"A Hope to Fulfill": Remarks of Senator Barack Obama National Press Club

April 26, 2005

Thank you. It's great to be here at the National Press Club - I want to thank the club as well as the FDR Institute for arranging this luncheon together. I'd also like to thank Anne Roosevelt and Jim Roosevelt, who inspire us all by carrying on the proud legacy of their grandfather.

By the time the Senate Finance Committee holds the first Senate hearing on the President's Social Security plan today, we'll have heard just about everything there is to be said about the issue. We've heard about privatization and benefit cuts, about massive new debt and huge new risks, and we've even been scared into thinking the system will go broke when our kids retire, even though we know there'll be enough money then to pay the vast majority of benefits.

I'm happy to address some of these issues in the Q and A after the speech. But aside from the usual back and forth of this debate, I can't help but think about the larger issue at stake here.

Think about the America that Franklin Roosevelt saw when he looked out the windows of the White House from his wheelchair - an America where too many were ill-fed, ill-clothed, ill-housed, and insecure. An America where more and more Americans were finding themselves on the losing end of a new economy, and where there was nothing available to cushion their fall.

Some thought that our country didn't have a responsibility to do anything about these problems, that people would be better off left to their own devices and the whims of the market. Others believed that American capitalism had failed and that it was time to try something else altogether.

But our President believed deeply in the American idea.

He understood that the freedom to pursue our own individual dreams is made possible by the promise that if fate causes us to stumble or fall, our larger American family will be there to lift us up. That if we're willing to share even a small amount of life's risks and rewards with each other, then we'll all have the chance to make the most of our God-given potential.

And because Franklin Roosevelt had the courage to act on this idea, individual Americans were able to get back on their feet and build a shared prosperity that is still the envy of the world.

The New Deal gave the laid-off worker a guarantee that he could count on unemployment insurance to put food on his family's table while he looked for a new job. It gave the young man who suffered a debilitating accident assurance that he could count on disability benefits to get him through the tough times. A widow might still raise her children without the indignity of charity. And Franklin Roosevelt's greatest legacy promised the couple who put in a lifetime of sacrifice and hard work that they could retire in comfort and dignity because of Social Security.

Today, we're told by those who want to privatize that promise how much things are different and times have changed since Roosevelt's day.

I couldn't agree more.

A child born in this new century is likely to start his life with both parents - or a single parent - working full-time jobs. They'll try their hardest to juggle work and family, but they'll end up needing child care to keep him safe, cared for, and educated early.

They'll want to give him the best education possible, but unless they live in a wealthy town with good public schools, they'll have to settle for less or find the money for private schools.

This student will study hard and dream of going to the best colleges in the country, but with tuition rising higher and faster than ever before, he may have to postpone those dreams or start life deeper in debt than any generation before him.

When he graduates from college, this young man will find a job market where middle-class manufacturing jobs with good benefits have long been replaced with low-wage, low-benefit service sector jobs and high-skill, high-wage jobs of the future.

To get those good jobs, he'll need the skills and knowledge to not only compete with other workers in America, but with highly skilled and highly knowledgeable workers all over the world who are being recruited by the same companies that once made their home in this country.

When he finally starts his job, he'll want health insurance, but rising costs mean that fewer employers can afford to provide that benefit, and when they do, fewer employees can afford the record premiums.

When he starts a family, he'll want to buy a house and a car and pay for child care and college for his own children, but as he watches the lucky few benefit from lucrative bonuses and tax shelters, he'll see his own tax burden rise and his own paycheck barely cover this month's bills.

And when he retires, he'll hope that he and his wife have saved enough, but if there wasn't enough to save, he'll hope that there will still be two Social Security checks that come to the house every month.

These are the challenges we face at the beginning of the 21st century. We shouldn't exaggerate; we aren't seeing the absolute deprivation of the Great Depression. But it cannot be denied that families face more risk and greater insecurity than we have known since FDR's time, even as those families have fewer resources available to help pull themselves through the tough spots. Whereas people were once able to count on their employer to provide health care, pensions, and a job that would last a lifetime, today's worker wonders if suffering a heart attack will cause his employer to drop his coverage, worries about how much he can contribute to his own pension fund, and fears the possibility that he might walk into work tomorrow and find his job outsourced.

Yet, just as the naysayers in Roosevelt's day told us that there was nothing we could do to help people help themselves, the people in power today are telling us that instead of sharing the risks of the new economy, we should shoulder them on our own.

In the end, this is what the debate over the future of Social Security is truly about.

After a lifetime of hard work and contribution to this country, do we tell our seniors that they're on their own, or that we're here for them to provide a basic standard of living? Is the dignity of life in their latter years their problem, or one we all share?

Since this is Washington, you won't hear them answer those questions directly when they talk about Social Security. Instead, they use the word "reform" when they mean "privatize," and they use "strengthen" when they really mean "dismantle." They tell us there's a crisis to get us all riled up so we'll sit down and listen to their plan to privatize.

But we know what the whole thing's really about.

It's not just about cutting guaranteed benefits by up to 50% -- though it certainly does that.

It's not just about borrowing $5 trillion from countries like China and Japan to finance the plan - after all, we know how fiscal conservatives hate debt and deficit.

And it's not even about the ability private accounts to finance the gap in the system - because even the privatization advocates admit they don't.

