A Politics of Conscience

Hartford, CT | June 23, 2007

It's great to be here. I've been speaking to a lot of churches recently, so it's nice to be speaking to one that's so familiar. I understand you switched venues at considerable expense and inconvenience because of unfair labor practices at the place you were going to be having this synod. Clearly, the past 50 years have not weakened your resolve as faithful witnesses of the gospel. And I'm glad to see that.

It's been several months now since I announced I was running for president. In that time, I've had the chance to talk with Americans all across this country. And I've found that no matter where I am, or who I'm talking to, there's a common theme that emerges. It's that folks are hungry for change - they're hungry for something new. They're ready to turn the page on the old politics and the old policies - whether it's the war in Iraq or the health care crisis we're in, or a school system that's leaving too many kids behind despite the slogans.

But I also get the sense that there's a hunger that's deeper than that - a hunger that goes beyond any single cause or issue. It seems to me that each day, thousands of Americans are going about their lives - dropping the kids off at school, driving to work, shopping at the mall, trying to stay on their diets, trying to kick a cigarette habit - and they're coming to the realization that something is missing. They're deciding that their work, their possessions, their diversions, their sheer busyness, is not enough.

They want a sense of purpose, a narrative arc to their lives. They're looking to relieve a chronic loneliness. And so they need an assurance that somebody out there cares about them, is listening to them - that they are not just destined to travel down that long road toward nothingness.

And this restlessness - this search for meaning - is familiar to me. I was not raised in a particularly religious household. My father, who I didn't know, returned to Kenya when I was just two. He was nominally a Muslim since there were a number of Muslims in the village where he was born. But by the time he was a young adult, he was an atheist. My mother, whose parents were non-practicing Baptists and Methodists, was one of the most spiritual souls I ever knew. She had this enormous capacity for wonder, and lived by the Golden Rule. But she had a healthy skepticism of religion as an institution. And as a consequence, so did I.

It wasn't until after college, when I went to Chicago to work as a community organizer for a group of Christian churches, that I confronted my own spiritual dilemma. In a sense, what brought me to Chicago in the first place was a hunger for some sort of meaning in my life. I wanted to be part of something larger. I'd been inspired by the civil rights movement - by all the clear-eyed, straight-backed, courageous young people who'd boarded buses and traveled down South to march and sit at lunch counters, and lay down their lives in some cases for freedom. I was too young to be involved in that movement, but I felt I could play a small part in the continuing battle for justice by helping rebuild some of Chicago's poorest neighborhoods.

So it's 1985, and I'm in Chicago, and I'm working with these churches, and with lots of laypeople who are much older than I am. And I found that I recognized in these folks a part of myself. I learned that everyone's got a sacred story when you take the time to listen. And I think they recognized a part of themselves in me too. They saw that I knew the Scriptures and that many of the values I held and that propelled me in my work were values they shared. But I think they also sensed that a part of me remained removed and detached - that I was an observer in their midst.

And slowly, I came to realize that something was missing as well - that without an anchor for my beliefs, without a commitment to a particular community of faith, at some level I would always remain apart, and alone.

And it's around this time that some pastors I was working with came up to me and asked if I was a member of a church. "If you're organizing churches," they said, "it might be helpful if you went to church once in a while." And I thought, "Well, I guess that makes sense."

So one Sunday, I put on one of the few clean jackets I had, and went over to Trinity United Church of Christ on 95th Street on the South Side of Chicago. And I heard Reverend Jeremiah A. Wright deliver a sermon called "The Audacity of Hope." And during the course of that sermon, he introduced me to someone named Jesus Christ. I learned that my sins could be redeemed. I learned that those things I was too weak to accomplish myself, He would accomplish with me if I placed my trust in Him. And in time, I came to see faith as more than just a comfort to the weary or a hedge against death, but rather as an active, palpable agent in the world and in my own life.

It was because of these newfound understandings that I was finally able to walk down the aisle of Trinity one day and affirm my Christian faith. It came about as a choice, and not an epiphany. I didn't fall out in church, as folks sometimes do. The questions I had didn't magically disappear. The skeptical bent of my mind didn't suddenly vanish. But kneeling beneath that cross on the South Side, I felt I heard God's spirit beckoning me. I submitted myself to His will, and dedicated myself to discovering His truth and carrying out His works.

But my journey is part of a larger journey - one shared by all who've ever sought to apply the values of their faith to our society. It's a journey that takes us back to our nation's founding, when none other than a UCC church inspired the Boston Tea Party and helped bring an Empire to its knees. In the following century, men and women of faith waded into the battles over prison reform and temperance, public education and women's rights - and above all, abolition. And when the Civil War was fought and our country dedicated itself to a new birth of freedom, they took on the problems of an industrializing nation - fighting the crimes against society and the sins against God that they felt were being committed in our factories and in our slums.

And when these battles were overtaken by others and when the wars they opposed were waged and won, these faithful foot soldiers for justice kept marching. They stood on the Edmund Pettus Bridge, as the blows of billy clubs rained down. They held vigils across this country when four little girls were killed in the 16th Street Baptist Church. They cheered on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial when Dr. King delivered his prayer for our country. And in all these ways, they helped make this country more decent and more just.

So doing the Lord's work is a thread that's run through our politics since the very beginning. And it puts the lie to the notion that the separation of church and state in America means faith should have no role in public life. Imagine Lincoln's Second Inaugural without its reference to "the judgments of the Lord." Or King's "I Have a Dream" speech without its reference to "all of God's children." Or President Kennedy's Inaugural without the words, "here on Earth, God's work must truly be our own." At each of these junctures, by summoning a higher truth and embracing a universal faith, our leaders inspired ordinary people to achieve extraordinary things.

But somehow, somewhere along the way, faith stopped being used to bring us together and started being used to drive us apart. It got hijacked. Part of it's because of the so-called leaders of the Christian Right, who've been all too eager to exploit what divides us. At every opportunity, they've told evangelical Christians that Democrats disrespect their values and dislike their Church, while suggesting to the rest of the country that religious Americans care only about issues like abortion and gay marriage; school prayer and intelligent design. There was even a time when the Christian Coalition determined that its number one legislative priority was tax cuts for the rich. I don't know what Bible they're reading, but it doesn't jibe with my version.

But I'm hopeful because I think there's an awakening taking place in America. People are coming together around a simple truth - that we are all connected, that I am my brother's keeper; I am my sister's keeper. And that it's not enough to just believe this - we have to do our part to make it a reality. My faith teaches me that I can sit in church and pray all I want, but I won't be fulfilling God's will unless I go out and do the Lord's work.

That's why pastors, friends of mine like Rick Warren and T.D. Jakes and organizations like World Vision and Catholic Charities are wielding their enormous influence to confront poverty, HIV/AIDS, and the genocide in Darfur. Religious leaders like my friends Rev. Jim Wallis and Rabbi David Saperstein and Nathan Diament are working for justice and fighting for change. And all across the country, communities of faith are sponsoring day care programs, building senior centers, and in so many other ways, taking part in the project of American renewal.

Yet what we also understand is that our values should express themselves not just through our churches or synagogues, temples or mosques; they should express themselves through our government. Because whether it's poverty or racism, the uninsured or the unemployed, war or peace, the challenges we face today are not simply technical problems in search of the perfect ten-point plan. They are moral problems, rooted in both societal indifference and individual callousness - in the imperfections of man.

And so long as we're not doing everything in our personal and collective power to solve them, we know the conscience of our nation cannot rest.

Our conscience can't rest so long as 37 million Americans are poor and forgotten by their leaders in Washington and by the media elites. We need to heed the biblical call to care for "the least of these" and lift the poor out of despair. That's why I've been fighting to expand the Earned Income Tax Credit and the minimum wage. If you're working forty hours a week, you shouldn't be living in poverty. But we also know that government initiatives are not enough. Each of us in our own lives needs to do what we can to help the poor. And until we do, our conscience cannot rest.

Our conscience cannot rest so long as nearly 45 million Americans don't have health insurance and the millions more who do are going bankrupt trying to pay for it. I have made a solemn pledge that I will sign a universal health care bill into law by the end of my first term as president that will cover every American and cut the cost of a typical family's premiums by up to $2500 a year. That's not simply a matter of policy or ideology - it's a moral commitment.

And until we stop the genocide that's being carried out in Darfur as I speak, our conscience cannot rest. This is a problem that's brought together churches and synagogues and mosques and people of all faiths as part of a grassroots movement. Universities and states, including Illinois, are taking part in a divestment campaign to pressure the Sudanese government to stop the killings. It's not enough, but it's helping. And it's a testament to what we can achieve when good people with strong convictions stand up for their beliefs.

And we should close Guantanamo Bay and stop tolerating the torture of our enemies. Because it's not who we are. It's not consistent with our traditions of justice and fairness. And it offends our conscience.

But we also know our conscience cannot rest so long as the war goes on in Iraq. It's a war I'm proud I opposed from the start - a war that should never have been authorized and never been waged. I have a plan that would have already begun redeploying our troops with the goal of bringing all our combat brigades home by March 31st of next year. The President vetoed a similar plan, but he doesn't have the last word, and we're going to keep at it, until we bring this war to an end. Because the Iraq war is not just a security problem, it's a moral problem.

And there's another issue we must confront as well. Today there are 12 million undocumented immigrants in America, most of them working in our communities, attending our churches, and contributing to our country.

Now, as children of God, we believe in the worth and dignity of every human being; it doesn't matter where that person came from or what documents they have. We believe that everyone, everywhere should be loved, and given the chance to work, and raise a family.

But as Americans, we also know that this is a nation of laws, and we cannot have those laws broken when more than 2,000 people cross our borders illegally every day. We cannot ignore that we have a right and a duty to protect our borders. And we cannot ignore the very real concerns of Americans who are not worried about illegal immigration because they are racist or xenophobic, but because they fear it will result in lower wages when they're already struggling to raise their families.

And so this will be a difficult debate next week. Consensus and compromise will not come easy. Last time we took up immigration reform, it failed. But we cannot walk away this time. Our conscience cannot rest until we not only secure our borders, but give the 12 million undocumented immigrants in this country a chance to earn their citizenship by paying a fine and waiting in line behind all those who came here legally.

We will all have to make concessions to achieve this. That's what compromise is about. But at the end of the day, we cannot walk away - not for the sake of passing a bill, but so that we can finally address the real concerns of Americans and the persistent hopes of all those brothers and sisters who want nothing more than their own chance at our common dream.

