National Gypsum in Lorain, Ohio

Lorain, OH | February 24, 2008

Our economy has been struggling for some time now. And as I've traveled across Ohio, I've seen the face of this economy - a mother who told me she can't afford health care for her sick child; a father who's worried he won't be able to send his children to college; and seniors who've seen their pensions disappear because the companies they gave their lives to went bankrupt.

I don't have to tell you about this. Folks around here have been directly impacted by the changes in our economy - whether it was the loss of steel jobs over the past few decades, or the closing of the Ford plant that was here for so long. And folks in this area are still worried about whether they're going to lose their jobs and how they're going to make ends meet if that happens.

Now, if we're honest with ourselves, we'll acknowledge that we can't stop globalization in its tracks and that some of these jobs aren't coming back. But what I refuse to accept is that we have to stand idly by while workers watch their jobs get shipped overseas. We need a president who's working as hard for you as you're working for your families. And that's the kind of President I intend to be.

I've proposed a job-creation agenda that starts with making sure trade works for American workers. We can't keep passing unfair trade deals like NAFTA that put special interests over workers' interests.

Now, Senator Clinton has been going to great lengths on the campaign trail to distance herself from NAFTA. Yesterday, she said NAFTA was "negotiated" by the first President Bush, not by her husband. But let's be clear: it was her husband who got NAFTA passed. In her own book, Senator Clinton called NAFTA one of "Bill's successes" and "legislative victories."

And yesterday, Senator Clinton also said I'm wrong to point out that she once supported NAFTA. But the fact is, she was saying great things about NAFTA until she started running for President. A couple years after it passed, she said NAFTA was a "free and fair trade agreement" and that it was "proving its worth." And in 2004, she said, "I think, on balance, NAFTA has been good for New York and America." One million jobs have been lost because of NAFTA, including nearly 50,000 jobs here in Ohio. And yet, ten years after NAFTA passed, Senator Clinton said it was good for America. Well, I don't think NAFTA has been good for America - and I never have.

I didn't just start criticizing unfair trade deals like NAFTA because I started running for office - I'm doing it because I've seen what happens to a community when the factory closes down and the jobs move overseas. I began my career as a community organizer on the South Side of Chicago, fighting joblessness and poverty in neighborhoods that were devastated when the local steel plant closed.

And it's because of this longstanding commitment to working families that I will not sign any trade agreement as President that does not have protections for our environment and protections for American workers. And I'll pass the Patriot Employer Act that I've been fighting for ever since I ran for the Senate so we can end tax breaks for companies that ship our jobs overseas, and give those breaks to companies that create good jobs with decent wages here in America.

It's also time to let our unions do what they do best - organize our workers. If a majority of workers want a union, they should get a union. It's that simple. We need to stand up to the business lobby, and pass the Employee Free Choice Act. That's why I've been fighting for it in the Senate, and that's why I'll make it the law of the land when I'm President of the United States.

We can also invest in American jobs by investing in America, and rebuilding our roads and bridges. I've proposed a National Infrastructure Reinvestment Bank that will invest $60 billion over ten years. This will multiply into almost half a trillion dollars of additional infrastructure spending and generate nearly two million new jobs - many of them in the construction industry that's been hard hit by the housing crisis we're facing.

In addition, we've also got to do more to create the green jobs that are jobs of the future. My energy plan will put $150 billion over ten years into establishing a green energy sector that will create up to 5 million new jobs over the next two decades - including jobs right here in Ohio that pay well and can't be outsourced. We'll also provide funding to help manufacturers convert to green technology and help workers learn the skills they need for these jobs.

We know that all of this must be done in a responsible way, without adding to the already obscene debt that has grown by four trillion dollars under George Bush. We cannot build our future on a credit card issued by the bank of China. And that is why I'll pay for every part of this job-creation agenda - by ending this war in Iraq that's costing us billions, closing tax loopholes for corporations, putting a price on carbon pollution, and ending George Bush's tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans.

But in the end, enacting this agenda won't just require an investment. It will require a new spirit of cooperation, innovation, and shared sacrifice. We'll have to remind ourselves that we rise and fall as one nation; that a country in which only a few prosper is antithetical to our ideals and our democracy; and that those of us who have benefited greatly from the blessings of this country have a solemn obligation to open the doors of opportunity, not just for our children, but to all of America's children. That's the kind of vision I have for this country, and that's the kind of vision I hope to make real as President of the United States.

Keeping America's Promise

Janesville, WI | February 13, 2008

It was nearly a century ago that the first tractor rolled off the assembly line at this plant. The achievement didn't just create a product to sell or profits for General Motors. It led to a shared prosperity enjoyed by all of Janesville. Homes and businesses began to sprout up along Milwaukee and Main Streets. Jobs were plentiful, with wages that could raise a family and benefits you could count on.

Prosperity hasn't always come easily. The plant shut down for a period during the height of the Depression, and major shifts in production have been required to meet the changing times. Tractors became automobiles. Automobiles became artillery shells. SUVs are becoming hybrids as we speak, and the cost of transition has always been greatest for the workers and their families.

But through hard times and good, great challenge and great change, the promise of Janesville has been the promise of America - that our prosperity can and must be the tide that lifts every boat; that we rise or fall as one nation; that our economy is strongest when our middle-class grows and opportunity is spread as widely as possible. And when it's not - when opportunity is uneven or unequal - it is our responsibility to restore balance, and fairness, and keep that promise alive for the next generation. That is the responsibility we face right now, and that is the responsibility I intend to meet as President of the United States.

We are not standing on the brink of recession due to forces beyond our control. The fallout from the housing crisis that's cost jobs and wiped out savings was not an inevitable part of the business cycle. It was a failure of leadership and imagination in Washington - the culmination of decades of decisions that were made or put off without regard to the realities of a global economy and the growing inequality it's produced.

It's a Washington where George Bush hands out billions in tax cuts year after year to the biggest corporations and the wealthiest few who don't need them and don't ask for them - tax breaks that are mortgaging our children's future on a mountain of debt; tax breaks that could've gone into the pockets of the working families who needed them most.

It's a Washington where decades of trade deals like NAFTA and China have been signed with plenty of protections for corporations and their profits, but none for our environment or our workers who've seen factories shut their doors and millions of jobs disappear; workers whose right to organize and unionize has been under assault for the last eight years.

It's a Washington where politicians like John McCain and Hillary Clinton voted for a war in Iraq that should've never been authorized and never been waged - a war that is costing us thousands of precious lives and billions of dollars a week that could've been used to rebuild crumbling schools and bridges; roads and buildings; that could've been invested in job training and child care; in making health care affordable or putting college within reach.

And it's a Washington that has thrown open its doors to lobbyists and special interests who've riddled our tax code with loopholes that let corporations avoid paying their taxes while you're paying more. They've been allowed to write an energy policy that's keeping us addicted to oil when there are families choosing between gas and groceries. They've used money and influence to kill health care reform at a time when half of all bankruptcies are caused by medical bills, and then they've rigged our bankruptcy laws to make it harder to climb out of debt. They don't represent ordinary Americans, they don't fund my campaign, and they won't drown out the voices of working families when I am President.

This is what's been happening in Washington at a time when we have greater income disparity in this country than we've seen since the first year of the Great Depression. At a time when some CEOs are making more in a day than the average workers makes in a year. When the typical family income has dropped by $1,000 over the last seven years. When wages are flat, jobs are moving overseas, and we've never paid more for health care, or energy, or college. It's a time when we've never saved less - barely $400 for the average family last year - and never owed more - an average of $8,000 per family. And it's a time when one in eight Americans now lives in abject poverty right here in the richest nation on Earth.

At a time like this, it's no wonder that the mortgage crisis was the straw that broke the camel's back. The equity that people own in their homes is often their largest source of savings, and as millions upon millions have seen those savings and their home equity decline or disappear altogether, so have their dreams for a better future.

I realize that politicians come before you every election saying that they'll change all this. They lay out big plans and hold events with workers just like this one, because it's popular to do and it's easy to make promises in the heat of a campaign.

But how many times have you been disappointed when everyone goes back to Washington and nothing changes? Because the lobbyists just write another check. Or because politicians start worrying about how they'll win the next election instead of why they should. Because they're focused on who's up and who's down instead of who matters - the worker who just lost his pension; the family that just put up the For Sale sign; the young woman who gets three hours of sleep a night because she works the late shift after a full day of college and still can't afford her sister's medicine.

These are the Americans who need real change - the kind of change that's about more than switching the party in the White House. They need a change in our politics - a leader who can end the division in Washington so we can stop talking about our challenges and start solving them; who doesn't defend lobbyists as part of the system, but sees them as part of the problem; who will carry your voices and your hopes into the White House every single day for the next four years. And that is the kind of President I want to be.

