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 going to 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 of governance.
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 can afford.
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 win.
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.
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 on history.
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.
Barack Obama June 14, 2006 at the Take Back America Conference