These are some of the challenges that test our conscience - as Americans and people of faith. And meeting them won't be easy. There is real evil and hardship and pain and suffering in the world and we should be humble in our belief that we can eliminate them. But we shouldn't use our humility as an excuse for inaction. We shouldn't use the obstacles we face as an excuse for cynicism. We have to do what we can, knowing it's hard and not swinging from a naïve idealism to a bitter defeatism - but rather, accepting the fact that we're not going to solve every problem overnight, but we can still make a difference.

We can recognize the truth that's at the heart of the UCC: that the conversation is not over; that our roles are not defined; that through ancient texts and modern voices, God is still speaking, challenging us to change not just our own lives, but the world around us.

I'm hearing from evangelicals who may not agree with progressives on every issue but agree that poverty has no place in a world of plenty; that hate has no place in the hearts of believers; and that we all have to be good stewards of God's creations. From Willow Creek to the 'emerging church,' from the Southern Baptist Convention to the National Association of Evangelicals, folks are realizing that the four walls of the church are too small for a big God. God is still speaking.

I'm hearing from progressives who understand that if we want to communicate our hopes and values to Americans, we can't abandon the field of religious discourse. That's why organizations are rising up across the country to reclaim the language of faith to bring about change. God is still speaking.

He's still speaking to our Catholic friends - who are holding up a consistent ethic of life that goes beyond abortion - one that includes a respect for life and dignity whether it's in Iraq, in poor neighborhoods, in African villages or even on death row. They're telling me that their conversation about what it means to be Catholic continues. God is still speaking.

And right here in the UCC, we're hearing from God about what it means to be a welcoming church that holds on to our Christian witness. The UCC is still listening. And God is still speaking.

Now, some of you may have heard me talk about the Joshua generation. But there's a story I want to share that takes place before Moses passed the mantle of leadership on to Joshua. It comes from Deuteronomy 30 when Moses talks to his followers about the challenges they'll find when they reach the Promised Land without him. To the Joshua generation, these challenges seem momentous - and they are. But Moses says: What I am commanding you is not too difficult for you or beyond your reach. It is not up in heaven. Nor is it beyond the sea. No, the word is very near. It is on your lips and in your heart.

It's an idea that's often forgotten or dismissed in cynical times. It's that we all have it within our power to make this a better world. Because we all have the capacity to do justice and show mercy; to treat others with dignity and respect; and to rise above what divides us and come together to meet those challenges we can't meet alone. It's the wisdom Moses imparted to those who would succeed him. And it's a lesson we need to remember today - as members of another Joshua generation.

So let's rededicate ourselves to a new kind of politics - a politics of conscience. Let's come together - Protestant and Catholic, Muslim and Hindu and Jew, believer and non-believer alike. We're not going to agree on everything, but we can disagree without being disagreeable. We can affirm our faith without endangering the separation of church and state, as long as we understand that when we're in the public square, we have to speak in universal terms that everyone can understand. And if we can do that - if we can embrace a common destiny - then I believe we'll not just help bring about a more hopeful day in America, we'll not just be caring for our own souls, we'll be doing God's work here on Earth. Thank you.

Remarks of Senator Barack Obama: Taking Our Government Back

Manchester, NH | June 22, 2007

Over one hundred years ago, around the turn of the last century, the Industrial Revolution was beginning to take hold of America, creating unimaginable wealth in sprawling metropolises all across the country.

As factories multiplied and profits grew, the winnings of the new economy became more and more concentrated in the hands of a few robber barons, railroad tycoons and oil magnates.

It was known as the Gilded Age, and it was made possible by a government that played along. From the politicians in Washington to the big city machines, a vast system of payoffs and patronage, scandal and corruption kept power in the hands of the few while the workers who streamed into the new factories found it harder and harder to earn a decent wage or work in a safe environment or get a day off once in awhile.

Eventually, leaders committed to reform began to speak out all across America, demanding a new kind of politics that would give government back to the people.

One was the young governor of the state of New York.

In just his first year, he had already begun to antagonize the state's political machine by attacking its system of favors and corporate giveaways. He also signed a workers' compensation bill, and fired a high-level official for taking money from the very industry he was supposed to be regulating.

None of this reform sat too well with New York's powerful party boss, who finally plotted to get rid of the governor by making sure he was nominated for the Vice Presidency that year. What no one could have expected is that soon after the election, when President William McKinley was assassinated, the greatest fears of all the entrenched interests came true when that former governor became President of the United States.

His name, of course, was Teddy Roosevelt. And during his presidency, he went on to bust trusts, break up monopolies, and do his best to give the American people a shot at the dream once more.

Over a century later, America needs this kind of leadership more than ever. We need a President who sees government not as a tool to enrich well-connected friends and high-priced lobbyists, but as the defender of fairness and opportunity for every American. That's what this country has always been about, and that's the kind of President I intend to be.

We cannot settle for a second Gilded Age in America. And yet we find ourselves once more in the midst of a new economy where more wealth is in danger of falling into fewer hands; where the average CEO now earns more in one day than an average worker earns in an entire year; where Americans are struggling like never before to pay their medical bills, or their kids' tuition, or high gas prices, all while the profits of the drug and insurance and oil industries have never been higher.

And once again, we are faced with a politics that makes all of this possible. In the last six years, our leaders have thrown open the doors of Congress and the White House to an army of Washington lobbyists who have turned our government into a game only they can afford to play - a game played on a field that's no longer level, but rigged to always favor their own narrow agendas.

From Jack Abramoff to Tom Delay, from briberies to indictments, the scandals that have plagued Washington over the last few years have been too numerous to recall.

But their most troubling aspect goes far beyond the headlines that focus on the culprits and their crimes. It's an entire culture in Washington - some of it legal, some of it not - that allows this to happen. Because what's most outrageous is not the morally offensive conduct on behalf of these lobbyists and legislators, but the morally offensive laws and decisions that get made as a result.

The drug and insurance industries spent $1 billion in lobbying over the last decade. They got what they paid for when their friends in Congress broke the rules and twisted arms to push through a prescription drug bill that actually made it illegal for our own government to negotiate with the pharmaceutical companies for cheaper drug prices. Once it passed, those companies rewarded fifteen government officials and Congressmen who worked on the bill with cushy lobbying jobs that pay millions.

And yet, right now, there are parents and grandparents in this country who will walk into a drugstore and wonder how their Social Security check isgoing to cover a prescription that's more expensive than it was a month ago; who will be forced to choose between their medicine and their groceries because they can no longer afford both.

This isn't the government they deserve.

The oil companies were allowed to craft energy policy with Dick Cheney in secret while every other voice was silenced - including the NASA scientists who tried to warn us about the dangers of climate change. The industry got everything it wanted, and it even got one of its top lobbyists a job at the White House as an environmental watchdog - a job he used to fix reports that showed a link between carbon emissions and global warming.

Today, our planet is six years closer to a tipping point on climate change. Our country grows more dependent by the day on oil supplied by some of the world's most dangerous and defiant regimes. And in a year where Exxon reported the biggest annual profit of any U.S. corporation in history, our families are heading into a summer where they could pay up to four dollars a gallon for gasoline in some places.

This isn't the government we deserve.

At least eight top officials in our own Education Department have taken or had jobs in the student loan industry, including one who was fired for still owning $100,000 worth of stock in that industry. These are the same private lenders and banks who have been caught actually bribing colleges to steer business their way - the same ones who charge taxpayers $8 billion a year to provide student loans at inflated rates, instead of offering the loans directly and using the savings to help more kids. And we wonder why 200,000 students didn't go to college in one recent year for the simple reason that they couldn't afford it.

Billions of no-bid, no-strings-attached contracts have been handed out in New Orleans and Iraq and at Walter Reed Medical Center on the sole basis of who you know and the favors you've done, and yet we're somehow surprised when the families in the 9th Ward are still living in trailers, or our soldiers don't have the body armor they need, or our veterans are forced to come home to squalor and neglect.

This isn't the government they deserve. This isn't the America we believe in. And this is the kind of politics that will end when I am President.

Americans of every background and belief are hungry for a new kind of politics -- a people's politics that reconnects them with their government; one that offers not just a vote at the ballot box, but a voice in Washington and an assurance that the leaders we send there will hear it.

The people I've met across this country don't just want reform for reform's sake, they want reform that will help pay their doctor's bills, or ensure that their tax dollars are spent wisely, or put us on the path to energy independence. They want real reform and they're tired of the lobbyists standing in the way.

Look, we can't begrudge businesses for trying to make a profit. That's how the free market works. And every American -- rich or poor -- has the right to lobby their government. That's perfectly fine. But it's time we had a President who tells the drug companies and the oil companies and the insurance industry that while they get a seat at the table in Washington, they don't get to buy every chair. Not anymore.

I know that in every campaign, politicians make promises about cleaning up Washington. And most times, you end up disappointed when it doesn't happen. So it's easy to become cynical - to believe that change isn't possible; that the odds are too great; that this year is bound to be no different from the last.

But I also know what I've seen and what I've done. I know that for me, reform isn't just the rhetoric of a campaign; it's been a cause of my career.

When I arrived in Springfield a decade ago as a state Senator, people said it was too hard to take on the issue of money in politics. Illinois actually had a law that allowed politicians to pocket the money in their campaign accounts for personal use; that allowed any lobbyist or special interest to shower lawmakers with unlimited gifts.

It was obvious that as long as this went on, the people's business would never come first. I knew it was going to be tough, and that I wasn't going to make myself the most popular guy in town -- or even in my own party.

But we had the people of Illinois on our side, and that there were folks on both sides of the aisle who were willing to listen, and so we were finally able to pass the first major ethics reform in twenty-five years.

When I arrived in Washington eight years later, the need for change was equally clear. Big money and lobbyists were clearly drowning out the aspirations of the American people. So when my party made me the point person on ethics, I was determined to pass the strongest reform possible. The first time around, Congress came up with a watered-down version. And I was proud to vote against it.

So we came back the second time, and in our bill, we banned gifts and meals and put an end to subsidized travel on corporate jets. We made sure that the American people could see all the pet projects that lawmakers were trying to pass before they were voted on.

And we did something more. Over the objections of powerful voices in both parties, we shined a bright light on how lobbyists help fill the campaign coffers of members of Congress. And we made sure those lobbyists will have to disclose who they're raising campaign money from, and who in Congress they're funneling it to.

As a candidate for President, I've tried to lead by example, turning down all contributions from federal lobbyists and the political action committees that the special interests use to pass out campaign money.

