“Change Starts Tonight!”

Remarks by John Kerry
Illinois Election Night
Democratic Nomination Victory Party
Charleston Civic Center, West Hall
Charleston, West Virginia
Tuesday, March 16, 2004

As Prepared for Delivery

Tonight in West Virginia, we say thank you to Illinois for putting us over the top in the delegate count, and for helping us to achieve our goal – a nomination marked by unity, and not division.

This night marks the opening of the general election debate about the direction of our country.  America deserves more than a debate full of attacks and distortions. The times are too serious and the challenges we face too great. Instead, this campaign should be a great debate about how we’re going to restore hope and opportunity and a better future for our people.

On all the key concerns facing America—from job creation, to health care costs, to getting our deficit under control, to repairing our friendships and alliances across the world, I believe we can do better. I believe a new course will yield a better result. I believe America must move in a new direction.

As we begin this general election, there is one message that I want all Americans to hear – and the friends and enemies of America need to know. When it comes to protecting the security of our nation and winning the war on terror, America is unified.

We may disagree on how best to achieve that security, but no matter what the outcome of this election, we will stand as one country when it comes to protecting the safety of our people.

For many months and over many miles, we have traveled across this great land. From snow to sunshine, we have heard the same message time and again: On the pocketbook issues facing ordinary Americans, we must set a new course for our country.

And that is what we will do.  A jobless recovery is no recovery at all. The economic policies that our leadership has in place today have not worked, are not working, and will not work. We need a new economic policy—one that puts an end to wasteful tax giveaways to the wealthiest Americans; one that provides new incentives for manufacturing companies to keep jobs here. We need a new economic direction, one that exerts presidential leadership on behalf of America’s jobs.

And that’s one thing we know how to do: Create jobs. We did it all through the 1990s. It wasn’t that long ago that we pursued an economic strategy that helped to create over 20 million new jobs and brought record surpluses to America.  We can do it again—but that means ending a failing economic strategy and turning to a new approach.

We need a new policy on health care. The current approach to our health care crisis has not worked, is not working, and will not work. I have proposed a new strategy that will finally get health care costs under control. We cannot allow a system to continue where parents fear the cost of health care for their children, where hard working people watch health care premiums rise out of reach, where drug companies make bigger and bigger profits while more and more people go without insurance or the prescription medicine they need. The time has come to make health care a right, and not a privilege.

We need to restore fiscal sanity to America’s budget. Every day, the deficit gets worse and worse. Now it’s at the point where a child born today is inheriting a $30,000 debt that he or she had no part in creating. It’s not only our children who are shouldering the burden; these deficits threaten the fiscal solvency of Social Security and Medicare. There is nothing conservative—and nothing responsible—about the reckless runaway deficits being created today in this country. Once again, it was our strategy that worked to get the nation’s deficit under control—and we will do it again.

We also need to meet one of the great challenges of our time: energy independence. We have talked about meeting this goal for over 30 years in America—and we can no longer wait to do it. I have proposed a bold new plan for energy independence that will invest in the technologies of the future and create 500,000 new jobs in the process—so no young American in uniform will ever have to go to war for Mideast oil.

And we must repair our friendships and alliances around the world. We are safer and stronger when we don’t go it alone. As President, I will lead the effort to rejoin the community of nations – because we should always fight for an America that is once again respected for its might, but admired for its ideals.

For more than 35 years, I have fought for my country. And that is exactly what I intend to do as President. And in this campaign I have been reminded of something I learned as a young man on a Navy boat on the other side of the world: that what holds us together as Americans is so much more powerful than what divides us.

Everywhere I have been in America, I have seen the yearning for a new direction for our country. I’ve heard it in town meetings. I’ve seen it in the eyes of a middle aged couple where a husband lost his job – and his wife, who has breast cancer, has to keep working through her chemotherapy to keep her health insurance.  I have listened to families ask why they had to pay for body armor for sons and daughters on the frontlines in Iraq.

I promise to be a President who fights for them – and for you.  I promise to unite our country, not divide it.  And then, with your help, we’re going to have an economic plan that creates jobs, a health care plan that gets costs under control, and a plan for energy independence.  And we’re going to restore America’s true leadership in the world.

I am running for President not simply to oppose what is wrong, but to set this nation on a new course.  Together, in the months ahead, we will call on the best in Americans – and stand up for the best America.  We will give America back its future and its truth.

I say to you tonight:  A new day is on the way.

Thank you.