What this whole thing is about, and why conservatives have been pushing it so hard for so long now, is summed up in one sentence in one White House memo that somehow made its way out of the White House:

"For the first time in six decades, the Social Security battle is one we can win - and in doing so, we can help transform the political and philosophical landscape of the country."

And there it is. Since Social Security was first signed into law almost seventy years ago, at a time when FDR's opponents were calling it a hoax that would never work and some likened it to communism, there has been movement after movement to get rid of the program for purely ideological reasons. Because some still believe that we can't solve the problems we face as one American community; they think this country works better when we're left to face fate by ourselves.

I understand this view. There's something bracing about the Social Darwinist idea, the idea that there isn't a problem that the unfettered free market can't solve. It requires no sacrifice on the part of those of us who have won life's lottery...and doesn't consider who our parents were, or the education we received, or the right breaks that came at the right time.

But I couldn't disagree more. If we privatize Social Security, what will we tell retirees whose investments in the stock market went badly? We're sorry? Keep working? You're on your own?

When people's expected benefits get cut and they have to choose between their groceries and their prescriptions, what will we say then? That's not our problem?

When our debt climbs so high that our children face sky-high taxes just as they're starting their first job, what will we tell them? Deal with it yourselves?

This isn't how America works. This isn't how we saved millions of seniors from a life of poverty seventy years ago. This isn't how we sent a greatest generation of veterans to college so they could build the greatest middle-class in history. And this isn't how we should face the challenges of this new century either.

And yet, this is the direction they're trying to take America on almost every issue. Instead of trying to contain the skyrocketing cost of health care and expand access to the uninsured, the idea behind the President's Health Savings Accounts are to leave the system alone and give you a few extra bucks to go find a plan you can afford on your own. You deal with double digit inflation by going to the doctor less. Instead of strengthening a pension system that provides defined benefits to employees who've worked a lifetime, we'll give you a tax break and hope that you invest well and save well in your own little account. And if none of this works - if you couldn't find affordable insurance and suffer an illness that leaves you thousands of dollars in debt - then you should no longer count on being able to start over by declaring bankruptcy because they've changed the law to put the burden of debt squarely on your shoulders.

Taking responsibility for oneself and showing individual initiative are American values we all share. Frankly, they're values we could stand to see more of in a culture where the buck is too often passed to the next guy. They are values we could use more of here in Washington too.

But the irony of this all-out assault against every existing form of social insurance is that these safety nets are exactly what encourage each of us to be risk-takers and entrepreneurs who are free to pursue our individual ambitions. We get into a car knowing that if someone rear-ends us, they will have insurance to pay for the repairs. We buy a house knowing that our investment is protected by homeowners insurance. We take a chance on start-ups and small businesses because we know that if they fail, there are protections available to cushion our fall. Corporations across America have limited liability for this very reason. Families should too - and that's why we need social insurance. This is how the market works.

This is how America works. And if we want it to keep working, we need to develop new ways for all of us to share the new risks of a 21st century economy, not destroy what we already have.

The genius of Roosevelt was putting into practice the idea that America doesn't have to be a place where our individual aspirations are at war with our common good; it's a place where one makes the other possible.

I think we will save Social Security from privatization this year. And in doing so, we will affirm our belief that we are all connected as one people - ready to share life's risks and rewards for the benefit of each and the good of all.

Let me close by suggesting that Democrats are absolutely united in the need to strengthen Social Security and make it solvent for future generations. We know that, and we want that. And I believe that both Democrats and Republicans can work together to do that. While we're at it, we can begin a debate about the real challenges America faces as the baby boomers begin to retire.

About getting a handle on the growing cost of health care and prescription drugs. About increasing individual and national savings. About strengthening our pension system for the 21st century.

These are important questions that require us to work together, not in a manufactured panic about a genuine but solvable problem, but with the spirit of pragmatism and innovation that will offer every American the secure retirement they have earned.

You know, there are times in the life of this nation where we are individual citizens going about our own business, enjoying the freedoms we've been blessed with.

And then there are times when we are one America, linked by the dignity of each and the destiny of all.

The debate over the future of Social Security must be one of these times.

The people I've met since starting my campaign tell me they don't want a big government that's running their lives, but they do want an active government that will give them the opportunity to make the most of their lives.

Starting with the child born today and the senior moving into the twilight of life, together we can provide that opportunity.

The day Franklin Roosevelt signed the Social Security Act of 1935 into law, he began by saying that "Today, a hope of many years' standing is in large part fulfilled."

It is now time to fulfill our hope for an America where we're in this together - for our seniors, for our children, and for every American in the years and generations yet to come.

Thank you.

SIUC College of Agriculture's 50th Anniversary

April 23, 2005

Thank you. It's always great to be here in Carbondale, and a real honor to speak here at SIUC's first Agriculture Industry Day.

Now, I'll be honest - I haven't done all that much farming living on the South Side of Chicago. But I have to say, my fondest farming memory is when I once offered to help out a friend with his harvest. Knowing the full range of my agricultural experience and expertise, he took one look at me and said..."no thanks."

So when I saw that you guys needed a keynote speaker for a lecture entitled, "Growing the Food, Agriculture, and Natural Resource Economy in Southern Illinois," I said "sign me up."

But seriously, while I don't farm, what I did do during my eight years in the Illinois State Senate, and what I'm doing now as a Senator in Washington, is to constantly listen and learn from people who do farm and who do know the business. And that has helped me tremendously in figuring out how I can best stand up and speak out on the issues that matter to family farmers and to the future of agriculture in this country.