Now, it's true that all of this represents a step forward when it comes to reconnecting people with their government. But it's also true that a step forward isn't good enough. Too often in Washington, special interests still exercise an effective veto on our progress, on issues from health care reform and drug costs to energy independence and global warming.

We saw how this happens during the debate over the energy bill this week. In the face of furious lobbying, Congress brushed aside incentives for the production of more renewable fuels in favor of more tax breaks for the oil and gas companies. And while we made some progress on fuel economy standards, we didn't get the bold, long-lasting solution that America needs to break its dependency on foreign oil.

So there's more cleaning up to do in Washington and Congress needs to start doing it so we can finally take action on the big challenges that demand solutions.

But we need to clean up both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue. I believe that the responsibility for a people's politics begins with the person who sits in the Oval Office. That is why on my very first day as President, I will launch the most sweeping ethics reform in history to make the White House the people's house and send the Washington lobbyists back to K Street.

First, we will close the revolving door that has allowed people to use their Administration job as a stepping stone to further their lobbying careers.

This Administration tried to fill the top job at the Consumer Product Safety commission with a lobbyist from the same manufacturing industry it's supposed to regulate. If Michael Baroody had taken that job, and he faced a complaint over an unsafe product, whose interest would he have served -- the mother worried about the lead in her child's toy, or the former boss who gave him a special $150,000 severance package on his way out the door?

When you're on Dick Cheney's energy task force and you know that a multimillion dollar job as an oil lobbyist could be waiting for you, whose interests are you going to serve - the oil companies that are asking for more tax breaks or the scientists and energy experts who say we need to invest in renewable fuels?

When I am President, I will make it absolutely clear that working in an Obama Administration is not about serving your former employer, your future employer, or your bank account - it's about serving your country, and that's what comes first. When you walk into my administration, you will not be able to work on regulations or contracts directly related to your former employer for two years. And when you leave, you will not be able to lobby the Administration throughout the remainder of my term in office.

A lot of people have told me this is pretty tough, but I refuse to accept the Washington logic that you cannot find thousands of talented, patriotic Americans willing to devote a few years to their country without the promise of a lucrative lobbying job after they're done. I know we can find them, and in my administration, we will.

Second, I will end the abuse of no-bid contracts in my administration. In the last six years, the unprecedented use of these contracts has wasted billions of taxpayer dollars and outsourced critical government services to friends and supporters who are more connected than they are qualified. That's why, in the Senate, I worked with Republican Senator Tom Coburn to pass legislation that restricts the use of no-bid contracts when it comes to rebuilding the Gulf Coast.

But we need to do more. When our government gives Halliburton $7 billion in taxpayer dollars to put out Iraqi oil fires that don't exist; when we hand over Katrina contracts to more of George Bush's FEMA friends, it doesn't just violate the American people's trust, it takes away the tax dollars they've earned and the valuable services they need. It's wrong, and when I am President, it will end.

Third, we will institute an absolute gift ban so that no registered lobbyist can curry favor and build relationships with members of my administration based on how much they can spend. When the American people have a concern about the high cost of health care or college tuition, they can't afford to take a White House staffer out to a fancy dinner or an expensive sporting event, and lobbyists shouldn't get to either.

Fourth, when it comes to hiring people in my administration, the litmus test we'll apply will not be based on party or ideology, but qualification and experience. This has been the most politicized White House in history, and the American people have suffered as a result. Presidents obviously want to surround themselves with those who share their views and their beliefs, but the days of firing eight qualified U.S. attorneys because of their politics is over. The days of using the White House as another arm of the Republican National Committee are over. And the days of Michael Brown, Arabian Horse Judge, are over.

Finally, we will return government to the people by bringing government to the people -- by making it open and transparent so that anyone can see that our business is the people's business.

As Justice Louis Brandeis once said, sunlight is the greatest disinfectant. The more people know about how federal laws, rules and regulations are made, and who's making them, the less likely it is that critical decisions will be hijacked by lobbyists and special interests.

I think the current administration knows that, too, which is why it's been the most defiantly secretive government in modern times.

It's time to change that.

When there is a bill that ends up on my desk as President, you will have five days to look online and find out what's in it before I sign it. When there are meetings between lobbyists and a government agency, we won't be going to the Supreme Court to keep it secret like Dick Cheney and his energy task force, we'll be putting them up on the Internet for every American to watch. And instead of allowing lobbyists to slip big corporate tax breaks into bills during the dead of night, we will make sure every single tax break and earmark is available to every American online. This builds on the "Google for Government" law I passed in Congress, which already allows you to see every contract, every grant, every dime of federal spending online.

It's time to renew a people's politics in this country - to ensure that the hopes and concerns of average Americans speak louder in Washington than the hallway whispers of high-priced lobbyists.

In 2004, over $2.1 billion was spent lobbying the federal government. That amounts to over $3.9 million per Member of Congress. $3.9 million so that oil companies can still run our energy policy and pharmaceutical companies can still inflate our drug prices and special interests can still waste our tax dollars.

The American people don't have that kind of money to spend on Washington.

But they shouldn't have to. In our democracy, the price of access and influence should be nothing more than your voice and your vote. That should be enough for health care reform. That should be enough for a real energy policy. That should be enough to ensure that our government is still the defender of fairness and opportunity for every American.

That's the country we're working towards right now. And that's the country I'll fight for every day as your President.

Early in his presidency, Teddy Roosevelt gave a famous speech before farmers and factory workers that laid out his vision of what government at its best should be. He said, "The welfare of each of us is dependent fundamentally upon the welfare of all of us, and therefore in public life, that man is the best representative...whose endeavor it is not to represent any special class or interest, but to represent all...by working for our common country."

It's time to get to work once more for our common country. It's time we had a politics that reflected that commitment. And it's time we had a President who can get it done. I look forward to being that President, and working with all of you to make this America happen. Thank you.

Remarks of Senator Barack Obama: Take Back America 2007

Washington, D.C. | June 19, 2007

It has now been a little over four months since we began this campaign. And everywhere we've been - whether it's Oakland or Cleveland, Atlanta or Austin - we've been getting these inspiring, humbling crowds of thousands. For a lot of people, it's the first political event of their lifetime.

I'd like to take all the credit myself, but I know that's not the only reason they're coming. There is a hunger in this country right now - a longing for something new that we haven't seen in years. And whenever I stop and think about it, I'm reminded of what got me into public service in the first place.

The year after college, I decided to move to Chicago. It was a time where factory closings were sweeping the Midwest, and thousands were being laid off, and they were boarding up homes and businesses.

On the South Side of Chicago, where neighborhoods were struggling to rebuild after the closing of nearby steel plants, a group of churches came together and decided that they could make a difference. And they hired me to help.

The salary was $12,000 a year plus enough money to buy an old, beat-up car, so I took the job and became a community organizer. We went to work setting up job training programs for the unemployed and after school programs for kids. And block by block, we turned those neighborhoods around.

It was the best education I ever had, because I learned in those neighborhoods that when ordinary people come together, they can achieve extraordinary things. And so later, when I finished law school, I turned down the corporate job offers and I came back to Chicago to continue the work I started.

I organized a voter registration drive that signed up 150,000 new voters to help elect Bill Clinton in 1992. I joined a civil rights law practice, and I started teaching constitutional law - because unlike some occupants of the White House, I actually believe in the Constitution.

And after a few years, people started coming up to me and telling me I should run for state Senate. So I jumped in the race. And I shook every hand I could and passed out flyers to whoever would take them. But the one question I'd get from people more than any other was, "You seem like a nice young man. You've done all this great work. You've been a community organizer, and you teach law school, you're a civil rights attorney, you're a family man - why would you wanna go into something dirty and nasty like politics?"

And I understand the question, and the cynicism. We all understand it.

We understand it because we've all seen that politics in this town is no longer a mission - it's a business. Our politics has never been pure, but there's a sense that in the last several years, the race for money, and influence, and power has left the hopes and concerns of most Americans in the dust. You're worried about how you'll pay for college, or health care, or save for retirement, but when you turn on the TV or open the newspaper, all you see from Washington is another scandal, or a petty argument, or the persistent stubbornness of a President who refuses to end this war in Iraq.

As the rest of us have turned away from this kind of politics in cynicism and frustration, we know what's filled the void. The lobbyists and influence-peddlers with the cash and the connections - the ones who've turned government into a game only they can afford to play. It's the pharmaceutical companies that get to write our drug bills while the price of prescriptions skyrockets for the rest of us. It's the oil lobbyists that get to meet with the same White House that silences the scientists who warn us about the destruction of our planet.

You know who I'm talking about here. They write the checks and you get stuck with the bills, they get the access while you get to write a letter, they think they own this government, but we're here to tell them it's not for sale.

People tell me I haven't spent a lot of time learning the ways of Washington. But I promise you this - I've been here long enough to know that the ways of Washington must change.

The cynicism we feel about what politics can achieve today is no accident. It has to do with a failure of leadership. It has to do with the philosophy they've peddled in this town for the last six years - a philosophy of trickle-down and on-your-own that says government has no role in solving the challenges we face and so it shouldn't even try.

It's a theory that's easy to talk about when you're playing politics in Washington, but harder to defend when you actually see what it does to average Americans.

I met a family in Iowa City with a small business of fifteen years who is now facing bankruptcy because of their medical bills. Try telling them they're on their own.

I spoke with workers in Newton who were watching their Maytag plant close down and their shops get shipped overseas. Try telling them to pull themselves up by their bootstraps.

Try saying "tough luck" to the families who still don't have homes in New Orleans, or the 45 million Americans without health care, or the 15 million children born into poverty in the richest nation on Earth.

This is not who we are. This is not how America has persevered through war and depression, through struggles for civil rights and women's rights and worker's rights. We have come this far as a nation because we believe in a different kind of politics - because we believe in a different vision for America.

We believe that we rise or fall as one people. We believe that we each have a stake in one another - that I am my brother's keeper; that I am my sister's keeper. We believe that what happens to that family in Iowa, or to those Maytag workers - that matters to us, even if it's not our family, or our job. And what's more - in the face of our cynicism, and our doubts, and the power and influence we see in Washington, we believe that this kind of America is possible.

The time for the can't-do, won't-do, won't-even-try style of politics is over. It's time to turn the page.

Some of our more cynical friends in the media tease me from time to time for always talking about hope. But the reason I do is because I've seen its power.

No one thought those South Side neighborhoods had a chance when I got there. But we banded together, and we kept working, and we taught people to stand up to their government when it wasn't standing up for them.

