, saying Senate Republicans had done so twice in 24 hours.
President OBAMA: So they won't even let it get on the floor to be debated. It's one thing to oppose reform, but to oppose just even talking about reform in front of the American people and having a legitimate debate, that's not right.
SHAPIRO: The focus of this tour is supposed to be issues facing small-town America. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack is on the trip. He used to be governor of Iowa. And on Air Force One yesterday morning, Vilsack described the state of rural communities in stark terms.
Secretary TOM VILSACK (Department of Agriculture): There's a silent crisis occurring in rural America that's been ongoing for several decades: substantially higher unemployment and poverty rates; significant reduction in terms of college-educated workforce and an aging workforce; and loss of population.
SHAPIRO: Vilsack's challenge, and the president's, is to convince these rural voters that their policies will turn those trends around.
Ari Shapiro, NPR News, Des Moines, Iowa.
MONTAGNE: By the way, listeners have come to know Ari as a guest host on this program and also as NPR's justice correspondent.
INSKEEP: He has now traded in that poetic title to join our White House team.
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