Thanks to all the hard work you're doing here at SIU, that future holds more promise and more potential for America with each passing day. Because in a world where globalization has made it possible for a student in Carbondale to share ideas with one in Calcutta, yet necessary for them to compete for the same jobs, the advances you're making in agriculture could lead to the breakthroughs we need to maintain America's global leadership in the years to come.

This is our new challenge for the new century - and it's different than anything we've ever faced before.

Just think about what the world was like only fifty years ago, when the College of Agriculture was a small, five-man department that taught its students in a few old army barracks. Back then, the big challenge was navigating the soils found in the hills and valleys of southern Illinois. If you could master that, you were ready to graduate and live the farming life, knowing that it would be enough to provide for you and your family.

And even if you didn't go to a fine school like SIU, in those days you still had a shot at the American Dream. Because whether it was on the farm or in a factory, a middle-class job that paid a decent wage and good benefits was easy to come by - and it would probably last you a lifetime. Hard work and sacrifice paid off for most families, and because of the wealth they built, America's economic leadership was unchallenged.

But the world has certainly changed since then, hasn't it?

Today, even a college degree doesn't guarantee a middle-class job that will support a family. What's worse, the cost of getting that degree and the price of health care on that job are rising higher and faster than ever before. Family farmers are being squeezed by big agribusiness, and factory jobs are heading across the ocean where labor is cheap.

We can make sure that the new jobs and new industries that take their place stay in America - but it won't happen by itself. Countries like India and China are churning out more and more qualified college graduates who can compete directly with Americans for jobs that can now be done anywhere in the world. If we want to stay on top, we'll need a nationwide commitment to better education, better training, and the research and discovery that have always made America a land of innovation and optimism.

This is where you guys come in.

The title of this lecture - "Growing the Food, Agriculture, and Natural Resource Economy in Southern Illinois" - is really too narrow to capture the full potential of the work you're doing here at the College of Agriculture. Fifty years ago, it may have only been about the economy in southern Illinois. Fifty years ago, the work you're doing may not have had an impact beyond the farms and borders of a small town like Carbondale.

But today we live in a different world.

Today, a discovery made right here in your Food and Nutrition department could save a person from a lifetime of diabetes in southern California. An SIU student who publishes a paper online about the benefits of soy in preventing prostate cancer could attract the attention of a researcher in Boston who's working on a cure. And a professor who makes a breakthrough in developing drought-resistant crops could save millions from hunger in Africa.

Today, the work you're doing here not only has the potential to improve the lives of people in Illinois and across the world; it offers the opportunity to develop new ideas that will lead to new jobs and a new competitive edge for America in the 21st century. This is the way we can win in the global economy, and here at this school in this Illinois small town, you're helping us get there.

Right now, researchers at this college are studying ways to improve the production and efficiency of ethanol. Again, this may sound small, but just imagine what this could do for our country.

Any of you who've pulled into a gas station lately have noticed how high the prices are getting. You might have decided to drive your car less, or you might have noticed that the cost of gas is cutting into your family budget. The price of oil has now climbed to a record of over $50 a barrel, and we don't even know how much worse it's going to get.

So what do we do about this?

We only have 3% of the world's oil reserves - 65% of our oil is imported from the Middle East. So unless we want to stay dependent forever on a region of the world that's dangerous, politically unstable, and willing to do lord-knows-what with the price of oil, we must find new sources of energy here in America.

It seems like politicians have been saying this forever. But when you look at the record gas prices, and the possibility for more war and turmoil in the Middle East, it's clear that we need less talk and more action.

We can start by producing more ethanol in America.

The future of energy in this country doesn't have to remain in the deserts of the Middle East; we can find it in the corn fields of Illinois and across the Midwest.

Imagine running our cars with a fuel we can literally grow as much as we want of. Imagine using a fuel that's clean and healthy, that's selling for 50 cents cheaper than gasoline, and that places America's energy needs in America's hands.

This kind of future is here - but to expand ethanol's promise across the nation, you guys need to keep up the great research here and we need to step up the legislative process in Washington.

Recently, I joined a few other Senators in introducing a bill that would increase America's renewable fuel standard and increase ethanol production along with it. A bill like this that's already passed the Senate twice would've provided us with 500,000 barrels a day of refined ethanol for use in gasoline and would save us $4 billion every year in imported oil and gasoline costs.

Just think of what this would do for our economy. Farmers would earn more for their corn, businesses would invest more in the type of community-sized ethanol facilities that would grow the downstate economy, and over 200,000 jobs would be created. We've got bipartisan support for this bill, so I'm pretty confident that this is the year we're finally going to get it done.

The other ethanol bill I've introduced would make it easier for more cars to be powered by cheaper, cleaner, ethanol-based fuel. As most of you probably know, there's a fuel known as E85 that's made from 85% ethanol and 15% gasoline. It's a great alternative to gasoline, but the only problem is that we're in short supply of E85 fueling stations. Down here in southern Illinois, you drive by miles and miles of corn fields that can produce ethanol, but only 3 E85 stations in all of southern Illinois, and not one in Carbondale. So the bill I'm sponsoring would provide a tax credit of 50% to anyone who wants to build an E85 fuel station. And to give consumers a good deal too, it'll provide a tax credit of 35 cents per gallon of E85 fuel.
We've talked for too long about energy independence in this country, and I think these proposals finally give us an opportunity to do something about it. You've all been doing your part here at SIU, and it's high time for Washington to do our part.