When I got to the Illinois state Senate, people said it was too hard to take on the issue of money in politics - that our state had too long a history, and too many entrenched interests. But I knew we had the people of Illinois on our side, and I even found a few folks on the other side of the aisle who were willing to listen, and we passed the first major ethics reform in twenty-five years.

People told me I couldn't reform a death penalty system that had sent 13 innocent people to death row. But we did that. They doubted whether we could put government back on the side of average people - but we put tax cuts in the pockets of the working families who needed them instead of the folks who didn't. And I passed health care reform that insured another 150,000 children and parents.

So I know that change is possible. I know that turning the page is possible. This isn't just the rhetoric of a campaign, it's been the cause of my life - a cause I will work for and fight for every day as your President.

It's not enough just to change parties in this election. If we hope to truly transform this country, we have to change our politics too. It's time to turn the page.

It's time to turn the page on health care - to bring together unions and businesses, Democrats and Republicans, and to let the insurance and drug companies know that while they get a seat at the table, they don't get to buy every chair.

I have a universal health care plan that will cover every American and cut the cost of a typical family's premiums by up to $2500 a year. It's a plan that lets the uninsured buy insurance that's similar to the kind members of Congress give themselves. If you can't afford that, you'll get a subsidy to pay for it. And it goes further than any other proposed plan in cutting the cost of health care by investing in technology and preventative care, breaking the stranglehold the drug and insurance industries have on the health care market, and helping business and families shoulder the cost of the most expensive conditions so that an illness doesn't lead to a bankruptcy. And I promise you this - I will sign a universal health care plan that covers every American by the end of my first term in office as your President. Count on it.

It's time to turn the page on education - to move past the slow decay of indifference that says some schools can't be fixed and some kids just can't learn.

As President, I will launch a campaign to recruit and support hundreds of thousands of new teachers across the country, because the most important part of any education is the person standing in the front of the classroom. It's time to treat teaching like the profession it is. It's time to pay our teachers what they deserve. And when it comes to developing the high standards we need, it's time to stop working against our teachers and start working with them. We can do this.

It's time to turn the page on energy - to break the political stalemate that's kept our fuel efficiency standards in the same place for twenty years; to tell the oil and auto industries that they must act, not only because their future's at stake, but because the future of our country and our planet is at stake as well.

As President, I will place a cap on carbon emissions, and require companies who can't meet the cap to buy credits from those who can. This will generate millions of dollars to invest in renewable sources of energy and create new jobs and even a new industry in the process. I'll put in place a low-carbon fuel standard that will take 50 million cars' worth of pollution off the road. And I'd raise the fuel efficiency standards for our cars and trucks because we know we have the technology to do it and it's time we did. We can do this.

It's time to turn the page for all those Americans who want nothing more than to have a job that can pay the bills and raise a family. Let's finally make the minimum wage a living wage and tie it to the cost of living so we don't have to wait another ten years to see it rise. Let's put the jobless back to work in transitional jobs that can give them a paycheck and a sense of pride, let's help our workers advance with job training and life-long education, and let's finally allow our unions to do what they do best and lift up the middle-class in this country once more. And when you head to Capitol Hill in a little bit to rally for the Employee Free Choice Act, say it loud enough so that the folks on the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue can hear you - in this country, we believe that if the majority of workers in a company want a union, they should get a union. We can do this.

We can do all of this. But before we do, we have to begin by turning the page and ending this war.

I am proud that I stood up in 2002 and urged our leaders not to take us down this dangerous path. I've said it before and I'll say it again - this is a war that should've never been authorized and never been waged.

So many of us knew this back then, even when it wasn't popular to say so.

We knew back then this war was a mistake. We knew back then that it was dangerous diversion from the struggle against the terrorists who attacked us on September 11th. We knew back then that we could find ourselves in an occupation of undetermined length, at undetermined cost, with undetermined consequences.

But the war went forward. And now, we've seen those consequences and we mourn for the dead and wounded.

I was in New Hampshire the other month when a woman told me that her nephew was leaving for Iraq. And as she started telling me how much she'd miss him and how worried she was about him, she began to cry. And she said to me, "I can't breathe. I want to know, when am I going to be able to breathe again?"

It is time to let this woman know she can breathe again. It's time to start bringing our troops home - not a year from now or a month from now - but now.

I introduced a plan in January that would've already started bringing our troops home by now, with the goal of bringing all combat brigades home by March 31st, 2008.

Now, we know the President vetoed a bipartisan plan just like this one a few weeks ago. And I'm proud I voted against giving a blank check to the man who said he sees us keeping our troops in Iraq for as long as we have in Korea.

But we can't give George Bush the last word here. We are sixteen votes away in the Senate from ending this war. And so we need to keep turning up the pressure on all those Republican Congressmen and Senators who refuse to acknowledge the reality that the American people know so well. We will call them, and knock on their doors, and we will bring our troops home. It's time to turn the page.

It's time to show the world that America is still the last, best hope of Earth. This President may occupy the White House, but for the last six years the position of leader of the free world has remained open.

It's time to fill that role once more. Whether it's terrorism or climate change, global AIDS or the spread of weapons of mass destruction, America cannot meet the threats of this new century alone, but the world cannot meet them without America. It's time for us to lead.

It's time for us to close Guantanamo and restore the right of habeus corpus. It's time to show the world that we are not a country that ships prisoners in the dead of night to be tortured in far off countries. That we are not a country that runs prisons which lock people away without ever telling them why they are there or what they are charged with. We are not a country which preaches compassion to others while we allow bodies to float down the streets of a major American city.

That is not who we are.

We are America. We are the nation that liberated a continent from a madman, that lifted ourselves from the depths of Depression, that won Civil Rights, and Women's Rights, and Voting Rights for all our people. We are the beacon that has led generations of weary travelers to find opportunity, and liberty, and hopeon our doorstep. That's who we are.

I was down in Selma, Alabama awhile back, and we were celebrating the 42nd anniversary of the march across the Edmund Pettus Bridge. It was a march of ordinary Americans - maids and cooks, preachers and Pullman porters who faced down fire hoses and dogs, tear gas and billy clubs when they tried to get to the other side. But every time they were stopped, every time they were knocked down, they got back up, they came back, and they kept on marching. And finally they crossed over. It was called Bloody Sunday, and it was the culmination of the Civil Rights Movement.

When I came back from that celebration, people would say, oh, what a wonderful celebration of African-American history that must have been. And I would say, no, that wasn't African-American history. That was a celebration ofAmerican history - it's our story.

And it reminds us of a simple truth - a truth I learned all those years ago as an organizer in Chicago - a truth you carry by being here today - that in the face of impossible odds, people who love their country can change it.

I am confident about my ability to lead this country. But I also know that I can't do it without you. This campaign that we're running has to be about your hopes, and your dreams, and what you will do. Because there are few obstacles that can withstand the power of millions of voices calling for change.

That's how change has always happened - not from the top-down, but from the bottom-up.

And that's exactly how you and I will change this country.

If you want a new kind of politics, it's time to turn the page.

If you want an end to the old divisions, and the stale debates, and the score-keeping and the name-calling, it's time to turn the page.

If you want health care for every American and a world-class education for all our children; if you want energy independence and an end to this war in Iraq; if you believe America is still that last, best hope of Earth, then it's time to turn the page.

It's time to turn the page for hope. It's time to turn the page for justice. It is time to turn the page and write the next chapter in the great American story. Let's begin the work. Let's do this together. Let's turn that page. Thank you.

Remarks of Senator Barack Obama: Changing the Odds for Urban America

Washington, DC | July 18, 2007

It's been four decades since Bobby Kennedy crouched in a shack along the Mississippi Delta and looked into the wide, listless eyes of a hungry child. Again and again he tried to talk to this child, but each time his efforts were met with only a blank stare of desperation. And when Kennedy turned to the reporters traveling with him, with tears in his eyes he asked a single question about poverty in America:

"How can a country like this allow it?"

Forty years later, we're still asking that question. It echoes on the streets of Compton and Detroit, and throughout the mining towns of West Virginia. It lingers with every image we see of the 9th Ward and the rural Gulf Coast, where poverty thrived long before Katrina came ashore.

We stand not ten miles from the seat of power in the most affluent nation on Earth. Decisions are made on both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue that shape lives and set the course of history. With the stroke of a pen, billions are spent on programs and policies; on tax breaks for those who didn't need them and a war that should've never been authorized and never been waged. Debates rage and accusations fly and at the end of each day, the petty sniping is what lights up the evening news.

And yet here, on the other side of the river, every other child in Anacostia lives below the poverty line. Too many do not graduate and too many more do not find work. Some join gangs, and others fall to their gunfire.

The streets here are close to our capital, but far from the people it represents. These Americans cannot hire lobbyists to roam the halls of Congress on their behalf, and they cannot write thousand-dollar campaign checks to make their voices heard. They suffer most from a politics that has been tipped in favor of those with the most money, and influence, and power.

How can a country like this allow it?

No matter how many times it's asked or what the circumstances are, the most American answer I can think of to that question is two words:

"We can't."

We can't allow this kind of suffering and hopelessness to exist in our country. We can't afford to lose a generation of tomorrow's doctors and scientists and teachers to poverty. We can make excuses for it or we can fight about it or we can ignore poverty altogether, but as long as it's here it will always be a betrayal of the ideals we hold as Americans. It's not who we are.

In this country - of all countries - no child's destiny should be determined before he takes his first step. No little girl's future should be confined to the neighborhood she was born into. Our government cannot guarantee success and happiness in life, but what we can do as a nation is to ensure that every American who wants to work is prepared to work, able to find a job, and able to stay out of poverty. What we can do is make our neighborhoods whole again. What we can do is retire the phrase "working poor" in our time. That's what we can do, because that's who we are.

The challenge is greater than it has been in generations, but that's all the more reason for this generation to act. One in every eight Americans now lives in poverty, a rate that has nearly doubled since 1980. That's an income of about $20,000 a year for a family of four. One in three Americans - one in every three - is now classified as low-income. That's $40,000 a year for a family of four.

Today's economy has made it easier to fall into poverty. The fall is often more precipitous and more permanent than ever before. You used to be able to find a good job without a degree from college or even high school. Today that's nearly impossible. You used to be able to count on your job to be there for your entire life. Today almost any job can be shipped overseas in an instant.

The jobs that remain are paying less and offering fewer benefits, as employers have succeeded in busting up unions and cutting back on health care and pensions to stay competitive with the companies abroad that are paying their workers next to nothing.