I didn't spend my career in the halls of Washington, I began it in the shadow of a closed steel mill on the South Side of Chicago. We organized churches and community leaders; African-Americans, whites, and Hispanics to lift neighborhoods out of poverty; provide job training to the jobless; and set up after school programs so that kids had a safe place to go while their parents worked.

Those are the voices I carried with me to the Illinois state Senate, where I brought Democrats and Republicans together to expand health insurance to 150,000 children and parents; where I led the fight to provide $100 million in tax relief for working families and the working poor.

They're the voices I carried with me to Washington, where the first bill I introduced was to make college more affordable; where I fought against a bankruptcy bill that made it harder for families to climb out of debt; and where I passed the most sweeping lobbying reform in a generation - reform that forced lobbyists to tell the American people who they're raising money from and who in Congress they're funneling it to.

So when I talk about real change that will make a real difference in the lives of working families - change that will restore balance in our economy and put us on a path to prosperity - it's not just the poll-tested rhetoric of a political campaign. It's the cause of my life. And you can be sure that it will be the cause of my presidency from the very first day I take office.

Now we know that we cannot put up walls around our economy. We know that we cannot reverse the tide of technology that's allowed businesses to send jobs wherever there's an internet connection. We know that government cannot solve all our problems, and we don't expect it to.

But that doesn't mean we have to accept an America of lost opportunity and diminished dreams. Not when we still have the most productive, highly-educated, best-skilled workers in the world. Not when we still stand on the cutting edge of innovation, and science, and discovery. Not when we have the resources and the will of a decent, generous people who are ready to share in the burdens and benefits of a global economy. I am certain that we can keep America's promise - for this generation and the next.

So today, I'm laying out a comprehensive agenda to reclaim our dream and restore our prosperity. It's an agenda that focuses on three broad economic challenges that the next President must address - the current housing crisis; the cost crisis facing the middle-class and those struggling to join it; and the need to create millions of good jobs right here in America- jobs that can't be outsourced and won't disappear.

The first challenge is to stem the fallout from the housing crisis and put in place rules of the road to prevent it from happening again.

A few weeks ago I offered an economic stimulus package based on a simple principle - we should get immediate relief into the hands of people who need it the most and will spend it the quickest. I proposed sending each working family a $500 tax cut and each senior a $250 supplement to their Social Security check. And if the economy gets worse, we should double those amounts.

Neither George Bush nor Hillary Clinton had that kind of immediate, broad-based relief in their original stimulus proposals, but I'm glad that the stimulus package that was recently passed by Congress does. We still need to go further, though, and make unemployment insurance available for a longer period of time and for more Americans who find themselves out of work. We should also provide assistance to state and local governments so that they don't slash critical services like health care or education.

For those Americans who are facing the brunt of the housing crisis, I've proposed a fund that would provide direct relief to victims of mortgage fraud. We'd also help those who are facing closure refinance their mortgages so they can stay in their homes. And I'd provide struggling homeowners relief by offering a tax credit to low- and middle-income Americans that would cover ten percent of their mortgage interest payment every year.

To make sure that folks aren't tricked into purchasing loans they can't afford, I've proposed tough new penalties for those who commit mortgage fraud, and a Home Score system that would allow consumers to compare various mortgage products so that they can find out whether or not they'll be able to afford the payments ahead of time.

The second major economic challenge we have to address is the cost crisis facing the middle-class and the working poor. As the housing crisis spills over into other parts of the economy, we've seen people's entire life savings wiped out in an instant. It's the result of skyrocketing costs, stagnant wages, and disappearing benefits that are pushing more and more Americans towards a debt spiral from which they can't escape. We have to give them a way out by cutting costs, putting more money in their pockets, and rebuilding a safety net that's become badly frayed over the last decades.

One of the principles that John Edwards has passionately advanced is that this country should be rewarding work, not wealth. That starts with our tax code, which has been rigged by lobbyists with page after page of loopholes that benefit big corporations and the wealthiest few. For example, we should not be giving tax breaks to corporations that make their profits in some other country with some other workers. Before she started running for President, Senator Clinton actually voted for this loophole.

I'll change our tax code so that it's simple, fair, and advances opportunity, not the agenda of some lobbyist. I am the only candidate in this race who's proposed a genuine middle-class tax cut that will provide relief to 95% of working Americans. This is a tax cut -paid for in part by closing corporate loopholes and shutting down tax havens - that will offset the payroll tax that working Americans are already paying, and it'll be worth up to $1000 for a working family. We'll also eliminate income taxes for any retiree making less than $50,000 per year, because our seniors are struggling enough with rising costs, and should be able to retire in dignity and respect. Since the Earned Income Tax Credit lifts nearly 5 million Americans out of poverty each year, I'll double the number of workers who receive it and triple the benefit for minimum wage workers. And I won't wait another ten years to raise the minimum wage - I'll guarantee that it keeps pace with inflation every single year so that it's not just a minimum wage, but a living wage. Because that's the change that working Americans need.

My universal health care plan brings down the cost of health care more than any other candidate in this race, and will save the typical family up to $2500 a year on their premiums. Every American would be able to get the same kind of health care that members of Congress get for themselves, and we'd ban insurance companies from denying you coverage because of a pre-existing condition. And the main difference between my plan and Senator Clinton's plan is that she'd require the government to force you to buy health insurance and she said she'd ‘go after' your wages if you don't. Well I believe the reason people don't have health care isn't because no one's forced them to buy it, it's because no one's made it affordable - and that's what we'll do when I am President.

If we want to train our workforce for a knowledge economy, it's also time that we brought down the cost of a college education and put it within reach of every American. I know how expense this is. At the beginning of our marriage, Michelle and I were spending more to payoff our college loans than we were on our mortgage. So I'll create a new and fully refundable tax credit worth $4,000 for tuition and fees every year, a benefit that students will get in exchange for community or national service, which will cover two-thirds of the tuition at the average public college or university. And I'll also simplify the financial aid application process so that we don't have a million students who aren't applying for aid because it's too difficult.

With so many mothers and fathers juggling work and parenting, the next cost we have to bring down is the cost of living in a two-income family. I'll expand the child care tax credit for people earning less than $50,000 a year, and I'll double spending on quality afterschool programs. We'll also expand the Family Medical Leave Act to include more businesses and millions more workers; and we'll change a system that's stacked against working women by requiring every employer to provide seven paid sick days a year, so that you can be home with your child if they're sick.

In addition to cutting costs for working families, we also need to help them save more - especially for retirement. That's why we'll require employers to enroll every worker in a direct deposit retirement account that places a small percentage of each paycheck into savings. You can keep this account even if you change jobs, and the federal government will match the savings for lower-income, working families.

Finally, we need to help families who find themselves in a debt spiral climb out. Since so many who are struggling to keep up with their mortgages are now shifting their debt to credit cards, we have to make sure that credit cards don't become the next stage in the housing crisis. To make sure that Americans know what they're signing up for, I'll institute a five-star rating system to inform consumers about the level of risk involved in every credit card. And we'll establish a Credit Card Bill of Rights that will ban unilateral changes to a credit card agreement; ban rate changes to debt that's already incurred; and ban interest on late fees. Americans need to pay what they owe, but they should pay what's fair, not what fattens profits for some credit card company.

The same principle should apply to our bankruptcy laws. When I first arrived in the Senate, I opposed the credit card industry's bankruptcy bill that made it harder for working families to climb out of debt. Five years earlier, Senator Clinton had supported a nearly identical bill. And during a debate a few weeks back, she said that even though she voted for it, she was glad it didn't pass. Now, I know those kind of antics might make sense in Washington, but they don't make much sense anywhere else, and they certainly don't make sense for working families who are struggling under the weight of their debt.

When I'm President, we'll reform our bankruptcy laws so that we give Americans who find themselves in debt a second chance. I'll close the loophole that allows investors with multiple homes to renegotiate their mortgage in bankruptcy court, but not victims of predatory lending. We'll make sure that if you can demonstrate that you went bankrupt because of medical expenses, then you can relieve that debt and get back on your feet. And I'll make sure that CEOs can't dump your pension with one hand while they collect a bonus with the other. That's an outrage, and it's time we had a President who knows it's an outrage.

Those are the steps we can take to ease the cost crisis facing working families. But we still need to make sure that families are working. We need to maintain our competitive edge in a global by ensuring that plants like this one stay open for another hundred years, and shuttered factories re-open as new industries that promise new jobs. And we need to put more Americans to work doing jobs that need to be done right here in America.

For years, we have stood by while our national infrastructure has crumbled and decayed. In 2005, the American Society of Civil Engineers gave it a D, citing problems with our airports, dams, schools, highways, and waterways. One out of three urban bridges were classified as structurally deficient, and we all saw the tragic results of what that could mean in Minnesota last year. Right here in Wisconsin, we know that $500 million of freight will come through this state by 2020, and if we do not have the infrastructure to handle it, we will not get the business.

