Remarks of Senator John Edwards
New Hampshire Jefferson-Jackson Dinner
Manchester, New Hampshire
October 18, 2002
Remarks as prepared for delivery

Thank you all very much. It is good to be back in New Hampshire, and to look forward to a great Democratic victory on an election day that is now just 18 days away.

Just 18 days before Craig Benson learns he canít get New Hampshireís top job by costing hundreds of New Hampshireís people their jobs Ė and just 18 days before Mark Fernald becomes governor.

Just 18 days before Martha Fuller Clark and Katrina Swett help us take back the House.

Just 18 days before Jeanne Shaheen becomes the new senator from New Hampshire.

Just 18 days before we begin to reverse the recession, roll back the deficits, and restore the prosperity that has been steadily lost in the last two years.

Just 18 days before we have a majority to pass a real Patientsí Bill of Rights, a real prescription drug benefit for seniors, a majority that understands that you canít have higher standards in our schools with lower investment in education.

And 18 days from now, I also believe the people of New Hampshire and the people of America will send an unmistakable message to our opponents to keep their privatizing hands off our Social Security.

So there is more at stake on November 5th than a victory of party. This election is about making critical choices for America that go to the heart of who we are and what we want to be as a country. I hope we come together on Election Day and say this is a country that guards its ideals as passionately as we guard our security. Even as we stand up for security and human rights around the world, we have to stand up for opportunity and justice here at home.

Let me tell you what is not the issue here in this election: We are united as Americans in the war against terrorism.

Let me tell you what is the central issue of 2002: This great nation can do two things at once. We do not have to choose between our military power and our economic prosperity. We do not have to choose between making our world safer and making our country better.

On November 5th, we need to set a newer, higher standard for national leadership Ė one that says to this president: Ignoring your responsibilities at home because you are focused on our responsibilities abroad isnít good enough for America. Doing two things at once is part of the job description.

We need leadership with the strength to take on the tough fights and the courage to make the tough choices. We need to challenge ourselves; as a party and a country, we need to match what is best in our history and reach for what is best in our future. We need leadership with the vision of Franklin Roosevelt, who summoned America to stand for freedom around the world despite a wave of isolationism here at home.

We need leadership with the courage of John Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson, who fought for civil rights and voting rights even when they knew it would cost them dearly. We need leadership with the resolve of Bill Clinton, who made the hard decisions in 1993 to tackle a deficit problem that no one thought could be solved and put this country back on the road to prosperity.

We need leadership for the real America. Thatís where I come from. And thatís where you all come from. We come from the place where parents have no idea how theyíre ever going to afford to send their three-year-old twins to college. We come from the place where people worry about how theyíre going to pay the bills if their mother gets sick. We come from the place where people cannot understand how 30 years of retirement savings could be wiped out in a matter of months.

President Bush and his administration come from a different place; they donít see the world the same way. They donít even see the problem, let alone try to solve it.

Just as soon as a Democratic president eliminated the deficits we inherited from two Republican presidents, another Republican comes along and brings them right back. Now I know what they mean when they talk fuzzy math in the last campaign.

Let me give you some real math. Since this president took office, the $5 trillion federal surplus has vanished. Retirement savings have lost more than $400 billion. The stock market has lost $4.5 trillion Ė the biggest stock market plummet since Herbert Hoover. Health care costs are skyrocketing. And amid all this, economic leadership from the White House is nowhere to be found.

This is America, Mr. President, where we are supposed to defend the country and defend the economy at the same time.

We need to fight for the people weíve always fought for. We need to fight for a little boy named Ethan Bedrick. When I was a lawyer, my law firm represented Ethan, a little boy who had cerebral palsy. He needed day-to-day physical therapy.

Every one of his doctors said he needed physical therapy in order to have any chance for freedom of movement as he grew older. Everybody agreed. Everybody except some bureaucrat, sitting behind a desk somewhere, working for an insurance company. Heíd never seen Ethan, but he said weíre not going to pay for it.

It is wrong in America for families to pay insurance premiums month after month, year after year, and be denied the health care they need.

Senator McCain, Senator Kennedy and I wrote a Patientsí Bill of Rights, and we got it through the Senate. Now we need to make it the law of the land. But this administration and the Republicans like John Sununu have fought us every step of the way. Letís get John Sununu out of the way on Nov 5th. Letís have leaders like Jeanne Shaheen with the strength to take on the insurance companies, HMOs and the Washington lobbyists. Because giving doctors and patients, not HMO accountants, the power to make health care decisions is the right thing to do.