Every American is vulnerable to the insecurities and anxieties of this new economy. And that's why the single most important focus of my economic agenda as President will be to pursue policies that create jobs and make work pay.

This means investing in education from early childhood through college, so our workers are ready to compete with any workers for the best jobs the world has to offer. It means investing more in research, science, and technology so that those new jobs and those new industries are created right here in America. And while we can't stop every job from going overseas, we can stop giving tax breaks to the companies who send them there and start giving them to companies who create jobs at home.

We can also start making sure these jobs keep folks out of poverty. When I'm President, I will raise the minimum wage and make it a living wage by making sure that it rises every time the cost of living does. I'll start letting our unions do what they do best again - organize our workers and lift up our middle-class. And I'll finally make sure every American has affordable health care that stays with you no matter what happens by passing my plan to provide universal coverage and cut the cost of health care by up to $2500 per family.

All of these policies will give more families a chance to grab hold of the ladder to middle-class security, and they'll make the climb a little easier.

But poverty is not just a function of simple economics. It's also a matter of where you live. There are vast swaths of rural America and block after block in our cities where poverty is not just a crisis that hits pocketbooks, but a disease that infects every corner of the community. I will be outlining my rural agenda in the coming weeks, but today I want to talk about what we can do as a nation to combat the poverty that persists in our cities.

This kind of poverty is not an issue I just discovered for the purposes of a campaign; it is the cause that led me to a life of public service almost twenty-five years ago.

I was just two years out of college when I first moved to the South Side of Chicago to become a community organizer. I was hired by a group of churches that were trying to deal with steel plant closures that had devastated the surrounding neighborhoods. Everywhere you looked, businesses were boarded up and schools were crumbling and teenagers were standing aimlessly on street corners, without jobs and without hope.

What's most overwhelming about urban poverty is that it's so difficult to escape - it's isolating and it's everywhere. If you are an African-American child unlucky enough to be born into one of these neighborhoods, you are most likely to start life hungry or malnourished. You are less likely to start with a father in your household, and if he is there, there's a fifty-fifty chance that he never finished high school and the same chance he doesn't have a job. Your school isn't likely to have the right books or the best teachers. You're more likely to encounter gang-activities than after-school activities. And if you can't find a job because the most successful businessman in your neighborhood is a drug dealer, you're more likely to join that gang yourself. Opportunity is scarce, role models are few, and there is little contact with the normalcy of life outside those streets.

What you learn when you spend your time in these neighborhoods trying to solve these problems is that there are no easy solutions and no perfect arguments. And you come to understand that for the last four decades, both ends of the political spectrum have been talking past one another.

It's true that there were many effective programs that emerged from Lyndon Johnson's War on Poverty. But there were also some ineffective programs that were defended anyway, as well as an inability of some on the left to acknowledge that the problems of absent fathers or persistent crime were indeed problems that needed to be addressed.

The right has often seized on these failings as proof that the government can't and shouldn't do a thing about poverty - that it is a result of individual moral failings and cultural pathologies and so we should just sit back and let these cities fend for themselves. And so Ronald Reagan launched his assault on welfare queens, and George Bush spent the last six years slashing programs to combat poverty, and job training, and substance abuse, and child abuse.

Well, we know that's not the answer. When you're in these neighborhoods, you can see what a difference it makes to have a government that cares. You can see what a free lunch program does for a hungry child. You can see what a little extra money from an earned income tax credit does for a family that's struggling. You can see what prenatal care does for the health of a mother and a newborn. So don't tell me there's no role for government in lifting up our cities.

But you can also see what a difference it makes when people start caring for themselves. It makes a difference when a father realizes that responsibility does not end at conception; when he understands that what makes you a man is not the ability to have a child but the courage to raise one. It makes a difference when a parent turns off the TV once in awhile, puts away the video games, and starts reading to their child, and getting involved in his education. It makes a difference when we realize that a child who shoots another child has a hole in his heart that no government can fill. That makes a difference.

So there are no easy answers and perfect arguments. As Dr. King said, it is not either-or, it is both-and. Hope is not found in any single ideology - an insistence on doing the same thing with the same result year after year.

Hope is found in what works. In those South Side neighborhoods, hope was found in the after school programs we created, and the job training programs we put together, and the organizing skills we taught residents so that they could stand up to a government that wasn't standing up for them. Hope is found here at THEARC, where you've provided thousands of children with shelter from the streets and a home away from home. And if you travel a few hours north of here, you will find hope amid ninety-seven neighborhood blocks in the heart of Harlem.

This is the home of the Harlem Children's Zone - an all-encompassing, all-hands-on-deck anti-poverty effort that is literally saving a generation of children in a neighborhood where they were never supposed to have a chance.

The philosophy behind the project is simple - if poverty is a disease that infects an entire community in the form of unemployment and violence; failing schools and broken homes, then we can't just treat those symptoms in isolation. We have to heal that entire community. And we have to focus on what actually works.

If you're a child who's born in the Harlem Children's Zone, you start life differently than other inner-city children. Your parents probably went to what they call " Baby College", a place where they received counseling on how to care for newborns and what to expect in those first months. You start school right away, because there's early childhood education. When your parents are at work, you have a safe place to play and learn, because there's child care, and after school programs, even in the summer. There are innovative charter schools to attend. There's free medical services that offer care when you're sick and preventive services to stay healthy. There's affordable, good food available so you're not malnourished. There are job counselors and financial counselors. There's technology training and crime prevention.

You don't just sign up for this program; you're actively recruited for it, because the idea is that if everyone is involved, and no one slips through the cracks, then you really can change an entire community. Geoffrey Canada, the program's inspirational, innovative founder, put it best - instead of helping some kids beat the odds, the Harlem Children's Zone is actually changing the odds altogether.

And it's working. Parents in Harlem are actually reading more to their children. Their kids are staying in school and passing statewide tests at higher rates than other children in New York City. They're going to college in a place where it was once unheard of. They've even placed third at a national chess championship.

So we know this works. And if we know it works, there's no reason this program should stop at the end of those blocks in Harlem. It's time to change the odds for neighborhoods all across America. And that's why when I'm President, the first part of my plan to combat urban poverty will be to replicate the Harlem Children's Zone in twenty cities across the country. We'll train staff, we'll have them draw up detailed plans with attainable goals, and the federal government will provide half of the funding for each city, with the rest coming from philanthropies and businesses.

Now, how much will this cost? I'll be honest - it can't be done on the cheap. It will cost a few billion dollars a year. We won't just spend the money because we can - every step these cities take will be evaluated, and if certain plans or programs aren't working, we will stop them and try something else.

But we will find the money to do this because we can't afford not to. Dr. King once remarked that if we can find the money to put a man on the moon, then we can find the money to put a man on his own two feet. There's no reason we should be spending tens of thousands of dollars a year to imprison one of these kids when they turn eighteen when we could be spending $3,500 to turn their lives around with this program. And to really put it in perspective, think of it this way. The Harlem Children's Zone is saving a generation of children for $46 million a year. That's about what the war in Iraq costs American taxpayers every four hours.

So let's invest this money. Let's change the odds in urban America by focusing on what works.

The second part of my plan will do this by providing families the support they need to raise their children. I'll pass the plan I outlined last year that will provide more financial support to fathers who make the responsible choice to help raise their children and crack down on the fathers who don't. And we'll help new mothers with their new responsibilities by expanding a pioneering program known as the Nurse-Family Partnership that offers home visits by trained registered nurses to low-income mothers and mothers-to-be.

This program has been proven to reduce childhood injuries, unintended pregnancies, and the use of welfare and food stamps. It's increased father involvement, women's employment, and children's school readiness. It's produced more than $28,000 in net savings for every high-risk family enrolled in the program. It works, and I'll expand the program to 570,000 first-time mothers each year.

The third part of my plan for urban America is to help people find work and make that work pay.

I will invest $1 billion over five years in innovative transitional jobs programs that have been highly successful at placing the unemployed into temporary jobs and then training them for permanent ones. People in these programs get the chance to work in a community service-type job, earn a paycheck every week, and learn the skills they need for gainful employment. And by leaving with references and a resume, often times they find that employment.

Still, even for those workers who do find a permanent job, many times there's no way for them to advance their careers once they're in those jobs. That's why we'll also work with community organizations and businesses to create career pathways that provide workers with the additional skills and training they need to earn more money. And we'll make sure that public transportation is both available and affordable for low-income workers, because no one should be denied work in this country because they can't get there.

To make work pay, I will also triple the Earned Income Tax Credit for full-time workers making the minimum wage. This is one of the most successful anti-poverty programs in history and lifts nearly 5 million Americans out of poverty every year. I was able to expand this program when I was a state Senator in Illinois, and as President I'll do it again.

The fourth part of my plan will be to help bring businesses back to our inner-cities. A long time ago, this country created a World Bank that has helped spur economic development in some of the world's poorest regions. I think it's about time we had something like that right here in America. Less than one percent of the $250 billion in venture capital that's invested each year goes to minority businesses that are trying to breathe life into our cities. This has to change.

When I'm President, I'll make sure that every community has the access to the capital and resources it needs to create a stronger business climate by providing more loans to small businesses and setting up the financial institutions that can help get them started. I'll also create a national network of business incubators, which are local services that help first-time business owners design their business plans, find the best location, and receive expert advice on how to run their businesses whenever they need it. And I will take steps to help close the digital divide and increase internet access for cities so that urban America is just as connected as the rest of America.

The final part of my plan to change the odds in our cities will be to ensure that more Americans have access to safe, affordable housing. As President, I'll create an Affordable Housing Trust Fund that would add as many as 112,000 new affordable units in mixed income neighborhoods. We'll also do more to protect homeowners from mortgage fraud and subprime lending by passing my plan to provide counseling to tenants, homeowners, and other consumers so they get the advice and guidance they need before buying a house and support if they get in to trouble down the road. And we will crack down on mortgage professionals found guilty of fraud by increasing enforcement and creating new criminal penalties.

What this agenda to combat urban poverty attempts to do is not easy, and it will not happen overnight. Changing the odds in our cities will require humility in what we can accomplish and patience with our progress. But most importantly, it will require the sustained commitment of the President of the United States, and that is why I will also appoint a new director of Urban Policy who will cut through the disorganized bureaucracy that currently exists and report directly to me on how these efforts are going; on what's working and what's not.

Because in the end, hope is found in what works.