For our economy, our safety, and our workers, we have to rebuild America. I'm proposing a National Infrastructure Reinvestment Bank that will invest $60 billion over ten years. This investment will multiply into almost half a trillion dollars of additional infrastructure spending and generate nearly two million new jobs - many of them in the construction industry that's been hard hit by this housing crisis. The repairs will be determined not by politics, but by what will maximize our safety and homeland security; what will keep our environment clean and our economy strong. And we'll fund this bank by ending this war in Iraq. It's time to stop spending billions of dollars a week trying to put Iraq back together and start spending the money on putting America back together instead.

It's also time to look to the future and figure out how to make trade work for American workers. I won't stand here and tell you that we can - or should - stop free trade. We can't stop every job from going overseas. But I also won't stand here and accept an America where we do nothing to help American workers who have lost jobs and opportunities because of these trade agreements. And that's a position of mine that doesn't change based on who I'm talking to or the election I'm running in.

You know, in the years after her husband signed NAFTA, Senator Clinton would go around talking about how great it was and how many benefits it would bring. Now that she's running for President, she says we need a time-out on trade. No one knows when this time-out will end. Maybe after the election.

I don't know about a time-out, but I do know this - when I am President, I will not sign another trade agreement unless it has protections for our environment and protections for American workers. And I'll pass the Patriot Employer Act that I've been fighting for ever since I ran for the Senate - we will end the tax breaks for companies who ship our jobs overseas, and we will give those breaks to companies who create good jobs with decent wages right here in America.

I believe that we can create millions of those jobs around a clean, renewable energy future. A few hours northeast of here is the city of Manitowoc. For over a century, it was the home of Mirro manufacturing - a company that provided thousands of jobs and plenty of business. In 2003, Mirro closed its doors for good after losing thousands of jobs to Mexico.

But in the last few years, something extraordinary has happened. Thanks to the leadership of Governor Doyle and Mayor Kevin Crawford, Manitowoc has re-trained its workers and attracted new businesses and new jobs. Orion Energy Systems works with companies to reduce their electricity use and carbon emissions. And Tower Tech is now making wind turbines that are being sold all over the world. Hundreds of people have found new work, and unemployment has been cut in half.

This can be America's future. I know that General Motors received some bad news yesterday, and I know how hard your Governor has fought to keep jobs in this plant. But I also know how much progress you've made - how many hybrids and fuel-efficient vehicles you're churning out. And I believe that if our government is there to support you, and give you the assistance you need to re-tool and make this transition, that this plant will be here for another hundred years. The question is not whether a clean energy economy is in our future, it's where it will thrive. I want it to thrive right here in the United States of America; right here in Wisconsin; and that's the future I'll fight for as your President.

My energy plan will invest $150 billion over ten years to establish a green energy sector that will create up to 5 million new jobs over the next two decades - jobs that pay well and can't be outsourced. We'll also provide funding to help manufacturers convert to green technology and help workers learn the skills they need for these jobs.

We know that all of this must be done in a responsible way, without adding to the already obscene debt that has grown by four trillion dollars under George Bush. We know that we cannot build our future on a credit card issued by the bank of China. And that is why I've paid for every element of this economic agenda - by ending a war that's costing us billions, closing tax loopholes for corporations, putting a price on carbon pollution, and ending George Bush's tax cuts for the wealthiest 2% of Americans.

In the end, this economic agenda won't just require new money. It will require a new spirit of cooperation and innovation on behalf of the American people. We will have to learn more, and study more, and work harder. We'll be called upon to take part in shared sacrifice and shared prosperity. And we'll have to remind ourselves that we rise and fall as one nation; that a country in which only a few prosper is antithetical to our ideals and our democracy; and that those of us who have benefited greatly from the blessings of this country have a solemn obligation to open the doors of opportunity, not just for our children, but to all of America's children.

That is the spirit that's thrived in Janesville from the moment that first tractor came off the assembly line so many years ago. It's the spirit that led my grandmother to her own assembly line during World War II, and my grandfather to march in Patton's Army. When that war ended, they were given the chance to go to college on the GI Bill, to buy a house from the Federal Housing Authority, and to give my mother the chance to go to the best schools and dream as big as the Kansas sky. Even though she was a single mom who didn't have much, it's the same chance she gave me, and why I'm standing here today.

It's a promise that's been passed down through the ages; one that each generation of Americans is called to keep - that we can raise our children in a land of boundless opportunity, broad prosperity, and unyielding possibility. That is the promise we must keep in our time, and I look forward to working and fighting to make it real as President of the United States. Thank you.

Potomac Primary

Madison, WI | February 12, 2008

Today, the change we seek swept through the Chesapeake and over the Potomac.

We won the state of Maryland. We won the Commonwealth of Virginia. And though we won in Washington D.C., this movement won't stop until there's change in Washington. And tonight, we're on our way.

But we know how much farther we have to go.

We know it takes more than one night – or even one election – to overcome decades of money and the influence; bitter partisanship and petty bickering that's shut you out, let you down and told you to settle.

We know our road will not be easy.

But we also know that at this moment the cynics can no longer say our hope is false.

We have now won east and west, north and south, and across the heartland of this country we love. We have given young people a reason to believe, and brought folks back to the polls who want to believe again. And we are bringing together Democrats and Independents and Republicans; blacks and whites; Latinos and Asians; small states and big states; Red States and Blue States into a United States of America.

This is the new American majority. This is what change looks like when it happens from the bottom up. And in this election, your voices will be heard.

Because at a time when so many people are struggling to keep up with soaring costs in a sluggish economy, we know that the status quo in Washington just won't do. Not this time. Not this year. We can't keep playing the same Washington game with the same Washington players and expect a different result – because it's a game that ordinary Americans are losing.

It's a game where lobbyists write check after check and Exxon turns record profits, while you pay the price at the pump, and our planet is put at risk. That's what happens when lobbyists set the agenda, and that's why they won't drown out your voices anymore when I am President of the United States of America.

It's a game where trade deals like NAFTA ship jobs overseas and force parents to compete with their teenagers to work for minimum wage at Wal-Mart. That's what happens when the American worker doesn't have a voice at the negotiating table, when leaders change their positions on trade with the politics of the moment, and that's why we need a President who will listen to Main Street – not just Wall Street; a President who will stand with workers not just when it's easy, but when it's hard.

It's a game where Democrats and Republicans fail to come together year after year after year, while another mother goes without health care for her sick child. That's why we have to put an end to the division and distraction in Washington, so that we can unite this nation around a common purpose, a higher purpose.

It's a game where the only way for Democrats to look tough on national security is by talking, and acting and voting like Bush-McCain Republicans, while our troops are sent to fight tour after tour of duty in a war that should've never been authorized and should've never been waged. That's what happens when we use 9/11 to scare up votes, and that's why we need to do more than end a war – we need to end the mindset that got us into war.

That's the choice in this primary. It's about whether we choose to play the game, or whether we choose to end it; it's change that polls well, or change we can believe in; it's the past versus the future. And when I'm the Democratic nominee for President – that will be the choice in November.

John McCain is an American hero. We honor his service to our nation. But his priorities don't address the real problems of the American people, because they are bound to the failed policies of the past.

George Bush won't be on the ballot this November, but his war and his tax cuts for the wealthy will.

When I am the nominee, I will offer a clear choice. John McCain won't be able to say that I ever supported this war in Iraq, because I opposed it from the beginning. Senator McCain said the other day that we might be mired for a hundred years in Iraq, which is reason enough to not give him four years in the White House.

If we had chosen a different path, the right path, we could have finished the job in Afghanistan, and put more resources into the fight against bin Laden; and instead of spending hundreds of billions of dollars in Baghdad, we could have put that money into our schools and hospitals, our road and bridges – and that's what the American people need us to do right now.

And I admired Senator McCain when he stood up and said that it offended his "conscience" to support the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy in a time of war; that he couldn't support a tax cut where "so many of the benefits go to the most fortunate." But somewhere along the road to the Republican nomination, the Straight Talk Express lost its wheels, because now he's all for them.

Well I'm not. We can't keep spending money that we don't have in a war that we shouldn't have fought. We can't keep mortgaging our children's future on a mountain of debt. We can't keep driving a wider and wider gap between the few who are rich and the rest who struggle to keep pace. It's time to turn the page.

We need a new direction in this country. Everywhere I go, I meet Americans who can't wait another day for change. They're not just showing up to hear a speech – they need to know that politics can make a difference in their lives, that it's not too late to reclaim the American Dream.

It's a dream shared in big cities and small towns; across races, regions and religions – that if you work hard, you can support a family; that if you get sick, there will be health care you can afford; that you can retire with the dignity and security and respect that you have earned; that your kids can get a good education, and young people can go to college even if they're not rich. That is our common hope. That is the American Dream.

It's the dream of the father who goes to work before dawn and lies awake at night wondering how he's going to pay the bills. He needs us to restore fairness to our economy by putting a tax cut into the pockets of working people, and seniors, and struggling homeowners.

