AP Annual Luncheon
April 14, 2008
Editor’s note: The week before this speech, Obama was
caught in an uncharacteristic moment of loose language. Referring
to working-class voters in old industrial towns impacted by job
losses, the presidential hopeful said: "They get bitter,
they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren't
like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment,
as a way to explain their frustrations."
afternoon. I know I kept a lot of you guys busy this weekend with
the comments I made last week. Some of you might even be a little
bitter about that.
I said yesterday, I regret some of the words I chose, partly because
the way that these remarks have been interpreted have offended some
people and partly because they have served as one more distraction
from the critical debate that we must have in this election season.
a person of deep faith, and my religion has sustained me through
a lot in my life. I even gave a speech on faith before I ever started
running for President where I said that Democrats, "make a
mistake when we fail to acknowledge the power of faith in people's
lives." I also represent a state with a large number of hunters
and sportsmen, and I understand how important these traditions are
to families in Illinois and all across America. And, contrary to
what my poor word choices may have implied or my opponents have
suggested, I've never believed that these traditions or people's
faith has anything to do with how much money they have.
I will never walk away from the larger point that I was trying to
make. For the last several decades, people in small towns and cities
and rural areas all across this country have seen globalization
change the rules of the game on them. When I began my career as
an organizer on the South Side of Chicago, I saw what happens when
the local steel mill shuts its doors and moves overseas. You don't
just lose the jobs in the mill, you start losing jobs and businesses
throughout the community. The streets are emptier. The schools suffer.
it during my campaign for the Senate in Illinois when I'd talk to
union guys who had worked at the local Maytag plant for twenty,
thirty years before being laid off at fifty-five years old when
it picked up and moved to Mexico; and they had no idea what they're
going to do without the paycheck or the pension that they counted
on. One man didn't even know if he'd be able to afford the liver
transplant his son needed now that his health care was gone.
heard these stories almost every day during this campaign, whether
it was in Iowa or Ohio or Pennsylvania. And the people I've met
have also told me that every year, in every election, politicians
come to their towns, and they tell them what they want to hear,
and they make big promises, and then they go back to Washington
when the campaign's over, and nothing changes. There's no plan to
address the downside of globalization. We don't do anything about
the skyrocketing cost of health care or college or those disappearing
pensions. Instead of fighting to replace jobs that aren't coming
back, Washington ends up fighting over the latest distraction of
after years and years and years of this, a lot of people in this
country have become cynical about what government can do to improve
their lives. They are angry and frustrated with their leaders for
not listening to them; for not fighting for them; for not always
telling them the truth. And yes, they are bitter about that.
Senator McCain and the Republicans in Washington are already looking
ahead to the fall and have decided that they plan on using these
comments to argue that I'm out of touch with what's going on in
the lives of working Americans. I don't blame them for this -- that's
the nature of our political culture, and if I had to carry the banner
for eight years of George Bush's failures, I'd be looking for something
else to talk about too.
I will say this. If John McCain wants to turn this election into
a contest about which party is out of touch with the struggles and
the hopes of working America, that's a debate I'm happy to have.
In fact, I think that's a debate we need to have. Because I believe
that the real insult to the millions of hard-working Americans out
there would be a continuation of the economic agenda that has dominated
Washington for far too long.
have made a mistake last week in the words that I chose, but the
other party has made a much more damaging mistake in the failed
policies they've chosen and the bankrupt philosophy they've embraced
for the last three decades.
a philosophy that says there's no role for government in making
the global economy work for working Americas; that we have to just
sit back watch those factories close and those jobs disappear; that
there's nothing we can do or should do about workers without health
care, or children in crumbling schools, or families who are losing
their homes, and so we should just hand out a few tax breaks and
wish everyone the best of luck.
Reagan called this trickle-down economics. George Bush called it
the Ownership Society. But what it really means is that you're on
your own. If your premiums or your tuition is rising faster than
you can afford, you're on your own. If you're that Maytag worker
who just lost his pension, tough luck. If you're a child born into
poverty, you'll just have to pull yourself up by your own bootstraps.
philosophy isn't just out-of-touch - it's put our economy out-of-whack.
Years of pain on Main Street have finally trickled up to Wall Street
and sent us hurtling toward recession, reminding us that we're all
connected - that we can't prosper as a nation where a few people
are doing well and everyone else is struggling.