The moral question about poverty in America - How can a country like this allow it? - has an easy answer: we can't. The political question that follows - What do we do about it? - has always been more difficult. But now that we're finally seeing the beginnings of an answer, this country has an obligation to keep trying.

The idea for the Harlem Children's Zone began with a list. It was a waiting list that Geoffrey Canada kept of all the children who couldn't get into his program back when it was just a few blocks wide. It was 500 people long. And one day he looked at that list and thought, why shouldn't those 500 kids get the same chance in life as the 500 who were already in the program? Why not expand it to include those 500? Why not 5000? Why not?

And that, of course, is the final question about poverty in America. It's the hopeful one that Bobby Kennedy was also famous for asking. Why not? It leaves the cynics without an answer, and it calls on the rest of us to get to work. I will be doing exactly that from the first day I become your President, and I ask you all to join me in getting it done. Thank you.

Strengthening Families in a New Economy

Spartanburg, South Carolina | June 15, 2007

Each year at this time we honor and think about the fathers who've been a part of our lives - the examples they've set, the sacrifices they've made, their successes and their struggles.

I think about my grandfather, who first became a father when my mother was born on a Kansas army base at the outset of World War II. He left to fight fascism in Europe while my grandmother stayed behind and pitched in on a bomber assembly line.

With the nation still dragging itself out of Depression, I imagine he must have felt uncertain at that time about what the future held for his family, and yet he returned to a country newly committed to opportunity - a country that gave him a chance to go to college on the GI Bill, buy a house thanks to the Federal Housing Authority, and move west to Hawaii to raise his family.

I also think about my father-in-law, Fraser Robinson. He raised his two children with his wife Marian in 1960s Chicago. They faced what other African-American families faced at the time - both hidden and overt forms of racism that limited their opportunities and required more effort to get ahead. And they faced an additional obstacle. At age 30, Fraser was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. And yet, every day of his life, even when he had to rely on a walker to get him there, he went to work at the local water filtration plant while Marian stayed home with the children. And on that single salary, Fraser Robinson provided for his family, sending my wife Michelle and her brother Craig to Princeton.

And of course, though I did not know him well, every year around Father's Day I think of my own father. He and my mother divorced when I was only two years old, and for most of my life I knew him only through the letters he sent and the stories my mother and grandparents told.

In his absence, it was more difficult for my mother to raise me and my sister on one salary during the 1970s, and we struggled, at times turning to food stamps to get us through the month. And yet, through the support of my grandparents, the sheer will and determination of my mother, and the blessings of generous scholarships, I was able to attend some of the best schools in the country - schools that made it possible for me to stand here today.

It has not been lost on either Michelle or myself that our family's story has been America's story - a story of opportunity, and possibility, and the tireless pursuit of a dream that was always within reach. Our parents and grandparents were given no guarantees, and they certainly had their share of failings and hardship, but theirs was a country where if you wanted it badly enough, and were willing to work for it, and take responsibility, you could provide for your family and give your children the same chance.

There are fewer and fewer families who can tell this story today. Unlike my grandfather, the brave soldiers who return from Iraq and Afghanistan are lucky if they come home to a job that pays the bills, or even the benefits and care they've earned as veterans. Blue-collar workers like Fraser Robinson have seen their benefits decline, and their unions weakened, and their wages flattened while the cost of everything else rises. And as many of you know too well, single parents no longer have the support system that my mother did, with too many fathers financially unable to help raise their children even if they want to do the right thing.

Over the last few decades, fundamental changes in the way we work and live have trapped too many American families between an economy that's gone global and a government that's gone AWOL. Too many rungs have been removed from the ladder to middle-class security, and the safety net that's supposed to break any falls from that ladder has grown badly frayed. Many families face increased anxiety when it comes to paying the bills or finding ways to spend more time with their children, while others have tumbled into poverty, watching jobs disappear, and fathers leave the home. And even though the vast majority of mothers are now working - including single mothers - we haven't yet provided them with the support they need to raise their children.

I don't have to give you a history lesson in economics for you to know how this all happened, because many of you have seen it or even lived it. You've seen the factories close their doors and move overseas, leaving too many cities and mill towns without their biggest source of employment. I saw it when I first arrived in Chicago in the early 80s, where I took a job helping to rebuild neighborhoods that had been devastated by steel plant closings.

And today, it's not just factory jobs that are disappearing. As countries like China and India churn out more workers who are educated longer and better, revolutions in technology and communication have made it possible for American companies to automate some jobs and send others wherever there's an internet connection.

The jobs that remain pay less and offer fewer benefits, as employers have succeeded in busting up unions and cutting back on health care and pensions to stay competitive with the companies abroad that are paying their workers next to nothing.

The weekly earnings of American workers, which had steadily risen during the years our parents and grandparents were employed, have fallen more than twenty percent since 1973, and the minimum wage hasn't moved in ten years. This means that right now, a family of three with one minimum-wage earner is still more than $6000 below the poverty line.

Most Americans are vulnerable to these new risks, but without a doubt, the hardest hit have been those families who were most vulnerable to begin with. They are families who live in inner-cities and remote rural areas; they are disproportionately African American and Latino.

In the last six years, over 300,000 black males have lost jobs in the manufacturing sector - the highest rate of any ethnic group. In urban areas, more than 50% of black men do not complete high school. In one survey, nearly one out of every three African-American families said they experienced at least one of three hardships in the last year - overcrowded housing, a lack of medical care, or hunger. Without a job or an education, many black men simply cannot afford to raise a family - and too many have made the sad choice not to. Today, 54% of all African-American children live in single-parent households, a number that has doubled since 1960. Now, many single moms - including the one who raised me - do a heroic job on behalf of their kids. But in an economy where a two-income family has become a financial necessity, a fatherless household takes its toll. Children who grow up without a father are five times more likely to live in poverty and nine times more likely to drop out of school.

Providing these families with the same chances that previous generations have had is a daunting challenge, but it is certainly one we can meet.

Many of us here in this room have seen how this progress can be achieved. All across this state, the South Carolina Center for Fathers and Families has helped countless families climb out from poverty by connecting fathers employment opportunities and encouraging them to take responsibility for their children. You have turned lives around and you have given so many children a better future and for that you should feel very proud.

I've also been blessed to see this progress myself. There was a lot of hopelessness in those South Side neighborhoods when I first arrived in Chicago as a community organizer. But we set up job training programs and after school programs and counseling programs and after a while, those neighborhoods started to come around.

Later, when I became a state Senator in Illinois, I made sure we expanded the Earned Income Tax Credit so we could put $100 million of tax cuts into the pockets of working families. I made sure we provided health insurance for another 70,000 children and 84,000 parents. And we expanded early childhood education to give kids the best possible start in life.

So we know what needs to be done when it comes to giving our families a fighting chance. And I think it's time we finally had a President who gets Washington to start doing it.

I don't know about you, but I'm tired of hearing that town tell us we can't.

For too long, they've told us we can't do anything about disappearing jobs and stagnant wages. They've told us that we can't lower our health care costs or the price of college tuition. They've told us that poverty is a nuisance to blame on the impoverished, not a moral shame that should outrage a nation. We're assured that the market will correct all our misfortunes, and that there's no problem that can't be solved by another tax break that the wealthy didn't need and didn't ask for.

Well, we have tried it their way for six years and we're ready to try something new. It's time to turn the page.

We are not a country that settles for survival of the fittest, but a people who have always fought for survival of the nation. That's how we got a GI Bill that sent a generation to college and created the largest middle-class in history. That's how we gave workers the right to organize and form a union. That's how we got Social Security and Medicare so that Americans could retire in comfort and dignity.

Now we have to do it again. And it won't be easy. We know that we can't put the forces of globalization back in the bottle. We cannot bring back every job that's been lost. We have to find a way to make this new economy work for us.

We also know that government cannot meet this challenge alone - that there is not a program for every problem we face. It will take responsibility and sacrifice from the American people; changes in habits and attitudes. We will need to work more, read more, train more, and think more. Parents will need to make sure their kids turn off the TV once in a while, and put away the video games, and start hitting the books. And there are a lot of men out there who need to stop acting like boys; who need to realize that responsibility does not end at conception; who need to know that what makes you a man is not the ability to have a child but the courage to raise one.

But just as we have individual responsibilities, at the dawn of the 21st century we also have a collective responsibility to strengthen that safety net, put the rungs back on that ladder to the middle-class, and give every family the chance that so many of our parents and grandparents had. This responsibility is one that's been missing from Washington for far too long - a responsibility I intend to take very seriously as President.

We know what we need to do to help every family compete and prosper in a globalized world. We know that we need to invest in the science and technology that will make America the home for the high-tech, high-wage jobs of tomorrow.

We know that to fill these jobs, we'll also have to get serious about educating our workforce for the 21st century. This means starting our kids in school younger, with more early childhood education opportunities like the four year old kindergarten program you've been trying to pass here in South Carolina. It means improving our public schools by recruiting thousands of new teachers and paying them more and asking more of them. And it means making college affordable for every American who wants to go by offering more loans and bigger grants.

And of course, in a world of increased risks and insecurities, we also know that every American needs a health care plan and a retirement plan that stays with them no matter where they work or even if they can't find work. That's why a few weeks ago, I introduced a universal health care plan that would not only cover every American by allowing the uninsured to buy into a similar kind of plan that members of Congress get themselves, but it would cut costs and save a typical family up to $2,500 a year.

So we know that we need this broader agenda to help families get ahead in this new world. But we also know that for the families who've been hit hardest by these economic changes, we have to help them get started before we can help them get ahead - we have to empower them to grab that first rung of the ladder before they start climbing. That's why today I want to lay out a plan that would strengthen some of our most vulnerable families by ensuring that they can find a job, stay out of poverty, and get the support they need to raise their children.

First, we need to ensure that everyone who is willing to work can find a job. Since South Carolina has lost 83,000 manufacturing jobs in the last six years and 60,000 more people are out of work, this certainly isn't easy. But it's a promise we have to keep in this country.

So, for those Americans who have been searching unsuccessfully for employment, I will invest $50 million in programs that will place willing workers into transitional jobs and train them for permanent ones.

These programs have already proven to be highly successful in the many communities that have tried them. People get the chance to work in a community service-type job, earn a paycheck every week, and learn the skills they need for gainful employment. And by leaving with references and a resume, often times they find that employment.

Still, even for those workers who do find a permanent job, many times there is no way for them to advance their careers once they're in those jobs. That's why we'll also work with community organizations and businesses to create career pathways that provide workers with the additional skills and training they need to earn more money and keep climbing up that ladder to middle-class security. Unions and various communities have done this quite successfully, and this program would build on that model.

