The American Promise
Acceptance Speech at the Democratic Convention
Mile High Stadium, Denver Colorado
August 28, 2008
Chairman Dean and my great friend Dick Durbin; and to all my fellow
citizens of this great nation;
profound gratitude and great humility, I accept your nomination
for the presidency of the United States.
me express my thanks to the historic slate of candidates who accompanied
me on this journey, and especially the one who traveled the farthest
- a champion for working Americans and an inspiration to my daughters
and to yours -- Hillary Rodham Clinton. To President Clinton, who
last night made the case for change as only he can make it; to Ted
Kennedy, who embodies the spirit of service; and to the next Vice
President of the United States, Joe Biden, I thank you. I am grateful
to finish this journey with one of the finest statesmen of our time,
a man at ease with everyone from world leaders to the conductors
on the Amtrak train he still takes home every night.
the love of my life, our next First Lady, Michelle Obama, and to
Sasha and Malia - I love you so much, and I'm so proud of all of
years ago, I stood before you and told you my story - of the brief
union between a young man from Kenya and a young woman from Kansas
who weren't well-off or well-known, but shared a belief that in
America, their son could achieve whatever he put his mind to.
is that promise that has always set this country apart - that through
hard work and sacrifice, each of us can pursue our individual dreams
but still come together as one American family, to ensure that the
next generation can pursue their dreams as well.
why I stand here tonight. Because for two hundred and thirty two
years, at each moment when that promise was in jeopardy, ordinary
men and women - students and soldiers, farmers and teachers, nurses
and janitors -- found the courage to keep it alive.
meet at one of those defining moments - a moment when our nation
is at war, our economy is in turmoil, and the American promise has
been threatened once more.
more Americans are out of work and more are working harder for less.
More of you have lost your homes and even more are watching your
home values plummet. More of you have cars you can't afford to drive,
credit card bills you can't afford to pay, and tuition that's beyond
challenges are not all of government's making. But the failure to
respond is a direct result of a broken politics in Washington and
the failed policies of George W. Bush.
we are better than these last eight years. We are a better country
country is more decent than one where a woman in Ohio, on the brink
of retirement, finds herself one illness away from disaster after
a lifetime of hard work.
country is more generous than one where a man in Indiana has to
pack up the equipment he's worked on for twenty years and watch
it shipped off to China, and then chokes up as he explains how he
felt like a failure when he went home to tell his family the news.
are more compassionate than a government that lets veterans sleep
on our streets and families slide into poverty; that sits on its
hands while a major American city drowns before our eyes.
I say to the American people, to Democrats and Republicans and Independents
across this great land - enough! This moment - this election - is
our chance to keep, in the 21st century, the American promise alive.
Because next week, in Minnesota, the same party that brought you
two terms of George Bush and Dick Cheney will ask this country for
a third. And we are here because we love this country too much to
let the next four years look like the last eight. On November 4th,
we must stand up and say: "Eight is enough."
let there be no doubt. The Republican nominee, John McCain, has
worn the uniform of our country with bravery and distinction, and
for that we owe him our gratitude and respect. And next week, we'll
also hear about those occasions when he's broken with his party
as evidence that he can deliver the change that we need.
the record's clear: John McCain has voted with George Bush ninety
percent of the time. Senator McCain likes to talk about judgment,
but really, what does it say about your judgment when you think
George Bush has been right more than ninety percent of the time?
I don't know about you, but I'm not ready to take a ten percent
chance on change.
truth is, on issue after issue that would make a difference in your
lives - on health care and education and the economy - Senator McCain
has been anything but independent. He said that our economy has
made "great progress" under this President. He said that
the fundamentals of the economy are strong. And when one of his
chief advisors - the man who wrote his economic plan - was talking
about the anxiety Americans are feeling, he said that we were just
suffering from a "mental recession," and that we've become,
and I quote, "a nation of whiners."
of whiners? Tell that to the proud auto workers at a Michigan plant
who, after they found out it was closing, kept showing up every
day and working as hard as ever, because they knew there were people
who counted on the brakes that they made. Tell that to the military
families who shoulder their burdens silently as they watch their
loved ones leave for their third or fourth or fifth tour of duty.