It's the dream of the woman who told me she works the night shift after a full day of college and still can't afford health care for a sister who's ill. She needs us to finally come together to make health care affordable and available for every American.

It's the dream of the senior I met who lost his pension when the company he gave his life to went bankrupt. He doesn't need bankruptcy laws that protect banks and big lenders. He needs us to protect pensions, not CEO bonuses; and to do what it takes to make sure that the American people can count on Social Security today, tomorrow and forever.

It's the dream of the teacher who works at Dunkin Donuts after school just to make ends meet. She needs better pay, and more support, and the freedom to do more than just teach to the test. And if her students want to go on to college, they shouldn't fear decades of debt. That's why I'll make college affordable with an annual $4,000 tax credit if you're willing to do community service, or national service. We will invest in you, but we'll ask you to invest in your country.

That is our calling in this campaign. To reaffirm that fundamental belief – I am my brother's keeper, I am my sister's keeper – that makes us one people, and one nation. It's time to stand up and reach for what's possible, because together, people who love their country can change it.

Now when I start talking like this, some folks tell me that I've got my head in the clouds. That I need a reality check. That we're still offering false hope. But my own story tells me that in the United States of America, there has never been anything false about hope.

I should not be here today. I was not born into money or status. I was born to a teenage mom in Hawaii, and my dad left us when I was two. But my family gave me love, they gave me education, and most of all they gave me hope – hope that in America, no dream is beyond our grasp if we reach for it, and fight for it, and work for it.

Because hope is not blind optimism. I know how hard it will be to make these changes. I know this because I fought on the streets of Chicago as a community organizer to bring jobs to the jobless in the shadow of a shuttered steel plant. I've fought in the courts as a civil rights lawyer to make sure people weren't denied their rights because of what they looked like or where they came from. I've fought in the legislature to take power away from lobbyists. I've won some of those fights, but I've lost some of them too. I've seen good legislation die because good intentions weren't backed by a mandate for change.

The politics of hope does not mean hoping things come easy. Because nothing worthwhile in this country has ever happened unless somebody, somewhere stood up when it was hard; stood up when they were told – no you can't, and said yes we can.

And where better to affirm our ideals than here in Wisconsin, where a century ago the progressive movement was born. It was rooted in the principle that the voices of the people can speak louder than special interests; that citizens can be connected to their government and to one another; and that all of us share a common destiny, an American Dream.

Yes we can reclaim that dream.

Yes we can heal this nation.

The voices of the American people have carried us a great distance on this improbable journey, but we have much further to go. Now we carry our message to farms and factories across this state, and to the cities and small towns of Ohio, to the open plains deep in the heart of Texas, and all the way to Democratic National Convention in Denver; it's the same message we had when we were up, and when were down; that out of many, we are one; that our destiny will not be written for us, but by us; and that we can cast off our doubts and fears and cynicism because our dream will not be deferred; our future will not be denied; and our time for change has come.

Barack Obama on 60 Minutes

Sen. Barack Obama on 60 Minutes (CBS) | February 10, 2008

STEVE KROFT: What qualifies you to be President of the United States?

BARACK OBAMA: Something that I think I bring to bear to this process is the capacity to bring diverse people together around a common goal. And I think more than anything, that's what America needs right now: the ability for us to unite around a common-sense, practical, non-ideological effort to solve some very big problems that we face.

KROFT: I'm a voter looking at your resume, and you served seven years in the Illinois legislature, two years in the U.S. Senate. No executive experience in government and no real credentials in international affairs. It's a tough job. What qualifies you?

OBAMA: If you look at my track record, not only in Washington, but prior to Washington, I think what you'll see is a diverse set of experience that prepares me well for the particular challenges that we face right now. Let's take the issue of foreign policy. You know, I've served on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. I've worked with colleagues like Senator Dick Lugar of Indiana, a Republican, on the issue of nuclear proliferation and actually passed last year a piece of legislation dealing with proliferation on conventional arms. On issues dealing with Africa, a major area where we've got to deal with a potential terrorist threat, we passed legislation to make sure that we are stabilizing countries like the Congo that are currently ungoverned and are vulnerable to terrorist infiltration. So on the international front, I've got a body of work that I think is relevant to the job. But more importantly than that, I've got a set of experiences prior to joining the Senate, including having lived overseas and having family overseas and understanding, I think, in a very intimate way, both the challenges that we face in America's image abroad, but also the opportunities to win back the hearts and minds of people who I think over the last six years have felt entirely alienated from how our administration's operated and, I think, that has actually made us less safe than we should be.

KROFT: Anything else in your background that you think serves as a qualification for this job?

OBAMA: You know, here in Washington, people don't take experience outside of Washington seriously. Seven years in the Illinois Senate actually prepares pretty well, because Illinois is a wonderful microcosm for the country. You know, it's north/south. It's east/west. It's black/white/Hispanic. There are a whole host of issues that have a direct impact on people's everyday lives. So when I pass legislation that expands healthcare for kids; or struggle with welfare reform on the ground where it matters; or bringing together opponents of the death penalty with law enforcement to come up with the first in the nation videotaping of interrogations and confessions in capital cases -- those are all issues that matter deeply to people. They are similar to the issues that we deal with at a national level.

KROFT: You touch people's imagination with your campaign.

OBAMA: Absolutely.

KROFT: People are worried about your experience.

OBAMA: Right.

KROFT: Why are you in such a hurry?

OBAMA: You know the truth is I'm not. If I was on my own internal timetable, then I would be happy to wait ten years before I was running for higher office. This is not something that I've engineered. It's something that presents itself as an opportunity to make a difference right here and right now. We have a narrow window to solve some of the problems that we face. Ten years from now, we may not be in a position to recover the sense of respect around the world that we've lost over the last six years. Ten years from now, we may have dug ourselves such a deep hole when it comes to our fiscal health that some of those problems are irreversible. Certainly when you look at our energy policy and environment and the prospects of climate change, we've got to make some decisions right now. And so I feel a sense of urgency for the country. It's possible that, you know, after we go through this whole process, the voters conclude: You know? He's not ready. And I respect that. I don't expect that simply because I can move people in speeches that automatically qualifies me for this job. I think that I have to be tested and run through the paces, and I have to earn this job

KROFT: What do you think you bring to the race that Senator [Hillary] Clinton doesn't or former Senator [John] Edwards?

OBAMA: I don't want to get into the comparisons at this stage with the candidates. I think as the campaign unfolds, people will get a sense of our differences.

KROFT: Do you think that your inexperience in any way is an advantage?

OBAMA: I do think that I'm able to look at what's going on in Washington with a little more objectivity, because I haven't been there that long. I think that the work that I've done in the past gives me a pretty good sense of the various dimensions of some of the problems we face. I'll be very specific. When we're having education debates here in Washington, my positions are informed by having tried to figure out how to fundamentally change the way that we finance public education at the state level. It's informed by work that I've done as a community organizer in inner city classrooms. And so I end up recognizing that we need more money to fix our schools, but we also need a transformation in attitudes. And in Washington, that's typically framed as a "either/or" proposition. You know, the conservative position is we don't need more money; we just need to blow up the bureaucracy. You know, on the left, sometimes the sense is we just need more money, and we and our problems will be solved. When you have actually been in these schools and worked with these parents and talked to the teachers and sat down in a meeting with principals who are trying to figure out how to hold this thing together, then you realize that it's not an "either/or" proposition. It's both ends. You know, parents need to do a better job of parenting. Teachers need to do a better job teaching. Some of the anti-intellectualism that exists in the African-American community and Latino communities and low-income communities has to change. And the federal government's got to put more money, because the fact is that they don't have enough resources.

KROFT: I want to read you a quote from The St. Petersburg Times. "Obama needs more than one Senate term to qualify for the Presidency of the United States. The world is too complex and dangerous for this likeable, charismatic, African-American neophyte to practice on-the-job training." Your reaction?

OBAMA: I expect to have to earn this job, and I trust the American people that they will be able to watch over the course of this campaign to see whether I've got the knowledge, the skills, and the grace under pressure to perform. And if I don't, then I think they'll let me know. And I'll be able to go back to doing the good work that I've been able to accomplish here in the Senate.

KROFT: If you were President today and given the present situation in Iraq, what would you do?

OBAMA: I've been very specific. I've introduced legislation.

KROFT: You've introduced a bill to get the U.S. troops out of Iraq by the end of March 2008.

OBAMA: Right.

KROFT: But how would you do it? And what do you think the consequences would be?

OBAMA: Well, number one, we should have thought this through before we went in. I'm proud of the fact that, although I was at the start of a U.S. Senate campaign and there were some risks involved, I indicated that we hadn't thought this thing through. Now we don't have a lot of good options. We've got bad options and worse options. What I've proposed is that we should initiate a phase redeployment. Start taking our combat troops, deploying them in the region, deploying them in Afghanistan, focus them on the broader war on terror. What happens is dictated by conditions on the ground and what the commanders say. We set a target goal of getting our combat troops out, leaving logistics and training and counter-terrorism forces on the ground, and we set up some benchmarks, benchmarks that were laid out by the Iraq Study Group, benchmarks that were laid out by the President himself for the Iraqi government to meet.

