Thank you. Thank you Roger
Hickey and Bob Borosage for bringing us all together today and thank
you for your leadership in the cause of a more progressive America.
My friends, we meet here
today at a time where we find ourselves at a crossroads in America's
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
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, which is where I live.
And in the midst of this rally, someone comes up to me and says
that there's a woman who'd like to come 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
had found the strength to leave her house and come to a rally because
she believed that her voice mattered, 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, free in theory but still enslaved in so many ways. That she
was born at a time for black folks when lynchings were not uncommon,
but voting was.
I've thought about how
she lived to see a world war and a Great Depression and a second
world war, and how she saw her brothers and uncles and nephews and
cousins coming home from those wars and still have to sit at the
back of a bus.
And I thought about how
she saw women finally win the right to vote. And how she watched
FDR lift this nation out of fear and send millions to college on
the GI Bill and lift millions out of poverty with Social Security.
How she saw unions rise up and a middle-class prosper, and watched
immigrants leave distant shores in search of an idea known as America.
She believed in this idea
with all her heart and she saw this progress around her and she
had faith that someday it would be her turn. And when she finally
she saw hope breaking through the horizon in the Civil Rights Movement,
she thought, "Maybe it's my turn."
And in that movement, she
saw women who were willing to walk instead of ride the bus after
a day of doing somebody else's laundry and looking after somebody
else's children because they walked for freedom. And she saw young
people of every race and every creed take a bus down to Mississippi
and Alabama to register voters because they believed. She saw four
little girls die in a Sunday school and catalyze a nation.
And at last - at last -
she saw the passage of the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights
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
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 six years
old, our faith has been shaken by war and terror, disaster and despair,
threats to the middle-class dream, and scandal and corruption in
The sweeping changes brought
by revolutions in technology have torn down walls between business
and government and people and places all over the globe. And with
this new world comes new risks and new dangers.
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.
The world has changed.
And as a result, we've seen families work harder for less and our
jobs go overseas. We've seen the cost of health care and child care
and gasoline skyrocket. We've seen our children leave for Iraq and
terrorists threaten to finish the job they started on 9/11.
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 nearly 2,500 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 a Take Back America conference,
but Newt Gingrich made a great point a few weeks ago. 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 and benefits for the wounded heroes who've risked
their lives for this country. 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.
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 in the end, we know that it isn't enough to just say that
you've had enough.
So let it be said that
we are the party of opportunity. That in a global economy that's
more connected and more competitive - we are the party that will
guarantee 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 of affordable, accessible health care for all Americans.
The party that won't make Americans choose between a health care
plan that bankrupts the government and one that bankrupts families.
The party that won't just throw a few tax breaks at families who
can't afford their insurance, but modernizes our health care system
and gives every family a chance to buy insurance at a price they
Let it be said that we
are the party of an energy independent America. The party that's
not bought and paid for by the oil companies. The party that will
harness homegrown, alternative fuels and spur the production of
fuel-efficient, hybrid cars to break our dependence on the world's
most dangerous regimes.
Let it be said that we
will conduct a smart foreign policy that battles the forces of terrorism
and fundamentalism wherever they may exist by matching the might
of our military with the power of our diplomacy and the strength
of our alliances. 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
And let it be said that
we are the party of open, honest government that doesn't peddle
the agenda of whichever lobbyist or special interest can write the
biggest check. The party who believes that in this democracy, influence
and access should begin and end with the power of the ballot.
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. A while ago, I was reading through Jonathan
Kozol's new book, Shame of a Nation, which tells of his travels
to underprivileged schools across America.
At one point, Kozol tells
about his trip to Fremont High School in Los Angeles, where he met
a girl who tells him that she'd taken hairdressing twice, because
there were actually two different levels offered by the high school.
The first was in hairstyling; the other in braiding.
Another girl, Mireya, listened
as her friend told this story. And she began to cry. When asked
what was wrong, she said, "I don't want to take hairdressing.
I did not need sewing either. I knew how to sew. My mother is a
seamstress in a factory. I'm trying to go to college. I don't need
to sew to go to college. My mother sews. I hoped for something else."
I hoped for something else.
I've often thought about
Mireya and her simple dream and all those before her who've shared
that dream too.
And I've wondered - if
she is lucky enough to live as long as 105-year-old Marguerite Lewis,
if she someday has the chance to look back across the twenty-first
century, what will she see? Will she see a country that is freer
and kinder, more tolerant and more just than the one she grew up
in? Will she see greater opportunities for every citizen of this
country? Will all her childhood hopes be fulfilled?
We are here tonight 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.
Ladies and gentlemen, this
is our time.
Our time to make a mark
Our time to write a new
chapter in the American story.
Our time to leave our children
a country that is freer and kinder, more prosperous and more just
than the place we grew up.
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.