Let me begin by saying thanks to all you who've
traveled, from far and wide, to brave the cold today.
We all made this journey for a reason. It's humbling, but in my
heart I know you didn't come here just for me, you came here because
you believe in what this country can be. In the face of war, you
believe there can be peace. In the face of despair, you believe
there can be hope. In the face of a politics that's shut you out,
that's told you to settle, that's divided us for too long, you believe
we can be one people, reaching for what's possible, building that
more perfect union.
That's the journey we're on today. But let me tell
you how I came to be here. As most of you know, I am not a native
of this great state. I moved to Illinois over two decades ago. I
was a young man then, just a year out of college; I knew no one
in Chicago, was without money or family connections. But a group
of churches had offered me a job as a community organizer for $13,000
a year. And I accepted the job, sight unseen, motivated then by
a single, simple, powerful idea - that I might play a small part
in building a better America.
My work took me to some of Chicago's poorest neighborhoods.
I joined with pastors and lay-people to deal with communities that
had been ravaged by plant closings. I saw that the problems people
faced weren't simply local in nature - that the decision to close
a steel mill was made by distant executives; that the lack of textbooks
and computers in schools could be traced to the skewed priorities
of politicians a thousand miles away; and that when a child turns
to violence, there's a hole in his heart no government could ever
It was in these neighborhoods that I received the
best education I ever had, and where I learned the true meaning
of my Christian faith.
After three years of this work, I went to law school,
because I wanted to understand how the law should work for those
in need. I became a civil rights lawyer, and taught constitutional
law, and after a time, I came to understand that our cherished rights
of liberty and equality depend on the active participation of an
awakened electorate. It was with these ideas in mind that I arrived
in this capital city as a state Senator.
It was here, in Springfield, where I saw all that
is America converge - farmers and teachers, businessmen and laborers,
all of them with a story to tell, all of them seeking a seat at
the table, all of them clamoring to be heard. I made lasting friendships
here - friends that I see in the audience today.
It was here we learned to disagree without being
disagreeable - that it's possible to compromise so long as you know
those principles that can never be compromised; and that so long
as we're willing to listen to each other, we can assume the best
in people instead of the worst.
That's why we were able to reform a death penalty
system that was broken. That's why we were able to give health insurance
to children in need. That's why we made the tax system more fair
and just for working families, and that's why we passed ethics reforms
that the cynics said could never, ever be passed.
It was here, in Springfield, where North, South,
East and West come together that I was reminded of the essential
decency of the American people - where I came to believe that through
this decency, we can build a more hopeful America.
And that is why, in the shadow of the Old State
Capitol, where Lincoln once called on a divided house to stand together,
where common hopes and common dreams still, I stand before you today
to announce my candidacy for President of the United States.
I recognize there is a certain presumptuousness
- a certain audacity - to this announcement. I know I haven't spent
a lot of time learning the ways of Washington. But I've been there
long enough to know that the ways of Washington must change.
The genius of our founders is that they designed
a system of government that can be changed. And we should take heart,
because we've changed this country before. In the face of tyranny,
a band of patriots brought an Empire to its knees. In the face of
secession, we unified a nation and set the captives free. In the
face of Depression, we put people back to work and lifted millions
out of poverty. We welcomed immigrants to our shores, we opened
railroads to the west, we landed a man on the moon, and we heard
a King's call to let justice roll down like water, and righteousness
like a mighty stream.
Each and every time, a new generation has risen
up and done what's needed to be done. Today we are called once more
- and it is time for our generation to answer that call.
For that is our unyielding faith - that in
the face of impossible odds, people who love their country can change
That's what Abraham Lincoln understood. He had his
doubts. He had his defeats. He had his setbacks. But through his
will and his words, he moved a nation and helped free a people.
It is because of the millions who rallied to his cause that we are
no longer divided, North and South, slave and free. It is because
men and women of every race, from every walk of life, continued
to march for freedom long after Lincoln was laid to rest, that today
we have the chance to face the challenges of this millennium together,
as one people - as Americans.
All of us know what those challenges are today -
a war with no end, a dependence on oil that threatens our future,
schools where too many children aren't learning, and families struggling
paycheck to paycheck despite working as hard as they can. We know
the challenges. We've heard them. We've talked about them for years.
What's stopped us from meeting these challenges
is not the absence of sound policies and sensible plans. What's
stopped us is the failure of leadership, the smallness of our politics
- the ease with which we're distracted by the petty and trivial,
our chronic avoidance of tough decisions, our preference for scoring
cheap political points instead of rolling up our sleeves and building
a working consensus to tackle big problems.
For the last six years we've been told that our
mounting debts don't matter, we've been told that the anxiety Americans
feel about rising health care costs and stagnant wages are an illusion,
we've been told that climate change is a hoax, and that tough talk
and an ill-conceived war can replace diplomacy, and strategy, and
foresight. And when all else fails, when Katrina happens, or the
death toll in Iraq mounts, we've been told that our crises are somebody
else's fault. We're distracted from our real failures, and told
to blame the other party, or gay people, or immigrants.
And as people have looked away in disillusionment
and frustration, we know what's filled the void. The cynics, and
the lobbyists, and the special interests who've turned our government
into a game only they can afford to play. They write the checks
and you get stuck with the bills, they get the access while you
get to write a letter, they think they own this government, but
we're here today to take it back. The time for that politics is
over. It's time to turn the page.
