Obama pushes 'civil debate'

Senator Barack Obama speaks at a charity event in New York, Monday, Dec. 4, 2006.
AP Photo/Seth Wenig

PORTSMOUTH -- Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., arrives in New Hampshire Sunday for two full-house appearances not yet as a candidate for president. He said he will be making that decision in January.

But in an interview Friday, he certainly talked like a candidate on a range of issues from civility in Congress, to the war in Iraq, to what he sees as two of the most important issues facing the country and the next president: health care and energy.

Obama will arrive in Portsmouth Sunday morning to read from excerpts of his book, "The Audacity of Hope," and sign copies. Free tickets to the event at the Frank Jones Center were gone in 24 hours. The situation is much the same in Manchester, where he will speak to a standing-room-only crowd of 1,500. More than 100 journalists will be on the trail with him.

Obama is a political newcomer to the state, but he said he enjoys visiting new places because it gives him a chance to listen. "One of the things I've been really encouraged about in New Hampshire is how voters have said they're fed up with slash-and-burn politics. People want a civil debate about common sense, (and) pragmatic solutions to the challenges we face."

One of those challenges is the war in Iraq. He called the Iraq Study Group's report released this week "a baseline bipartisan reality we can all agree on. It accurately describes the grave situation we face there."

Although some of his Senate colleagues are skeptical, he agrees with the group that diplomatic overtures must be made to Syria and Iran.

"We need to put the onus on them to be constructive partners," he said. "They can watch us founder without being constructive, but we need to tell them, You won't like to see millions of people pour into your countries to flee a civil war in Iraq.'"

discuss What do you think? Did you see the signs today?
Should Barack Obama run for president?

Obama wants to see a phased withdrawal of troops begin next year, with the goal of having them out by 2008. This will "send a clear signal to Iraq, Iran and Syria that we are not going to impose a military solution on what is essentially a political problem."

At the same time, the Democrat-controlled Congress "has to step up the oversight (of the war) and make sure the American people have the information they deserve." He wants to see an accounting of how taxpayer money is spent and what the true casualty rate is -- indicators of success or failure, which he called "information that has been hard to get out in the past several years."

Asked what the Democrats need to do in the next two years to secure the presidency, he said, "they should show progress. There are a series of initiatives that are doable and that Americans want -- minimum wage, stem cell legislation that can survive the president's veto, restoring lower interest rates on college loans."

Longer range, and with the help of a Democratic president, he said there needs to be health care reform as well as a national energy policy. He said he believes everyone can receive health care without necessarily instituting a single payer system. Weeding out inefficiencies, making preventive care the norm and instituting technology "basics" will help reduce costs, Obama said.

An energy policy is imperative, he said, and as senator he will work on legislation next session. "The American people recognize that a lack of an energy policy is a threat to national security, the environment and the economy."