FROM THE 2004 PRESIDENTIAL CAMPAIGN
Speech to the
International Association of Fire Fighters
August 19, 2004 • Boston, MA
Talk about a warm welcome! It’s
great to see my good friend, Harold Schaitberger. As you
know, Harold and I spent a lot of time together in Iowa
and New Hampshire. He’s a terrific campaigner, and
an outstanding leader. And I want to congratulate him and
Vinnie – I can only hope that our re-election in
2008 goes as well as theirs did yesterday.
I’d also like to take a moment to honor a young
man whose courage, compassion, and love for life were an
inspiration to us all. Mattie Stepanek was a poet, a philosopher,
and a peacemaker – and he was also your number one
fan. As hard as it is to lose him, he will never be forgotten.
I’d also like to remember the brothers of Local
1009. It’s hard to believe it’s been five years
since that warehouse in Worcester went up in flames. Six
brave men went in. None of them came out alive. And as
I stood with those families, I looked them in the eyes,
and promised that their brothers, fathers, sons and husbands
would never be forgotten. And I know they haven’t
And neither have those who gave their lives on September
11th, the day that so many of America’s finest rushed
into burning towers so that others could rush out. They
didn’t ask questions. They didn’t look back.
And three hundred and forty-three of them made the ultimate
sacrifice. Their courage lifted our nation.
Finally, I want to pay tribute to your brothers and sisters
who, at this very moment, are on the frontlines in Iraq
and Afghanistan. May God protect them and bring them home
safely to their families and our country.
Now, as you all know, it’s been a pretty exciting
couple of months for our campaign. Back in early July,
I was talking with an old friend of mine, and he asked
me what I’d been up to. I told him, “Well,
I’ve been gearing up for that big event in Boston,
working on my big speech, practicing every day.” And
he said, “Yup, I’ll bet you have.” And
I said, “This is one of the most important speeches
of my career.” And he said, “It sure is.” And
I said, “I really want to hit this one out of the
park.” And he said, “John, don’t you
worry, I’m sure you’ll do just fine at the
And I said, “Democratic Convention? Who’s
talking about the Democratic convention? I was talking
about the IAFF Convention!”
In all seriousness, I’m so proud to be here with
all of you today. Every day, you keep our families and
communities safe. Every day you risk your lives to protect
ours. Every day you give so much to this country we love.
Today, I want to talk about how we can give back – about
how we can give you the support you need, and the respect
It’s been a long journey to this moment. Since I
entered this race a year and a half ago, I’ve traveled
from one end of this country to the other – from
great cities to the great Southwest, from the flag-draped
front porches of Main Street America to the small family
farms that dot the Midwest. I’m proud that we’ve
made this great journey together.
All of you here today stood with me right from the beginning – and
you never left my side. In those long days in Iowa, you
were there. In those cold days in New Hampshire, you were
there. When the polls were down, and they counted us out,
you never gave up hope. And today, wherever I go, I look
up, and the first thing I see are those gold and black
T-shirts, and those gold and black signs – and I
know that once again, my friends are by my side.
Through these long months, you have shown what we always
knew was true: Firefighters never give up. Firefighters
never leave a brother or sister behind. And no matter how
tough it gets, firefighters can take the heat.
These are the values you live by, day in and day out,
when you kiss your families goodbye, and head to the station – knowing
full well that with the sound of an alarm, you might be
called into harms way. I know what that’s like. And
more than thirty years ago, I learned an important lesson—when
you’re under attack, the best thing to do is turn
your boat into the attacker. That’s what I intend
to do today.
Over the last week or so, a group called Swift Boat Veterans
for Truth has been attacking me. Of course, this group
isn’t interested in the truth – and they’re
not telling the truth. They didn’t even exist until
I won the nomination for president.
But here’s what you really need to know about them.
They’re funded by hundreds of thousands of dollars
from a Republican contributor out of Texas. They’re
a front for the Bush campaign. And the fact that the President
won’t denounce what they’re up to tells you
everything you need to know—he wants them to do his
Thirty years ago, official Navy reports documented my
service in Vietnam and awarded me the Silver Star, the
Bronze Star and three Purple Hearts. Thirty years ago,
this was the plain truth. It still is. And I still carry
the shrapnel in my leg from a wound in Vietnam.
As firefighters you risk your lives everyday. You know
what it’s like to see the truth in the moment. You’re
proud of what you’ve done—and so am I.
Of course, the President keeps telling people he would
never question my service to our country. Instead, he watches
as a Republican-funded attack group does just that. Well,
if he wants to have a debate about our service in Vietnam,
here is my answer: “Bring it on.”
I’m not going to let anyone question my commitment
to defending America—then, now, or ever. And I’m
not going to let anyone attack the sacrifice and courage
of the men who saw battle with me.
And let me make this commitment today: their lies about
my record will not stop me from fighting for jobs, health
care, and our security – the issues that really matter
to the American people.
The situation in Iraq is a mess. That is the President’s
responsibility and he owes the American people an answer.
America is on track to lose more jobs than it’s
gained under George Bush and he supports a tax code that
rewards companies for shipping jobs overseas. He owes the
American people an answer.
