For Everything There Is a Season...

On December 13th of 2000, when I offered my concession in the Presidential race I said that I would “spend time in Tennessee and mend some fences, literally and figuratively.”

Well, I have been trying hard for the past year to do just that. As many of you know, I have been teaching here in Tennessee at Fisk and at MTSU, and Tipper and I have recently completed our 10th Annual Family Re-union process in Nashville

I have also been driving around this great state. I have been meeting with friends, reconnecting with old ones and making some new ones. I have driven from one end of Tennessee to the other – from Bristol to Memphis and many places in between. I haven’t made it to all 95 counties yet, but I’m getting there.

And I have loved what I’ve seen.

After every meeting, I feel more optimistic about the future of our state and our country.

I want to make clear that I understand there’s a lot more work for me to do here -- more fences that need mending. But it’s work I am looking forward to, because – and I want say this as plainly as I can – I am committed, heart and soul, to the people of this great state.

With a few exceptions, I have refrained from speaking out on issues for over a year now.

The only times I have were twice late last year when I joined with all Americans in supporting President Bush’s efforts to strike back against the terrorists who attacked our country.

We all stand together in the war against terrorism – and we stand with the President and salute his resolve in the fight against terrorism.

And I know I speak for everyone in this room when I thank our party’s leadership for uniting so strongly behind the President. I am proud of the response of Democrats. Never has an opposition party been so supportive of a President in a time of war as the Democratic Party has been in this conflict. Senator Daschle, Congressman Gephardt, Senator Lieberman and so many Democrats have put country ahead of party, and all Americans are proud of them.

As we watched the horror of September 11th, we also saw what is best about country and our character. As buildings collapsed, the American spirit soared. This part of what I saw driving around Tennessee.

In this new time, it is right to stand with the President on the war.

Patriotism demands that when our national security is at risk, we come together and speak with one voice. As I said in that concession speech a year ago, at times like this, “This is America and we put country above party.”

While we are united on the war, there are other choices – choices where there are differences between the two parties. Real differences. Once again, it is time for the American people to look at the state of our country and decide the course we will take.

Some disagreed with my choice to withdraw from the policy debates for a time. But it was right for me and I would do it again. I thought it appropriate given the nature of the election.

However, we face now another opportunity in this great democracy this year for people to express their views and vote for candidates who will best represent them.

For everything there is a season. And tonight, as a new election season begins, I intend to rejoin the national debate.

Whether as a candidate or not, I don’t yet know. But as I said on December 13th, no matter where my future lies, I will fight for the principles I believe are crucial to our country’s future.

First of all, it is now clear that our nation’s economic policy is simply not working – especially for those who most depend on its success.

Most of you here know how I felt about last year’s tax cut and I don’t have to rehash that debate here. If, however, anyone is in the market for a never been used “lockbox” – see me afterwards.

Once again, after all the hard work that eliminated our deficits and built the strongest American economy in history, our economic house is no longer in order.

Not so long ago, our economy was strong – because we made the right decisions, decisions that reflected our values.  Whatever anyone wants to say, I believe Bill Clinton and I did a good job on the economy.

But now, the economy is back in recession, four trillion dollars in surpluses have disappeared in a single year and public investments in priorities like job training, school construction and health care are once again being slashed.

We need a government that lives within its means, invests in the American people and supports tax cuts that are fair and go to those who need them.

What we don’t need is a government whose budget is based on inaccurate assumptions, and whose priorities provide special favors for the few over the many.  If we go down that path, we will not be able to honor the promises we have made to our nation’s seniors nor invest in the future of our nation’s children.

I am especially concerned about what is being done to harm the environment of our communities and of our world. Protections against pollution are being weakened to allow more smog – even as the newest studies link air pollution more closely to the rising prevalence of asthma in America’s children.

Some of the most beautiful and pristine wilderness in Alaska is being threatened with harm from oil drilling. And our beloved United States – once the world’s leader in finding solutions to the ever growing threat of global warming – has now served notice that this government will no longer be a part of the world’s effort to avoid this unfolding catastrophe.

As the vast majority in our country has long known, one of the best ways to secure our future is to end our dangerous over dependence on outmoded technologies that consume vast quantities of Middle Eastern oil and turn it into pollution -- in the process making us highly vulnerable, both to environment and geo political threats. The simple fact is we need a massive strategic national effort to develop alternatives to fossil fuels, internal combustion engines, inefficient boilers – and to make wise use of conservation.

But whether the issue is economic policy or environmental policy – or policies affecting health care, Social Security or education – there is another battle that we first must win, before any progress is likely.

I said during the election that if I won, the first bill I would sign would be Campaign Finance Reform. Recent events have made it clear that this reform is needed more than ever.

I will say again tonight: We need campaign finance reform to stop the ever growing and alarming examples of money buying access and influence in Washington.

The facts are these: Overwhelmingly, the American people want campaign finance reform. The special interests don’t.

We all ought to be thankful for the 218 brave Members of the House who signed the discharge petition to bring campaign finance reform to the House Floor. And we should keep up the pressure to pass McCain-Feingold, Shays-Meehan and get it signed into law.

But we need to continue our focus and fight for campaign finance reform until the day it is signed into law.

If you care about these issues, if you care about the economy, if you care about passing campaign finance reform, if you care about the environment in which our children grow up in, I ask you to join me in fighting for the right Democratic candidates in these crucial elections in 2002.

That is why I am today forming “Leadership ’02,” to train young people in the skills of democracy and to help Democratic candidates in the elections this November.

We need a Democratic Governor here in Tennessee. And a Democratic Congressman in the 4th District.

Together, we will stand up for the American people.