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Remarks to the California State Democratic Convention

Author: John Edwards
March 15, 2003
Foreign Affairs


Senator John Edwards, D-NC
Sacramento, CA
March 15, 2003

Good morning.

Thank you all.

I want to first take a moment to thank our host Governor Gray Davis, who has been a great leader under difficult circumstances. With Governor Davis at the head of the ticket, Democrats here in California led the only statewide sweep in the nation - and everybody in this room should be proud of that!

And let me tell you, you have two of the strongest leaders fighting for you in the Senate, Senator Boxer and Senator Feinstein! And Democratic Leader Pelosi, the first woman leader in the House, gives all Californians reason to be proud!

Across America, every day, most people go to work believing that hard work will earn them a chance to get ahead. Every day, they try to do the right thing for their families and on the job, because they believe that's more important than making a quick buck. And every day, this President finds another way to let them down.

If you're wealthy or well-connected and looking for a special favor; if you're a big donor or a big business looking for a loophole, then George Bush is your man.

But if you work for a living, if you worry about how to afford health care for your parents or college for your kids, if your retirement savings were wiped out in a few short months or your company was consumed by scandal, don't look to the White House for help. Don't even look to the White House for understanding. Because you will not find it there.

This presidency is a failure for the great middle-class of America, and for all those struggling to enter it. That's wrong. America's government is the people's government, and they deserve it back!

Our job is to give the American people a clear choice in 2004. If you make me your nominee, this is the choice they'll get.

Somebody who comes from them. My dad worked in a mill all his life, and my mother's last job was working for the post office. I was the first in my family to go to college. I worked my way through college and law school. And then I spent nearly 20 years as a lawyer fighting for the same people I'd grown up with, people like my own father, and the people who worked with him. They are most of America.

They are the reason I ran for the Senate. They are the reason I want to be President.

I want to be a champion for the regular people that make this country great. People like my father - they aren't insiders, they don't have lobbyists. Their only hope is that their President goes to work every day thinking about how to make their lives better, and has the backbone and courage to stand up against anything that stands in their way.

Then you have this President. George Bush comes from a very different place, and runs the country in a very different way. He believes he and his friends know best. They govern looking down - they figure they'll tell us what they think we need to know, when they think we need to know it. Under them, we get government of the insiders, by the insiders, for the insiders.

The people get left behind. Well, the people deserve better, and it is time for us to stand up and say so!

This President's record of broken promises and false advertising starts with the economy.

George Bush promised "prosperity to every forgotten corner of this country." Well, here's the record: 2,365,000 lost jobs - nearly 100,000 of them here in California; $400 billion in lost retirement savings, $4.5 trillion in stock market losses; and a $307 billion deficit that will be record-setting. Hey, we've seen this movie before.

George Bush promised available and affordable prescription drugs for every senior who needs them. Then he blocked a bill Senator Schumer, Senator McCain, myself and others wrote to close down the legal loopholes that drug companies use to keep prices high and protect their profits.

George Bush promised to require power plants to meet clean air standards. What he didn't tell you was that he was going to weaken the standards in the dark of night, subjecting thousands of children and thousands of seniors to asthma attacks and respiratory problems. And when I led the effort to stop it, he fought me every step of the way.

If a promise George Bush made to the American people comes up against the interests of insiders, you should just consider the promise broken - compassionately, of course.

And so, I ask you, and I ask the American people, are you better off than you were two years ago? In two short years, George W. Bush has taught us what the W stands for: Wrong. Wrong for our children, wrong for our parents, wrong for our values, and very, very wrong for our country!

If you think this Administration has changed your life for the better, I am not your guy.

If you think government should be run from the top down, with no regard for what regular Americans think and need, I am not your guy.

And if you think the only way to restore people's faith in our government is someone with who's been in Washington politics for decades, I am certainly not your guy.

But if you want someone who has spent his life fighting for ordinary Americans, if you want someone who will dig in, grab hold, and never let go, if you want someone who will take the fight for America's future straight to George Bush's door and on inside, then I am your guy.

In America, do we still believe that the son of a mill worker can go toe to toe with the son of a President? I do.

You know, the President has attacked me over and over because I spent 20 years fighting for victims, children and families against powerful opposition.

So let me be as clear as I can about this: I am proud of my career. I am proud of the families I represented. I am proud of the cases I won.

So, Mr. President, if you want to talk about the insiders you've fought for versus the kids and families I've fought for, then all I have to say is: Mr. President, bring it on!

And if this party makes me its nominee, and I'm standing there on a stage with the President, I hope he attacks me for my work. I'll tell him about a little boy named Ethan Bedrick.

My law firm represented Ethan. He had cerebral palsy. Every one of his doctors said he needed day-to-day physical therapy in order to have any chance for freedom of movement later in life. Everybody agreed. Everybody except some insurance company bureaucrat, sitting behind a desk somewhere. He'd never seen Ethan, but he said we're not going to pay for it. Well, we took on the insurance companies and won, and Ethan's life is better because we did.

Mr. President, we'll let you take the side you've always taken. You take the insurance companies' side.

I'll take the side I've always taken. I'll take Ethan's side - and so will everybody in this room!

We'll win this election. And we'll win it not just by telling people what went wrong the last two years, but by telling them how we're going to make it right.

Yes, this party has to stand for something. But what we have to stand for can't just be criticism, and clichés. We have to stand for a vision for America that is true to our values and energized with new ideas.

Let me talk to you about some of mine.

