MOUNT PLEASANT, S.C. – Thank you, Max Cleland for your friendship, your inspiration, and your patriotism.
Thank you, General Cheney, for the leadership you provide and all you have given to your country. And David Alston, I am as proud to have you on my crew now as I was thirty-five years ago.
This is no ordinary campaign because this is no ordinary time. We have lived through the most deadly attack on our people in American history, the greatest job loss since the Great Depression, and the greatest loss of wealth and savings ever recorded. But every time our country has faced great challenges, we have come through -- and come out stronger -- because courageous Americans have done what’s right for America.
This is a time for the same kind of courage.
I learned something about service from two people I wish could be here today. My father, who as a member of the Greatest Generation, enlisted in the Army Air Corps even before Pearl Harbor, and served in the State Department at the height of the Cold War. And my mother, 50 years a Girl Scout leader, a community activist with a passion for the environment who took me into the woods as a young boy and simply said “listen.”
My wife Teresa reminds me of the ideals of America. She is a naturalized citizen who came here from a dictatorship. And she loves the freedom and optimism America has to offer. She is caring and strong, a leader on many causes, and she speaks the truth -- and I love her for that too.
Vanessa, Alex, and Christopher are here, and I thank them for taking time out of their lives. For Teresa and me, all our children and now our first grandchild give us joy and pride everyday.
As I look around at my crewmates and the veterans here today, I am reminded that the best lessons I learned about being an American came in a place far away from America -- on a gunboat in the Mekong Delta with a small crew of volunteers. Some of us had been to college; others were just out of high school. But we grew up together on that tiny boat. It was our sanctuary -- and a place for bridging distances between California and South Carolina, Iowa and Massachusetts. We were no longer the kid from Arkansas or the kid from Illinois. We were Americans -- together -- under the same flag -- giving ourselves to something bigger than each of us as individuals.
We arrived as strangers; we left as brothers. We didn’t think we were special. We just tried to do what was right.
And when we came home, we had a simple saying: Every day is extra. I used my extra days to join other veterans to end a war I believed was wrong. I saw courage both in the Vietnam War and in the struggle to stop it. I learned that patriotism includes protest, not just military service. But you don’t have to go half way around the world or march on Washington to learn about bravery or love of country. Again and again, in the causes that define our nation, we have seen the uncommon courage that is common to the American people.
Today, with confidence in the courage of our people to change what is wrong and do what is right, I come here to say why I am a candidate for president of the United States.
I am running so we can keep America’s promise – to reward the hard work of middle class Americans and pull down the barriers that stand in their way and in the way of those struggling to join them; to restore our true strength in the world which comes from ideals, not arrogance; renew the commitment of our generation to pass this planet on to our children better than it was given to us.
I reject George Bush’s radical new vision of a government that comforts the comfortable at the expense of ordinary Americans, that lets corporations do as they please, that turns its back on the very alliances we helped create and the very principles that have made our nation a model to the world for over two centuries. An economic policy of lost opportunity and lost hopes is wrong for America. An international policy where we stand almost alone is wrong for America.
George Bush’s vision does not live up to the America I enlisted in the Navy to defend, the America I have fought for in the Senate -- and the America that I hope to lead as president.
And every day of this campaign I will challenge George Bush for fundamentally taking our country in the wrong direction. I will tell you what I believe and what we must do for our country -- and I’ll show you how together we will defeat George Bush next November.
First, we must restore a foreign policy that is true to our ideals. We will defend our national security and maintain a military that is the strongest armed force on earth. But, if I am president, I will never forget that even a nation as powerful as the United States needs to make some friends in this world.
Overseas, George Bush has led and misled us on a course at odds with 200 years of our history. He has squandered the goodwill of the world after September 11 and lost the respect and influence we need to make our country safe.
We are seeing the peril in Iraq every day. I voted to threaten the use of force to make Saddam Hussein comply with the resolutions of the United Nations. I believe that was right -- but it was wrong to rush to war without building a true international coalition -- and with no plan to win the peace.
So long as Iraq remains an American intervention and not an international undertaking, we will face increasing danger and mounting casualties.