McCain is an American hero and a worthy opponent, but he's proven
time and time again that he just doesn't understand this. It took
him three tries in seven days just to figure out that the home foreclosure
crisis was an actual problem. He's had a front row seat to the last
eight years of disastrous policies that have widened the income
gap and saddled our children with debt, and now he's promising four
more years of the very same thing.
promising to make permanent the Bush tax breaks for the wealthiest
few who didn't need them and didn't ask for them - tax breaks that
are so irresponsible that John McCain himself once said they offended
promising four more years of trade deals that don't have a single
safeguard for American workers - that don't help American workers
compete and win in a global economy.
promising four more years of an Administration that will push for
the privatization of Social Security - a plan that would gamble
away people's retirement on the stock market; a plan that was already
rejected by Democrats and Republicans under George Bush.
promising four more years of policies that won't guarantee health
insurance for working Americans; that won't bring down the rising
cost of college tuition; that won't do a thing for the Americans
who are living in those communities where the jobs have left and
the factories have shut their doors.
yet, despite all this, the other side is still betting that the
American people won't notice that John McCain is running for George
Bush's third term. They think that they'll forget about all that's
happened in the last eight years; that they'll be tricked into believing
that it's either me or our party is the one that's out of touch
with what's going on in their lives.
I'm making a different bet. I'm betting on the American people.
men and women I've met in small towns and big cities across this
country see this election as a defining moment in our history. They
understand what's at stake here because they're living it every
day. And they are tired of being distracted by fake controversies.
They are fed up with politicians trying to divide us for their own
political gain. And I believe they'll see through the tactics that
are used every year, in every election, to appeal to our fears,
or our biases, or our differences - because they've never wanted
or needed change as badly as they do now.
people I've met during this campaign know that government cannot
solve all of our problems, and they don't expect it to. They don't
want our tax dollars wasted on programs that don't work or perks
for special interests who don't work for us. They understand that
we cannot stop every job from going overseas or build a wall around
our economy, and they know that we shouldn't.
they believe it's finally time that we make health care affordable
and available for every single American; that we bring down costs
for workers and for businesses; that we cut premiums, and stop insurance
companies from denying people care or coverage who need it most.
believe it's time we provided real relief to the victims of this
housing crisis; that we help families refinance their mortgage so
they can stay in their homes; that we start giving tax relief to
the people who actually need it - middle-class families, and seniors,
and struggling homeowners.
believe that we can and should make the global economy work for
working Americans; that we might not be able to stop every job from
going overseas, but we certainly can stop giving tax breaks to companies
who send them their and start giving tax breaks to companies who
create good jobs right here in America. We can invest in the types
of renewable energy that won't just reduce our dependence on oil
and save our planet, but create up to five million new jobs that
can't be outsourced.
believe we can train our workers for those new jobs, and keep the
most productive workforce the most competitive workforce in the
world if we fix our public education system by investing in what
works and finding out what doesn't; if we invest in early childhood
education and finally make college affordable for everyone who wants
to go; if we stop talking about how great our teachers are and start
rewarding them for their greatness.
believe that if you work your entire life, you deserve to retire
with dignity and respect, which means a pension you can count on,
and Social Security that's always there.
is what the people I've met believe about the country they love.
It doesn't matter if they're Democrats or Republicans; whether they're
from the smallest towns or the biggest cities; whether they hunt
or they don't; whether they go to church, or temple, or mosque,
or not. We may come from different places and have different stories,
but we share common hopes, and one very American dream.
is the dream I am running to help restore in this election. If I
get the chance, that is what I'll be talking about from now until
November. That is the choice that I'll offer the American people
- four more years of what we had for the last eight, or fundamental
change in Washington.
may be bitter about their leaders and the state of our politics,
but beneath that, they are hopeful about what's possible in America.
That's why they leave their homes on their day off, or their jobs
after a long day of work, and travel - sometimes for miles, sometimes
in the bitter cold - to attend a rally or a town hall meeting held
by Senator Clinton, or Senator McCain, or myself. Because they believe
that we can change things. Because they believe in that dream.
something about that dream. I wasn't born into a lot of money. I
was raised by a single mother with the help my grandparents, who
grew up in small-town Kansas, went to school on the GI Bill, and
bought their home through an FHA loan. My mother had to use food
stamps at one point, but she still made sure that through scholarships,
I got a chance to go to some of the best schools around, which helped
me get into some of the best colleges around, which gave me loans
that Michelle and I just finished paying not all that many years
other words, my story is a quintessentially American story. It's
the same story that has made this country a beacon for the world-a
story of struggle and sacrifice on the part of my forebearers and
a story overcoming great odds. I carry that story with me each and
every day, It's why I wake up every day and do this, and it's why
I continue to hold such hope for the future of a country where the
dreams of its people have always been possible. Thank you.