These are not whiners. They work hard and give back and keep going
without complaint. These are the Americans that I know.
I don't believe that Senator McCain doesn't care what's going on
in the lives of Americans. I just think he doesn't know. Why else
would he define middle-class as someone making under five million
dollars a year? How else could he propose hundreds of billions in
tax breaks for big corporations and oil companies but not one penny
of tax relief to more than one hundred million Americans? How else
could he offer a health care plan that would actually tax people's
benefits, or an education plan that would do nothing to help families
pay for college, or a plan that would privatize Social Security
and gamble your retirement?
not because John McCain doesn't care. It's because John McCain doesn't
over two decades, he's subscribed to that old, discredited Republican
philosophy - give more and more to those with the most and hope
that prosperity trickles down to everyone else. In Washington, they
call this the Ownership Society, but what it really means is - you're
on your own. Out of work? Tough luck. No health care? The market
will fix it. Born into poverty? Pull yourself up by your own bootstraps
- even if you don't have boots. You're on your own.
it's time for them to own their failure. It's time for us to change
see, we Democrats have a very different measure of what constitutes
progress in this country.
measure progress by how many people can find a job that pays the
mortgage; whether you can put a little extra money away at the end
of each month so you can someday watch your child receive her college
diploma. We measure progress in the 23 million new jobs that were
created when Bill Clinton was President - when the average American
family saw its income go up $7,500 instead of down $2,000 like it
has under George Bush.
measure the strength of our economy not by the number of billionaires
we have or the profits of the Fortune 500, but by whether someone
with a good idea can take a risk and start a new business, or whether
the waitress who lives on tips can take a day off to look after
a sick kid without losing her job - an economy that honors the dignity
fundamentals we use to measure economic strength are whether we
are living up to that fundamental promise that has made this country
great - a promise that is the only reason I am standing here tonight.
in the faces of those young veterans who come back from Iraq and
Afghanistan, I see my grandfather, who signed up after Pearl Harbor,
marched in Patton's Army, and was rewarded by a grateful nation
with the chance to go to college on the GI Bill.
the face of that young student who sleeps just three hours before
working the night shift, I think about my mom, who raised my sister
and me on her own while she worked and earned her degree; who once
turned to food stamps but was still able to send us to the best
schools in the country with the help of student loans and scholarships.
I listen to another worker tell me that his factory has shut down,
I remember all those men and women on the South Side of Chicago
who I stood by and fought for two decades ago after the local steel
when I hear a woman talk about the difficulties of starting her
own business, I think about my grandmother, who worked her way up
from the secretarial pool to middle-management, despite years of
being passed over for promotions because she was a woman. She's
the one who taught me about hard work. She's the one who put off
buying a new car or a new dress for herself so that I could have
a better life. She poured everything she had into me. And although
she can no longer travel, I know that she's watching tonight, and
that tonight is her night as well.
know what kind of lives John McCain thinks that celebrities lead,
but this has been mine. These are my heroes. Theirs are the stories
that shaped me. And it is on their behalf that I intend to win this
election and keep our promise alive as President of the United States.
is that promise?
a promise that says each of us has the freedom to make of our own
lives what we will, but that we also have the obligation to treat
each other with dignity and respect.
a promise that says the market should reward drive and innovation
and generate growth, but that businesses should live up to their
responsibilities to create American jobs, look out for American
workers, and play by the rules of the road.
is a promise that says government cannot solve all our problems,
but what it should do is that which we cannot do for ourselves -
protect us from harm and provide every child a decent education;
keep our water clean and our toys safe; invest in new schools and
new roads and new science and technology.
government should work for us, not against us. It should help us,
not hurt us. It should ensure opportunity not just for those with
the most money and influence, but for every American who's willing
the promise of America - the idea that we are responsible for ourselves,
but that we also rise or fall as one nation; the fundamental belief
that I am my brother's keeper; I am my sister's keeper.
the promise we need to keep. That's the change we need right now.