The second step we'll take to strengthen families is to ensure that working Americans are not impoverished Americans.

One of the most successful anti-poverty programs in history has been the Earned Income Tax Credit - additional income that lifts nearly 5 million Americans out of poverty every year. As President, I will double the number of single workers who receive the EITC and triple the benefit for full-time workers making the minimum wage, from the $175 they get today to $555.

And instead of waiting every ten years for Congress to fight over raising the minimum wage, I will finally make the minimum wage a living wage by permanently indexing it to inflation so that it actually pays the bills.

The third step we'll take to strengthen families is to give them the support they need to raise their children.

As President, I'll start by passing the plan I outlined last year that would make it easier for fathers who make the responsible choice and harder for those who avoid it. It's a plan that would remove some of the financial penalties the government currently imposes on married couples, cut out the red tape to ensure that every dime of child support goes directly to children instead of bureaucrats, and provide fathers who are paying their child support an even larger EITC benefit. This plan would also crack down on those who avoid their responsibility by increasing child-support enforcement, a measure that will collect nearly $13 billion in payments that can help raise, nurture, and educate children.

We should also help new mothers with their new responsibilities. There is a pioneering Nurse-Family Partnership program right now that offers home visits by trained registered nurses to low-income mothers and mothers-to-be. They learn how to care for themselves before the baby is born and what to do after. They are counseled on substance abuse, creating and achieving personal goals, and effective methods of nurturing children.

Where it's been tried, this program reduced childhood injuries and unintended pregnancies, increased father involvement and women's employment, reduced use of welfare and food stamps, and increased children's school readiness. And it produced more than $28,000 in net savings for every high-risk family enrolled in the program. As President, I will expand the Nurse-Family Partnership to provide at-home nurse visits for up to 570,000 first-time mothers each year.

My plan would also support families with children by expanding the Child Tax Credit to an additional 600,000 more Americans, who would receive $1,000 per child. And for all those families where both parents work and don't know what to do when their child has to stay home sick for the day, my plan guarantees every worker seven paid days of sick leave each year.

None of this agenda will happen overnight, nor will it be easy to get done. But then again, America's story hasn't been all that easy itself. It is filled with tales of those who risked and struggled and beat the odds because they knew that this is a place - perhaps the only place - where such triumph is always possible. Because they believe that the pursuit of happiness is not just a phrase in a declaration, but the founding promise of our country - a promise that sustained our parents and grandparents through war and depression, racial and social strife, heartache and hardship.

It's a promise that sustains this generation still.

The other day we heard from a young man named Joshua Stroman who's from right here in South Carolina.

Joshua never knew his father, and when he was very young, his mom and stepfather both died from cancer. He was then taken in by family members who were involved with gangs and drugs. He experimented with that lifestyle for a bit, and his low point came when he went to jail at eighteen years old.

That's when he decided that his story would have a different ending.

He began to find comfort in his faith, and when he left jail, he moved in with an aunt who expected him to behave well and study hard. And he did. He is now at Benedict College and will be president of the student council there next year.

But he told us that of everything that's out there, his biggest dream is to someday stand in the front yard of his own home with his wife and kids, who will hug him and say, "I love you, Daddy."

It's a dream that could not be simpler or more profound - a dream that, in some form or another, has probably animated the journey that so many fathers and mothers and young men like Josh have taken over the generations. He has turned his life around because he held close the belief that it was always within reach. Now it is our task to turn this country around so that we can prove to him and so many others that they were right all along. I look forward to working with all of you in making this happen. Thank you.

Remarks of Senator Barack Obama to the Hampton University Annual Ministers' Conference

Hampton, Virginia | June 05, 2007

It is an honor to be here at Hampton University. It is a privilege to stand with so many ministers from across this country and we thank God and all His blessings for this wonderful day.

A few weeks ago, I attended a service at First A.M.E. Church in Los Angeles to commemorate the 15th anniversary of the LA Riots. After a jury acquitted 4 police officers of beating Rodney King-a beating that was filmed and flashed around the world- Los Angeles erupted. I remember the sense of despair and powerlessness in watching one of America's greatest cities engulfed in flames.

But in the middle of that desperate time, there was a miracle: a baby born with a bullet in its arm. We need to hear about these miracles in these desperate times because they are the blessings that can unite us when some in the world try to drive a wedge between our common humanity and deep,
abiding faith. And this story, too, starts with a baby.

We learned about this child from a doctor named Andy Moosa. He was working the afternoon shift on April 30 at St. Francis Medical Center in Lynwood as the second day of violence was exploding in the streets.

He told us about a pregnant woman who had been wearing a white dress. She was in Compton and on her way to the supermarket. Where the bullet came from nobody knew. Her sister-in-law noticed a red spot in the middle of her white dress and said that I think you've been shot. The bullet had gone in, but it had not exited. The doctor described the ultrasound and how he realized that the bullet was in the baby. The doctor said, "We could tell it was lodged in one of the upper limbs. We needed to get this baby out so we were in the delivery room."

And here's the thing: the baby looked great. Except for the swelling in the right elbow in the fleshy part, it hadn't even fractured a bone. The bullet had lodged in the soft tissue in the muscle. By God's grace, the baby was fine. It was breathing and crying and kicking. They removed the bullet, stitched up the baby's arm, and everything was fine. The doctor went on to say that there's always going to be a scar to remind that child how quickly she came into the world in very unusual circumstances.

I've been thinking and praying about that story. I've been thinking that there's always going to be a scar there, that doesn't go away. You take the bullet out. You stitch up the wound and 15 years later, there's still going to be a scar.

Many of the folks in this room know just where they were when the riot in Los Angeles started and tragedy struck the corner of Florence and Normandy. And most of the ministers here know that those riots didn't erupt over night; there had been a "quiet riot" building up in Los Angeles and across this country for years.

If you had gone to any street corner in Chicago or Baton Rouge or Hampton -- you would have found the same young men and women without hope, without miracles, and without a sense of destiny other than life on the edge -- the edge of the law, the edge of the economy, the edge of family structures and communities.

Those "quiet riots" that take place every day are born from the same place as the fires and the destruction and the police decked out in riot gear and the deaths. They happen when a sense of disconnect settles in and hope dissipates. Despair takes hold and young people all across this country look at the way the world is and believe that things are never going to get any better. You tell yourself, my school will always be second rate. You tell yourself, there will never be a good job waiting for me to excel at. You tell yourself, I will never be able to afford a place that I can be proud of and call my home. That despair quietly simmers and makes it impossible to build strong communities and neighborhoods. And then one afternoon a jury says, "Not guilty" -- or a hurricane hits New Orleans -- and that despair is revealed for the world to see.

Much of what we saw on our television screens 15 years ago was Los Angeles expressing a lingering, ongoing, pervasive legacy-a tragic legacy out of the tragic history this country has never fully come to terms with. This is not to excuse the violence of bashing in a man's head or destroying someone's store and their life's work. That kind of violence is inexcusable and self-defeating. It does, however, describe the reality of many communities around this country.

And it made me think about our cities and communities all around this country, how not only do we still have scars from that riot and the "quiet riots" that happen every day-but how in too many places we haven't even taken the bullet out.

Look at what happened in New Orleans and along the Gulf Coast when Katrina hit. People ask me whether I thought race was the reason the response was so slow. I said, "No. This Administration was colorblind in its incompetence." But everyone here knows the disaster and the poverty happened long before that hurricane hit. All the hurricane did was make bare what we ignore each and every day which is that there are whole sets of communities that are impoverished, that don't have meaningful opportunity, that don't have hope and they are forgotten. This disaster was a powerful metaphor for what's gone on for generations.

Of course, the federal response after Katrina was similar to the response after the riots in Los Angeles. People in Washington wake up and are surprised that there's poverty in our midst, and that others were frustrated and angry. Then there are panels and there are hearings. There are commissions. There are reports. Aid dollars are approved but they can't seem to get to the people. And then nothing really changes except the news coverage quiets down.

This isn't to diminish the extraordinary generosity of the American people at the time. Our churches and denominations were particularly generous during this time, sending millions of dollars, thousands of volunteers and countless prayers down to the Gulf Coast.

But despite this extraordinary generosity, here we are 19 months later - or 15 years later in the case of LA -- and the homes haven't been built, the businesses haven't returned, and those same communities are still drowning and smoldering under the same hopelessness as before the tragedy hit.

And so God is asking us today to remember that miracle of that baby. And He is asking us to take that bullet out once more.

If we have more black men in prison than are in our colleges and universities, then it's time to take the bullet out. If we have millions of people going to the emergency room for treatable illnesses like asthma; it's time to take the bullet out. If too many of our kids don't have health insurance; it's time to take the bullet out. If we keep sending our kids to dilapidated school buildings, if we keep fighting this war in Iraq, a war that never should have been authorized and waged, a war that's costing us $275 million dollars a day and a war that is taking too many innocent lives -- if we have all these challenges and nothing's changing, then every minister in America needs to come together -- form our own surgery teams-- and take the bullets out.

So what's stopping us? What's stopping us from taking these bullets out and rebuilding our families, our communities, our nation and our faith in one another? What's stopping us from seeing the light and the way and the faith that unites us?

Well, I've been on a journey trying to get at the truth of that question.

That journey started a long time ago in Hawaii, but it got interesting when I moved to Chicago. I moved there when I was just a year out of college, and a group of churches offered me a job as a community organizer so I could help rebuild neighborhoods that had been devastated by the closing of steel plants.

They didn't pay me much, but they gave me enough to live on plus something extra to buy an old, beat-up car, and so I took the job and drove out to Chicago, where I didn't know a soul. And during the time I was there, we worked to set up job training programs for the unemployed and after school programs for kids.

It was also there - at Trinity United Church of Christ on the South Side of Chicago - that I met Rev. Jeremiah A. Wright Jr., who took me on another journey and introduced me to a man named Jesus Christ. It was the best education I ever had. At and working in the South Side, I learned that when church folks come together, they can achieve extraordinary things.

After three years, I went back across this country to law school. I left there with a degree and a lifetime of debt, but I turned down the corporate job offers so I could come back to Chicago and organize a voter registration drive. I also started a civil rights practice, and began to teach constitutional law.

After a few years, people started coming up to me and telling me I should run for state Senate. So I did what every man does when he's faced with a big decision - I prayed on it, and I asked my wife. And after consulting those two higher powers, I decided to get in the race.

