Sen. Bob Graham
Des Moines Register "Soapbox"
Iowa State Fair
August 7, 2003

Thank you very much and thank you for the Des Moines Register giving all of the candidates an opportunity to meet with Iowans here at this wonderful state fair.  I have known about the Iowa State Fair for most of my life, but this is my first opportunity to see why it has such a wonderful reputation.  I'm particularly looking forward this afternoon to going to visit the 4-H Club barn because when I was a 4-H Clubber I used to show heifers -- Holsteins and Angus -- at the Florida State Fair.

If I could just share with you a family story, but first let me introduce my family.  This is my wonderful wife of 44 years Adele, and would all of the daughters and son-in-laws please raise your hand.  And we have 12 granchildren--how about stand up troops [voices "Twelve?  Twelve?"]  I mean 10, 10 1/2.  No premature announcements.

Friends, let me share with you a story which if it had come out differently we wouldn't have had this wonderful family.  When I was in the 10th grade in Miami High School, I had an English teacher whose name was Mrs. Furlong [phon.].  Mrs. Furlong was a very good English teacher; she motivated students, but I would say that you would have to describe Mrs. Furlong as being overweight, maybe even verging on being obese.  I at that time was raising an Angus heifer called Blackbird.

If you've been around an animal for a long time, you being to notice that there are certain human beings who have the same personality.  After I thought I knew Ms. Furlong well enough, I began to talk to her about Blackbird, and I told her about the wonderful qualities of this Angus heifer, and I said in fact, Mrs. Furlong, you remind me a lot of Blackbird.  Well I think she was thinking more of size than personality, and I will have to say that our relationship went very cold after that.

The clock goes forward about five years and I am dating this beautiful brunette and we have gotten to know each other well enough that she is inviting me to her home for Christmas dinner.  So I'm standing at the front door trying to be as friendly, make the best impression I can.  I look out the door and who's walking up the front sidewalk but Mrs. Furlong, and she hadn't changed very much from the time that I was in her class five years earlier.  I thought that was going to be the end of my romance, but Mrs. Furlong, she warmed up to me and that beautiful brunette is now the mother of our four daughters and the grandmother of our 10 grandchildren.  So thanks to Mrs. Furlong for giving a second chance and thanks to Blackbird, we're all happy to be here today.

Let me just talk briefly about a vision for America's future.  I think the fundamental thing that you elect when you elect a president is what do they see as the future for this country; what is it that motivates them to want to be and serve the American people as our president.

President Bush has clearly established what his vision is.  His vision of the future is a vision in which the wealthiest Americans get the most attention.  His vision of the future is one in which America uses its enormous power as a bully, as an arrogant country to the rest of the world.  His vision of the future is one in which those who were not blessed by a healthy inheritance have to make it on their own; that we are going to change some of the basic programs like Social Security, which has meant so much to our retired citizens.

This administration has shown its vision in the way it has dealt with a whole array of issues.  Since George W. Bush has been president this country has lost 3 million jobs.  Contrast that with the 8 years before George Bush, when we added 22 million new jobs to America.  Since this president has been in office, 1 1/2 million additional Americans are without health insurance.  Since this president has been in office, we have seen a surplus in the federal government, which was supposed to amount to over $5 trillion in this first decade of the 21st century change into a 2-3 trillion deficit, and addition to the national debt that these young people are all going to be asked to pay.  We are writing their future on our credit card and are going to hand it to them to pay the bill.  That is fundamentally unfair.

We also have a president whose view of the world is one that America should take this opportunity to use its great power to avoid the opinion of the rest of the world and to cancel important treaties and agreements, and to use our power to dominate other nations.  We're going to be spending this year and maybe as long as for the next five years a billion dollars a week as a result of our occupation of Iraq.

And finally this has been an administration which has covered all or much of what I've just described in a veil of secrecy.  There has not been a president since Richard Nixon who has practiced secrecy, withholding from the American people important information.  Most recently that has been in the area of terrorism, where important information that will help us be better prepared, which will help our first responders, our police and firemen, to do a better job of protecting us, is being withheld from the American people.

I have a different vision of what America should be.

And let me start by our economic program.  We have a program called "Opportunity for All."  This program is designed to accomplish four objectives.

One is to stimulate the current in the tank employment to higher rates of growth and creation of jobs.  We will do that among other things by a tax policy that doesn't put most of the money in the hands of the richest Americans, but puts most of the money in the hands of working Americans who are most likely to actually go out and spend it and generate economic activity.