KROFT: So essentially you're acknowledging defeat?

OBAMA: Not at all, because what the bill says is that if conditions allow for success and the military can assist in creating a stable Iraqi government, then we should do so. It is acknowledging that the President's policies in Iraq have failed, that we have spent over $400 billion, over 3,000 lives, and made us less safe, and that unless we fundamentally change course in Iraq, that we're going be having this same debate two years from now, four years from now, six years from now with who knows how many more incredibly brave American soldiers dying on the battlefield.

KROFT: So you would send some troops to Afghanistan. You would bring some troops home, and you would send some troops to other areas in the Middle East.

OBAMA: Right.

KROFT: Where would you send them in the Middle East? And for what purpose?

OBAMA: I think having the potential for an over-the-horizon force, that if you started having some sort of conflagrations that necessitated immediate U.S. action, that we could send them there. If you had spillover of Iraqi civil war activities into other parts of the Middle East, that they would be there. That you would potentially prevent Iran or Syria from taking advantage of some of the problems in Iraq; that you could potentially create some sort of perimeter around Iraq.

KROFT: If a full-scale civil war erupted, if you got into a situation where there was ethnic cleansing of the Sunnis, looking at a possible genocide situation, would that be grounds to re-deploy the troops?

OBAMA: My hope is at that point that we would have done enough diplomatic work that we would actually have a coalition to try to prevent genocide. Part of the problem that we have right now is that there is no coalition left. This is essentially a situation in which the rest of the world has said, "You made your decision. It hasn't worked out. We weren't really consulted in the process, and as a consequence, you're now on your own."

KROFT: You said you would hope that by that time you would have established coalitions. Coalitions with who?

OBAMA: We still have a lot of allies, not just in Western Europe, but around the world, who I think would be willing to participate, if there is a sense that this is not simply a matter of the United States calling folks in after we've made a decision, but where there's genuine consultation. Reshaping our international institutions I think is going to be absolutely critical. Part of that's diplomatic. But I think there's going to have to be a military component to that.

KROFT: Would you talk to Iran or Syria?

OBAMA: Yes. I think that the notion that this administration has -- that not talking to our enemies is effective punishment -- is wrong. It flies in the face of our experiences during the Cold War. Ronald Reagan understood that it may be an evil empire, but it's worthwhile for us to periodically meet to see are there areas of common interest. And most importantly, those conversations allow the possibility that our ideas and our values gain greater exposure in these countries. The fact of the matter is that Iran currently is governed by an oppressive regime, one that I think is a threat to the region and to our allies, but there are a lot of people in Iran who potentially would like to be part of this broader community of nations. For us not to be in a conversation with them doesn't make sense. Now I don't think that that conversation should be conditioned on our accepting their support of terrorism or their building nuclear capacity and potentially sparking an arms race in the Middle East, any more than our conversations with the Kremlin presumed that we approved of their aggression around the world. You know, we can have a robust strategy of blocking and containing aggressive actions by hostile or rogue states, but still open up the possibility that over time those relationships may evolve and they may change. And there may be opportunities for us to resolve some of our differences, not all of them, but some of them in a constructive way.

KROFT: Would you advocate the use of military force to keep Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons?

OBAMA: I think we should keep all options on the table, but I think that our first step should be a much more aggressive approach to diplomacy than we've displayed thus far. And I think this is an example of where our blundering in Iraq has cost us dearly. Iran's the big winner from the Iraq War. They have gained immeasurable strength in the Middle East, and because of the strains that it's placed on our alliances and our leverage with other countries around the world, it's made it more difficult for us to be able to mobilize international pressure to get them to stand down from what I believe is a process of developing nuclear weapons.

KROFT: Do you have solutions for the Palestinian/Israeli conflict?

OBAMA: Well, probably not solutions that I can lay out in the next two minutes. Look, I think that both the Israeli people and the Palestinian people are weary of the ongoing conflict. I think they want to see solutions. What we don't have right now, particularly in the Palestinian community, are a set of leaders who have both the will and the capacity to renounce violence as a strategy to resolve the problems and to actually enforce any agreement that might be reached with the Israelis. And that is something that we can't do single-handedly, but if we're much more active than we've been, if we're paying attention, if we're deploying special envoys, if we are indicating to the Palestinians that we are ready and willing to work with them and the Israelis in finding an agreeable two-state solution, then it is possible that that leadership will emerge.

KROFT: You have a government that's run by Hamas.

OBAMA: Well, that's right. Whether it is a maturation of Hamas leadership where they realize that violence is leading their people nowhere, or it’s Fattah cleaning up its act and recognizing that they have to be a responsible government as opposed to a patronage system in the Palestinian Authority -- the possibilities of those two parties coming together and then being willing to say to Israel, "We renounce violence. We recognize your right to exist. We accept the various agreements that have been signed between the Israeli government and the Palestinian people, and we are ready to create a two state solution." Until that happens I think we're not going see much progress. But the United States being actively engaged in encouraging that process I think is critical.

KROFT: What do you think the biggest issues are facing this country right now?

OBAMA: Our starting point has to be our security. Priority number two is creating a situation in this country where the basic values of opportunity and the ability to compete in a globalized world are available to all people. What we've seen over the last several years I think is a situation in which the economy's been productive, [but] the fruits of that productivity have been restricted to a very small portion of the population, and the average worker is feeling more insecure in terms of their healthcare, more insecure in terms of their retirement. Solving our healthcare crisis, and you know I've said previously that by the end of my Presidency I would want to see a plan to provide healthcare to all Americans. I think it is critical that we get a handle on our energy strategy in this country, and that's something that I've worked on quite a bit here in the United States Senate. I think that we have to have a President who's willing to use the bully pulpit and all the tools at his or her disposal to say that we can create a future of alternative fuels and we can deal with the problem of climate change. We can enhance our national security by weeding ourselves off oil imports. [Also] critical is revamping our education system in a much more fundamental way. I think that George Bush made a half step when he passed the No Child Left Behind act. But he left money behind, and the way it was structured has not created the kind of change that we'd like to see on the ground.

KROFT: Would you raise taxes?

OBAMA: I would start by engaging in some honest budgeting, because one of the things that this President has done over the last six years is engage in a lot of smoke and mirrors budgeting, and it's done incredible damage to our long-term fiscal health. So, I think it's going to be important for us to start by saying, "We're going to pay as we go. We're not going to run the credit card up for our kids and our grandchildren." And if we are going to cut taxes or we are going to engage in new spending, then we've got to figure out how to pay for it. That's a starting point.

KROFT: You think the Bush tax cut should be rolled back?

OBAMA: I think the Bush tax cuts to you and me. The Bush tax cuts to people in the top income brackets should be rolled back, because I don't think we can afford them.

KROFT: You're a fairly traditional left of center Democrat, right?

OBAMA: I think there's no doubt that I'm a Democrat, and there's no doubt that I'm a progressive. [However,] how we label ourselves in this town as conservative or liberal has to do with a handful of highly ideological issues that are of marginal importance to the everyday lives of Americans. And yet there is this huge area where there's potentially overlap between conservative and liberal ideas, between Republican and Democratic legislators where we could do a lot of work and get stuff done.

KROFT: How important is race in defining yourself?

OBAMA: I think all of us in America and particularly African-Americans have to think about race at some point in our lives. The way I like to think about it, I am rooted in the African-American community, but I'm not defined by it. I am comfortable in my racial identity and recognize that I'm part of a very specific set of experiences in this country, but that's not the core of who I am. Another way of saying is that's not all I am.

KROFT: Your mother was white. Your father was African.

OBAMA: Right.

KROFT: You spent most of your life in a white household.

OBAMA: Yeah.

KROFT: I mean, you grew up white.

OBAMA: I'm not sure that would be true. I think what would be true is that I don't have the typical background of African-Americans. Not just because my mother was white, but because I grew up in Hawaii; I've spent time in Indonesia. There was all sorts of ethnicities and cultures that were swirling around my head as I was growing up. That's proven to be an enormous strength for me. It's part of the reason why I think I'm able to bring people together in ways that may be useful to the country. There were times where that was difficult. One of the things that helped me to resolve a lot of these issues is the realization that the African-American community, which I'm now very much feel a part of, is itself a hybrid community. It's African. It's European. It's Native American. So it's much more difficult to define what the essential African-American experience is, at least more difficult than what popular culture would allow. What I also realized is that the American experience is, by definition, a hybrid experience. I mean, you know one of the strengths of this country is that we have these people coming from, you know, all four corners of the globe converging, and sometimes in conflict, living side by side, and over time coming together to create this tapestry that is incredibly strong. And so, in that sense, I feel that my background ironically, because it's unusual, is quintessentially American.

