Address of Senator John Kerry
Florida State Democratic Conference
Orlando, FL
April 14, 2002
Prepared Remarks>>>
(this speech lasted a little over 31 minutes)

Good afternoon--good morning Florida, how are you?  Thank you Richard for a wonderful, generous introduction.  It is a great privilege for me to be here and I am so honored by the words Richard used just a moment ago to introduce me to you.  What a pleasure it is to be here.  I had a suspicion that maybe we ought to rename this "Spring Break for U.S. Senators."  One of your delegates was giving me a little history lesson last night when I first got here, telling me that the first European to arrive in Florida was Ponce de Leon, and he was looking for the Fountain of Youth, but he didn't find it.  And I pondered that, and I understood why.  It's because Strom Thurmond already had it folks.

Now I know a lot of you have 2000 still on your minds.  Let me just make it clear, let me make it clear: It is not my attention to rehash the 2000 presidential race but, suffice it to say, that if Katherine Harris ever leaves politics, she will make one hell of a fine Arthur Andersen auditor.  I'll tell you.  You don't feel strongly about this do you?

I want you to know that I am really humbled by Richard's introduction.  And I know all of you will join me, as everybody in Florida does, to say thank you to him for his important service to the state and to the country.  And I think that all of you know it takes a lot of skill and it takes courage to fly a jet off an aircraft carrier in the United States Navy.  Richard knows what it means to show up for duty, and he understands the sacrifices that are being made by young men and women in the far off reaches of the world today on our behalf.  I also know that he shares with me the conviction that with respect to the war on terror, my friends, there are no labels anywhere in this country -- there is no Democrat -- there is no Republican -- there is one President -- one purpose -- and that is to make clear: No terrorist will ever steal our way of life in the United States of America.

I also want to thank your two wonderful United States Senators, my colleagues – your former Governor who fights for health care with a passion, leads the Intelligence Committee – and your junior Senator, who has already moved into the Democratic Leadership and whose contributions to our caucus are significant – and I know that you will join me in saying we are so grateful to Bob and Adele Graham and of course to Bill and Gracie Nelson.  Thank you very, very much for their service.

I'm honored to be here with all of your elected officials, I congratulate Bob Poe and the party on a terrific convention, and I'm particularly proud to be here with members of your Congressional delegation who do such a great job of helping this state and of serving their country.

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

There were so many lessons that Pete and I learned--and I met a moment ago with a number of Vietnam veterans who are here as delegates – there were so many lessons we all learned but I'll tell you something, one is particularly important to Florida.  No matter where – to our right and to our left - on a ship -- in an Army jeep – in a foxhole or in an outpost – the people who bore the greatest risks and the heaviest burdens of that war were disproportionately African American and Hispanic.  And in fact, in fact African-Americans and Hispanics were on the front lines and were the casualties in far greater numbers than their numbers in our country.

My friends, there are lots of reasons to be angry about what happened here in the year 2000 in Florida, but none more than the way that it did a terrible injustice to the purpose and the meaning of what those young Americans gave to their country, what young Americans give to their country today in uniform, and it makes clear the battle for civil rights in our country is not yet over.

And that, that is why it is long since time that we made it clear - clear to your Secretary of State - clear to your Governor - clear to the Administration in Washington -- that we are not going to be able to honor the sacrifice of anyone who wore that uniform, who stood up to be counted and fought for our country -- we will not honor that until we make certain that we count every vote in every county, in every part of our country, in every election, bar none.

And for anyone, for anyone who thinks it doesn't make a difference, and there are those who make that argument – for anyone who suggests that elections are the choice between different shades of grey – just measure the first two years of this Administration.  And I, I ask you to measure it not by the words of a Democrat, not by the words of a Republican, but measure by the daily reports of our newspapers all across our 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."

And here in Florida, Governor Bush has been feeding you this 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 tells us that Florida has dropped from 39th to 43rd in student-teacher ratio, and next to last in the nation per capita in spending on education.  I know there's a lot of energy here at this convention, I've heard about yesterday, I know you're ready to work and I urge you my friends, my fellow Democrats, use your passion and use your energy and go out over these next months, because I'll tell you those headlines alone are reason enough to elect a Democrat Governor of the state of Florida in the year 2000.

