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In Defense of Optimism

From dKosopedia

"In Defense of Optimism" is the title of the speech which Democratic Presidential candidate, John Edwards delivered at San Francisco's Commonwealth Club on December 12 of 2003 that many political observers credited with setting the tone for the success of his sunny campaign approach and surprise strong second-place finish in Iowa. Below is the text:

This election is just getting started. I know the pundits and pollsters-and some party leaders-are saying it’s over. Well, they’re wrong-it’s just getting started. The Democratic Party has campaigns, not coronations. We let the voters decide.

More than 70 years ago, in the heat of his 1932 campaign, Franklin Roosevelt came before the Commonwealth Club and delivered one of the great campaign speeches in American history. Looking out upon our nation in economic and political crisis, FDR said, “Failure is not an American habit; and in the strength of great hope we must shoulder our common load.”

The man he was running against, Herbert Hoover, actually had a worse jobs record than George W. Bush. But FDR did not rail in anger. The country had endured three long years of disastrous Republican rule-but you know what?

FDR still looked out at America with a smile, not a scowl. His campaign theme song was, “Happy Days Are Here Again.” He didn't scare people or feed their fears. He didn’t tell his fellow Democrats that Hoover’s errors were all their fault, and that the Depression could have been avoided if they had just gotten in Hoover’s face. He told the country to disdain fear. He inspired hope and his optimism defined our party and our country.

FDR looked at the Great Depression and knew how to make America work again. He knew how to tap into the country’s ingenuity and build a future filled with promise and possibilities.

We need to offer the American people more than the crass politics of greed or the current politics of rage - we need to offer them a new politics of possibility. Elections are about the future. Elections are a contest of ideas. Whether it’s the “New Deal” or a new drive to save our working middle class and our way of life, ideas and principles matter to voters.

Today, our country is once again struggling, and we have a president who is out of touch with the American people.

President Bush promised to change the tone in Washington, but the tone today is more bitter and partisan than ever. He promised to reach out to every American regardless of their background, but he’s left everyone behind except his friends and has forgotten our working middle class. He promised to manage the people’s money, but instead turned a $5 trillion surplus into a projected $5 trillion deficit. He’s held secret meetings with lobbyists; he’s hiding documents that belong to the American people, and most of all he has let our country down. He promised humility and respect in our foreign policy, but he has led with arrogance and disrespect. He promised to restore honor and integrity to the White House, but all he did was sell access to this highest bidder.

We are all angry at what George Bush has done to our country, our values, and our way of life. We all know what we are running against-now we need to tell the American people what kind of future we’re running toward.

And to do that, we need a leader who can bring people together. We need a leader who will help the middle class. We need a leader who can reach out to more than just the party faithful, but to every American in every region of this country. We need a leader who hasn’t spent their whole life in politics, a leader who knows what your life is like. And we need a leader who will once and for all take the “for sale” sign off of off the White House and put back the sign that reads, “for all of us.”

Our democracy and our very way of life are at risk. What is going on in Washington isn’t politics as usual; it’s politics at its worst. The politicians are so busy yelling at each other they don’t hear real people’s cry for help, and the pundits are so busy scoring the fight they don’t even notice the millions of Americans that are falling behind.

For three years, we’ve had a president who has forgotten the problems he promised to solve. But this election isn’t just about ending the Bush presidency; it’s about a new beginning for America. A new beginning for our working middle class. A new beginning for our schools. A new beginning for health care and children. A new beginning for reform in Washington. And a new beginning for America’s role in the world.

But we cannot build that future unless we win this election. If all we are is divisive and angry and if all we do is attack President Bush and each other, then we will not win the White House in 2004. And we won’t deserve to.

The American people know that their best days are in front of us. They want a president who believes that too. They believe in themselves and their ability to accomplish anything they set their mind to and they want a president who believes in them, too.

I have lived in the shining light of America. My life has been blessed with extraordinary success, and my story should not be an exception-it should occur every single day. And this opportunity to reach your God-given potential should be available to every American.

The men and women I have met during this campaign are nothing short of remarkable. Some are going through the hardest times of their lives: a lost job, a sick child, or a lost pension. But throughout this hardship, they still hold on to hope. This is exactly what I saw in the families and children I stood shoulder to shoulder with for almost two decades. I stood with them against corporate interests and their armies of lawyers and won most of those fights. But their courage and ability to dream of a better day in the face of so much hardship is what I believe to be the enduring soul of America.

The voters taught us a lesson in the 1996 campaign, and in 1998 when I ran for the Senate. The Republicans were so blinded by their hatred of President Clinton they thought all they had to do was remind the electorate how much they hated him. They thought they could roll right on into the White House on hatred and anger alone. Well, they were dead wrong. We got four more years of President Clinton and record economic growth. I beat a protégé of Jesse Helms. In 2004, I will make this a contest of ideas, not divisive ideology. That’s how we win back the White House and the hearts and minds of every American!

Unlike most of my opponents, I’m not a lifelong politician. Most people think that’s a good thing. I’m not interested in the old politics of blame and anger. I believe we have a higher purpose: to stand up for our values and save our way of life.

First, if we want to change America, then we have to change the way Washington works.

If we're going to beat President Bush next November, and change this country we have got to show the American people that we are different, that we work for them, that we want no part of the cycle of campaign cash and corporate giveaways. That's why I am proud to be the only Presidential candidate who has never taken a dime from a Washington lobbyist, and why I want to ban those lobbyist donations for good. That’s why I will stop the revolving door between lobbyists’ shops and top government jobs, demand full disclosure from lobbyists, and I will stop the war profiteering that’s going on in Iraq.