Being flown to an aircraft carrier and saying “mission accomplished” doesn’t end a war. And the swagger of a president saying “bring ‘em on” will never bring peace.
Pride is no substitute for protecting our young men and women in uniform. Half the names on the Vietnam Memorial are there because of pride -- because of a president who refused to admit he was wrong. Pride is no excuse for making enemies overseas. It is time to return to the United Nations, not with the arrogance of Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz but with genuine respect. For the Bush administration to reject the participation of allies and the UN is a miscalculation of colossal proportions. We need to end the sense of American occupation as fast as possible and take the targets off American soldiers.
In Iraq and across the world, we must share the burdens with our allies and the international community. Then, and only then, can we assemble a worldwide coalition truly sufficient to defeat the terrorists -- to keep the most dangerous weapons out of their hands and out of the reach of unstable regimes.
Here again, George Bush is taking the world in the wrong direction. He is poised to set off a new nuclear arms race by building bunker-busting tactical nuclear weapons -- smaller and more usable nuclear bombs. I don’t want a world with more useable nuclear bombs. I don’t want America to turn its back on half a century of effort by every President to reduce the nuclear threat. I’m running to put America where we rightfully belong -- leading the way to a new international accord on nuclear proliferation to make the world itself safer for human survival.
At times in the term of the next president, we may well have to use force to fight terrorism. I will not hesitate to do so. But if I am president, the United States will never go to war because we want to, we will only go to war because we have to.
And in the war against terrorism, let me state clearly what we all know in our hearts to be true: two years after the tragic events of 9/11 we have not made our nation safe enough. Overseas, our commander-in-chief turned to Afghan warlords for the assault on Tora Bora; Usama Bin Laden got away and today the Taliban and Al Qaeda are regrouping.
And here on the home front, every investigation, every commission, every piece of evidence we have tells us that this president has failed to make us as safe as we should be.
We are not making progress when we are laying off police and the jobs of sky marshals are in jeopardy. If we can open firehouses in Baghdad, then we can keep them open in New York City.
But the threats today don’t just come from gun barrels; they also come from oil barrels. The dollars we spend at the pump can too easily fund the terrorists who seek to destroy us. America will only be stronger if we never have to send our sons and daughters into battle for oil half a world away.
We have to disarm that danger by making America independent of Mideast oil within the next ten years. I know that the auto industry has political muscle. But we’re in a time of war, and everyone should contribute to the cause. In World War II, Detroit was the arsenal of democracy. Today they need to raise their gas mileage and build the vehicles of the future that use clean, renewable energy like ethanol. I also know there are some in our own party who resist this because they fear it will cost jobs. But it’s right for America -- and energy independence will create 500,000 new high-paying jobs right here in this country.
On energy and the environment, George Bush seeks to undo the progress of 30 years under Presidents of both parties. His Clean Skies initiative actually means dirtier air; his Healthy Forests proposal actually means cutting down trees. He proposed to let his oil industry friends drill in the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge. I led and won the fight to stop him.
In a Kerry administration, we will recommit America to one of the greatest unfinished challenges of our time and of all time -- to save our environment, to protect our oceans, to reverse the tide of global warming. We will not let polluters rewrite our laws in return for campaign contributions. We will make them and not taxpayers pay the bill to clean up toxic waste. And we will disprove the lie that protecting the environment can only come at the expense of jobs.
The truth is that prosperity doesn’t come from pollution. The most powerful economic engine in this nation has always been opportunity -- the ability for anyone from any start in life, to get a good education, to go to work, to start a business, to take an idea and change the world. But George Bush’s only economic plan is lavish tax breaks for those at the top. He has taken us down the road of diminished opportunity, not greater opportunity.
Under the Bush administration, in less than three years, three million jobs have been lost. That is an astonishing failure -- and it is an outrage.
As a senator, I was proud to work with President Bill Clinton to turn around the last Bush downturn. And I know the people of this country have the courage to do what’s right for our economy.
If I am president, I will rollback the Bush tax breaks for the wealthy so we can invest in education, health care, and the skills of our workers.
Some in my own party want to get rid of all tax cuts -- including those for working families. That would mean that a family of four -- with two parents working hard on the job and at home -- would have to pay $2,000 more a year in taxes. That’s wrong. We need to be on the side of America’s middle class, and I’ve proposed a tax cut for them because it’s the right way to strengthen our economy.