Now as you know these headlines are not 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 she uses tap water to give a drink to her children that there aren't toxics in it that ultimately will make them sick.   It makes a difference to somebody laid off in a factory who doesn't have the facilities to be able to get the transition modern economy .  It makes a difference to someone who is contemplating a life as a teacher who doesn't know if burdened with student loans they are able to earn enough to raise a family.

Everywhere I go I hear these concerns, and they tell us why it is important that we are here today.  Sure, September 11th changed our lives in this country in many ways, but you know what, it did not entitle the Republican Party to use the war on terror to avoid the choices we must make in this country.  Make no mistake, make no mistake about it: we are united as never before as a nation in our commitment to win the war abroad, but we cannot permit Republicans to pretend that 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, I think, you will share with me.  That I think is the real meaning of our being here in convention in Florida today. We're not here to feel good about ourselves as Democrats. We're here because we know that the values that were so worth fighting for on September 10th, those values were not maimed or killed on September 11th.  In fact  they are even more worth fighting for today precisely because of what happened on September 11th.  It is our effort to make that real, and that effort, that effort will never be interrupted, the commitment of good Americans will never be sidelined by Osama Bin Laden or Al-Quaida.  We are determined to make those choices.

Now, now the truth is, my friends, we are locked in a struggle here at home.  It's a struggle between two competing visions about the direction of our country.  Let me tell you about their direction -- it's familiar to you -- they want to give a tax cut to the wealthiest Americans at the expense of the average citizen and at the expense of the economic health of our nation.  They're repeating the damage that they began in 1980 – when in twelve years, they multiplied the debt of our nation by five times and gave us deficits as far as the eye could see.

Our plan, our plan is to pay down that debt of the nation, as we did two and three years ago.  Our plan, our plan is to return to the fiscal responsibility that we gave to this country--losing the Senate and the House in the effort to expend our capital to do it--but we turned the economy of this country around--we had the lowest unemployment, the lowest inflation, the most jobs.  We defined fiscal responsibility.  And when we take back the White House in 2004 we will again give the average American a voice in their say in America.

But, but my friends we have an enormous challenge ahead of us just climbing out of the hole that they've created.  This Administration in one year has turned trillions of dollars of surpluses into a deficit.  Not only are they racing back to the voodoo economics of the 1980's, but now they want to take money out of Social Security and Medicare, in order to pay for the tax cut for the wealthiest Americans.  That my friends is called Robin Hood in reverse, and I'll tell you something there's no standard of decency in America that will let it stand.  We Democrats will say no, and we will stop them from tearing that apart.  In fact,-

Look, Social Security is more than a program -- Social Security is about the relationship between government and citizen -- it's the promise that we make to people who, after a lifetime of work in good faith, have a right to expect that good faith will be returned by the government that they trust in.  It really comes down to our belief in the whole concept of work - are we living to work or working to live?  Are we going to be a country where you don't take lightly that relationship, and I believe you shouldn't tear at it.   I believe that you should uphold the promise of Roosevelt and Truman and Kennedy and Johnson, Carter and all the way through Bill Clinton.  And I'll tell you, one thing we resolve here today, we're not going to let George W. Bush do to Social Security what Arthur Andersen and the Administration's friends did to Enron!  We are going to protect Social Security.

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

Well I think my friends it is time that we remind the Republicans that the firefighters and police officers that they are so quick to make speeches about -- the ones who climbed those stairs in the World Trade Center so that others might live -- they were all members of a union and they believed in the right to organize.

We need, we need to remind our Republican friends that there's a reason that so many Americans have good jobs today, that they have benefits -- with health care, with decent workplaces, with wages, with pensions.  And that reason is that once upon a time in this country there were members of organized labor who were prepared to put their lives on the line and even lose them so that every American could have that right.  And we, we are not going to allow scab labor or striker replacement to destroy the right to bargain in the United States of America.