We also have a program called "Build America," where we're going to make an investment in a number of areas that will be important not only today, but particularly for our children and grandchildren.  We've had a long tradition of this in America.  Abraham Lincoln in the middle of the Civil War created the land grand college system.  Institutions like Iowa State are the result of that; they have made an enormous contribution to American agriculture as well as to American industry.  President Eisenhower created the interstate highway system, which has fundamentally changed the way Americans are able to move around this great country.  Those were investments made in difficult times for great benefit for future generations.

We need to have the same sense of responsibility to our children and grandchildren.  Some of the things that we propose to do are to make a major investment in our transportation systems, even here in Iowa it's estimated that over a third of your roads and more than a third of your bridges are below adequate standards.  We need to make an investment in our crumbling schools.  I just a few minutes ago talked to a teacher from Marshalltown, Marshallton, Iowa, who said that his school is hard to teach in because it is so physically inadequate that they just built an elevator shaft in the back of his room in order to accommodate some children with special needs.  We need to have a national program to rebuild our schools.

We also need to have a national program to make us more energy independent.  Iowa is a great example of what we can do.  Last weekend I spent three days in Northwest Iowa.  First I worked at an ethanol factory in Marcus, Iowa and I saw first hand the potential of ethanol to replace hundreds of millions of gallons of oil which we would no longer have to import from the Middle East.  I also saw those tremendous wind farms, which are today providing about 1 1/2 to 2 percent of the electricity that Iowans consume.  Those are models for America.  America should stimulate the development of that kind of technology.  It's also a very important technology for America's farmers.  If we can find part of the solution to how we can be more energy independent by using our home grown products like corn, we will have made a great contribution to the future of this nation.

I also think that America is the greatest power in the world but we need to use that power in a way to earn the respect and the leadership of the rest of the world.  I voted against the resolution to go to war in Iraq.  I did it because I didn't think Iraq, as evil as Saddam Hussein was, was our principal enemy.  I think our principal enemy are the terrorists who have already killed more than 3,000 Americans and who are, as we're learning this week, in a position to kill more Americans.  By going to war in Iraq we allowed terrorists who were on the ropes to get up, to regroup and become again a serious threat to the people of this nation.

And finally, I believe in an America in which the government trusts the people and therefore earns the trust of the people.  I believe that the [applause].   Anyone who feels the urge to applaud is encouraged to do so.  It's bad for your mental health to restrain yourself.  I also believe in an America which is one America.  This president was elected on a platform that he would be a unifier, not a divider.  I don't think there's been a more divisive president in recent American history than our current president.  I think the strength of this nation is when we are one nation indivisible under God with liberty and justice for all.  That's the America that we want to live in.  That's the America that is the vision that Bob Graham will bring to the White House.

Thank you.  [applause].

Friends, before we go to questions, we have one more aspect of our campaign which is we not only have a song, but, as those of you who may have been at the parade yesterday heard, we have a CD full of songs.  One of those songs is called " You've Got a Friend in Bob Graham" and I'd like to ask all of our grandchildren, children, son-in-lawa, Adele, to join me as we sing this great American song.

You've got a friend in Bob Graham
that's what everybody's saying
all the way across the good ole U.S.A.
From Atlantic to Pacific
we all say that he's terrific.
America needs Bob Graham today.

Okay, any questions from the press or from real Americans.

QUESTION: My parents live on a century old farm.  My dad's mother was born in the house where they live now.  They can't open the windows, they can't garden, they can't hang out laundry due to hog lots.  There are three hog lots within one mile.  What are your plans to do about taking rural America back from corporate America.

GRAHAM: Yeah.  I supported the legislation that would have abolished the meatpackers owning the hogs or cattle that they we're going to slaughter.  I think if we're going to have a competitive growing, strong agricultural economy we need to have competition available for farmers.  We also need to have a strong enforcement of the anti-trust laws.  I can say that one of the first things I will do as president of the United States is to fire John Ashcroft.  He not only has been intruding on our personal liberties, he has been failing to enforce the laws that are intended to maintain our economic liberties.

FOLLOW UP QUESTION: The other problem is I've got brothers who hunt and fish and they're afraid to eat the fish and the fowl that they hunt because of the water quality, rural water quality.

GRAHAM: Yeah.  The federal government in conjunction with the states has a responsibility for maintaining drinkable, swimmable water in this nation.  One of the other casualties of this administration has been our environmental laws.  The fact that the recently past administrator of the Environmental Protection Administration, Christy Todd Whitman, resigned is a statement of the lack of support that she was getting to adequate enforcement to keep our air clean and to keep our water pure.  I would appoint a dedicated American to see that we achieve that objective of our waters being drinkable and swimmable and that person would have my strong support.

Yes sir.

QUESTION: With the passage of--

GRAHAM: Would you do me a favor.  Would you give me your name and your hometown?

