Senator Joe Lieberman
Remarks at the Florida State Democratic Party Conference
Orlando, FL
April 14, 2002
prepared remarks
I want to thank all of you, on behalf of Hadassah, my mom, our kids, and really our entire family, for all your hard work and hospitality during the 2000 campaign.
I know there’s been a lot of speculation about why I’m here today. So I won’t beat around the bush -- I’m here to help you beat Jeb Bush.
And I’ll be here again and again until we get a governor in Tallahassee that shares the values of the hardworking families of this great state. I’ll fight right by your side until Florida has leaders at every level who are willing to put the dreams of Floridians ahead of their own personal, political gain.

But, my friends, to win this November and in Novembers to come -- to fulfill our historic mission to be the party of opportunity, responsibility, and community -- we must offer real answers to the challenges facing our nation at home and abroad.

We cannot be timid – nor grow complacent in our thinking. We can’t rely on fear to forge our future. Nor can we be intimidated by the polling numbers of our opponents. After all, we’ve beaten a George Bush with 80 percent approval ratings before…just ask Bill Clinton.

But my fellow Democrats, we will not gain the confidence of the American people to lead this state or this nation -- unless we prove that we are committed to keeping America safe and secure; unless we show them that we are determined to make the American dream a reality for all our people; and unless we make it clear that we will be steadfast in protecting and reflecting the values of America’s families.

We cannot concede any one of these areas – security, opportunity, or values – to the other side.

We must have enough confidence in our values to stand up and say where we think the President and his party are right, and where they are wrong. And we must offer a vision of hope, a clear picture of the brighter future we see – and we can create -- over the horizon.

When we do that, victories will come not just for the Democratic Party – but for all of the American people.

* * * * *

Right now, in the war on terrorism, I’m proud to say we Democrats are standing shoulder-to-shoulder with the President -- as we should.

We’re putting country above politics, as we must. For this war is about one thing, and one thing only: America – and defending our way of life.

There is no D or R or I on the dogtags of the brave men and women serving in our armed forces. There is only one label they wear – and they wear it proudly – and that is “American.”

In the days and weeks since the attacks of September 11, President Bush has brought a moral clarity to the conflict we are in. He’s made it clear that we will go after those who threaten us and our values – and that includes any nation or group that sponsors, supports, or harbors terrorists.

I am encouraged that President Bush has finally engaged directly in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and sent Secretary Powell to the region because that conflict is now the frontline of the war against terrorism. A continuation of the current violence there would fundamentally endanger America’s interests.

What is happening in the Middle East now is not about Palestinian statehood, which we must support, but about Palestinian suicide bombers, who we must stop.

But I’m sorry to say, the Bush Administration has recently muddied our moral clarity. Our closest ally in the Middle East and fellow democracy, Israel, has been forced to defend itself against a relentless campaign of suicide bombers – killers with the same disregard for human life as those who attacked us on September 11.

Yet the Bush Administration has publicly and persistently pressured Israel not to do exactly what we ourselves have done to fight terror in Afghanistan.  In pursuing this policy, the President risks losing the moral high ground and compromising our own war on terrorism.

How can we credibly continue to search for and destroy the remaining al-Qaeda terrorists in Afghanistan – and all over the world -- while demanding that the Israelis stop doing exactly that in the West Bank?

The answer is: we cannot – and remain true to our principles and protect our own security.

We need a consistent foreign policy that doesn’t bend to pressure, but is rooted in bedrock principles: those who threaten the safety of our families at home, those who use violence to undermine our interests and threaten our allies abroad, those who reject our core values of freedom, equality, and tolerance with terror – are enemies of the American people. And those who fight these terrorists are friends of the American people.  No ifs, ands, or buts.

And that is why America cannot rest until the most dangerous anti-American terrorist in the world, Saddam Hussein, is removed from power in Baghdad. And that day can’t come soon enough.

But it is not enough just to drain the swamp of terrorists like Saddam. We must also seed the garden, by combating the despotism, poverty and isolation in the Islamic world that terrorists exploit.

We learned a lesson from President Clinton and Vice President Gore in the 1990’s – if America keeps its military strong and uses its prestige and leadership wisely, we can bring progress to some of the most seemingly hopeless conflicts in the world: on the Korean peninsula, in the Balkans, in Northern Ireland, and in the Middle East.

It is in America’s national interest to remain not just resolute in our principles, but also fully engaged in the world. And the proud history of our Democratic Party requires us now to make this case to the American people – to show that we know how to lead. I promise you, I will do my best to do exactly that.

* * * * *

Now, in the 1990’s, Democrats also showed that we know a thing or two about how to grow the economy and spread its bounty to more of our people.

I’m proud of what we did – and I know you are too. Through fiscal discipline, smart investments, expanding trade, and the leadership of Bill Clinton and Al Gore, we restored people’s faith in the American dream. And we put that American dream back in the hands of millions of hardworking American families.

