Thank you for inviting
me here today and thank you to EMILY's List for all you've done
to forever change the face of women in politics. Your efforts haven't
just sent women to Congress, you've sent champions - champions for
the right to choose, for the right to equality, for the millions
of women who ask only that their voices are heard too.
And we all owe the biggest
thanks to the woman who hasn't just believed in that change, but
who's done more to actually affect it, who's helped send more Democratic
women to Congress over the last two decades than anyone in politics
today. Ellen Malcolm, we are in debt to you, we are in awe of you,
and we continue to be inspired by your example and your commitment
to women everywhere. Thank you.
We meet here today at a
time where we find ourselves at a crossroads in America's history.
It's a time where you can
go to any town hall or street corner or coffee shop and hear people
express the same anxiety about the future; hear them convey the
same uncertainty about the direction we're headed as a country.
Whether it's the war or Katrina or their health care or their jobs,
you hear people say that we've finally arrived at a moment where
something must change.
These are Americans who
still believe in an America where anything's possible - they just
don't think their leaders do. These are Americans who still dream
big dreams -they just sense their leaders have forgotten how.
I remember when I first
ran for the state Senate - my very first race. A seat had opened
up, and some friends asked me if I'd be interested in running. Well,
I thought about it, and then I did what every wise man does when
faced with a difficult decision: I prayed, and I asked my wife.
And after consulting with
these higher powers, I threw my hat in the ring and I did what every
person on a campaign does - I talked to anyone who'd listen.
I went to bake sales and
barber shops and if there were two guys standing on the corner I'd
pull up and hand them literature. And everywhere I went I'd get
First, they'd ask, "Where'd
you get that funny name, Barack Obama?" Because people just
couldn't pronounce it. They'd call me "Alabama," or they'd
call me "Yo Mama." And I'd have to explain that I got
the name from my father, who was from Kenya.
And the second thing people
would ask me was, "You seem like a nice young man. You teach
law school, you're a civil rights attorney, you organize voter registration,
you're a family man - why would you wanna go into something dirty
and nasty like politics?"
And I understood the question
because it revealed the cynicism people feel about public life today.
That even though we may get involved out of civic obligation every
few years, we don't always have confidence that government can make
a difference in our lives.
So I understand the cynicism.
But whenever I get in that mood, I think about something that happened
to me on the eve of my election to the United States Senate.
We had held a large rally
the night before in the Southside of Chicago. And in the midst of
this rally, someone comes up to me and says that there's a woman
who'd like to meet you, and she's traveled a long way and she wants
to take a picture and shake your hand.
And so I said fine, and
I met her, and we talked. And all of this would have been unremarkable
except for the fact that this woman, Marguerite Lewis, was born
in 1899 and was 105 years old.
And ever since I met this
frail, one-hundred-and-five-year-old African-American woman who
came all the way to this rally, I've thought about all she's seen
in her life.
I've thought about the
fact that when she was born, there weren't cars on the road, and
no airplanes in the sky. That she was born under the cloud of Jim
Crow, at a time for black folks when lynchings were common, but
voting was forbidden.
I've thought about how
she lived to see a world war and a Great Depression and a second
I thought about how she
saw women finally win the right to vote. How she watched FDR lift
this nation out of its own fear. How she saw unions rise up and
watched immigrants leave distant shores in search of an idea known
She believed in this idea
and she saw all this progress and she had faith that someday it
would be her turn. And when she finally saw hope break through the
horizon in the Civil Rights Movement, she thought, "Maybe it's
And at last - at last -
she saw the passage of the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights
Act. And she saw people lining up to vote for the first time - and
she got in that line - and she never forgot it. She kept on voting
in each and every election because she believed. She believed that
over a span of three centuries, she had seen enough to know that
there is no challenge too great, no injustice too crippling, no
destiny too far out of reach for America.
She believed that we don't
have to settle for equality for some or opportunity for the lucky
or freedom for the few.
And she knew that during
those moments in history where it looked like we might give up hope
or settle for less, there have always been Americans who refused.
Who said we're going to keep on dreaming, and we're going to keep
on building, and we're going to keep on marching, and we're going
to keep on working because that's who we are. Because we've always
fought to bring all of our people under the blanket of the American
And I think that we face
one of those moments today. In a century just five years old, our
faith has already been shaken by war and terror, disaster and despair,
threats to the middle-class dream, and scandal and corruption in
The world has changed.