We need leadership with the courage to say it is wrong in America to have 40 million people Ė including 10 million of our children Ė without health insurance. Letís move forward to fulfill that ideal by fully funding the childrenís health insurance program, covering the parents of those children and allowing people over 55 who donít have health insurance to buy into Medicare. We need leadership with the strength to demand that a single mother in America should never have to take her sick child to the emergency room in the middle of the night and beg for medical care. And we canít rest until that mother can rest secure that her family has heath coverage.

We need leadership with the strength to take on the big pharmaceutical companies and pass a prescription drug benefit for all seniors under Medicare.

And in order to do that for all our families we have to bring down the cost of prescription drugs. It is time to shut down the legal loopholes that the drug companies use to block affordable drugs and protect their massive profits. The drug companies are addicted to patent abuse, and weíve got to make them break the habit.

Jeanne Shaheen has lead the way from the states on this issue. I helped write the bill that passed the Senate to close these loopholes for the entire country. John Sununu and others have blocked in the House. You send me Jean Shaheen as a partner, and we will end these legal abuses and bring down the cost of prescription drugs for every American.

We all know that education is the key to opportunity, and we have a responsibility to make that opportunity available to every young American.

Iím sure you have all heard the president bragging about last yearís education bill. He loves to talk about No Child Left Behind. The problem is Ė this year, his education budget leaves millions of children behind.

His budget effectively flat-lines education spending for the first time in a decade.

Yes, we need accountability and responsibility in our classrooms. But we need accountability and responsibility in the White House as well as the school house. We need a qualified, well-paid teacher in every classroom, smaller schools, smaller class sizes, universal after-school, and first-rate early childhood education for every child in America, and the federal government should relieve the burden on New Hampshire schools by meeting its obligation to fully fund special education.

We're coming up on the fiftieth anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education. We know how far we've come, but we still have a long way to go. For a lot of kids in America today, we still have two school systems, and we need leadership with the courage to say they are still separate and unequal. We've got kids who go to the best schools in the world and some kids Ė just as smart, with just as much potential Ė who go to some of the worst schools in the world. It was wrong in 1952 and it is wrong in 2002.

We will reach our goal in public education when we can say: no matter where you live, no matter who your family is, no matter what the color of your skin, and no matter what language you speak, your child will receive as good an education as the daughters and sons of the richest parents in America.

But we cannot provide a prescription drug benefit for seniors or improve education or invest in a stronger society unless we manage our government in a fiscally responsible way. And that requires leadership with the courage to say: We have to put off the tax cut that President Bush gave to the wealthiest one percent of Americans. Iím one of three senators who have called for this, but itís the right thing to do.

Whether or not we could afford the tax cut when it was originally passed, it has now become clear that it is completely unsustainable. Weíve had a recession, weíve been attacked on our own soil, and weíre fighting a war on terrorism. Iím in favor of making the middle-class tax cuts permanent, because most Americans need more help in these tough times. And in the short run, I have proposed giving every American family a $500 tax credit to help pay their rising heating bill this winter. But with our security at risk and our economy in real trouble, giving money we donít have to the very fortunate who donít need it is wrong for the economy and wrong for America.

We also have to put our economy back in line with our values. It is wrong for executives to get rich while their shareholders go broke. It is wrong for CEO pay to explode from 42 times an average workerís salary in 1980 to 400 times an average workerís salary last year. We should enact a simple right-to-know rule for CEO pay. Every board of directors should write a clear description of what they pay the CEO and explain why it's justified compared to the average worker. The Chicago Bulls never had any trouble convincing their fans that Michael Jordan was worth every penny. A good CEO shouldn't have trouble either.

And it is right to protect our environment. You know, Elizabeth and I have two young children. Emma Claire is four and Jack is two. I think of this great country and its natural gifts and I wonder what they will inherit. Will it still be called"America the Beautiful?" And I worry today about the water they drink and the air they breathe.

New Hampshire and North Carolina both have some of the most beautiful mountains in America, but we also both have terrible smog that blows in from outside our states. We need national protection, but this administration is brazenly rolling back that protection in a giveaway to big energy and big oil. I am doing everything I can to stop them on the floor of the Senate, but I need help from someone like Jeanne Shaheen. We need leaders who will protect the health of our people, not the profits of polluters.

Finally, I want to say something about Americaís role in the world. We are the most powerful military, economic, and technological nation in history. And that gives us a special responsibility to lead in a way that promotes democracy, freedom, and human rights. This president came into office saying he wanted a foreign policy that had "purpose without arrogance." Instead heís given us arrogance without purpose. We have to lead by working with our allies -- and the entire international community -- in a way that preserves the legitimacy of our actions, enhances international consensus, and strengthens our global leadership.