It's also, it's also time to remind our Republican friends that you can't keep talking about education being the most valued profession in our nation and the most important and not value it the way you pay teachers and reflect the contributions [to the?] of the schools.  You can't attract a new generation, you can't attract a new generation to the job, coming out of college burdened with student loans, if they look at it and recognize that they're going to be treated differently from anybody else in America as a consequence of that choice.  We need to remind our friends on the other size of the aisle that children deserve a small class-size so they graduate not with a diploma, but with a world class education!

And we must remind them that you can't talk about protecting American values -- protecting communities -- protecting children -- you can't do that unless you are willing to put cops on the street and keep them there to help do it.  When I had the privilege, when I had the privilege of serving as a prosecutor, I put hardened criminals behind bars for the rest of their lives, and I learned the difference that a police office makes on a street.  And I can tell you the reason that we had the lowest crime rates in this country for a generation is that we were willing to put 100,000 additional police officers in the streets of America.  And we must keep them there in order to make this safe and our communities safe.

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

Why not in the richest country on the face of the planet, health insurance for every single American?

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

Instead, instead of pretending we can be independent of foreign oil by destroying the Arctic Wildlife Refuge, why not offer a real blueprint for the energy future of this country and protect the beaches of Florida while we do it?  Why not, why not ask our fellow Americans to join us in a new mission to the moon here on earth where we unleash the energy of America in order to create the energy of the future?  My friends you can't drill your way out of this problem, America must invent its way out of this problem and no one is better at doing that than the United States.

These are not only things worth fighting for, these are things that can define our Party and they can define our generation.  But there is more.

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 a small 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 years old and she never had the privilege of seeing her parents vote. What they lost that was most valuable to them was the freedom to live and die in the place they called home.

I think we need to remind ourselves in America how lucky we are to live in this country.  Never in human history, never, 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, American leadership means that we must work to understand and lift up 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, our role - and our responsibility - is to engage more aggressively and positively -- and to stay engaged in the effort to help find peace.  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, a great nation, a great nation like ours should not be dragged kicking and resisting -- should not have to be pressured -- to the task of finding peace.  A great nation like ours should be leading the effort to make peace from the first moment that awesome power is granted.

One of the lessons, one of the lessons that 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.

Now these, these are the debates I believe we need to have in our country -- but some would try to smother them.  And 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 this country.

In the last weeks, the minority leader of the Senate expressed shock, shock that United States Senators might question government secrecy - let alone, let alone military expenditures or the direction of a war.  Now 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, they need to understand that one of the lessons I learned in Vietnam fighting in a war that they did not have to endure, and one of the vows, and one of the vows, and one of the vows of commitment that 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, my friends, those who try to stifle the vibrancy of our democracy and shield politics 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.  We will continue to ask the questions that defend our democracy, and I believe that these are real differences worth fighting for.  This is not partisan politics; it's differences in how we see the world and how we see our responsibilities to each other.  It's a reflection of life itself.  Life is about choices -- and so is politics.

As Richard Mitchell said in introducing me, we were all of us who served privileged to learn lessons of leadership. And I  learned a lot of lessons three decades ago with a special band of brothers.  I had the privilege of serving with heroes, with men of character like Pete Peterson -- citizen soldiers who left their high schools and their college girlfriends and young wives to fight for their country.

I learned to measure what is important through the promises that soldiers make to each other.  I learned that real courage means doing what's right -- instinctively.

We had an old saying back then that the Army never leaves their wounded; the marines 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 that is greater than ourselves -- to ensure in deeds and words, that no American is left behind.  Why not?   These are the choices that we have to commit ourselves to.

This is our cause.  This is our choice.  It's your choice.  And I believe that this mission is one that we can go out of here with the energy of this convention, understanding these issues and we will make that mission the mission of electing a Democratic Governor in the state of Florida in 2002, we will make the majority of the Senate grow, we will win the House of Representatives and make Dick Gephardt Speaker of the House, and we will move on, and we will win back the White House in 2004.  We will make this our mission.  Thank you and God bless.  Thank you very much.