I've always believed that the incredible story of progress that is America has been built by those who ask why, what if, and why not - questions asked by the very students at this college every day they choose to confront the challenges of this new century. It is this fundamental character of the American spirit - the desire to move forward, look around the next corner, and reach for the unreachable - that put the first man on the moon, led to a cure for polio, and launched the technological revolution of the nineties.

And as the College of Agriculture looks ahead to its next fifty years, we'd do well to ask ourselves "What will they say about us at the 100th anniversary?" As we face a new and different world that brings both great promise and great peril, what will we do move America towards a new and better day?

You won't find the answers from your professors - and certainly not from politicians. You'll find them by continuing to ask yourselves those questions - why, what if, and why not. And as you keep studying and researching here at school, remember that the answers you discover will not only have an impact where you live and learn, but across a world that is just waiting to hear from the next generation of dreamers. Thank you.

Remarks by Senator Barack Obama at the Opening of the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum

April 20, 2005

Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum
Let me congratulate all of those who have helped to make this wonderful vision a reality.

But we gather here today not to celebrate a building. We gather to celebrate a man.

What is it that makes Lincoln such a seminal figure in our story? How is it that this man, born in the backwoods of Kentucky, with little formal education, homely and awkward, a man given to depression and wracked with self-doubt, might come to represent so much of who we are as a people, and so much of what we aspire to be?

Some of it has to do with the trajectory of his life. In his rise from poverty, his self-study and ultimate mastery of language and of law, in his capacity to overcome personal loss and remain determined in the face of repeated defeat - in all of this we see a fundamental element of the American character, a belief that we can constantly remake ourselves to fit our larger dreams.

Some of it has to do with the sheer energy of the man, the railsplitter, ax-in-hand, looking out at a frontier of hope and possibility. Lincoln believed deeply in the American spirit of innovation and exploration that accepts no limits to the heights to which our nation might reach.

In all of this - the repeated acts of self-creation, the insistence that with sweated brow and calloused hands and focused will we can recast the wilderness of the American landscape and the American heart into something better, something finer - in all of this Lincoln embodies our deepest myths. It is a mythology that drives us still.

And yet what separates Lincoln from the other great men has to do with something else. It's an issue of character that speaks to us, of moral resolve. Lincoln was not a perfect man, nor a perfect president. By modern standards, his condemnation of slavery might be considered tentative; his Emancipation Proclamation more a military document than a clarion call for justice. He wasn't immune to political considerations; his temperament could be indecisive and morose.

And yet despite these imperfections, despite his fallibility...indeed, perhaps because of a painful self-awareness of his own failings, etched in every crease of his face and reflected in those haunted eyes...because of this essential humanity of his, when it came time to confront the greatest moral challenge this nation has ever faced, Lincoln did not flinch. He did not equivocate or duck or pass the challenge on to future generations. He did not demonize the fathers and sons who did battle on the other side, nor seek to diminish the terrible costs of his war. In the midst of slavery's dark storm and the complexities of governing a house divided, he kept his moral compass pointed firm and true.

It serves us then to reflect on whether that element of Lincoln's character, and the American character - that aspect which makes tough choices, and speaks the truth when least convenient, and acts while still admitting doubt - remains with us today. Lincoln once said that "character is like a tree and reputation like its shadow. The shadow is what we think of it; the tree is the real thing."

At a time when image all too often trumps substance, when our politics all too often feeds rather than bridges division, when the prospects of a poor youth rising out of poverty seem of no consequence to the powerful, and when we evoke our common God to condemn those who do not think as we do, rather than to seek God's mercy for our own lack of understanding - at such a time it is helpful to remember this man who was the real thing. Lincoln reminds us that our essential greatness is not the shadow of sophistication or popularity, or wealth or power or fleeting celebrity. It is the tree that stands in the face of our doubts and fears and bigotries, and insists we can do better.

Today we come to celebrate not a building but a man. And as that man called once upon the better angels of our nature, so is he calling still, across the ages, to summon some measure of that character, his character, in each of us, today.

Statement of Senator Barack Obama About His Amendment to Provide Meals and Phone Service to Wounded Veterans

April 14, 2005

M. President, today I am offering an amendment to the fiscal year 2005 Emergency Supplemental, which I am pleased to announce is being cosponsored by Senators Corzine, Bingaman, and Graham. This amendment would meet certain needs of our injured service members in recognition of the tremendous sacrifices they have made in defense of our country.

The other day I had the opportunity to visit some of our wounded heroes at Walter Reed Army Medical Center.

I know that many of my colleagues have made the same trip and I'd heard about their visits, but there is nothing that can fully prepare you for what you see when you take that first step into the Physical Therapy room.

These are kids in there. Our kids. The ones we watched grow up. The ones we hoped would live lives that were happy, healthy, and safe. These kids left their homes and families for a dangerous place halfway around the world. After years of being protected by their parents, these kids risked their lives to protect us.

And now, some of them have come home from that war with scars that may change their lives forever - scars that may never heal. And yet they sit there in that hospital, so full of hope and still so proud of their country.

These kids are the best of America. They deserve our highest respect, and they deserve our help.

Recently, I learned that some of our most severely wounded soldiers are being forced to pay for their own meals and their own phone calls while being treated in medical hospitals.