So let me spell out exactly what that change would mean if I am
means a tax code that doesn't reward the lobbyists who wrote it,
but the American workers and small businesses who deserve it.
John McCain, I will stop giving tax breaks to corporations that
ship jobs overseas, and I will start giving them to companies that
create good jobs right here in America.
eliminate capital gains taxes for the small businesses and the start-ups
that will create the high-wage, high-tech jobs of tomorrow.
cut taxes - cut taxes - for 95% of all working families. Because
in an economy like this, the last thing we should do is raise taxes
on the middle-class.
for the sake of our economy, our security, and the future of our
planet, I will set a clear goal as President: in ten years, we will
finally end our dependence on oil from the Middle East.
been talking about our oil addiction for the last thirty years,
and John McCain has been there for twenty-six of them. In that time,
he's said no to higher fuel-efficiency standards for cars, no to
investments in renewable energy, no to renewable fuels. And today,
we import triple the amount of oil as the day that Senator McCain
is the time to end this addiction, and to understand that drilling
is a stop-gap measure, not a long-term solution. Not even close.
President, I will tap our natural gas reserves, invest in clean
coal technology, and find ways to safely harness nuclear power.
I'll help our auto companies re-tool, so that the fuel-efficient
cars of the future are built right here in America. I'll make it
easier for the American people to afford these new cars. And I'll
invest 150 billion dollars over the next decade in affordable, renewable
sources of energy - wind power and solar power and the next generation
of biofuels; an investment that will lead to new industries and
five million new jobs that pay well and can't ever be outsourced.
now is not the time for small plans.
is the time to finally meet our moral obligation to provide every
child a world-class education, because it will take nothing less
to compete in the global economy. Michelle and I are only here tonight
because we were given a chance at an education. And I will not settle
for an America where some kids don't have that chance. I'll invest
in early childhood education. I'll recruit an army of new teachers,
and pay them higher salaries and give them more support. And in
exchange, I'll ask for higher standards and more accountability.
And we will keep our promise to every young American - if you commit
to serving your community or your country, we will make sure you
can afford a college education.
is the time to finally keep the promise of affordable, accessible
health care for every single American. If you have health care,
my plan will lower your premiums. If you don't, you'll be able to
get the same kind of coverage that members of Congress give themselves.
And as someone who watched my mother argue with insurance companies
while she lay in bed dying of cancer, I will make certain those
companies stop discriminating against those who are sick and need
care the most.
is the time to help families with paid sick days and better family
leave, because nobody in America should have to choose between keeping
their jobs and caring for a sick child or ailing parent.
is the time to change our bankruptcy laws, so that your pensions
are protected ahead of CEO bonuses; and the time to protect Social
Security for future generations.
now is the time to keep the promise of equal pay for an equal day's
work, because I want my daughters to have exactly the same opportunities
as your sons.
many of these plans will cost money, which is why I've laid out
how I'll pay for every dime - by closing corporate loopholes and
tax havens that don't help America grow. But I will also go through
the federal budget, line by line, eliminating programs that no longer
work and making the ones we do need work better and cost less -
because we cannot meet twenty-first century challenges with a twentieth
Democrats, we must also admit that fulfilling America's promise
will require more than just money. It will require a renewed sense
of responsibility from each of us to recover what John F. Kennedy
called our "intellectual and moral strength." Yes, government
must lead on energy independence, but each of us must do our part
to make our homes and businesses more efficient. Yes, we must provide
more ladders to success for young men who fall into lives of crime
and despair. But we must also admit that programs alone can't replace
parents; that government can't turn off the television and make
a child do her homework; that fathers must take more responsibility
for providing the love and guidance their children need.
