Address of Senator John Kerry
Florida State Democratic Conference
Orlando, FL
April 14, 2002
prepared remarks

Richard, I really am appreciative of your very generous introduction. And I thank you – as I'm sure everyone here does – for your important service to the people of Florida, and to the country.

I think all of you know it takes skill and guts to fly jets off an aircraft carrier in the United States Navy. Richard Mitchell knows what it means to show up for duty. And he understands the sacrifices being made by young men and women in harm's way today. I know he also shares with me the conviction that with respect to the war on terror, there are no labels anywhere in the country -- no Democrats -- no Republicans -- we are united -- one America -- one President -- one purpose -- to make clear: No terrorist will steal our way of life in the United States of America.

I want to thank you also for two terrific United States Senators – your former Governor who fights for health care so passionately and effectively – and your junior Senator who has already moved into the Democratic Leadership and contributes so much to our caucus – we're so grateful for Bob Graham and Bill Nelson.

And I'm honored to be here with all your elected officials, especially your terrific Congressional delegation which does a remarkable job of fighting for Florida's interests – we thank them for their service.

I've been privileged also to share a special friendship with another great Floridian -- a man who learned what it means to be deprived of freedom, in every way but in his heart and gut. A brave Prisoner of War who learned in Vietnam – like so many of us -- that every day after that is extra -- that there but for the grace of God at the Wall in Washington go each of us. And I know you'll agree that Pete Peterson deserves our gratitude and our admiration.

There were so many lessons we all learned when Pete and I served – but one is particularly important to Florida. Wherever we served – to our right and to our left - on Navy Ships -- in Army jeeps – in foxholes and in outposts – the soldiers who ran the greatest risks and bore the heaviest burdens of service in that war were disproportionately African American and Hispanic. In fact, African-Americans and Hispanics were on the front lines and were the casualties far in excess of their numbers here at home.

There are a lot of reasons to be angry about what happened here on election day 2000 in Florida, but none more than the way it did a terrible injustice to the purpose and meaning of what those young Americans gave their country and what they give today: it makes clear, the battle for civil rights in America has yet to be won.

That's why it's long since time we made it clear - clear to your Secretary of State - clear to your Governor - clear to the Administration in Washington -- we're going to honor the sacrifice of young African Americans and Hispanics who stood up to be counted and fought and died for their country -- and we're going to live up to our own ideals -- by making certain that every vote is counted -- in every county in this state -- in every part of our nation – in every election bar none.

And for anyone who thinks it doesn't make a difference – for anyone who ever suggested elections are the choice between shades of grey – just measure the first two years of this Administration – measured not by the words of a Democrat or Republican, but measured in the daily reports of our newspapers all across this country.

The Miami Herald headline: "Environmental Causes Losing Ground."

From the St. Louis Post-Dispatch -- "Bush Team Takes Aim at Environmental Protections."

The New York Times: "Bush's Budget Would Cut Programs to Aid Children"

The Atlanta Journal Constitution: "Budget Would Cut Medicaid Payments"

The Los Angeles Times: "Job Training Slashed in Bush Budget."

Here in Florida, Governor Bush has been feeding you this new reality every day. The Palm Beach Post reports that 161,000 jobs have been lost in Florida in the last year alone. The Gainesville Sun learned that Florida has dropped from 39th to 43rd in student-teacher ratio, and next to last in the nation in per capita spending on education. I urge you to spend your energy in the next months to organize and work and put your passion into this election because these headlines alone are reason enough for Democrats to win the Governorship of Florida in 2002.

None of these headlines are the empty phrases of politics -- these are the real stories of our country and our fellow citizens. Every single one makes a difference in the lives of our neighbors. It makes a difference to the mom who wants to know that when her children drink a glass of tap water, it won't make them sick. It matters to the guy working in the factory laid off through no fault of his own who can't get the help he needs to get a new job. It matters to the young person leaving college burdened with student loans who wants to be a teacher but has to ask whether they can ever possibly earn enough to raise a

Everywhere I go I hear these same concerns, and they tell us why it is important we are here today. September 11th changed many things about our lives, but it did not entitle the Republican Party to use the war on terror to avoid the choices we must make as a nation. Make no mistake: we are united as never before in the effort to win the war abroad, but we can not permit Republicans to pretend the war is the only issue before our country. Patriotism is not defined by avoidance of issues at home. Patriotism is the courage to fight for those things that strengthen and defend our nation.