QUESTION: Charles [inaud.] from Des Moines Iowa.  With the already approved passage of NAFTA and GATT, if you become president, what incentives or what actual reality, real world controls do you have over private business moving stuff to Mexico, China, Indonesia and then the few remaining white collar office worker jobs we have [inaud.]  customer service to India, Pakistan, clothing to South America, and on and on?  If none of America's working anymore, what does it matter what the minimum wage is, what does it matter what the mortgage rates are, what does it matter what you can buy  a new car for?  We don't have any birthright future for our kids.  What incentives or what control will you do to stop the losing of jobs overseas, and to other countries in our own continent?

GRAHAM: Well there are a number of things we need to do.  Let me just talk about a couple of them.

One, we need to have fair trade if we're going to have free trade.  Some of the areas in which we aren't playing on a level field today are labor standards, where we have very high standards not only in terms of what you get paid but also safety and environmental conditions at the worksite.  That's not true in many other countries.  We need to see that there is a level playing field.  Also in human rights that child labor should not be a part of any nation's economics.  And third, environmental standards like the lady was talking about earlier -- there needs to be a fair and even set of standards that all are going to play by if we're going to play on a global field.

Second, we need to see that the thing that is going to make America continue to be able to operated with a American standard in a global economy is maintained.  One of those keys is the quality of our education system.  We've got to have the best educated, the most productive peoples in the world.  And another is an investment in research and innovation, the kinds of things that are going on at places like Iowa State that are going to create the next generation of good jobs for America.  Ethanol is an example of a product which has gone through dramatic improvement in the last 20 years largely because of that investment in research and [inaud] is positioned to be a very significant part of America's energy supply.  We need to find the next ethanol for the next generation of Americans.

Any other questions?

Yes sir.

QUESTION: Senator Graham.

GRAHAM: Your name?

QUESTION: My name is Kyle Easson [phon.]

GRAHAM: And you are from?

QUESTION: I grew up in Newton, Iowa; I live in Denver right now.

GRAHAM: Are you coming home--

QUESTION: I'm visiting my mother at this fair.

GRAHAM: Would you be home by January?

QUESTION: Not sure at this point; probably be back in Denver, but I wanted to say something that I'll never forget after the 9-11 tragedy, and I remember the spotlight was on President Bush, and he said, the question was asked, what should Americans do?  And something that he said I'll never forget; he said Americans should go out and shop and buy something -- be good consumers.  And to me that seemed very shallow, crass, and it's always disappointed me.  I wondered how would you respond differently to a question like that?  What are the defining qualities of Americans; how should we respond to these things?

GRAHAM: Well one of those qualities I mentioned is the quality that we are one nation.  That we should look for ways in which we can help our fellow Americans in need at a time of distress.  Second is that we are an America which has certain reasons for the existence of our government.  One is the protection of our national sovereignty.  We need to pursue the terrorists aggressively and without being distracted into areas such as Iraq.  We can win this war on terror, we can win this war on terror within a reasonably short period of time if we avoid more Iraqs, more diversions.  And third we need to give the people of America here at home some sense of real protection.  We have many vulnerabilities.  We're never going to be able to eliminate them all because we're never going to give up our basic rights as a citizen in this free nation.  But we can do a better job on things like supporting our police and fire, which are going to be the first defenders.  We can do thing like maintaining a healthier system that can respond to any emergency that we may have.

One more question.

QUESTION: Bill Alexander from Ottumwa.

GRAHAM: Yeah we are going to Ottumwa in a couple days.

QUESTION: Yes sir.  What's your vision in regards to the Medicare situation.  Because I feel like this country, we've done an injustice to the elderly because they were the ones that have established it for us and we're now completely shutting them out.  What's your vision there?

GRAHAM: Well first let me talk about an issue that I know is important to people here in Iowa.  In the 1960s Iowa had and continues to today to have one of the best and the most efficient health care systems in the country.  Because of that you have one of the lowest reimbursement rates for your hospitals and your nursing homes and doctors and other health care providers.  That is causing a real strain on health care in the state of Iowa.  I've supported Sen. Tom Harkin's proposal to bring some greater equity by giving a reward not a punishment to the states that promote quality and efficient health care.

Second I don't favor what the president is doing now which is moving us towards a privatized Medicare system.  If the retirees of the United States make an individual decision that they want to use an HMO or some other such form of health care delivery, they should have the right to do so.  But what's happening now is the president is saying to get prescription drugs you are going to have to go into an HMO.  If you don't you'll get substantially lower prescription drug benefits.  That is a way of treating older Americans like cows, trying to herd them into a pasture that they don't want to go.

Thank you.

#  #  #