Up until last year, there was a law on the books that prohibited soldiers from receiving both their basic subsistence allowance and free meals from the military. Basically, this law allowed the government to charge our wounded heroes for food while they were recovering from their war injuries.

Thankfully, this body acted to change this law in 2003 so that wounded soldiers wouldn't have to pay for their meals.

But, we're dealing with a bureaucracy here, and as we all know, nothing is ever simple in a bureaucracy. So now, because the Department of Defense doesn't consider getting physical therapy or rehabilitation services in a medical hospital as "being hospitalized," there are wounded veterans who still do not qualify for the free meals other veterans receive. And after 90 days, even those classified as hospitalized on an outpatient status lose their free meals as well.

Also, while our soldiers in the field qualify for free phone service, injured service men and women who may be hospitalized hundreds or thousands of miles from home do not receive this benefit.

For soldiers whose family members aren't able to take off work and travel to a military hospital, hearing the familiar voice of a mom or dad or husband or wife on the other side of the phone can make all the difference in the world.

And yet, our government will not help pay for these calls. And it will not help pay for those meals.

Think about that. Think about the sacrifice these kids have made for their country, many of them literally risking life and sacrificing limb.

And now, at $8.10 a meal, they could end up with a $250 bill from the government that sent them to war every single month. This is wrong, and we have a moral obligation to fix it.

The first amendment that I'm offering today will do this. It will expand the group of "hospitalized" soldiers who cannot be charged for their meals to include those service members undergoing medical recuperation, therapy or otherwise on "medical hold." The number of people affected by this amendment will be small. Only about 4000 service members are estimated to fall under the category of "non-hospitalized."

The amendment is retroactive to January 1, 2005, in an effort to provide those injured service members who may have received bills for their meals with some relief from those costs. The amendment will also extend free phone service to those injured service members who are hospitalized or otherwise undergoing medical recuperation or therapy. I am proud that this amendement is supported by the American Legion, and I hope my colleagues will join them in that support.

I ask my colleagues to join me in supporting this amendment. These are our kids out there, and they're risking their lives for us. When they come home with injuries, the government that asked these kids to serve should provide them with the best possible care and support. This is a small price to pay for those who have sacrificed so much for their country.

I thank the Senior Senator from Alaska and my colleague from Mississippi for working with me on this issue. I am hopeful we can reach an agreement on this.



PROBLEM: Soldiers Receiving Treatment Must Pay for Their Own Meals

- The Department of Defense does not consider getting physical therapy or rehabilitation services in a medical hospital as being "hospitalized." Service members receiving treatment in military medical facilities who are on outpatient status for longer than 90 days are required to pay for their meals.

PROBLEM: Soldiers Receiving Treatment Must Pay for Phone Service

- All injured service members receiving treatment in military hospitals as far away as Germany must pay for their own service.

- In 2004, Congress required that prepaid phone cards be provided without cost to service members in theatre. The soldiers receive a benefit of $40 or 120 minutes per month.

SOLUTION: What the Care for Wounded Heroes Act Does

- Provides free meals in military hospitals for service members wounded in Iraq or Afghanistan who are undergoing medical recuperation or therapy or are on "medical hold."

- Gives service members wounded in Iraq or Afghanistan the same phone service benefits that they received while in theatre.

Statement of Senator Barack Obama on the Nuclear Option

April 13, 2005

Mr. President, I rise today to urge my colleagues to think about the implications the nuclear option would have on this chamber and this country. I urge you to think not just about winning every debate, but about protecting free and democratic debate.

During my Senate campaign, I had the privilege and the opportunity to meet Americans from all walks of life and both ends of the political spectrum. They told me about their lives, about their hopes, about the issues that mattered to them, and they also told me what they think about Washington.

Because you've all heard it yourselves, I know it won't surprise many of you to learn that a lot of people don't think much gets done around here about the issues they care most about. They think the atmosphere has become too partisan, the arguments have become too nasty, and the political agendas have become too petty.

And while I haven't been here too long, I've noticed that partisan debate is sharp, and dissent is not always well-received. Honest differences of opinion and principled compromise often seem to be the victim of a determination to score points against one's opponents.

But the American people sent us here to be their voice. They understand that those voices can at times become loud and argumentative, but they also hope that we can disagree without being disagreeable. And at the end of the day, they expect both parties to work together to get the people's business done.

What they don't expect is for one party - be it Republican or Democrat - to change the rules in the middle of the game so that they can make all the decisions while the other party is told to sit down and keep quiet. The American people want less partisanship in this town, but everyone in this chamber knows that if the majority chooses to end the filibuster - if they choose to change the rules and put an end to democratic debate - then the fighting and the bitterness and the gridlock will only get worse.

I understand that Republicans are getting a lot of pressure to do this from factions outside the chamber. But we need to rise above an "ends justify the means" mentality because we're here to answer to the people - all of the people - not just the ones wearing our party label.

The fact is that both parties have worked together to confirm 95% of this President's judicial nominees. The Senate has accepted 205 of his 214 selections. In fact, we just confirmed another one judge this week by a vote of 95-0. Overall, this is a better record than any President's had in the last 25 years. For a President who received 51% of the vote and a Senate chamber made up of 55% of the President's party, I'd say that confirming 95% of your judicial nominations is a record I'd be pretty happy with.

Again, I urge my Republican colleagues not to go through with changing these rules. In the long run, this is not a good result for either party. One day Democrats will be in the majority again, and this rule change will be no fairer to a Republican minority than it is to a Democratic minority.