KROFT: You were raised in a white household?

OBAMA: Right.

KROFT: Yet at some point, you decided that you were black?

OBAMA: Well, I'm not sure I decided it. I think if you look African-American in this society, you're treated as an African-American. And when you're a child in particular that is how you begin to identify yourself. At least that's what I felt comfortable identifying myself as.

KROFT: There are blacks who say that you don't carry the psychological burden of slavery, or growing up in Harlem, or the south side of Chicago as descendants of slaves, but that you're more recent-immigrant stock.

OBAMA: Right.

KROFT: What do you make of that whole debate?

OBAMA: I think [that’s] a small bunch of very intellectualized African-Americans, because that's not how I feel when I go into my barber shop to get my haircut. It’s not what I experience when a cab driver drives by and waves and says, "I'm rooting for you." What I think I will plead to is a different perspective on some of the racial issues that we face in the sense that I come at it with the assumption that there is racial prejudice in our society, that we do continue to carry the historical legacy of Jim Crow and slavery. We've never fully addressed that. It manifests itself in much higher rates of poverty and violence and lack of educational achievement in minority communities. But I know in my heart that there is a core decency to the American people, and that decency can be tapped. I think America is at the point now where if a white person has the time to get to know who you are, that they are willing on average to look beyond race and judge you as an individual. That doesn't mean that they've stopped making snap judgments. It doesn't mean that before I was Barack Obama, and I was just Barack Obama, that if I got into an elevator, a woman might not clutch her purse a little tighter. Or if I'm walking down the street, that you might not hear some clicks of doors locking, right. I mean, there's still a host of stereotypes that I think a lot of people are operating under. But I think if they have time to get to know you, they will judge you as they would judge anybody else, and I think that's enormous progress. We've made progress. Yes, things are better. But better is not good enough. And we've still got a long way to go.

KROFT: You think the country's ready for a black President?


KROFT: You don't think it's going to hold you back?

OBAMA: No. I think if I don't win this race, it will be because of other factors. It's going to be because I have not shown to the American people a vision for where the country needs to go that they can embrace.

KROFT: So far the African community has not exactly rushed to support your candidacy, at least according to some of the polls. There's one poll that shows Hillary Clinton is ahead of you among black voters, 25 percent to ten percent. Another poll says she's leading 53 to 27 among African-Americans.

OBAMA: Right.

KROFT: Are you surprised by that? Are you disappointed by that?

OBAMA: Not at all. I think that there is an assumption on the part of some commentators that somehow the black community is so unsophisticated that the minute you put an African-American face up on the screen, that they automatically say, "That's our guy." Well, they're like any other community. They've got to get to know who I am nationally. And so, not only am I not surprised by it, but I'm proud of the fact that there's a maturation in the African-American community where a black candidate has to earn black votes the same way that he's got to earn white votes. And that's exactly how it should be.

KROFT: What'd you think of [Senator] Joe Biden's comments?

OBAMA: Joe himself would acknowledge that he hadn't fully thought those through. I didn't take it personally, but I think it spoke to some larger issues that we as a society are still working on.

KROFT: I want to ask you a question about your past. I mean, you've been very frank in your books, particularly the first book, with your language.

OBAMA: Yeah. Don't quote those on-air, or you'll get fined.

KROFT: I don't think I can. And about your drug use when you were in high school and in college, that you smoked marijuana and inhaled.

OBAMA: Right. I did. I did.

KROFT: And did a little blow, as you put it, when you could afford it, and considered using some heroin.

OBAMA: Only considered it briefly.

KROFT: Explain that. Why did you do it?

OBAMA: Well, it was typical of a teenager who was confused about who he was and what his place in the world was, and thought that experimenting with drugs was a way to rebel. It's not something that I'm proud of, but I thought it was important to write about it because that's part of the journey that I've taken. And I think that one of the things that I'm absolutely clear about is that if I'm trying to project this image of perfection, if I suggest to people that I emerged from the womb wise and worldly and diligent and never made mistakes, then, number one, it's a lie. Number two, I like to think that by letting people know the mistakes I've made, that maybe young people behind me are looking and saying, "You know what, this is a guy who made mistakes, but he was able to right his life and get on track."

KROFT: You made this confession in a book that you wrote before you'd really expressed any interest in politics.

OBAMA: Yeah.

KROFT: Do you regret in any way that you were so candid?

OBAMA: No. You know, I don't. I think one of the things about national politics is this attempt to airbrush your life, it's exhausting, right, you know. I think it's just a lot easier to say, "This is who I am. This is where I've come from." You know, if we have problems in this campaign, I suspect it's not going to be because of mistakes I've made in the past. I think it's going to be mistakes that I make in the future.

KROFT: You wrote an op-ed page piece to The Washington Post last month saying we must stop any and all practices that would lead a reasonable person to believe that a public servant has become indebted to a lobbyist.

OBAMA: Right.

KROFT: Yet, you know, it's been reported that you bought a piece of undeveloped property, a lot next to your house, on very favorable terms, from a political fundraiser named Tony Rezko, who is now currently under indictment for influence peddling.

OBAMA: Right.

KROFT: What's your relationship with him?

OBAMA: First of all, I didn't purchase the land on very favorable terms. I paid the market price, and I think everybody's acknowledged that. This was somebody who I had known since I came back from law school. He was a developer in the area, had been a supporter, had never asked me for anything, and we had never done any government business together of any sort. He purchased a lot next to the house that my wife and I bought. I offered to him to buy a small strip of his land to expand my side yard, and, you know, had it assessed and paid the market price. This was prior to his indictment. But, you know, what is absolutely true is that he was already under a cloud of suspicion on something entirely unrelated to me -- some work that he had done with the state, and it was a bone-headed decision on my part, for the reasons that I say in my op-ed, that appearances matter.

KROFT: It looked like he was trying to help you out.

OBAMA: In retrospect, there's no doubt that he thought that buying a lot next to me would be an expression of friendship. Now, as I said, I have never done any favors for him; he had never asked me for anything. I was never in a position to do anything for him, but I think it is entirely legitimate to say that I should have known better.

KROFT: How do you expect to go out and raise $100 million or $200 million to run for this office without making deals with the special interests?

OBAMA: I've tried to set up a system that will avoid some of the worst improprieties. I'm not accepting money from federal lobbyists. But look, it's still a problem. You know, I think the fact that somebody gives me a $2,000 donation probably doesn't necessarily influence my vote. But it probably influences whether or not I take that person's phone call, and that's a problem, which is why I would love to see public financing of campaigns, and I've said so publicly and repeatedly. Now in the interim until we get there, I'm going to have to do some fundraising, but I'm hopeful that the internet facilitates the kind of small donations that are able to support a campaign like mine.

Virginia Jefferson-Jackson Dinner

Richmond, VA | February 09, 2008

It has now been one year since we began this campaign for the presidency on the steps of the Old State Capitol in Springfield, Illinois - just me and 15,000 of my closest friends.

At the time, there weren't too many who imagined we'd be standing where we are today. I knew I wouldn't be Washington's favorite candidate. I knew we wouldn't get all the big donors or endorsements right off the bat. I knew I'd be the underdog in every contest from January to June. I knew it wouldn't be easy.

But then something started happening. As we met people in their living rooms and on their farms; in churches and town hall meetings, they all started telling a similar story about the state of our politics today. Whether they're young or old; black or white; Latino or Asian; Democrat, Independent or even Republican, the message is the same:

We are tired of being disappointed by our politics. We are tired of being let down. We're tired of hearing promises made and ten-point plans proposed in the heat of a campaign only to have nothing change when everyone goes back to Washington. Because the lobbyists just write another check. Or because politicians start worrying about how they'll win the next election instead of why they should. Or because they focus on who's up and who's down instead of who matters.

And while Washington is consumed with the same drama and division and distraction, another family puts up a For Sale sign in the front yard. Another factory shuts its doors forever. Another mother declares bankruptcy because she cannot pay her child's medical bills.

And another soldier waves goodbye as he leaves on another tour of duty in a war that should've never been authorized and never been waged. It goes on and on and on, year after year after year.

But in this election - at this moment - Americans are standing up all across the country to say, not this time. Not this year. The stakes are too high and the challenges too great to play the same Washington game with the same Washington players and expect a different result. And today, voters from the West Coast to the Gulf Coast to the heart of America stood up to say that it is time to turn the page. We won Louisiana, and Nebraska, and the state of Washington, and I believe that we can win in Virginia on Tuesday if you're ready to stand for change.

Each of us running for the Democratic nomination agrees on one thing that the other party does not - the next President must end the disastrous policies of George W. Bush. And both Senator Clinton and I have put forth detailed plans and good ideas that would do just that.

But I am running for President because I believe that to actually make change happen - to make this time different than all the rest - we need a leader who can finally move beyond the divisive politics of Washington and bring Democrats, Independents, and Republicans together to get things done. That's how we'll win this election, and that's how we'll change this country when I am President of the United States.