responsibility and mutual responsibility - that's the essence of
just as we keep our keep our promise to the next generation here
at home, so must we keep America's promise abroad. If John McCain
wants to have a debate about who has the temperament, and judgment,
to serve as the next Commander-in-Chief, that's a debate I'm ready
while Senator McCain was turning his sights to Iraq just days after
9/11, I stood up and opposed this war, knowing that it would distract
us from the real threats we face. When John McCain said we could
just "muddle through" in Afghanistan, I argued for more
resources and more troops to finish the fight against the terrorists
who actually attacked us on 9/11, and made clear that we must take
out Osama bin Laden and his lieutenants if we have them in our sights.
John McCain likes to say that he'll follow bin Laden to the Gates
of Hell - but he won't even go to the cave where he lives.
today, as my call for a time frame to remove our troops from Iraq
has been echoed by the Iraqi government and even the Bush Administration,
even after we learned that Iraq has a $79 billion surplus while
we're wallowing in deficits, John McCain stands alone in his stubborn
refusal to end a misguided war.
not the judgment we need. That won't keep America safe. We need
a President who can face the threats of the future, not keep grasping
at the ideas of the past.
don't defeat a terrorist network that operates in eighty countries
by occupying Iraq. You don't protect Israel and deter Iran just
by talking tough in Washington. You can't truly stand up for Georgia
when you've strained our oldest alliances. If John McCain wants
to follow George Bush with more tough talk and bad strategy, that
is his choice - but it is not the change we need.
are the party of Roosevelt. We are the party of Kennedy. So don't
tell me that Democrats won't defend this country. Don't tell me
that Democrats won't keep us safe. The Bush-McCain foreign policy
has squandered the legacy that generations of Americans -- Democrats
and Republicans - have built, and we are here to restore that legacy.
Commander-in-Chief, I will never hesitate to defend this nation,
but I will only send our troops into harm's way with a clear mission
and a sacred commitment to give them the equipment they need in
battle and the care and benefits they deserve when they come home.
end this war in Iraq responsibly, and finish the fight against al
Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan. I will rebuild our military
to meet future conflicts. But I will also renew the tough, direct
diplomacy that can prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons and
curb Russian aggression. I will build new partnerships to defeat
the threats of the 21st century: terrorism and nuclear proliferation;
poverty and genocide; climate change and disease. And I will restore
our moral standing, so that America is once again that last, best
hope for all who are called to the cause of freedom, who long for
lives of peace, and who yearn for a better future.
are the policies I will pursue. And in the weeks ahead, I look forward
to debating them with John McCain.
what I will not do is suggest that the Senator takes his positions
for political purposes. Because one of the things that we have to
change in our politics is the idea that people cannot disagree without
challenging each other's character and patriotism.
times are too serious, the stakes are too high for this same partisan
playbook. So let us agree that patriotism has no party. I love this
country, and so do you, and so does John McCain. The men and women
who serve in our battlefields may be Democrats and Republicans and
Independents, but they have fought together and bled together and
some died together under the same proud flag. They have not served
a Red America or a Blue America - they have served the United States
I've got news for you, John McCain. We all put our country first.
our work will not be easy. The challenges we face require tough
choices, and Democrats as well as Republicans will need to cast
off the worn-out ideas and politics of the past. For part of what
has been lost these past eight years can't just be measured by lost
wages or bigger trade deficits. What has also been lost is our sense
of common purpose - our sense of higher purpose. And that's what
we have to restore.
may not agree on abortion, but surely we can agree on reducing the
number of unwanted pregnancies in this country. The reality of gun
ownership may be different for hunters in rural Ohio than for those
plagued by gang-violence in Cleveland, but don't tell me we can't
uphold the Second Amendment while keeping AK-47s out of the hands
of criminals. I know there are differences on same-sex marriage,
but surely we can agree that our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters
deserve to visit the person they love in the hospital and to live
lives free of discrimination. Passions fly on immigration, but I
don't know anyone who benefits when a mother is separated from her
infant child or an employer undercuts American wages by hiring illegal
workers. This too is part of America's promise - the promise of
a democracy where we can find the strength and grace to bridge divides
and unite in common effort.
there are those who dismiss such beliefs as happy talk. They claim
that our insistence on something larger, something firmer and more
honest in our public life is just a Trojan Horse for higher taxes
and the abandonment of traditional values. And that's to be expected.