Let me put it plainly: if Americans aren’t working, America’s not working. So my economic plan sets this goal -- to get back George Bush’s three million jobs in my first 500 days as president. And to cut the budget deficit in half in the first four years.
But what we face today -- and what we must change -- is not simply a failure of policy. Today at the center of power, we have a radical ethic that ratifies and glorifies a creed of greed. Once, a great Republican president named Theodore Roosevelt took on those who abused their wealth and power; today’s Republican president invites them in for secret meetings, sells out our environment, tolerates their abuses and lets them evade taxes by moving their headquarters to an offshore shelter that is nothing more than a post office box or a mail drop.
Dick Cheney’s old company Halliburton has 58 offshore tax havens. The Bush administration’s response is to hand Halliburton a seven billion dollar no-bid contract.
My response as president will be:
No more lavish government-funded life support for favored corporations
No more tax allowances for bonuses of over a million dollars for CEOs who have done nothing to earn them.
No more contracts for companies, no matter how well-connected they are, until they decide to do what’s right.
And no more tax breaks that help companies move American jobs overseas.
A tax code that once ran 14 pages now takes up 17,000 pages, filled with twists and turns and customized loopholes. Everyone in America knows it is not fair, and if I am president we’re going to scour that tax code and make it simple and fair once and for all.
Instead of tax breaks for the wealthiest and subsidies for special interests, and instead of photo opportunities with children as backdrops, let’s give real meaning to the words “leave no child behind.” It’s time to give our schools the resources and our teachers the respect they deserve -- and give every child in America the best possible start in life.
And let’s recognize that for all our wealth, we will be a lesser nation if we continue to be the only advanced society that does not secure access to health care for all our people. This is not an abstract issue to me. Early this year, I was diagnosed with prostate cancer. I was cured -- because as a United States senator, I was lucky to have some of the best medical care in the world. Millions of Americans are not so lucky -- and I’m determined to change that. I propose to give every American access to the same health coverage as a senator or member of Congress. And I say to you today: Your family’s health is just as important as any politician’s in Washington.
The courage to do what’s right means standing up for civil rights and equal rights – and ending discrimination against gay men and lesbians. And it means understanding that our civil liberties are not an obstacle to defending this nation, but are one of the very things we seek to defend.
George Bush has sought to undo guarantees enshrined in the Constitution -- not by amending it but by subverting it with his judicial nominees. As president, I will only appoint Supreme Court justices who will uphold a woman’s right to choose. A just America demands a Supreme Court that honors our Constitution -- and an attorney general whose name isn’t John Ashcroft.
And courage means standing up for gun safety, not retreating from the issue out of political fear or trying to have it both ways. I’m a hunter and I believe in the Second Amendment but I’ve never gone hunting with an AK-47. Our party will never be the choice of the NRA -- and I’m not looking to be the candidate of the NRA.
Today, I ask all of you to enlist in a mission that is bigger than any of us.
For each of us has extra days -- not just for ourselves but to share. And I hope to be the president who asks all of us to serve -- because in the end, the ideals of the nation will not be realized by presidential decree, but by the national service that can only be measured in countless acts of individual commitment to do what’s right for America – every day, in every community -- in many different ways -- from helping a child learn to read to giving senior citizens the chance to give more of their talents and strength.
And the force of all those extra days joined together can open a new era of concern for others and not just ourselves, of community and not division, of opportunity for the many and not just the few.
I believe the courage of Americans can change this country.
I believe the idealism of Americans can match our power to our principles – so that this nation will advance the best hopes of the world.
I believe the genius of Americans can make us energy independent.
The resolve of Americans can break the grip of special interests and bring back jobs and economic justice.
The vision of Americans can save our environment, raise up our schools, and finally open up health care to all.
The conscience of Americans can guard our fundamental liberties and preserve them for generations to come.
Your courage can make sure we do what’s right for our country.
Your courage can give America back its future, its strength and its soul.
I am honored to join you in this endeavor as a candidate for president of the United States.
Thank you and God bless you all.