A decade ago, it seemed as if the American dream was slipping from our grasp. People said that our children might be the first generation in our history not to do as well as their parents.

We Democrats refused to believe that. I certainly refused to believe it because my family has lived the American dream.

My father worked his way from the back of a bakery truck to the counter of his own store. I know that may not sound like a long way to some, but it was to us. And it enabled him to send me to college, the first in my family to have that opportunity.

And that is why it pains me so to see the total lack of sensible leadership from the Bush Administration when it comes to our economy. Because this debate is not just about budget numbers, it’s about people’s dreams – the dreams of millions of families eager to start on the same journey that so many of our own families began years ago.

Instead of a plan to expand opportunity and grow the middle class, President Bush just gave us a tax cut.
Not that there’s anything wrong with that. . .

But there is something wrong with an economic policy that does nothing for our long-term prosperity, and does just about everything for those who need it least.

There is something really wrong with an economic policy that eats up the surplus we worked so hard to build, plunging us back into debt.

There is something terribly wrong with an economic policy that saves no money for expanding access to healthcare and helping seniors afford the medicines they need.

There’s something awfully wrong with an economic policy that prevents the Administration from making the investments they promised just a month ago to make in education – from after school to new teachers, from fixing chronically failing schools to improving education for new Americans.

And there’s something massively wrong with an economic policy that will force the Republicans to take more than $2 trillion out of the Social Security and Medicare trust funds just to keep our government going.

You know, it makes you long for the days of the lockbox.

Now, we Democrats have a responsibility to do more than say what we’re against. We have to say what we’re for.  We have to offer a sensible economic plan that expands opportunity to all Americans. A program rooted in fiscal responsibility; with tax cuts that boost growth and create jobs; and smart investments in science, research, and most of all, in our students and in our schools.

For the smartest investment we can make is to give our public schools the tools they need to meet our high standards. In particular, we can’t expect our teachers to do the job we need them to do unless we give them the respect they deserve and the professional salaries they have earned.

* * * * *

From these debates, we can see not only differences between the parties in our policy priorities. We also get a clear look at the differences in our values.

We must never forget that values are what lie at the heart of politics. Because politics is about choices, and the choices we make come down to: what we believe is right, and what we believe is wrong.

Here, we must be honest with ourselves: our party has been uncomfortable talking about values. Too often, we’ve been reluctant to draw clear lines between what is right and what is wrong. And too often, we have been slow to recognize that for many Americans, understanding what’s right and what’s wrong flows from their faith.

We have too often made the faithful feel unwelcome in our party. And that has to end.

Faith has been a powerful ally of progress throughout American history – inspiring our Founders, the abolitionists, the suffragists, and those who marched for civil rights in this state and across the nation.

I know for me, and many of my classmates, who went to Mississippi to register African-Americans to vote in the fall of 1963, it’s what we learned in our churches and synagogues that drove us.

So that for all their talk, the other party doesn’t have a monopoly on moral values.

Look at their record.

Rolling back environmental standards, cutting funding for clean air and water, drilling off our shorelines and in our wildlife refuges – let me ask you: are those America’s values?

Running up a national debt that our children and grandchildren will have to pay – are those America’s values?

Saying – in English and Spanish -- you want to welcome new Americans, but then refusing to give legal immigrants the same medical benefits as all other Americans – are those America’s values?

Making energy policy behind closed doors, closed to everyone except special interests – are those America’s values?

I don’t know whose values they are…But I know, and you know, those aren’t America’s values.

To build a national community, we Democrats must talk about – and act on – the common values that all Americans share: values like freedom, family, faith; patriotism, hard work, tolerance; opportunity for all, and responsibility from all.

Who will stand up for these values?

Who will open the American dream to every American?

Who will offer strong leadership to keep America safe and secure at home and abroad?

These are the questions the American people will be asking us in this election and in contests to come. We Democrats must have the answers. And with your help, we will.

We will crack the ice of old assumptions and offer bold alternatives to the backwards Bush agenda. We will redouble our efforts to strengthen our party, providing the leadership we are capable of and that Americans deserve. And we will open our arms to all who share our values and our vision. Our vision of:

An America of boundless opportunity for all our people.

An America in which we take seriously our responsibilities to our parents, our children, and our neighbors.

An America of strong communities built around our most cherished values.

And an America that is a consistent, principled force for freedom and security all over the world.

That is the American Dream Democrats have been moving our nation towards for decades. That is the more perfect union we’ve sought for so long. That is what you and I are working for this November here in Florida.

Keep that in mind when you knock on those doors and get out that vote.

Never forget that it’s with your hard work that we’ll take back the House; that we’ll build our majority in the Senate; that we’ll elect Democrats all over Florida; and that we’ll give Jeb Bush a one-way ticket out of Tallahassee.

And together, we’ll build a better Florida and a better America.

Thank you, and God bless you all.