Because if you don't have any fresh ideas, then you use stale tactics
to scare the voters. If you don't have a record to run on, then
you paint your opponent as someone people should run from.
make a big election about small things.
you know what - it's worked before. Because it feeds into the cynicism
we all have about government. When Washington doesn't work, all
its promises seem empty. If your hopes have been dashed again and
again, then it's best to stop hoping, and settle for what you already
it. I realize that I am not the likeliest candidate for this office.
I don't fit the typical pedigree, and I haven't spent my career
in the halls of Washington.
I stand before you tonight because all across America something
is stirring. What the nay-sayers don't understand is that this election
has never been about me. It's been about you.
eighteen long months, you have stood up, one by one, and said enough
to the politics of the past. You understand that in this election,
the greatest risk we can take is to try the same old politics with
the same old players and expect a different result. You have shown
what history teaches us - that at defining moments like this one,
the change we need doesn't come from Washington. Change comes to
Washington. Change happens because the American people demand it
- because they rise up and insist on new ideas and new leadership,
a new politics for a new time.
this is one of those moments.
that as hard as it will be, the change we need is coming. Because
I've seen it. Because I've lived it. I've seen it in Illinois, when
we provided health care to more children and moved more families
from welfare to work. I've seen it in Washington, when we worked
across party lines to open up government and hold lobbyists more
accountable, to give better care for our veterans and keep nuclear
weapons out of terrorist hands.
I've seen it in this campaign. In the young people who voted for
the first time, and in those who got involved again after a very
long time. In the Republicans who never thought they'd pick up a
Democratic ballot, but did. I've seen it in the workers who would
rather cut their hours back a day than see their friends lose their
jobs, in the soldiers who re-enlist after losing a limb, in the
good neighbors who take a stranger in when a hurricane strikes and
the floodwaters rise.
country of ours has more wealth than any nation, but that's not
what makes us rich. We have the most powerful military on Earth,
but that's not what makes us strong. Our universities and our culture
are the envy of the world, but that's not what keeps the world coming
to our shores.
it is that American spirit - that American promise - that pushes
us forward even when the path is uncertain; that binds us together
in spite of our differences; that makes us fix our eye not on what
is seen, but what is unseen, that better place around the bend.
promise is our greatest inheritance. It's a promise I make to my
daughters when I tuck them in at night, and a promise that you make
to yours - a promise that has led immigrants to cross oceans and
pioneers to travel west; a promise that led workers to picket lines,
and women to reach for the ballot.
it is that promise that forty five years ago today, brought Americans
from every corner of this land to stand together on a Mall in Washington,
before Lincoln's Memorial, and hear a young preacher from Georgia
speak of his dream.
men and women who gathered there could've heard many things. They
could've heard words of anger and discord. They could've been told
to succumb to the fear and frustration of so many dreams deferred.
what the people heard instead - people of every creed and color,
from every walk of life - is that in America, our destiny is inextricably
linked. That together, our dreams can be one.
cannot walk alone," the preacher cried. "And as we walk,
we must make the pledge that we shall always march ahead. We cannot
we cannot turn back. Not with so much work to be done. Not with
so many children to educate, and so many veterans to care for. Not
with an economy to fix and cities to rebuild and farms to save.
Not with so many families to protect and so many lives to mend.
America, we cannot turn back. We cannot walk alone. At this moment,
in this election, we must pledge once more to march into the future.
Let us keep that promise - that American promise - and in the words
of Scripture hold firmly, without wavering, to the hope that we
you, and God Bless the United States of America.