Everywhere I'd go, I'd get two questions. First, they'd ask, "Where'd you get that funny name, Barack Obama?" Because people just couldn't pronounce it. They'd call me " Alabama," or they'd call me "Yo Mama." And I'd tell them that my father was from Kenya, and that's where I got my name. And my mother was from Kansas, and that's where I got my accent from.

And the second thing people would ask me gets back to the question about why we can't seem to take the bullet out in this country and do the works and the deeds and unite this country.

They'd say, "You seem like a nice young man. You've done all this great work. You've been a community organizer, and you teach law school, you're a civil rights attorney, you're a family man - why would you wanna go into something dirty and nasty like politics?"

And I understand the question, and the cynicism. We all understand it.

We understand it because we get the sense today that politics has become a business and not a mission. The leaders in Washington have forgotten President Kennedy's call to remember that "here on Earth God's work must truly be our own."

In the last several years, we have seen Washington become a place where driving the wedge to further divide us and keeping score of who's up and who's down is more important than who's working on behalf of the sick and the hungry and the lonely.

We have been told that our mounting debts don't matter, that the economy is doing great, and that people's anxieties about rising health care costs and disappearing pensions aren't a big deal. We've been told that climate change is a hoax, that our broken schools cannot be fixed, and that we are destined to send millions of dollars a day to Mideast dictators for their oil.

And when it comes to faith, we've been told that all that matters is what divides us - Evangelicals from Mainline Protestants, the Black church from the White church, Catholics from Protestants from Muslims from Jews.

And when we try to have an honest debate about the crises we face, whether it's from the pulpit or the campaign trail, the pundits don't want us to find common ground, they want us to find someone to blame. They want to divide us into Red States and Blue States, and tell us to always point the finger at somebody else - the other party, or gay people, or people of faith, or immigrants.

This journey teaches us that they are going to keep driving that wedge; they are going to keep the distraction going. They are going to keep our faiths separate until we shout from the mountain top, "Our Father who art in heaven, we are going to take the bullets out. We believe in your will and your way."

Right here in this room, we believe that God is big enough to overcome the smallness of our politics; that He is big enough to overcome our doubts and our cynicism and our worries; that He is big enough to love children of every color and creed and political label.

Ministers, it's time to unite behind our faith and help all of God's children around the world and here at home realize that we are all surgeons. Our faith, the word and his will are the instruments we need to take the bullets out.

Let's start with fighting poverty.

There are 37 million Americans who are poor. Most work. Most are single mothers and children. And most are forgotten by leaders in Washington. It's time to take the bullet out and lift the poor out of despair and into the middle class of America.

That's why throughout my years in the Illinois State Senate and every day of this campaign, I've been fighting to expand the EITC, create a living wage, put a qualified teacher and more math and science teachers in our struggling schools, increase Pell Grants so more people can go to college, build more homes people can afford, go after predatory lenders, and make sure we rebuild New Orleans and the Gulf. We've been working hard to take those bullets.

But we need to do more to fight poverty in this country. I need your support to do that. And I want to tell you quickly about a few new ideas I have today.

We can diminish poverty if we approach it in two ways: by taking mutual responsibility for each other as a society, and also by asking for some more individual responsibility to strengthen our families.
If we want to stop the cycle of poverty, then we need to start with our families.

We need to start supporting parents with young children. There is a pioneering Nurse-Family Partnership program right now that offers home visits by trained registered nurses to low-income mothers and mothers-to-be. They learn how to care for themselves before the baby is born and what to do after. It's common sense to reach out to a young mother. Teach her about changing the baby. Help her understand what all that crying means, and when to get vaccines and check-ups.

This program saves money. It raises healthy babies and creates better parents. It reduced childhood injuries and unintended pregnancies, increased father involvement and women's employment, reduced use of welfare and food stamps, and increased children's school readiness. And it produced more than $28,000 in net savings for every high-risk family enrolled in the program.

This works and I will expand the Nurse-Family Partnership to provide at-home nurse visits for up to 570,000 first-time mothers each year. We can do this. Our God is big enough for that.

We need to give our young people some real choices out there so they move away from gangs and violence and connect them with growing job sectors. That is why I am also going to create a 5-E Youth Service Corps. The "E's" stand for energy efficiency, environmental education and employment. This program would directly engage disconnected and disadvantaged young people in energy efficiency and environmental service opportunities to strengthen their communities while also providing them with practical skills and experience in important and growing career field. We can do this. When it comes to bringing hope and real job opportunities to our young people, we can take the bullet out.

Our God is big enough for that.

We know what works. We know that supporting ex-offenders and their families keeps our men out of prison. That makes a difference in our families and can stop the cycle of poverty. That is why I will expand federal programs that help ex-offenders and sign the Second Chance Act into law.

As president, I will do more to strengthen support to state correctional systems so that ex-offenders can meet their parole requirements without worrying about losing their jobs. I will create a prison-to-work incentive program, modeled on the successful Welfare-to-Work program. It would create strong ties with employers, job training agencies and ex-offenders to improve job retention rates. And I will reach out to all the Reverends and engage faith-based organizations to provide support for ex-offenders and their families, both during incarceration and after. We can do that for our families. Our God is a forgiving God. He's certainly big enough for that.

But we need to do a better job making sure that there are jobs in our communities. We need to provide economic opportunity in every corner of our country if we want to take the bullet out.

We know that we have to invest in transitional jobs too. When there are people who are homeless, veterans struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder from this war in Iraq, and thousands of children aging out of foster care, we can't expect them to have all the skills they need for work. They may need help with basic skills-how to show up to work on time, wear the right clothes, and act appropriately in an office. We have to help them get there. That's why I have called for $50 million to begin innovative new job training and workforce development programs.

But what good are these efforts if men and women can't afford the bus fare or the subway fare or the car insurance to get to the training center or new job. That is why, as president, I will invest in transportation.

We know that three-quarters of welfare recipients live in areas that are poorly served by public transportation and low-income workers spend up to 36% of their incomes on transportation. That is why I will fight to ensure that the federal Jobs Access and Reverse Commute program provides grants to improve low-income access to transportation. And that additional federal public transportation dollars flow to the highest-need communities. No one should be denied work in this country because they can't find public transportation in their neighborhood.

But we should do just as much if not more to invest in minority-owned businesses in our neighborhoods so people don't need to travel miles away in the first place. Right now, less than one percent of the $250 billion in venture capital dollars that we invest nationwide each year has been directed to the country's 4.4 million minority business owners. And in recent years, there has been a significant decline in the share of the Small Business Investment Company financings that have gone to minority-owned and women-owned businesses. We are going to change that and strengthen the Small Business Administration to provide more capital minority-owned businesses. We can do that.
And here's one final idea today that will help break the cycle of poverty - affordable health care for every American. Our God is big enough for that now.

The other day I met a couple who owns a small business in northern Iowa that hundreds of people in their community count on every day to get their internet access. But today they are on the verge of bankruptcy - and it's all because of their health care costs.

Seventeen years ago the husband had cancer. He's recovered now, but every year since then, his family's premiums have gone up, and they can't find anyone else who will insure them. They now pay forty percent of their income in health care premiums, they haven't been able to save a dime for their kids' college education, and they're having trouble paying for things like clothes and gas.

When the loan officer first uttered the word "bankruptcy," it was one of the worst days of their life. They said, "We have done everything right. We have done everything we were supposed to do. This is not who we are." This is not who we are.

I have a health care plan that will cover every American and cut the cost of every family's premiums by up to $2500 a year. If you don't have health care, this plan will offer you coverage that's similar to the kind federal employees and members of Congress give themselves. If you do have health care, it will bring down your premiums by investing in information technology, and preventive care, and by stopping the drug companies from price-gouging when patients need their medicine. It will help business and families shoulder the burden of catastrophic care so that an illness doesn't lead to a bankruptcy. And I promise you this - this health care plan will be signed into law by the end of my first term in office as President.

Before we can start that work, we need to end this war in Iraq. We are spending $275 million a day in Iraq. Those dollars could go a long way to ending poverty in this country. This war should never have been authorized and waged. I opposed it from the very start, back in 2002 when it wasn't popular to be against this war. I opposed it because I believed strongly that it could lead to the disaster we find ourselves in today, with our brave young service men and women mired in the middle of a civil war.

That's why I introduced a plan in January that would have brought them home by March 31st, while forcing the Iraqi government to meet its obligations. We need 16 Republican votes in the Senate to force this President to change course. This is the only chance we have to truly end the war. It's not symbolic; this is real. Sixteen votes and we can turn the page on this war. Sixteen votes and we can start bringing our men and women home. Our God is big enough for that. Our God is calling on us to do that.

We all know that our faith will be tested and challenged. It happens to each and every one of us. As some of you know, during the 2004 U.S. Senate General Election I ran against a gentleman named Alan Keyes. Mr. Keyes is well-versed in the Pat Robertson style of rhetoric that often labels progressives as both immoral and godless.

Indeed, Mr. Keyes announced toward the end of the campaign that, "Jesus Christ would not vote for Barack Obama. Christ would not vote for Barack Obama because Barack Obama has behaved in a way that it is inconceivable for Christ to have behaved." Jesus Christ would not vote for Barack Obama.
It nagged at me in that campaign because I did not respond with the full force of what I found that Sunday morning at United Church of Christ: that our faith can never be used as a driving force to divide us. That with a big God, with a loving and forceful God we need to unite in His name to finish His work on earth.

It reminds me of a simple truth: a truth I learned all those years ago as an organizer in Chicago-a truth you speak of in your churches every Sunday. In the face of impossible odds, people who love their country can change it. With a uniting faith, with a God powerful enough to empower us-we can take the bullets out.

We know how the doctors do it. We watch some of these TV shows like ER and Gray's Anatomy. The doctors are in the operating room. You've got a head surgeon, and one's got the scalpel, but others are watching the monitors and administering the IV. The nurses are on the job. The orderlies are on the job. There was a team that got the bullet out of that baby girl 15 years ago. She's got a scar on her arm, always will, but she survived.

America is going to survive. We won't forget where we came from. We won't forget what happened 19 months ago, 15 years ago, thousands of years ago. We know who the head surgeon is, and we're on the case. We're going to pull out bullet after bullet. We're going to stitch up arm after arm. We're going to wear those scars for justice. We're going to usher in a new America the way that newborn child was ushered in.

We're never going to forget there is always hope -- there is always light in the midst of desperate days -- that a baby can be born even with a bullet in her arm. And we can come together as one people and transform this nation. Our God is big enough for that.