This week we found out that the presumptive nominee of the Republican Party is Senator John McCain. Now, John McCain is a good man, an American hero, and we honor his half century of service to this nation. But in this campaign, he has made the decision to embrace the failed policies George Bush's Washington.

He speaks of a hundred year war in Iraq and sees another on the horizon with Iran. He once opposed George Bush's tax cuts for the wealthiest few who don't need them and didn't ask for them. He said they were too expensive and unwise. And he was absolutely right.

But somewhere along the line, the wheels came off the Straight Talk Express because he now he supports the very same tax cuts he voted against. This is what happens when you spend too long in Washington. Politicians don't say what they mean and they don't mean what they say. And that is why in this election, our party cannot stand for business-as-usual in Washington. The Democratic Party must stand for change.

This fall, we owe the American people a real choice.

It's a choice between debating John McCain about who has the most experience in Washington, or debating him about who's most likely to change Washington. Because that's a debate we can win.

It's a choice between debating John McCain about lobbying reform with a nominee who's taken more money from lobbyists than he has, or doing it with a campaign that hasn't taken a dime of their money because we've been funded by you - the American people.

And it's a choice between taking on John McCain with Republicans and Independents already united against us, or running against him with a campaign that's united Americans of all parties around a common purpose.

There is a reason why the last six polls in a row have shown that I'm the strongest candidate against John McCain. It's because we've done better with Independents in almost every single contest we've had. It's because we've won in more Red States and swing states that the next Democratic nominee needs to win in November.

Virginia Democrats know how important this is. That's how Mark Warner won in this state. That's how Tim Kaine won in this state. That's how Jim Webb won in this state. And if I am your nominee, this is one Democrat who plans to campaign in Virginia and win in Virginia this fall.

We are here to make clear that this election is not between regions or religions or genders. It's not about rich versus poor; young versus old; and it is not about black versus white.

It is about the past versus the future. The Republicans in Washington are already running on the politics of yesterday, which is why our party must be the party of tomorrow. And that is the party I will lead as President of the United States.

I know what it takes to pass health care reform because I've done it -- not by demonizing anyone who disagrees with me, but by bringing Democrats and Republicans together to provide health insurance to 150,000 children and parents in Illinois.

And when I am President, we'll pass universal health care not in twenty years, not in ten years, but by the end of my first term in office. But you don't have to take my word for it. Senator Ted Kennedy recently said that he wouldn't have endorsed me if he didn't believe passionately that I will fight for universal health care as President. And if there's someone who knows something about health care, it's Ted Kennedy.

My plan would bring down premiums for the typical family by $2500 a year. We'd ban insurance companies from denying you coverage because of a pre-existing condition. We'd allow every American to get the same kind of health care that members of Congress get for themselves. And the one difference between my plan and Senator Clinton's plan is that she said she'd ‘go after' your wages if you don't buy health care. Well I believe the reason people don't have health care isn't because no one's forced them to buy it, it's because no one's made it affordable - and that's why we bring down the cost of health care more than any other plan in this race.

It's also time to bring the cost of living down for working families who are struggling in this economy like never before. They're facing rising costs and falling wages, and we owe it to them to end the Bush-McCain tax cuts for the wealthiest 2% and put a tax cut into the pockets of the families who need it.

That's what I did in Illinois when I brought Democrats and Republicans together to provide $100 million in tax relief to working families and the working poor, and that's the kind of tax relief I'll provide as President.

I will end the tax breaks for companies who ship our jobs overseas and give a middle-class tax break to 95% of working Americans. And homeowners who are struggling. And seniors who deserve to retire with dignity and respect. And I won't wait another ten years to raise the minimum wage in this country - I will raise it to keep pace with inflation every single year.

It's also time to give every child, everywhere, a world-class education, from the day they're born to the day they graduate college. I am only here today because somebody, somewhere, gave my father a ticket to come study in America. Because my mother got the opportunity to put herself through graduate school. Because even though we didn't have much growing up, I got scholarships to go to some of the best schools in the country. That's the chance I believe every child should have.

When I am President, we will give our children the best possible start by investing in early childhood education. We'll stop talking about how great our teachers are, and start rewarding them for their greatness, with better pay and more support. And we will provide every American with a $4,000 a year tax credit that will finally help make a college education affordable and available for all.

And when I am President, this party will be the party that finally makes sure our sons and daughters don't grow up in a century where our economy is weighed down by our addiction to oil; our foreign policy is held hostage to the whims of dictators; and our planet passes a moment of no return.

When I called for higher fuel efficiency standards, I didn't do it in front of an environmental group in California - I did it in front of the automakers in Detroit. Now it was pretty quiet - I didn't get a lot of applause. But we need leadership that tells the American people not just what they want to hear, but what we need to know. That's why I will set the goal of an 80% reduction in carbon emissions by 2050, and we will meet it - with higher fuel standards and new investments in renewable fuels that will create millions of new jobs and entire new industries right here in America.

Finally, it is time to turn the page on eight years of a foreign policy that has made us less safe and less respected in the world. If I am the nominee of this party, John McCain will not be able to say that I agreed with him on voting for the war in Iraq; agreed with him on giving George Bush the benefit of the doubt on Iran; and agree with him in embracing the Bush-Cheney policy of not talking to leaders we don't like. Because that doesn't make us look strong, it makes us look arrogant. John F. Kennedy said that you should never negotiate out of fear, but you should never fear to negotiate. And that's what I will do as President. I don't just want to end this war in Iraq, I want to end the mindset that got us into war. It is time to turn the page.

This is our moment. This is our time for change. Our party - the Democratic Party - has always been at its best when we've led not by polls, but by principle; not by calculation, but by conviction; when we've called all Americans to a common purpose - a higher purpose.

We are the party of Jefferson, who wrote the words that we are still trying to heed - that all of us are created equal - that all of us deserve the chance to pursue our happiness.

We're the party of Jackson, who took back the White House for the people of this country.

We're the party of a man who overcame his own disability to tell us that the only thing we had to fear was fear itself; who faced down fascism and liberated a continent from tyranny.

And we're the party of a young President who asked what we could do for our country, and the challenged us to do it.

That is who we are. That is the Party that we need to be, and can be, if we cast off our doubts, and leave behind our fears, and choose the America that we know is possible. Because there is a moment in the life of every generation, if it is to make its mark on history, when its spirit has to come through, when it must choose the future over the past, when it must make its own change from the bottom up.

This is our moment. This is our message - the same message we had when we were up, and when we were down. The same message that we will carry all the way to the convention. And in seven months time we can realize this promise; we can claim this legacy; we can choose new leadership for America. Because there is nothing we cannot do if the American people decide it is time.

Rebuilding Trust with New Orleans

New Orleans, LA | February 07, 2008

It's good to be back in New Orleans. I'm just sorry that I'm a few days late for Mardi Gras.

New Orleans is a city that has always shown America what is possible when we have the imagination to see the unseen, and the determination to work for it.

It's a city where slaves met in Congo Square to raise their voices in improbable joy; and a young man named Louis from "back of town" played his first tunes.

It's a city where Jackson turned back the British; and a great port connected America's heartland to the Gulf.

It's a city where races and religions and languages all mixed together to form something new; something different; and something special - an imperfect place made more perfect through its promise of forgiveness.

Now, in the wake of this quintessentially American city's greatest test, we see the stirrings of a new day. This great university is well into another academic year. The St. Charles streetcar is rattling downtown. The Endymion {en-dim'-ee-uhn} parade again winds through the streets of Mid-City. A son of New Orleans - Eli Manning - even won an improbable Super Bowl victory.

Most importantly, with each passing day, with each student who goes to school; with each business that opens its doors; with each worker who puts in a shift; New Orleanians are reclaiming their future, and showing America just what can be done in this country when citizens lift up their communities.

But there is another side to this story. Because we know that this city - a city that has always stood for what can be done in this country - has also become a symbol for what we could not do.

To many Americans, the words "New Orleans" call up images of broken levees; water rushing through the streets; mothers holding babies up to avoid the flood. And worse - the memory of a moment when America's government failed its citizens. Because when the people of New Orleans and the Gulf Coast extended their hand for help, help wasn't there. When people looked up from the rooftops, for too long they saw empty sky. When the winds blew and the floodwaters came, we learned that for all of our wealth and power, something wasn't right with America.

We can talk about what happened for a few days in 2005. And we should. We can talk about levees that couldn't hold; about a FEMA that seemed not just incompetent, but paralyzed and powerless; about a President who only saw the people from the window of an airplane. We can talk about a trust that was broken - the promise that our government will be prepared, will protect us, and will respond in a catastrophe.

But we also know the broken promises did not start when a storm hit, and they did not end there.

