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John Kerry
Speech to the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation's Legislative Conference
September 11, 2004 • Washington, DC

As we remember too painfully, it was three years ago today, in a single instant, that our lives and our land were changed forever. Three years ago today, 3,000 innocent people were lost in the worst day we’ve ever seen.

Today has been a day of remembrance and tribute. But what really matters is what we do tomorrow and the day after to honor their lives. We honor their lives by never forgetting what they meant to us. We honor their lives by bringing their killers to justice and making sure this never happens again. And we honor their lives in the work we do every day to build a stronger America.

That’s why you’re here. That’s what the CBC is all about.

And that’s why I’m running for president.

I don’t have to tell you -- this is the most important election of our lifetime. Everything is on the line: our jobs, our health care, our role in the world, the character of our country – the Supreme Court of the United States. The stakes are high and the choices are clear.

On issue after issue, the other side has been trying to muddy the waters to keep us from seeing the real differences and the real choices in this election.

But on every issue, from Iraq to Social Security, from fiscal discipline to education, from voting rights to affirmative action, we know the truth. And John Edwards and I are going to fight every day to show the difference between their tired, old, negative politics of the past and a new direction for America.

Nobody understands those differences more than the 39 members of the Congressional Black Caucus. You live with those choices every day and you see the impact they’re having on our families and communities. You see the impact they have on your ability to legislate and to represent the people you serve back home. And in this room are some of the best ideas to make our nation stronger. But over the last four years, you’ve been shut out of the debate. They’ve refused you meetings and put a “do not enter” sign on the White House door.

Well, my friends, it’s time to open the doors and let all Americans back in. Because we deserve a president who doesn’t just meet with the people he agrees with. And we deserve a president who’s not afraid to sit down with the NAACP, the Black Caucus or the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights. We deserve a president who wants to sit down with them and recognizes how important it is to governing our country. We deserve a president who doesn’t go to Dr. King’s gravesite one day and the next day appoints a right-wing judge to the federal court. When I’m president, no one’s going to have to twist my arm to remind me that your voices matter and they must be heard.

We’ve been partners on the legislative battlefield for a long time now. Long before this president showed up, we’ve been fighting to bring hope and opportunity to those who for too long have been left out. Long before this president recognized the global threat of AIDS, we worked together to meet this challenge with the moral and economic might of America.

Your dedication and your service live out the teaching of the Scripture in ways that others should take example from: “It is not enough, my brother, to say you have faith, when there are no deeds…Faith without works is dead.” As you know, my friends, we are taught to walk by faith not by sight.

And when we look around us – when we look around our neighborhoods and towns and cities all across this country, we see faith to be lived out, and so many deeds to be done.

We see jobs to be created. We see families to house. We see violence to stop. We see children to teach – and children to care for. We see too many people without health care and too many people of color suffering and dying from diseases like AIDS and cancer and diabetes.

We look at what is happening in America today and are forced to ask: Where are the deeds?

The fact is, the wrong choices of the Bush Administration – reduced taxes for the few and reduced opportunities for the middle class and those struggling to join it – are taking us back to two Americas -- separate and unequal. Our cities and communities are being torn apart by divisive and destructive forces: crumbling schools robbing our children of their potential…rising poverty…rising crime, drugs and violence. Lost jobs, health care costs through the roof, the surplus gone, our alliances shredded, our influence challenged.

They see what we see but their answer is to say we’ve turned the corner or that the job is getting done or that this is the best that we can do. They’ve even mocked the very notion that there are two Americas. Well, they should spend time with struggling families in the hills of Appalachia … or in public housing in Detroit … or in the barrios of East LA and then tell us our journey to build one America is finished.

As Congressman Jefferson knows, a few days ago I had the pleasure of speaking to the 124th annual session of the National Baptist Convention in New Orleans. I reminded them that four years ago, this president came to office calling himself a “compassionate conservative.” Well in the story of the Good Samaritan, we are told of two men who pass by or cross to the other side of the street when they come upon a robbed and beaten man. They felt compassion, but there were no deeds. Then the Good Samaritan gave both his heart and his help. [Luke 10]

It is clear: For four years, this president has talked about compassion, but he’s walked right by. He’s seen people in need, but he’s crossed over to the other side of the street. 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 causes we champion and the choices we make.

This election all comes down to one decision: Do we want four more years of wrong choices for our country, or do we want to move America in a new direction?

Of all the president’s wrong choices, the most catastrophic one is the mess he’s made in Iraq. It’s not that I would have done one thing differently in Iraq, I would have done almost everything differently. It was wrong to rush to war without a plan to win the peace. It was wrong not to build a strong international coalition of our allies.

And because we went it alone, we are bearing the burden and paying almost all the cost by ourselves. Almost all the casualties are the sons and daughters of America. And 90 percent of the costs are being met by Americans – the total so far: $200 billion and rising every day. That’s $200 billion we’re not investing in health care and education That’s $200 billion we’re not investing to make sure no child is left behind. That’s $200 billion we’re not investing in incentives to create and keep good jobs in the United States of America. That’s $200 billion we’re not investing in homeland security to keep cops on the street, to protect our airports, our subways, our bridges and tunnels. Is that compassionate? Is that the right choice? Well, 52 days from now we’re going to move America in a new direction.

At that convention in New York, the Bush Administration actually said that outsourcing jobs is good for this nation. That shouldn’t be a surprise because that’s what they’ve done for four years, and, if they have the chance, that’s what they will do for four more years. In the last three years, America has lost 1.6 million jobs. And African-American unemployment is nearly 10 percent – double the rate for whites. That’s more than a twenty-five percent increase since this president took office.