We've made some progress already. I was proud to
help lead the fight in Congress that led to the most sweeping ethics
reform since Watergate.
But Washington has a long way to go. And it won't
be easy. That's why we'll have to set priorities. We'll have to
make hard choices. And although government will play a crucial role
in bringing about the changes we need, more money and programs alone
will not get us where we need to go. Each of us, in our own lives,
will have to accept responsibility - for instilling an ethic of
achievement in our children, for adapting to a more competitive
economy, for strengthening our communities, and sharing some measure
of sacrifice. So let us begin. Let us begin this hard work together.
Let us transform this nation.
Let us be the generation that reshapes our economy
to compete in the digital age. Let's set high standards for our
schools and give them the resources they need to succeed. Let's
recruit a new army of teachers, and give them better pay and more
support in exchange for more accountability. Let's make college
more affordable, and let's invest in scientific research, and let's
lay down broadband lines through the heart of inner cities and rural
towns all across America.
And as our economy changes, let's be the generation
that ensures our nation's workers are sharing in our prosperity.
Let's protect the hard-earned benefits their companies have promised.
Let's make it possible for hardworking Americans to save for retirement.
And let's allow our unions and their organizers to lift up this
country's middle-class again.
Let's be the generation that ends poverty in America.
Every single person willing to work should be able to get job training
that leads to a job, and earn a living wage that can pay the bills,
and afford child care so their kids have a safe place to go when
they work. Let's do this.
Let's be the generation that finally tackles our
health care crisis. We can control costs by focusing on prevention,
by providing better treatment to the chronically ill, and using
technology to cut the bureaucracy. Let's be the generation that
says right here, right now, that we will have universal health care
in America by the end of the next president's first term.
Let's be the generation that finally frees America
from the tyranny of oil. We can harness homegrown, alternative fuels
like ethanol and spur the production of more fuel-efficient cars.
We can set up a system for capping greenhouse gases. We can turn
this crisis of global warming into a moment of opportunity for innovation,
and job creation, and an incentive for businesses that will serve
as a model for the world. Let's be the generation that makes future
generations proud of what we did here.
Most of all, let's be the generation that never
forgets what happened on that September day and confront the terrorists
with everything we've got. Politics doesn't have to divide us on
this anymore - we can work together to keep our country safe. I've
worked with Republican Senator Dick Lugar to pass a law that will
secure and destroy some of the world's deadliest, unguarded weapons.
We can work together to track terrorists down with a stronger military,
we can tighten the net around their finances, and we can improve
our intelligence capabilities. But let us also understand that ultimate
victory against our enemies will come only by rebuilding our alliances
and exporting those ideals that bring hope and opportunity to millions
around the globe.
But all of this cannot come to pass until we bring
an end to this war in Iraq. Most of you know I opposed this war
from the start. I thought it was a tragic mistake. Today we grieve
for the families who have lost loved ones, the hearts that have
been broken, and the young lives that could have been. America,
it's time to start bringing our troops home. It's time to admit
that no amount of American lives can resolve the political disagreement
that lies at the heart of someone else's civil war. That's why I
have a plan that will bring our combat troops home by March of 2008.
Letting the Iraqis know that we will not be there forever is our
last, best hope to pressure the Sunni and Shia to come to the table
and find peace.
Finally, there is one other thing that is not too
late to get right about this war - and that is the homecoming of
the men and women - our veterans - who have sacrificed the most.
Let us honor their valor by providing the care they need and rebuilding
the military they love. Let us be the generation that begins this
I know there are those who don't believe we can
do all these things. I understand the skepticism. After all, every
four years, candidates from both parties make similar promises,
and I expect this year will be no different. All of us running for
president will travel around the country offering ten-point plans
and making grand speeches; all of us will trumpet those qualities
we believe make us uniquely qualified to lead the country. But too
many times, after the election is over, and the confetti is swept
away, all those promises fade from memory, and the lobbyists and
the special interests move in, and people turn away, disappointed
as before, left to struggle on their own.
By ourselves, this change will not happen. Divided,
we are bound to fail.
But the life of a tall, gangly, self-made Springfield
lawyer tells us that a different future is possible.
He tells us that there is power in words.
He tells us that there is power in conviction.
That beneath all the differences of race and region,
faith and station, we are one people.
He tells us that there is power in hope.
As Lincoln organized the forces arrayed against
slavery, he was heard to say: "Of strange, discordant, and
even hostile elements, we gathered from the four winds, and formed
and fought to battle through."
That is our purpose here today.
why I'm in this race.
just to hold an office, but to gather with you to transform a nation.
I want to win that next battle - for justice and
I want to win that next battle - for better schools,
and better jobs, and health care for all.
I want us to take up the unfinished business of
perfecting our union, and building a better America.
And if you will join me in this improbable quest,
if you feel destiny calling, and see as I see, a future of endless
possibility stretching before us; if you sense, as I sense, that
the time is now to shake off our slumber, and slough off our fear,
and make good on the debt we owe past and future generations, then
I'm ready to take up the cause, and march with you, and work with
you. Together, starting today, let us finish the work that needs
to be done, and usher in a new birth of freedom on this Earth.