No longer can we assume that a high-school education is enough to
compete for a job that could easily go to a college-educated student
in Bangalore or Beijing. No more can we count on employers to provide
health care and pensions and job training when their bottom-lines
know no borders. Never again can we expect the oceans that surround
America to keep us safe from attacks on our own soil.
But while the world has
changed around us, too often our government has stood still. Our
faith has been shaken, but the people running Washington aren't
willing to make us believe again.
It's the timidity - the
smallness - of our politics that's holding us back right now. The
idea that some problems are just too big to handle, and if you just
ignore them, sooner or later, they'll go away. That if you give
a speech where you rattle off statistics about the stock market
being up and orders for durable goods being on the rise, no one
will notice the single mom whose two jobs won't pay the bills or
the student who can't afford his college dreams. That if you say
the words "plan for victory" and point to the number of
schools painted and roads paved and cell phones used in Iraq, no
one will notice the more than 2,300 flag-draped coffins that have
arrived at Dover Air Force base.
Well it's time we finally
said we notice, and we care, and we're not gonna settle anymore.
You know, you probably
never thought you'd hear this at an Emily's List luncheon, but Newt
Gingrich made a great point a few weeks back. He was talking about
what an awful job his own party has done governing this country,
and he said that with all the mistakes and misjudgments the Republicans
have made over the last six years, the slogan for the Democrats
should come down to just two words:
I don't know about you,
but I think old Newt is onto something here. Because I think we've
all had enough. Enough of the broken promises. Enough of the failed
leadership. Enough of the can't-do, won't-do, won't-even-try style
Four years after 9/11,
I've had enough of being told that we can find the money to give
Paris Hilton more tax cuts, but we can't find enough to protect
our ports or our railroads or our chemical plants or our borders.
I've had enough of the
closed-door deals that give billions to the HMOs when we're told
that we can't do a thing for the 45 million uninsured or the millions
more who can't pay their medical bills.
I've had enough of being
told that we can't afford body armor for our troops and health care
for our veterans. I've had enough of that.
I've had enough of giving
billions away to the oil companies when we're told that we can't
invest in the renewable energy that will create jobs and lower gas
prices and finally free us from our dependence on the oil wells
of Saudi Arabia.
I've had enough of our
kids going to schools where the rats outnumber the computers. I've
had enough of Katrina survivors living out of their cars and begging
FEMA for trailers. And I've had enough of being told that all we
can do about this is sit and wait and hope that the good fortune
of a few trickles on down to everyone else in this country.
You know, we all remember
that George Bush said in 2000 campaign that he was against nation-building.
We just didn't know he was talking about this one.
So yes, I've had enough.
And if you've had enough too, then we got some work to do. If you've
had enough, then we have some checks to write, and some calls to
make, and some doors to knock on. And if we do this, then in November,
we're gonna have a U.S. House with people like Tammy Duckworth in
it, and Melissa Bean, and Betty Sutton, and Dianne Farrell and Lois
Murphy. And we're gonna have a U.S. Senate with Amy Klobuchar and
Claire McCaskill and Maria Cantwell and Debbie Stabenow. And we're
gonna change business-as-usual in Washington, and we're gonna set
this country in a new direction.
Now, let me say this -
I don't think that George Bush is a bad man. I think he loves his
country. I don't think this administration is full of stupid people
- I think there are a lot of smart folks in there. The problem isn't
that their philosophy isn't working the way it's supposed to - it's
that it is. It's that it's doing exactly what it's supposed to do.
The reason they don't believe
government has a role in solving national problems is because they
think government is the problem. That we're better off if we dismantle
it - if we divvy it up into individual tax breaks, hand 'em out,
and encourage everyone to go buy your own health care, your own
retirement security, your own child care, their own schools, your
own private security force, your own roads, their own levees...
It's called the Ownership
Society in Washington. But in our past there has been another term
for it - Social Darwinism - every man or women for him or herself.
It allows us to say to those whose health care or tuition may rise
faster than they can afford - life isn't fair. It allows us to say
to the child who didn't have the foresight to choose the right parents
or be born in the right suburb - pick yourself up by your bootstraps.
It lets us say to the guy who worked twenty or thirty years in the
factory and then watched his plant move out to Mexico or China -
we're sorry, but you're on your own.
