Struggling American families can’t run on talk or natural gas

At a time a large number of voters believe candidates from all political parties are full of hot air, it takes an audaciously confident candidate to give a speech in a setting that features enormous tankers of natural gas.

Standing before that backdrop Thursday morning at a UPS shipping center near McCarran International Airport, President Barack Obama reassured the partisan crowd that he has the answers to subjects ranging from promoting green and home-grown energy to putting Americans back to work and cutting the federal deficit.

Following Tuesday’s State of the Union address, the president embarked on a cross-country tour through swing states essential to his re-election. Nevada is one. But unlike his Wednesday visit to Arizona, which featured a verbal skirmish in Phoenix with a finger-pointing Gov. Jan Brewer, Obama was among friends Thursday.

Just what did Obama do for Brown?

United Parcel Service took advantage of an Obama administration program that helped it convert 2,500 vehicles from diesel to natural gas and other cleaner-burning fuels. UPS Chairman and CEO Scott Davis had high praise for Obama. The corporate boss declined to mention UPS has a total fleet of nearly 94,000.

But it wasn’t a morning for cynicism. I suspect it was a day for testing the brands and themes Obama will carry with him during the campaign. One subtext of Obama’s speech was represented by a banner that read, “An America Built to Last,” which to me sounds like a line from a Ford truck commercial. It turns out that the best way to start building America to last is to renew payroll tax cuts that benefit the middle class and end the Bush-era tax cuts that comfort America’s wealthiest.

Obama reiterated the fairness theme of his State of the Union speech as he used UPS to illustrate his efforts to help business and move the nation toward a cleaner, greener future powered by American-made energy.

“They don’t expect a handout,” he said. “They don’t expect anything to come easy. They do expect, if they’re willing to work hard, to try to get ahead. If they’re doing the right thing, then they can have a sense of security and dignity, and help make sure that their family is moving forward. That’s what Americans are looking for. That’s what Americans deserve.”

They sure do.

But struggling Americans have a very hard time eating words, no matter how well delivered. They have just as much difficulty paying the mortgage with speeches.

Although the national economy has shown signs of improving as Obama limbers up for the election-year marathon, Nevada’s unemployment and housing foreclosure struggles continue.

Former Congresswoman Dina Titus, who this year is running for the Congressional District 1 seat, was heartened by Obama’s national address, but she cut to the bottom line: “It’s all about jobs. It’s all about the economy.”

Her return to Congress could hinge on how well Obama makes his case in the Silver State, which he dominated in 2008.

For Democrat-turned-Republican Mark Jackowski, the political conversation is also about Social Security.

“I really am kind of scared about what’s going on with Social Security,” he said outside the event. “I hope everyone keeps their hands off Social Security.”

If Jackowski is a skeptic, then Ruby Duncan is a true believer. The longtime Las Vegas civil rights activist wants Republicans to keep their hands off her president.

“I think the greatest thing in the world is for people to go to work,” Duncan said, moving through the crowd with the aid of a walker. “I think he’s on the right track. I support him 100 percent.”

Of course, not everyone shares Duncan’s confidence.

President Obama will need to work overtime to persuade struggling Nevadans who long for solutions and have grown tired of speeches that he deserves a second term.

John L. Smith’s column appears Sunday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday. Email him at Smith@reviewjournal.com or call 702-383-0295. He also blogs at lvrj.com/blogs/smith.

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