Health care costs have exploded out of control. The President
has done nothing and he owes the American people an answer.
The middle class is paying a bigger share of America’s
tax burden. The President needs to answer to the American
people why that is fair.
Unfortunately, those in the White House are coming from
a different place than you and I. They see things a little
differently than you and I. They tell us that today, when
it comes to the issues that matter most, we’re getting
the job done.
Well, just saying the job is getting done doesn’t
make it so. My friends, let me tell you when the job will
The job will be done when every firehouse in America has
the firefighters and the equipment they need to protect
our communities. Right now, two-thirds of firehouses are
understaffed, and we’re not spending one dime to
fund the SAFER Act.
The job will be done when all our firefighters have the
resources to fight the war on terror here at home. Right
now, in too many places, your budgets are being cut to
cut taxes for the wealthiest Americans.
And, my friends, the job will be done when we stop opening
firehouses in Baghdad while closing them down here in the
United States of America.
For four years, we've heard a lot of talk about values.
But values are not just words. They're what we live by.
They're about the choices we make, the causes we champion,
and the people we fight for.
Let me tell you about my values. The way I see it, all
of you are full-time heroes, and you deserve nothing less
than America’s full-time support.
That’s why, for nineteen years in the Senate, I’ve
fought for better equipment and training, for tracking
technology and workplace protections. I sponsored the Federal
Presumptive Disability legislation, because when federal
firefighters get sick because of their job, they deserve
our help. And I’ve fought for collective bargaining
for all employees – including federal employees – and
I’ll take on anyone who tries to take it away.
And that’s just the beginning. When John Edwards
and I are in the White House, we’re going to fund
the FIRE Act and the SAFER Act. We’re going to create
the Father Mychal Judge fund to hire 100,000 new firefighters
all across America. And we’re going to be an Administration
that stands with labor. Let us never forget that every
single one of the firefighters who went up the stairs of
those burning towers, and through the doors of that warehouse
in Worcester – all of them were members of organized
labor. They believed in the right to organize…the
right to overtime pay…the right to have a Secretary
of Labor who comes from labor. And we do too. Those are
our values, and we’re going to live and lead by them
every day that we’re in the White House. And that’s
how we’re going to get the job done.
Finally, we’re going to really get the job done
by creating an economy that works for you and your families,
where when you work hard, you can pay your bills and create
a better life for your children.
Right now, middle class Americans are being squeezed like
never before. In the last three years, we’ve lost
1.8 million private sector jobs. And the new jobs being
created pay $9,000 less than the ones we’ve lost.
At the same time, gas prices are up, childcare costs are
up, tuition is up, and family income has fallen $1,500.
As a result, today, we’ve got people working two
jobs, three jobs, just to get by. That’s not the
To make matters worse, health care costs are through the
roof. The average American family has seen their premiums
increase by more than $2,600 in just the last three years.
And I know that some of you have seen the results at the
bargaining table, where you win an increase in wages only
to see it disappear to pay for health care.
This is bad news for our families and even worse news
for our economy. Studies show that rising costs have forced
many employers – especially those in industries that
pay high wages – to slow their hiring. And many have
begun hiring more part-time and temporary workers, who
often don’t get health insurance at all. So we’re
losing good jobs and replacing them with ones that just
don’t pay the bills.
When I’m President, America will stop being the
only advanced country that doesn’t understand that
health care is not a privilege for the elected or the connected
or the wealthy – but a right for all Americans. John
Edwards and I have a plan to reduce health care costs and
turn our economy around. We’re going to provide tax
credits to make health insurance more affordable. And we’re
going to let all Americans buy into the same plan available
to members of Congress. In total, we’ll cut the average
family’s premium by $1,000.
The issues I’ve been talking about today – these
aren’t Republican issues or Democratic issues. They’re
American values. And frankly, it doesn’t make one
bit of difference to me what party you belong to or who
you’ve voted for in the past. That’s not what
this election is about.
This election is about building an America that’s
stronger at home and respected around the world. Where
families sleep soundly at night knowing you have what you
need to do your jobs. An America where we once again honor
those who serve our communities and protect our families.
There’s a simple rule you follow in every fire you
fight: You never go in alone – you always have a
brother or sister by your side. Well, today, I want you
to know that come next January, you will have a brother
in the White House who stands with you every hour of every
day. I will be a president who goes into the Oval Office
every morning knowing that my job is to help you do yours.
I will work my heart out for you, and I will never let
But once again, I can’t get there without your help.
In the closing weeks of this campaign, I’m going
to be traveling all across this country, talking to Americans
about our values and our vision for the future. And I need
you to do the same. I need you to go back to your states
and knock on every door, make every call, and register
every voter you can. Tell people about who we are, what
we stand for, and what we’re going to do for America.
And on election day, you make sure that every single person
you’ve reached goes to the polls and makes their
voice heard. In a race like this, we can’t afford
to lose a single vote.
This isn’t going to be easy, but firefighters are
no strangers to tough challenges. I know that working together,
we can take back America for its heroes. We can reach for
the next dream. We can look to the next horizon. For America,
the hope is there. The sun is rising. Our best days are
still to come. Thank you, God bless you, and God bless
the United States of America.