First, we have to get our economy in order, and recognize what every American family knows: you can't keep spending money you don't have. We have to put off the tax cut President Bush gave to the very wealthiest Americans. Now the President's trying to use the Bush recession - and he owns it - as an excuse to put more money in the pockets of people who need it the least. Under his plan, nearly 50% of Californians get a tax break of less than $100, while the top 1% will get over $35,000. It's wrong, and we're going to stop it.

But let's give the economy a shot in the arm now. Let's give every American family a $500 tax credit right now to help with increasing energy costs. Here in California, you know that rising gas prices are squeezing every family's pocketbook and our economy, and families deserve help!

And let's help states deal with the worst budget shortfalls since World War II so they don't have to raise property taxes or lay off police officers and firefighters. With California facing a budget crises in the billions of dollars, I have proposed a bill that would send, this year, over $6 billion to California - it's the right thing to do for California, for our economy, and for our safety.

While we help the economy now, we also have to get back on the path to fiscal discipline. Let's be honest, it is a challenge for both parties. Because while most Republicans have never met a corporate loophole they didn't like, our party hasn't always been good at resisting spending projects. We need to cut back on both.

If we do all that, we'll be able to help regular Americans where it's most important to them.

We need to say to the President: it's time to stop saying one thing and doing another when it comes to education. Mr. President, your own budget underfunds your own plan by $10 billion. My plan helps schools hire good teachers, pay them well, and target them where they're needed the most. And my college for everyone plan will make the first year of college free for any young person willing to work for it. Education will be where it should be in America when the children of mill-workers and the children of millionaires can get exactly the same high-quality education.

We need to pass a prescription drug benefit for all seniors under Medicare, stop drug company efforts to keep less-expensive drugs off the market, make a Patients' Bill of Rights the law of the land, and end the national disgrace of more than 40 million Americans without any health coverage at all!

And in today's world, a few precious things should be all too clear: life is fragile, families are joy, and children mean hope. That's why I've proposed phasing in a $2500 family leave tax credit for new parents, effectively giving millions of working parents the option of paid leave for a new child. California has been a leader in this area. At the national level, we need to recommit this government to strengthening America's future by strengthening America's families.

Finally, our party has to recognize that if we want to win back the White House, we have to provide real leadership on domestic defense and national security.

I'm not going to cede this issue to an Administration whose definition of national security is plastic wrap and duct tape. If you are going to tear down patriots like Max Cleland over homeland security then, Mr. President, you had better make our homeland secure!

The risk of terrorist attack against this country could significantly increase if there is military action in Iraq, and the President is not doing nearly enough to prepare for this threat.

We need to do more, not less. We need a new domestic intelligence agency, to track down terrorists here in America, infiltrate their cells, and stop them before they harm us. We need more border patrols to keep terrorists out and more port inspections to keep weapons out.

And we need to improve domestic readiness, so police, firefighters, and EMTs have the resources they need to deal with any threat.

America is the world's superpower. We should always maintain our military, economic, and political strength. But we must maintain our moral authority as well - and that means using our strength in a way that promotes our values: democracy, freedom, and human rights.

We have to lead in a way that brings others to us. It is a test of presidential leadership to lead in a way that rallies others to our cause. This President hasn't done that.

But it is also a test of Presidential leadership to have the backbone to say to those who strongly disagree with you -- including your friends -- what you believe.

I believe that Saddam Hussein is a serious threat and that he must be disarmed, including with military force if necessary. We cannot allow him to have nuclear weapons.

I also believe a test for America will come after Saddam is gone. Will we make the commitment to help build a peaceful, democratic, post-Saddam Iraq? Or will we fail to follow-through, as we've done in post-Taliban Afghanistan?

The world is watching us. They know we are strong, they know we are powerful - now they want to know if we care, not only about our peace and our prosperity, but about theirs. And so I say to every American family: your family is safer in a world where America is looked up to and respected, not in a world where America is hated.

We must never forget that what we fight for above all are the basic values of freedom and justice. We need to have the backbone and courage to say that we will not allow John Ashcroft to use the war on terrorism to take away our rights, take away our liberties, and take away our freedom!

We have to protect every American's rights, including every woman's right to choose, to make the most important decisions in her life for herself.

We have to do more to create freedom and opportunity for all our people. This is personal for me. I grew up in the South. I grew up during the civil rights movement. I was raised to believe that we embrace all Americans, no matter who your family is, no matter where you live, no matter what the color of your skin. That's the America we believe in. We believe in lifting people up. So I will not follow, I will lead on civil rights.

We have a responsibility to lift up all people who still, today, live in the shadow of the American dream.

It should not matter if you come from a Mexican-American family, a Vietnamese-American family, or a Korean-American family - we believe in an America where if you are willing to work hard, you should have the same opportunity as people who came over on the Mayflower.

We have to defend efforts to extend opportunity, like the affirmative action program at the University of Michigan. And yes, Mr. President, we have, we are, and we will always demand judges who will enforce our civil rights laws!

The people I grew up with in Robbins, North Carolina, my own father, people all across the real America, they don't ask much from government, but what they ask for matters. They want their leaders to honor their values, have the courage of their convictions, keep their country safe and strong, and give them a chance to make the most of their lives.

George W. Bush does not work for them. Never has, never will.

He is out of touch, out of tune, and in November 2004, he will be out of time!

We will call him to account for his broken promises!

We will challenge him on his duplicity!

And we will hold him responsible for his failures!

I will offer a clear alternative!

I will offer an honest vision!

I will place my trust in the people of this country!

And we will prevail!