Mr. President, I sense that talk of the nuclear option is more about power than about fairness. I believe some of my colleagues propose this rules change because they can get away with it rather than because they know it's good for our democracy.

Right now, we're faced with rising gas prices, skyrocketing tuition costs, a record number of uninsured Americans, and some of the most serious national security threats we've ever had, all while our bravest young men and women are risking their lives halfway around the world to keep us safe.

These are challenges we all want to meet and problems we all want to solve, even if we don't all agree how to do it. But if the right of free and open debate is taken away from the minority party and the millions of Americans who asked us to be their voice, I fear that the already partisan atmosphere of Washington will be poisoned to the point where no one will be able to agree on anything. That doesn't serve anyone's best interests, and it certainly isn't what the patriots who founded this democracy had in mind.

We owe the people who sent us here more than that. We owe them much more.

Thank you.

Confirmation Hearing of John Bolton: Opening Statement of Senator Barack Obama

April 11, 2005

Mr. Chairman and Senator Biden, the position of United States Permanent Representative to the United Nations is one of the most important diplomatic positions in the entire U.S. government.

Some of the most distinguished Americans - Democrats and Republicans like Daniel Patrick Moynihan, George H.W. Bush, and Henry Cabot Lodge - have served with honor in this position.

Yet, there is one man from my home state of Illinois whose experience as Permanent Representative is quite relevant today.

Adlai Stevenson served in this position during the Cuban Missile Crisis. And, as we all know, it was Stevenson's presentation to the U.N. Security Council that proved to the world that the Soviets were moving intermediate range missiles into Cuba. Using charts and photos to build a compelling case, Stevenson declared to Soviet Ambassador Zorin that he was prepared to wait "until Hell freezes over" for Zorin's response to the U.S. charges.

What few people remember is that Stevenson's presentation came on the heels of what one might call an "intelligence failure." A year earlier, Stevenson had been misled by the White House and the CIA into publicly stating that the United States was not behind the Bay of Pigs invasion. Stevenson almost resigned over the incident.

This series of events is important to keep in mind today. During the Cuban Missile Crisis, we were able to succeed diplomatically because of the stature and integrity of our Permanent Representative to the United Nations. In fact, President Kennedy said that, "the integrity and credibility of Adlai Stevenson constitute one of our greatest national assets."

As a result, Adlai Stevenson was able to get tough, isolate the Soviets, and convince the world we were right.

Today, we face a similar situation. With the rest of the world questioning our intelligence capabilities, and nuclear proliferation threats from Iran to North Korea that may require action by the U.N. Security Council, we must be able to convince the world that we are right. Now, more than ever, we need a credible messenger at the U.N.

Unfortunately, I have some serious reservations about whether Mr. Bolton is the right man for the job:

First, senior U.S. intelligence officials have called into question Mr. Bolton's credibility on statements he's made about non-proliferation. There are also accusations related to political pressure on intelligence analysts who did not agree with Mr. Bolton's statements. Considering that he's the top arms control official at the State Department, this is troubling to say the least.

Second, Mr. Bolton's history of inflammatory statements about the U.N. would seem to make it more difficult for him to advance U.S. interests at the U.N. I am concerned about whether Mr. Bolton even believes the U.N. is a viable institution and a useful instrument of U.S. foreign policy. Saying that it wouldn't make a difference if you lop off ten floors of the UN building in New York isn't exactly the best way to earn people's respect and support - whatever the context.

Finally, Mr. Bolton appears to have an overly confrontational history with several member-states on the Security Council. Like Adlai Stevenson, I believe there are times to be tough. But statements like "I don't do carrots" coming from someone who wants to be our chief diplomat at the U.N. certainly give me pause.

Mr. Chairman, there is no question that we need someone in New York who is unafraid to shake things up and challenge the status quo. But, we also need someone with the credibility, temperament, and diplomatic skill to work with other nations, form coalitions, and advance U.S. interests.

That is why I've invoked the memory of Adlai Stevenson here today: he was tough; he was credible; he was diplomatic. Most importantly, he was effective. Stevenson proved that we should not make compromises or trade-offs when selecting our Representative to the U.N.

I want to give Mr. Bolton a chance to speak on these issues, and so my mind is not made up yet. I want to hear from him as to how he can be an effective and credible advocate for the U.S. I look forward to hearing his testimony and answers to the Committee's questions.

Remarks by Senator Barack Obama at the Rockford Register Star Young American Awards

May 07, 2005

Thank you, and congratulations to all of this year's Young Americans.

Now that you've each received your award, I have one question for all of you:

What are you going to do with it?

I know that after you wear it out of here, your parents will proudly hang it up somewhere in the house where everyone can see it. And at some point you'll go off to college and, against our best wishes, probably find a way to use it to open certain beverages.

But my question is - what are you going to do with it? What are you going to make of this honor and this recognition? What will it mean in your lives?

The committee who gave you this award, your parents, all of us - we hope that it means you will go on to achieve great things, find immeasureable success, and discover the job of your dreams.

But we also hold another hope.

You're all sitting here because in each of you, someone saw a spark.

It's a spark that goes deeper than tests and grades, varsity letters and service awards. It's the spark that keeps each of you asking the questions, what if, why, and why not? The one that keeps you always searching for answers to those questions. The one that makes you say, "I don't have to be content with the present, because I have a role in changing the future."