It's a bracing idea. It's
a tempting idea. And it's the easiest thing in the world.
But there's just one problem.
It doesn't work. It ignores our history. Yes, our greatness as a
nation has depended on individual initiative, on a belief in the
free market. But it has also depended on our sense of mutual regard
for each other, of mutual responsibility. The idea that everybody
has a stake in the country, that we're all in it together and everybody's
got a shot at opportunity.
Americans know this. We
know that government can't solve all our problems - and we don't
want it to. But we also know that there are some things we can't
do on our own. We know that there are some things we do better together.
We know that we've been
called in churches and mosques, synagogues and Sunday schools to
love our neighbors as ourselves; to be our brother's keeper; to
be our sister's keeper. That we have individual responsibility,
but we also have collective responsibility to each other.
That's what America is.
And so I am eager to have
this argument not just with the President, but the entire Republican
Party over what this country is about.
Because I think that this
is our moment to lead.
The time for our party's
identity crisis is over. Don't let anyone tell you we don't know
what we stand for and don't doubt it yourselves. We know who we
are and we know what our legacy is.
We're the party of Jefferson
who first believed that every child in America should be educated
regardless of wealth and birth and circumstance. That's who we are.
We're the party of Roosevelt
who lifted this nation out of its own fear and sent workers to the
factories and veterans to college and families to new homes and
seniors to a comfortable retirement. That's who we are.
We're the party that stood
up to fascism and defended freedom across the globe during World
We're the party of civil
rights, and workers' rights, and women's rights who believes that
that every member of the American family deserves a shot at the
American Dream. That's who we are.
We're the party of new
frontiers and bold horizons - the party that put man on the moon
and fueled the research that unlocked the secrets of the human genome.
That's who we are.
And let me tell you about
the party I see in the future.
In a globalized economy
with bigger risks and greater rewards - a world where we are at
once more connected and more competitive - let it be said that we
are the party of opportunity. The party that guarantees every American
an affordable, world-class, top-notch, life-long education - from
early childhood to high school, from college to on-the-job training.
Let it be said that we
are the party that equips every worker with what they need to succeed
in a 21st century economy - wage supports and pensions, child care
and health care that will stay with them no matter where they work
or what they do.
Let it be said that we
are the party of innovation and discovery - willing to blaze a trail
toward energy independence or invest in the research that could
create whole new industries and save thousands of lives.
And in a world where evil
lurks and terrorists plot, let it be said that we will conduct a
smart foreign policy that matches the might of our military with
the power of our diplomacy. And when we do go to war, let us always
be honest with the American people about why we are there and how
we will win.
If we do all this, if we
can be trusted to lead, this will not be a Democratic Agenda, it
will be an American agenda. Because in the end, we may be proud
Democrats, but we are prouder Americans. We're tired of being divided,
tired of running into ideological walls and partisan roadblocks,
tired of appeals to our worst instincts and greatest fears.
Americans everywhere are
desperate for leadership. They are longing for direction. And they
want to believe again.
You know, as I was thinking
about today's luncheon and all the progress EMILY's List has made
over the years, the first thing that came to mind wasn't all the
politics or the campaigns; it wasn't even all the issues debated
or the legislation passed.
I thought about my daughters.
I thought about the world
that Sasha and Malia will grow up in, about the chances they'll
have and the challenges they'll face. And I thought about my hopes
for them - that they'll be able to dream without limit, achieve
without constraint, and be free to seek their own happiness.
And I wondered - if they
are lucky enough to live as long as 105-year-old Marguerite Lewis,
if they someday have the chance to look back across the twenty-first
century, what will they see? Will they see a country that is freer
and kinder, more tolerant and more just than the one they grew up
in? Will they see greater opportunities for every citizen of this
country? Will all her of my hopes for my girls be fulfilled?
We are here today because
we believe that in this country, we have it within our power to
say "yes" to those questions - to forge our own destiny
- to begin the world anew.
We are here because we
believe that this is our time.
Our time to make a mark
Our time to write a new
chapter in the American story.
And then someday, someday,
if our kids get the chance to stand where we are and look back at
the beginning of the 21st century, they can say that this was the
time when America renewed its purpose.
They can say that this
was the time when America found its way.
They can say that this
was the time when America learned to dream again.