I understand that there are people here, including friends of mine, who donít agree with my vote in favor of the Iraq Resolution that has passed the Senate. I respect the honest differences on this issue, and we all should. Let me tell you why voted the way I did. I studied this issue for months as a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee. And let me tell you, Saddam Hussein has been obsessed with getting chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons for more than 20 years. He has chemical and biological weapons now, and he has used them Ė even on his own people Ė in the past. He started a war. Every day, he gets closer to nuclear weapons. I simply believe we cannot allow this to happen.

Over the last few months Iíve been very involved with the congressional investigation into whether we could have prevented the 9/11 attacks. I donít ever want us to have to ask whether we could have prevented Saddam from getting his hands on nuclear weapons. In the end and in my heart, I believe Saddamís arsenal of mass distraction is a grave threat to us and our allies, and eliminating that threat is the right thing to do.

But we must never forget that what we fight for above all are the basic values of freedom and justice. It is wrong to let John Ashcroft trample all over the Constitution and take away our civil liberties in the name of the war on terrorism. He is saying you can lock someone up, label him an enemy combatant, deny him the right to see a lawyer, deny him the right to say he's innocent in front of a judge, and keep him in jail for as long as they want. Thatís wrong. This is America, where we are strong and free at the same time.

Thereís one other thing I want to say about creating opportunity for all our people. I am proud that the South is the birthplace of the civil rights movement. A couple of years ago, I attended a ceremony honoring four young African American men who, over forty years ago, walked into a Woolworth luncheon counter in Greensboro, North Carolina, fifty miles from where I grew up.

They walked in with courage and dignity, sat down, and asked to be served. When they sat down, they stood up. They stood up for all African Americans, for all Southerners and for all Americans, and they helped change our country. I was a 10-year-old boy when Martin Luther King gave his famous speech on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. It was a call to conscience that changed our history, and Ií ll never forget it. He said that he dreamed of the day when his children would be judged not by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character. I am no longer a boy. Iím 49 years old, and the time has come.

We need leadership with the courage to stand up against discrimination at the voting booth, to stand up against the appointment of judges who will take away fundamental rights, to stand up for all of those who still suffer the consequences of discrimination.

We must stand unequivocally and proudly for a womanís right to choose. We must stand up for a womanís right to earn the same dollar as a man for the same work, not 73 cents and dropping like today. And we must stand against hate crimes of any kind Ė whether they are based on race or sexual orientation.

I want an America that truly belongs to all Americans. The long march of our history to "liberty and justice for all" is not finished. So all of us, especially those of us from the South need to send a clear, unmistakable signal: We will not follow on civil rights. We will not follow on equal rights. We will lead, and we will not let any administration or any Supreme Court nominee turn back the clock or stand in our way.

Iím glad to see so many young people in this room tonight. No one is more important to the future of our party or our country. We need your energy, your enthusiasm, and your ideas. You know, you donít have to be an adult to be a patriot. There are so many young Americans who want to serve, and we should honor and encourage that aspiration.

My wife Elizabeth and I started a computer center for high school kids in Raleigh, North Carolina. It gives hundreds of young people who never had access to computers a chance to explore a whole new world of imagination and information. And the great part about it is that itís staffed by other high school students who are volunteer tutors.

In North Carolina, we already have a few high schools that require every student to fulfill a community service requirement for graduation, and I think thatís something we should do all across America.

Letís help every state do it so we can say to the young people of this country: You make America stronger, you make your life richer, and you make your own future brighter when you give something of yourselves to your community.

As some of you know, I grew up in a place that was like that Ė a small town in North Carolina called Robbins. My dad worked in a cotton mill, and my momís last job was working for the post office. I was lucky to be the first in my family to go to college, and then to law school. I spent 20 years as a lawyer fighting for people just like those who worked in that mill with my dad.

Those people, and people in New Hampshire Ė everywhere in the real America Ė don't care about Republicans or Democrats or the politics of Washington, D.C. They don't ask much from government, but what they ask for matters. They want their leaders to honor their values, have the courage of their convictions, keep their country safe and strong, be smart with their money, and give them a chance to make the most of their future.

Thatís the basic promise of what people call the American Dream Ė if you work hard and play by the rules, America will give you the opportunity to reach higher, to build a better future.

The president loves to say since 9/11 that the American spirit has never been stronger.

Now we want to be able to say the same thing about the American Dream.

Thatís up to us. The Democratic Party has always been at its best Ė from Franklin Roosevelt to John Kennedy to Bill Clinton Ė when we have had the vision to see where greatness lies ahead for America, and the courage to lead our country there.

This is the time for that kind of vision. This is the time for that kind of courage.

Thatís what this election is about.

Mark Fernald, Martha Fuller Clark, Katrina Swett, and Jeanne Shaheen.

Voices for the real America.

Voices for a new America.

Thank you, God bless you, and God bless America.