What each of you has is the desire to learn not just for the next test or even the next diploma, but to learn for the sake of learning. To constantly look around your world and seek new ways to improve it. To embrace change as the inevitable engine of progress.

At the dawn of the 21st century, when the world is changing faster than we could've ever imagined, this spark, this skill - lifelong learning - is the most important thing you can take with you when you graduate here.

Why, you're wondering. What's he talking about?

Well, I'm talking about McDonald's.

Some of you may know that McDonald's headquarters is located over in Oak Brook, Illinois.

But what you may not know about is three very innovative McDonald's restaurants that have opened around the state.

At these restaurants, you pull up to a drive-through window to give your order. Nothing new there. But while you're pondering which processed food to order, your order's being processed by a voice that's sitting hundreds of miles away at a call center in Colorado or even Canada. There, they take a digital picture of your car, match it up with your order, and send it back to the people preparing your food. This makes the orders quicker, more accurate, and more profitable for McDonald's.

And just like that, driving back to yell at the person who forgot your fries could mean a 14 hour car ride.

So why am I telling this story? What does this mean for all of you?

It means that we haven't even begun to understand or feel the full impact of the technological revolution that happened in the last decade. It means walls between countries have been torn down and the global community has become more connected through the internet, cell phones, video phones, and other advances in communication.

And it leaves all of you with this challenge:

If the miracle of technology means that McDonald's can send its drive-thru jobs across the country, just think of where other companies can send theirs. And so while the first Young American Award winners in 1956 competed for jobs with kids in Illinois and Wisconsin and Iowa, you'll be competing with kids from India, China, and all over the world who are being educated more and longer than ever before.

So what do we do? What can you do?

We can't stop this, but we can be prepared for it. And as Young American award winners, you've already taken the first step.

See, in this new world, knowledge really is power. A new idea can lead not just to a new product or a new job, but entire new industries and a new way of thinking about the world.

And so you need to be the Idea Generation.

The generation who's always thinking on the cutting edge, who's wondering how to create and keep the next wave of American jobs and American innovations, who's figuring out how to out-compete the Idea Generations of Indias and Chinas of the world.

They're already sending drive-thru jobs across the country - what will you guys do?

To figure this out, you'll need to graduate first. Then you'll need a college diploma - and we need to make sure that everyone in America is afforded the chance to get one of those.

Last year, 220,000 young people gave up on their dream to go to college for the simple reason that they could not afford the price of tuition, which is now rising at the rate of almost 10% a year. If we have any hope of competing and winning in today's economy, we cannot let our kids' college dreams be dashed because of a hefty price tag. In Washington, I've been trying to do something about this by introducing the HOPE Act, which would make college more affordable for 430,000 Americans by increasing Pell Grant awards. But we must do more to make sure that young Americans here and everywhere have a chance at a college diploma.

But even beyond those diplomas, you'll need something else to succeed in the years ahead. You'll need to keep that spark that's got this far. The one that will keep you learning the new rules, solving the new mysteries, and discovering the new answers of this brand new century.

It is this fundamental character of the American spirit - the desire to move forward, look around the next corner, and reach for the unreachable - that put the first man on the moon, led to a cure for polio, and launched the technological revolution of the nineties.

And if you Young Americans keep that spirit alive, I think we'll be just fine.

Congratulations to all of you on your achievements, and may God Bless you. Thank you.

Remarks of Senator Barack Obama at the Herblock Foundation Annual Lecture

April 06, 2005

Herblock Foundation Annual Lecture, Washington, DC
Thank you for inviting me here tonight. It's been a pretty busy week, but I figured I'd better do my best to show up here since I can't think of an easier target for political cartoonists than a tall, skinny guy with big ears and a funny name.

I want to start by congratulating Frank Swoboda and the other members of the Herblock foundation for doing such great charitable work in so little time. Every day he touched his pen to paper, Herblock made a difference in this world, and I'm sure he's looking down with pride knowing that every day you walk into the foundation, you're doing the same.

When I was preparing for this speech, I thought a lot about Herblock's philosophy on life that he would mention from time to time. As a cartoonist, Herb was always able to illustrate deeply-held convictions about complicated political issues with a few brief strokes. And so it was with this simple, graceful, yet profoundly challenging philosophy that was passed down to him from his parents:

"Be a good citizen, and think about the other guy."

Looking back on our history, at times this has been a lot harder than it sounds. But thanks to people like Herblock, we've still done a pretty good job trying. And when we've succeeded, it's made America the place where dreams are possible, where freedoms of speech and press and worship are protected, and where the rising tide lifts the boats of the many instead of just the few.

That's the America we love - the America we hope for - but that's not the America we can have by leaving this country on autopilot and going about our own business. That America takes work. It takes a belief that we're all connected as one people - that we rise and fall as one nation. It takes looking at the 45 million Americans without health insurance, the 1 in 5 children born into poverty every day, and the hundreds of thousands of veterans who don't get the care they need when they come home and saying their problems are our problems - all of us - and we have a responsibility to do something about them. And sometimes it just takes a man with a pen who's got the courage to draw those problems for the rest of us to see.

Be a good citizen. Think about the other guy.

You know, last week I was in Illinois visiting college campuses all over the state. I met some great students - good citizens themselves who want to work hard for their future and their country. But I also heard these students tell some stories that should give us all pause. I heard them talk about how they were working 25, 35 hours a week on top of going to classes to help pay for their tuition. A lot of them aren't looking forward to graduation day with excitement, but with anxiety, because that'll be the first day of debt payments that could last a lifetime. And there are even some of them who'll get their tuition bill in the mail, open it, and make the heart-wrenching decision to not come back next semester.