That's the real meaning of this convention in Florida. We're not here just to feel good about ourselves as Democrats. We're here because we know the values so worth fighting for on September 10th were not altered, changed or killed on September 11th. It is precisely because of what happened on that fateful day that makes those values are even more worth fighting for today -- and that effort will never be stopped by Osama Bin Laden or Al-Quaida.

The truth is we are locked in a struggle here at home between two competing visions of the direction our country should move in. Let me tell you about their direction -- it's very familiar -- they want to give a tax cut to the wealthiest Americans at the expense of the average citizen and the economic health of our nation. They're repeating the damage they began in 1980 – when in twelve years, they multiplied the national debt five times and left America with deficits as far as the eye can see.

Our plan is to continue to pay down the debt of our nation, as we did two years ago for the first time since World War II. Remember: We Democrats gave this country the fiscal responsibility that produced jobs and surpluses. And when we are back in power in 2004 we will make this economy -- once again -- work for average Americans!

But first we have an enormous challenge ahead just climbing out of the hole they've already put us in. In one year this Administration has turned trillions of dollars in surpluses into a deficit. Not only are they racing back to the voodoo economics of the 1980's, even worse, now they want to take money from Social Security and Medicare, and give it to the wealthiest Americans. It's Robin Hood in reverse and it's unacceptable under any standard of decency in America.

And we Democrats will remind them that Social Security is a lot more than just a program -- it's about the relationship between the government and its people -- it's the promise we make to people who -- after a lifetime of labor in good faith have a right to expect that good faith will be honored. It boils down to our beliefs in the meaning of work - whether we live to work or work to live. It's part of the fundamental fabric of our country -- and you don't tear at it -- you don't take it lightly - you uphold the promise of Roosevelt, Truman, Kennedy, Johnson and Bill Clinton. And we're not going to let George W Bush do to Social Security what Arthur Andersen and the Administration's friends did to Enron!

You know: in the end, there's a pretty basic difference between us and them: Our fight is for fundamental fairness. Their's is to chip away at the right of workers to organize -- they fight the right to earn a minimum wage let alone a living wage -- they undermine even the right to bargain.

Well I think it's time to remind our Republican friends that the firefighters and police officers they are so quick to make speeches about -- the ones who climbed those stairs of the World Trade Center to put their lives on the line so that others might live -- they were all members of a union and they all believed in the right of workers to organize.

We need to remind our Republican friends that the reason so many Americans have jobs with benefits -- with health care, safe workplaces, decent wages and pensions -- is that members of organized labor put their lives on the line and sometimes lost them to earn for every American that worker's right and we are not going to allow scab labor or striker replacement to destroy the right to bargain.

It's also time to remind our Republican friends you can't keep saying teaching is your most valued profession but not value it with decent pay – you can't attract a new generation to the profession if you demagogue your way to office by bashing teachers. We need to remind our friends that children deserve a small class-size where they don't just get a diploma, they get a world class education!

And we must remind them that they can't talk about protecting American values -- communities -- and children -- and not put enough cops on the street to do it. When I had the privilege of serving as a prosecutor and putting hardened criminals behind bars for the rest of their lives, I learned the difference that a cop on the street makes. And I can tell you the reason we had the lowest rime rates in a generation for the last eight years is pretty simple: we put 100,000 additional cops on the streets of America. Now I don't understand why the Republicans are willing to go back to where we were -- but we Democrats are determined to hold the line to keep police in our communities and so we can keep our communities safe.

I believe that now more than ever it is time for the Democratic party to stand up and define itself -- it's time for all of America to begin again to dream of standards not yet reached, ideals not yet fulfilled, rights not yet fully protected, and to go forward together, asking again, as George Bernard Shaw suggested we should -- "why not?"

Why not in the richest nation on the face of the earth have health insurance for every American?