There’s an auction going on in Washington today. They are selling our country off piece-by-piece, and selling the American people out in the process. If we don’t stop them now-if we give this crowd four more years of unchecked power-they will change America forever. Our challenge today is to rescue our democracy from this handful of insiders and give it back to the American people-make sure their interests come first again!

Second, I will stop George Bush’s war on work. It has been a time-honored tradition for the Democratic Party to do everything we can to help working Americans get ahead and build a better life. And I will continue that tradition as your president.

In the last 20 years, a sea change has happened in our country. Working middle-class families have gone from being able to save for retirement or buy a house, to now teetering on the edge of bankruptcy. These aren't poor Americans; they're the working middle class. And they are terrified that if something goes wrong: a lost job or a health care disaster, they're just one bad break away from falling off the cliff.

Combine this with what this president is doing to our tax code-shifting the burden from wealth to work-it’s a one two punch to the soul of our working middle-class. Every Democrat opposes Bush's tax cuts for the very wealthy. But I think something more radical is going on.

What this president is doing is trying to shift the tax burden in America from wealth to work. He wants to eliminate the capital gains tax, the dividends tax, the estate tax, all the taxation of wealth or passive income on wealth, and shift that tax burden to people who work for a living. It's an enormous mistake, and it is difficult to maintain a democratic way of life if the middle class goes away. As your president, I will make sure that the days of millionaires paying lower taxes on their stock portfolios than a fireman or a secretary are over!

And for the life of me, I can't understand why some other candidates in this race want to raise taxes on work and make life harder for the middle class. We know that President Bush's taxes did not do enough for the people who make the least. But our answer cannot be to raise taxes on the people who make the least, especially families with children.

We cannot say to a nurse’s aide who is working two jobs and raising two kids by herself, your taxes are going up by $1,400. We can’t. That $1,400 means a huge amount to her. Means she buys clothes for her kids. Means the mortgage payments are made. Means the bills get paid.

I don’t want to raise taxes on families that can barely pay the bills. I want to cut their taxes. I’ll help them so they can save for retirement or buy a first home. I’ll offer up to $5,000 to help buy a first home. I’ll provide a zero tax on their first dividends and capital gains, so these families can save.

We have to help the middle class more, not less. If we don't get that, we don't get what this election is all about. President Bush and the Republicans have forgotten the middle class. If we Democrats forget the middle class also, then we have forgotten who we are.

We hear a lot about which candidate can engage the most partisans in December of 2003, and that’s important. But what’s more important is which candidate will help the most Americans, because that’s what matters in November 2004. It's great to engage people through the Internet, but we need to make sure we reach every American: not just those who can afford a computer, but those who can’t and those who have no interest in signing up in any campaign. People like that matter, too.

Politically engaged citizens are great Americans; but these quiet families are great Americans, too, struggling to put food on the table each night, going to church or synagogue or mosque every week; wondering whether their hard work still means something in America. If some of us don't hear their voices, maybe that's because you're not listening.

These families don't think politicians talk about their values too much. They think politicians live by our values too little. They think George Bush has betrayed the values that make our country what it is. For me, hard work, responsibility, and trust are not just words that belong to the right wing. They are the bedrock of our country, and of my life. Americans are looking for a leader who is true to those values, who was raised with them, who lived his whole life by them, who will lead our country by them.

I will never cede this values debate to the Republicans. Some in my party want to duck the values debate. They want to say to America: we’re not interested in your values; we want to change the subject to anything else. That’s wrong. You can’t tell voters what to believe or what to vote on.

It doesn’t work that way in the south, the north, the east or here in the west. Politicians don’t get to control what’s on voters’ minds. They're going to consider everything. They're going to consider issues like education and health care and jobs. They're also going to consider cultural issues. And it is very important for someone like me to listen to their opinions, and respect their opinions-no matter how different they are from my own. But the voters get to make these decisions for themselves.

Where I come from, voters are looking for answers, not attitude. They’re tired of Democrats stopping in for a visit to say, “We know what’s best, we know what’s good for you.”

Voters don't want be looked down upon and they aren't looking for a hand out. They want leaders who will them treat with respect. They want you to listen to their concerns, and give them a fair chance to do well in life. I will never keep quiet about what I believe or fail to articulate my values simply because someone might disagree with me. Democrats don’t turn their backs on a challenge, and I never will.

We need to take on these issues. This president says he wants to have a values debate, and that’s exactly what I will give him. On almost every issue, George Bush's values are not America's values. This administration values wealth over work...special interests over our interests, secret meetings over open debate, the privileged few over the rest of us.

Some Democrats want to leave these tough issues alone. I say let's take them head on because that's the only way we can replace what comes out of Washington today with what America really values.

This election is going to be the fight of our lives, and I am ready for this fight. The American people won’t ever have to guess where I stand on an issue or what I’ll do for them. The American people can take these three promises to the bank. When I am president, we’ll change America by putting Washington back on the side of the people, and not the special interests. We will lift up America’s poor and working middle class. And we’ll have a president who stands up for your values, not runs from them.

Even though we are mad at what George Bush has done to our country, our values, and our way of life, we also know in our hearts that anger doesn't change America: our actions do.

If all we are in 2004 is a party of anger, we can’t win. Democrats are the party of optimism and action, and I am in this fight to keep that tradition alive, and to build on our country’s great successes.

Because I believe in an America where every man, woman, and child can reach his or her God-given potential. I believe in an America where the family you’re born into and the color of your skin should never control your destiny. And I still believe in an America where the son of a mill worker can beat the son of a president to win the White House!

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This page was last modified 07:41, 15 April 2006 by dKosopedia user Allamakee Democrat. Based on work by dKosopedia user(s) Kitchentable. Content is available under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License.

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