220,000 young Americans gave up on their dream to go to college last year for the simple reason that they could not afford the price of tuition, which is now rising at the rate of almost 10% a year. Over the last twenty-five years, it's gone up an astounding 519%. Add to that the rising cost of health care, child care, and a falling family income, and you can begin to get a picture of what these kids are facing.

The chance to go to college - the chance to unlock so many doors of opportunity and possibility - has always been a foundation of the American Dream. It's a chance once provided to my grandfather and so many other returning World War II soldiers by the GI Bill of Rights, which led to the creation of the largest middle-class in history. It's a chance that once made a young African's dreams come true when the University of Hawaii gave my father a scholarship to study in America. And it's a chance given to me by my parents, who weren't rich but believed that in a generous America, you don't have to be rich to achieve your potential - that it can be realized through hard work and education.

Today, at the beginning of 21st century, we know that the high-wage, high-value jobs of tomorrow place a higher premium on a college education than ever before. More and more, Americans are competing for these jobs with highly educated workers from India, China, and all over the world. If we want America to win in this new global economy, we have to start sending more kids to college, not less.

And so, as I stood in those Illinois colleges listening to students tell me about their problems, I started thinking, when did the cost of college stop becoming our problem? When did the headlines about skyrocketing tuition start getting crowded out by Michael Jackson and Martha Stewart, and when did this national priority start playing second fiddle to the latest partisan food fight in Washington?

I'm not sure, but I do know that I've met enough good citizens who think about the other guy and want to change this. And I believe there are enough members of both parties who want to start this country down the path of making college affordable and accessible for every American.

I look around this room tonight and feel both fortunate and hopeful that I'm in the company of folks who are already doing their part to get us there. When you announce the winners of the first Herblock scholarships this year, you're not only fulfilling Herblock's wishes, but the dreams of kids who just want the chance to succeed.

I believe it's time for Congress to follow your lead. This week, I'm introducing the Higher Education Opportunity through Pell Grant Expansion Act - the HOPE Act. This bill will make college more affordable for 430,000 Americans by increasing Pell Grant awards. Today, 5.3 million undergraduate students use these grants to fund their education. But the awards just haven't kept up with the rising price of tuition or even inflation. As a result, the current $4,050 Pell Grant maximum is $700 less in real terms than the maximum grant 30 years ago. Pell Grants now cover only 23% of the total cost of the average four-year public college.

The HOPE Act would correct this problem by raising the Pell Grant maximum to $5,100, and it would continue to raise this maximum in future years to keep up with inflation. The bill would also make sure that no student sees a reduction in Pell Grant assistance due to recent changes in the eligibility formula.

I know that some of you might be thinking that it's impossible to get anything done in Washington these days, but I think we can get bipartisan support to pass this bill. Because working families are already burdened with too many taxes, this bill is paid for without adding to the deficit or raising a dime of taxes. Instead, it will close two loopholes that guarantee banks and private lenders an additional $2 billion in taxpayer subsidies a year on top of the interest that college students and their families pay. Now, I don't blame the banks for wanting to make an extra $2 billion in profits every year, but it's our job as a society to tell them that sending our kids to college is a higher priority.

In a country filled with so much wealth and opportunity, it's hard to imagine that there are hundreds of thousands of parents every year who are forced to turn to kids who've worked hard and studied hard all through school and tell them "No, we can't send you to college."

But it's harder to imagine that any of us could rest until those parents can start saying "yes we can" to their kids.

We have the opportunity to give them that chance. We have the opportunity for this to be one of those times where we succeed at making America the place where good people who care do great things. We have the opportunity to build the America that Herblock dreamed of drawing.

But to do this, we need to show the same courage to challenge the public debate that Herblock showed. I haven't been in Washington very long, but sometimes part of the problem is that very important issues become reduced to simple partisan talking points and silly exaggerations. These get reported back and forth in the mainstream media in a he-said/she-said fashion, and pretty soon we get a "conventional wisdom" that ends up being much more conventional than it is wise.

But what I love about political cartoonists - at least, what I'll love about them until I open up the paper and see a drawing of my big ears accompanied by something that came out of my big mouth - is that they cut through the conventional wisdom and just tell it like it is. People like Herblock and Tony Auth and others can jolt us awake from our political cynicism with a few ingenious images and a clever phrase that can often speak more truth than a thousand words. And this is the kind of wake-up call our politics needs today more than ever.

You know, the other day I was looking through some of the cartoons in the Library of Congress' online Herblock collection, and I came across one that was given to Herblock by fellow cartoonist Joel Pett a few years ago.

The cartoon shows a man and a woman looking at a gallery filled with Herblock cartoons. And as the man stops in front of one particular cartoon, he turns to the woman and says, "This guy isn't recording history...this guy is making history."

This was not only Herblock's life, but his lesson to all of us. Be a good citizen, think about the other guy, but most importantly, do something about it. Whether it's through cartoons or campaigns, by taking it to the streets or taking it to your editor, tackling the biggest issues or lending a simple hand to your neighbor, these are the ways we leave our mark on the land we love - the same way Herblock left his mark on the pages of the Washington Post every week. And that's a legacy we can all aspire to. Thank you.