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Health care, education, the war in Iraq and the economy are the key issues for voters in South Philadelphia, an inner-city neighborhood that, unlike most of Pennsylvania, is expected to heavily favor Barack Obama in the primary on Tuesday.

Voters who spoke to Pepe Escobar praised the Illinois senator’s multi-cultural identity and his ability to reach across racial and ethnic lines to build a broad base of support. And they eschewed the “cheap” hot-button issues–such as the Rev. Wright controversy and Obama’s “bitter” comments–as a distraction from the social, financial and foreign policy issues they want addressed. One interviewee described last week’s debate on ABC as a “joke” and a “waste of time.”

Story Transcript

Pepe Escobar speaks to South Philly residents

PEPE ESCOBAR, THE REAL NEWS ANALYST: We’re in front of Hickman Temple Methodist Church, south-side Philadelphia. It’s Sunday. This is Obama Land. Let’s find out why.


MARY HENDERSON: Because of his multiculture, Obama sits in many seats. And in order to be able to defend anything, you have to have walked the walk. And he is in that position on all sides. So he can address the issues that suit the people.

ESCOBAR: The Republicans, and also Hillary, are trying to paint Obama as an elitist or someone who’s disconnected from the American people. How would you respond to these attacks?

HENDERSON: Personally, I don’t like them. I feel that if Obama says anything, it has been twisted. I’ve heard comments that Hillary has made and the Republicans, and they only address it for a little while. And whatever Obama has said, it’s like they just keep digging and digging and playing the same thing over and over. And it’s not fair, okay? And so it makes it look a little racial.

ESCOBAR: What are the most important issues that concern you and that you feel that President Obama should address first?

HENDERSON: Personally, well, I’m getting ready to retire. And so I like what he’s saying about people being able to retire and still live comfortably, you know, because right now I do have that fear set that when I retire, I’m not going to be having the same monies coming in. So that means that my bills are going to be a little more strenuous, you know? And as far as taxing people on a fixed income, and he said he’s going to work on that. So that’s a strong point for me.


ESCOBAR: A collective question for a lot of you guys: Why Obama is better than Hillary and in which issues?

STREETER 1: I think he’s better because he cares about the people. If you actually listen to his speeches, he’s in there. He’s in there. And Hillary Clinton, it seem like to me, she just says a bunch of BS. Like my history teacher told me, she is—. I can’t say this on live TV.

ESCOBAR: Of course you can.

STREETER 1: Oh, I can? Alright. Well, me personally, I think she’s lying. It’s just, like, another way to get Bill Clinton back in there again.

ESCOBAR: So for you, it’s just she’s playing politics.

STREETER 1: Yeah, playing politics. Obama, like, connects with everybody. I like the word “change.” Change is good. We need change.

ESCOBAR: Okay, personally, for you personally, what is the most important issue for you in this election?

STREETER 1: Either the education or the health insurance thing. Yeah.

ESCOBAR: What about jobs?

STREETER 1: Jobs? Yeah. That’s a big thing, ’cause I need a job. Yes. I’m with the jobs. Yes.

ESCOBAR: You cannot vote. Would you vote for Obama?



STREETER 2: Because we want to have a better country, and we want people to have more schools that can’t afford schools.

STREETER 3: I would vote for Obama, because I believe that he can change this whole country away from violence.


ESCOBAR: For you personally, what is the most pressing issue or issues for you?

MIKE CARPENTER: For me, the most pressing issues are putting our economy back in some kind of shape, getting people back to work, getting young people more education, and again having people have confidence in their government, ’cause at this point I don’t think people have the confidence. And I think he brings all those things to the table and gives people hope. And he talks about the economy, and building up infrastructure, and stop outsourcing our jobs to foreign countries for cheap labor when the people here in this country don’t even have jobs. So I think the economic situation—. And I believe that the war situation, where it will play itself out eventually. It has to be into that period, ’cause we went in—. That was an economic war, in my opinion. It was about oil, okay, strictly about oil issue, and that deals with money, that deals with economics. And so we’re pumping a lot of money over there when we could be using that money here, like I said, to build our own people up and create jobs, new jobs that keep this country in good shape.

ESCOBAR: Are you worried by the way the Republicans are trying to portray Obama as disconnected or an elitist, which is—you know, they’re trying to attack his character instead of analyzing his policies?

CARPENTER: I think that’s one of the big mistakes that they’re going to make is deal with character issues. You know, it’s been happening in this primary. The people are not concerned about those type of issues—who you know, when you knew them, those type of issues. People are concerned about bread and butter issues: housing, education, jobs, the war. You know, who I knew fifty years ago—totally irrelevant. It’s like that debate they just had. It was a joke for forty minutes, a waste of TV time. It was like a character-assassination game they were playing. Now, Mr. McCain, nice man, good war veteran, the whole bit. But the reality is we don’t live in that era anymore. It’s a new world.


ESCOBAR: As an Obama supporter, how does he speak to your heart?

JENNIFER ROBERTSON: Well, he can relate to the people, and he seems to be a humble man. Even though he was raised with, like, a single parent, he still was able to go to college. And he reminds me of my family, like, back in the ’60s, when they were able to go to college and raise their children. And then my parents put us through college. He seems to be able to reach all ages and all nationalities, like the Kennedys and like Martin Luther King. So it’s historical. He seems to be down-to-earth and humble, even though he’s got a really good job and he’s very powerful. But he uses his power to help people and not to hurt them. He doesn’t seem to be preoccupied with money or power.

ESCOBAR: For you personally, what is the most pressing issue that a President Obama will need to address on Day 1?

ROBERTSON: Health care and the war, ’cause there’s a lot of sick people, and a lot of people that are not getting good health care and not living through diseases that could be maintained by having proper health care; and the war because too many of our troops are getting killed. It’s a senseless war. We’re not going to win it. They need to pull them out and bring them here to help fight crime here in the city—the highest murder rate in the country—where things are going on here that are illegal.


Please note that TRNN transcripts are typed from a recording of the program; The Real News Network cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.

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Pepe Escobar, born in Brazil is the roving correspondent for Asia Times and an analyst for The Real News Network. He's been a foreign correspondent since 1985, based in London, Milan, Los Angeles, Paris, Singapore, and Bangkok. Since the late 1990s, he has specialized in covering the arc from the Middle East to Central Asia, including the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. He has made frequent visits to Iran and is the author of Globalistan and also Red Zone Blues: A Snapshot of Baghdad During the Surge both published by Nimble Books in 2007.