When President Bush came down to Jackson Square two weeks after the storm, the setting was spectacular and his promises soaring: "We will do what it takes," he said. "We will stay as long as it takes, to help citizens rebuild their communities and their lives." But over two years later, those words have been caught in a tangle of half-measures, half-hearted leadership, and red tape.

Yes, parts of New Orleans are coming back to life. But we also know that over 25,000 families are still living in small trailers; that thousands of homes sit empty and condemned; and that schools and hospitals and firehouses are shuttered. We know that even though the street cars run, there are fewer passengers; that even though the parades sound their joyful noise, there is too much violence in the shadows.

To confront these challenges we have to understand that Katrina may have battered these shores - but it also exposed silent storms that have ravaged parts of this city and our country for far too long. The storms of poverty and joblessness; inequality and injustice.

When I was down in Houston visiting evacuees a few days after Katrina, I met a woman in the Reliant Center who had long known these storms in her life.

She told me, "We had nothing before the hurricane. Now we got less than nothing."

We had nothing before the hurricane. Now we got less than nothing. I think about her sometimes. I think about how America left her behind. And I wonder where she is today.

America failed that woman long before that failure showed up on our television screens. We failed her again during Katrina. And - tragically - we are failing her for a third time. That needs to change. It's time for us to restore our trust with her; it's time for America to rebuild trust with the people of New Orleans and the Gulf Coast.

When I am President, I will start by restoring that most basic trust - that your government will do what it takes to keep you safe.

The words "never again" - spoken so often in those weeks after Katrina - must not fade to a whisper. The Army Corps of Engineers has rebuilt levees that were most damaged by the storm, but funding has sometimes stalled, and New Orleans remains unprotected.

We can't gamble every hurricane season. When I am President, we will finish building a system of levees that can withstand a 100-year storm by 2011, with the goal of expanding that protection to defend against a Category 5 storm. We also have to restore nature's barriers - the wetlands, marshes and barrier islands that can take the first blows and protect the people of the Gulf Coast.

If catastrophe comes, the American people must be able to call on a competent government. When I am President, the days of dysfunction and cronyism in Washington will be over. The director of FEMA will report to me. He or she will have the highest qualifications in emergency management. And I won't just tell you that I'll insulate that office from politics - I'll guarantee it, by giving my FEMA director a fixed term like the director of the Federal Reserve. I don't want FEMA to be thinking for one minute about the politics of a crisis. I want FEMA to do its job, which is protecting the American people - not protecting a President's politics.

And as soon as we take office, my FEMA director will work with emergency management officials in all fifty states to create a National Response Plan. Because we need to know - before disaster comes - who will be in charge; and how the federal, state and local governments will work together to respond.

But putting up defenses is not sufficient. Because renewing trust with the people of New Orleans is not just about stronger levees and pumping systems - it's about people.

So many of us live a life that is ordered, with comforts we can count on. Somewhere, we know, there are people who don't have a house with a sturdy roof; who have nowhere to go when they can't make rent; who don't have a car to drive to another city when a storm is coming; who can't get care when they're sick, or get the education that would give them a chance at their dreams.

But too often, we lose our sense of common destiny; that understanding that we are all tied together; that when a woman has less than nothing in this country, that makes us all poorer.

That is why the second thing we need to do is to make sure that reconstruction is making a real difference in peoples' lives.

Across this city, we see the evidence that George Bush's promises were empty. It's not acceptable that federal money is not reaching communities that need it, or that Louisiana officials have filled out millions of forms to get reconstruction funds. When I am President, the federal rebuilding coordinator will report directly to me, and we will ensure that resources show results. It's time to cut the red tape, so that the federal government is a partner - not an opponent - in getting things done.

Instead of giving no-bid contracts to companies headed by the President's former campaign manager, we will make sure that rebuilding benefits the local economy. I have worked across the aisle in the Senate to crack down on no-bid contracts, and to make sure that emergency contracting is only done immediately after an emergency. When I am President, if there is a job that can be done by a New Orleans resident, the contract will go to a resident of New Orleans. And we'll provide tax incentives to businesses that choose to set up shop in the hardest hit areas.

Instead of letting families languish in trailers, we will ensure that every displaced resident can return to a home. Today, tens of thousands of homeowners could end up without assistance because of funding shortfalls. That is unacceptable. We must work with Louisiana to make the Road Home program more efficient. We should set a goal to approve every application for Road Home assistance within two months. And we need to increase rental property, so that we can bring down the cost of renting a home.

Instead of shuttered hospitals and provider shortages, we will help the Gulf region rebuild a health care system that serves all its residents. We'll provide incentives like loan forgiveness to bring more doctors and nurses to New Orleans, and we'll build new hospitals - including a new Medical Center downtown, and a state-of-the art Veteran's hospital.

And instead of unsafe streets and shocking crimes, we will help New Orleans rebuild its criminal justice system. We'll start a new COPS for Katrina program to put more resources into community policing, so that heroic officers - men and women like Nicola Cotton, who gave her life serving the city she loved - have more support. And we'll launch a regional effort that brings together federal, state and local resources to combat crime and drug gangs across the Gulf Coast.

The children of New Orleans are America's children. We cannot stand by while they see a future filled with violence, or poverty, or hopelessness. Our true measure of success must be ensuring that the children of New Orleans and the Gulf Coast can dream the same dreams as every child in America.

That is why the third part of our effort to rebuild trust must be providing a world-class education.

Over two years after Katrina, too many schools are still closed. Kids are still going to class in makeshift buildings and trailers. Class sizes run as large as forty children for each teacher. This is not acceptable. It's time for FEMA to speed up payment of the $58 million that Congress recently allocated for school repairs. And it's time to invest in education, so that New Orleans has the first-class school system that it has needed for so long.

That starts with the person standing in front of the classroom. Many heroic, high-quality teachers have returned to New Orleans - but we need more. That is why I have called for $250 million to bring quality teachers back to the Gulf region. Any teacher or principal who commits to come here for three years should receive an annual bonus; and those who teach in subject areas where we face shortages - such as math and science - should receive an additional bonus.

In New Orleans - and across this country - we need to stop talking about how great our teachers are; we need to reward them for their greatness with more pay and more support. We need to recruit new teachers by helping them pay for a college education. We need to expand mentor programs to pair experienced teachers with new recruits. And we need to help them move up the career ladder and gain new skills.

We can't accept an education policy where we pass a law called No Child Left Behind and leave the money behind. And we can't just have our teachers teaching to a test - we need to encourage science and innovation; music and the arts. If there is any city in the world that shows us the value of culture and creativity, it is New Orleans.

And our commitment to education can't stop with a high school diploma. I have fought in the Senate for post-Katrina support for Xavier, Southern and Dillard. And I put forward a loan forgiveness program, to make it easier for students to come back to Tulane and colleges and universities across the Gulf region. It's time to make a college education affordable - not just in New Orleans - but for all Americans. That's why I'll give students who need a hand an annual $4,000 tax credit if you're willing to do your part by serving your community. And we need to tap the tremendous resource of community colleges. When I am President, we'll reward schools that graduate more students. And we'll help our schools determine what skills are needed to help local industry, so that graduates are well-prepared to lift up the economy, and to rebuild their communities.

Because the trust we seek is not a one-way street. It's going to take folks working together and doing their part. The government cannot rebuild the Gulf Coast for the people of the Gulf Coast; the government can only rebuild the Gulf Coast with the people of this region.

All of this will cost money. The federal government has already promised the resources, but they need to be spent more efficiently and more wisely. When I am President, we will target funds to programs that make a difference, and make sure that resources meet the needs of the people - and that means working closely with state and local officials, and asking that they keep up their end of the bargain.

I promise you that when I'm in the White House I will commit myself every day to keeping up Washington's end of this trust. This will be a priority of my presidency. And I will make it clear to members of my Administration that their responsibilities don't end in places like the 9th ward - they begin there.

But I will also ask the people of this city to do your part. Because together, we can do more than rebuild a city; we can create a model for America - for how we prepare for disasters; for how we fight poverty; for how we put our kids on a pathway to success.

If we do this, then we can once again make New Orleans the city that stands for what we can do in America, not a symbol for what we can't do.

If we do this, then we can begin to turn the page on the invisible barriers - the silent storms - that have ravaged this city and this country: the old divisions of black and white; of rich and poor. It's time to leave that to yesterday. It's time to choose tomorrow.

Here at Tulane, your degree will open up many doors. I hope that many of you will choose to stay here in New Orleans, and to make this work your own. Because you are the change that this city seeks. You can be this city's tomorrow. You can help close those divisions. And by doing so, you can help to heal this nation.

What better place to begin this work than New Orleans?

Here, in the city that gave us jazz, we know that even the most painful note can be followed by joy. Here, in this city, if we look hard enough, we can imagine the unseen - homes filled with families; businesses putting folks to work; schools extending opportunity; the next verse in the American song. That is what is possible if we can trust each other; and if we have the imagination to see the unseen, and the determination to work for it.