WASHINGTON – Presidential hopefuls Sen. Barack Obama and former Sen. John Edwards capitalized on a crowd strong with anti-war sentiment Tuesday in back-to-back speeches at the annual Take Back America conference.
Both Democratic candidates stressed their commitment to ending the war in Iraq. While Edwards admitted he was wrong in once supporting the war,Obama stressed that his stance is one he held “before it was popular to say so.”
“We knew back then this war was a mistake,” he said in a speech often overwhelmed by cheers. “We knew back then that it was a dangerous diversion from the struggle against the terrorists who attacked us on Sept. 11. We knew back then that we could find ourselves in an occupation of undetermined length,at undetermined cost,with undetermined consequences.”
The International Ballroom of the Washington Hilton Hotel was packed with 3,000 activists who waved blue “Obama ‘08” placards and shouted refrains of “that's right” and “yeah” throughout Obama's speech.
After noting that the crowd “looked like a progressive majority,” early in his speech,Obama was briefly interrupted by about 10 people in the front of the crowd who stood chanting and waving orange signs reading “Beat the GOP!”
“All right,OK,I agree with that,” Obama said,as he tried to return to his speech.
Repeatedly stressing it is “time to turn the page” on a brand of politics that dismisses the needs of the lower class and the will of Americans,Obama also touched on his proposal for universal health care and a “minimum wage that's a living wage.”
Edwards took the stage after Obama's speech to a thinner crowd,but drew applause when he began by talking about Iraq.
“We need to bring this war to an end,” he said. “I voted for this war and I was wrong to vote for this war. … The American people have made it very,very clear what they want. They want to see a change,they want to see a different course in Iraq and they want to see America leaving Iraq.”
While Obama spoke more about broad principles,Edwards zeroed in on specifics. He spoke about his energy plan,which would reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 80 percent by 2050,and touched on a “college for everyone” plan that would waive the cost of tuition and textbooks for students who agreed to work at least 10 hours a week.
Edwards also stressed the necessity for America,as the richest,most powerful nation in the world to “meet its responsibility to humanity” by “stopping the damage this president and this administration have done,” on issues such as its stance on the genocide in Darfur and dependency on oil.
New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson spoke to the group earlier in the day. Sen. Hillary Clinton,D-N.Y.,and Rep. Dennis Kucinich,D-Ohio,will speak at Take Back America Wednesday. Also featured on the final day of the progressive group's conference will be House Speaker Nancy Pelosi,D-Calif.,and filmmaker Michael Moore,who will discuss his latest film,”Sicko,” about health care.