Why not give real meaning to the words "leave no child behind" by providing every child with an early start, a healthy start, and a head start?

Instead of pretending we can be independent of foreign oil by destroying the Arctic Wildlife Refuge, why not offer a real blueprint for energy security? Why not join in a new mission to the moon here on earth and unleash the energy of America to create the energy of the future?

These are things worth fighting for, and they can define our Party as well as our generation.

Now I know Florida is a state with a special appreciation for freedom – for the possibilities of life and of our country. This is a state that is blessed with many citizens who came from places of oppression – those who survived dictatorship, torture, and incarceration. I do know something about this. My mother escaped just in front of the German army on a bicycle during World War II. My wife's family lost all they knew and loved -- forced out by a dictatorship in Mozambique. She didn't arrive in this country until she was 24 and never saw her parents vote. What they lost that was most valuable was the freedom to live and die in the place they called home.

We need to remind ourselves how lucky we are to live in this country. Never in human history has one nation been as rich and powerful as the United States of America -- but with our status as sole Super Power comes responsibility and yes–even burdens.

American leadership means we must work to understand and positively affect the world around us. If the United States has a right to respond in Afghanistan to suicide attackers in New York City -- and we do - then Israel has a right to respond to suicide bombers in the West Bank. But our role - and our responsibility - is to engage more aggressively and positively -- and to stay engaged. President Kennedy reminded us that "here on earth, God's work must truly be our own." And the Bible tells us: "Blessed are the peacemakers." But for fourteen months this Administration was unwilling to take that responsibility to heart. A great nation like ours should not be dragged kicking and resisting -- should not have to be pressured -- to the task of making peace. A great nation like ours should be leading the effort to make peace from the first moment the awesome power to do so is granted -- or we risk encouraging through our inaction the worst instincts of an already troubled region. One of the lessons I learned as a soldier and as a Senator is that we must not only be prepared to take risks to wage war –but we must also be prepared to take risks to make peace. That is the responsibility that comes with being the land of the free and the home of the brave.

These are the debates we need to have in our country -- but some would rather smother them. That's why it's also time to remind our Republican friends that the freedom they love to preach about also includes the freedom to disagree and the right to dissent.

In the last weeks, the minority leader of the Senate expressed shock that United States Senators might question government secrecy - let alone military expenditures or the direction of a war. But don't be fooled – no one in our nation has done anything except express support for our troops and honor their service.

But Senator Lott and Tom Delay need to understand: One of the lessons I learned in Vietnam fighting in a war they did not have to endure and one of the vows of commitment I made to myself - like many of my fellow servicemen – is that if I ever reached a position of responsibility, I would never stop asking the questions that make our Democracy strong – I would never fail to ask questions that protect our troops and our national security.

Those who try to stifle the vibrancy of our democracy and shield policies from scrutiny behind a false cloak of patriotism miss the real value of what our troops defend and of how we best defend our troops. So we will ask questions and we will defend our democracy.

These are real differences worth fighting for. It's not partisan politics -- but differences in how we see the world and our responsibilities to each other. It's a reflection of life itself -- life is about choices -- so is politics.

As Richard Mitchell said in introducing me, I did learn lessons about leadership more than three decades ago among a special band of brothers. I had the privilege of serving with heroes, with men of character like Pete Peterson -- citizen soldiers who left behind high school and college and girlfriends and young wives to fight for their country.

I learned to measure what's important through the promises that soldiers make to each other, that real courage means doing what's right -- instinctively. The Army says they never leave their wounded. The marines say they never leave even their dead.

I say it's time we joined together in our country -- all of us as Citizen Soldiers -- committed to a cause greater than ourselves -- to ensure in deeds, not words, that no American is left behind.  Why not commit ourselves to making these choices for our country -- and never stopping until our dream is a reality not just for some, but for every American.

That is our cause. This is our choice. And now it is time for us to go out and win these fights -- to elect a Democratic Governor here in Florida -- to grow the Senate Majority -- to make Dick Gephardt Speaker of the House of Representatives – and to win back the White House for Democrats in 2004 .  That's our mission, let's get about the business of making it happen.