My friends, the promise of a better America is not being met when in the last year alone, a million more people have fallen into poverty…when one-third of African American children are living in poverty or when half the black men in New York City are out of work. Is that compassionate? Is that right? Well, 52 days from now we’re going to move America in a new direction.

It has been said before, but it is so true: The best poverty program is a job. That is why, as President, I will set a new direction. We’re going to close the tax loopholes that reward companies for shipping jobs overseas. Instead, we’re going to use common sense and reward companies that create and keep good jobs here in America. And we are going to do more to bring hope and jobs and businesses back to our hardest-pressed urban and metropolitan areas.

At that convention in New York, this president actually promised the American people that after four years of failure, he now had a plan to get health care costs under control. Well, if you weren’t suspicious enough of a plan announced two months before an election, we only had to wait twenty-four hours to find out what he meant. The day after he spoke, he raised Medicare premiums by 17 percent -- the biggest increase in Medicare premiums in the history of the program.

Under the Bush Administration, 5 million Americans have lost their health insurance, including 400,000 African Americans. We know that people of color are significantly more likely to suffer diseases like cancer and asthma and diabetes and AIDS. And what’s this administration’s answer? At a time when the need is greatest, they have cut funding for Medicaid and children’s health insurance. Instead of working to close disparities, they have closed the Office of Minority Health at CDC. That’s the wrong choice and the wrong direction for America.

This president believes when it comes to health care, the big drug companies come first, the insurance companies come second, and the American people come last. That’s the wrong choice and the wrong direction for America.

As President, I will set a new direction. I’m going to put hard working families first. Our plan will take on the waste and greed in the health care system and save the average family up to $1,000 a year on their premiums. Our plan will cover all children – automatically -- day one. Go to school, you’re covered. Go to day care, you’re enrolled. Every child in America will be covered. When I am president, America will stop being the only advanced nation in the world which fails to understand that health care is not a privilege for the wealthy, the connected, and the elected, it is a right for all Americans.

At that convention in New York, this president actually talked about demanding accountability from everybody in education -- except his own administration. We know that you can’t really get the job done in our classrooms when too many children, especially children of color, are forced to attend overcrowded and crumbling schools and are being taught by overworked and underpaid teachers. The promise of a better America is not being met when only 50 percent of African Americans are finishing high school and only 18 percent are graduating college. The promise of a better America is not being met, when, fifty years after Brown v. the Board of Education, in too many parts of our country we still have two school systems – separate and unequal. That’s the wrong choice and the wrong direction – and we’re going to change it.

As President, I will set a new direction. We know the answer to closing the achievement gap is both higher expectations and greater resources. You cannot promise to leave no child behind and then leave the money behind. John Edwards and I have a plan to invest in our future, provide the needed funding and put a good teacher in every classroom – so that all our children will have the chance to develop their God-given potential.

Fifty years after the Brown decision, we are also reminded that now, more than ever, we need a Supreme Court that will protect our hard won victories.

It was just four short years ago that the Court – by one vote – decided the outcome of the race for president. It was less than a year ago that the Court – by one vote – decided the fate of affirmative action. One vote can make the difference for millions of Americans, and over the next four years the President of the United States may well appoint as many as four Supreme Court justices. I will appoint judges who follow the Potter Stewart standard, “The mark of a good judge is a judge whose opinion you can read and have no idea if the judge was a man or a woman, Republican or Democrat, a Christian or a Jew. You just know he or she was a good judge.”

And good judges know that the right to vote is the most sacred of all American rights. Good judges will stand up for the Voting Rights Act – and so must we. Let me make one thing clear: We’re not going to stand by and allow another million African American votes to go uncounted in this election. We’re not going to stand by and allow acts of voter suppression.

We are hearing the same things you are hearing. What they did in Florida in 2000, they may be planning to do in battleground states all across this country this year. Well, we are here to let them know that we will fight tooth and nail to make sure that this time, every vote is counted and every vote counts.

We have many deeds to do here at home. But we must also set a new direction for America’s leadership in the world. The U.S. and the UN Security Council now face a testing moment of truth – they must decide whether to take action to halt the killing in Darfur or remain idle in the face of the second African genocide in 10 years.

Now that the Secretary Powell has finally acknowledged that genocide is underway, we all want to know one thing: what is President Bush going to do about it? The toothless resolution the Bush Administration brought to the Security Council is not an acceptable response.

If I were president, I would act now. As I’ve said for months, I would not sit idly by. We simply cannot accept another Rwanda. The United States should ensure the immediate deployment of an effective international force to disarm militia, protect civilians and facilitate delivery of humanitarian assistance in Darfur. The Sudanese Government has thus far rejected such a force. The U.S. should lead the United Nations to impose tough sanctions now. The Government of Sudan must understand that the world will act, if they do not, and that the United States is prepared to support the African Union with crucial capabilities of our own, if necessary, to halt the genocide.

So, we’ve got work to do. We have to march. We have to do the hard work of changing people’s minds. We have to expand opportunity and close the gaps of inequality that impede the progress of our nation. Together, we can stop being what W.E.B. DuBois called, “a nation within a nation.” Our job, between now and November is to end the division between the fortunate America and the forgotten America. We must come to together to build one America – because we know as Dr. King told us, that what’s good for black America is good for all America.

As I said before, this is the most important election of our lifetime. If you believe that this country is heading in the right direction, you should keep them in office. But if you believe, like I think you do, that we can’t afford for more years of the wrong choices and the wrong direction, then join with us for an America that’s stronger at home and respected in the world.

And let me say this: The black vote is going to be critical this year. We can’t afford to sit this one out or leave it up to our neighbor – and we won’t. We can’t afford to take any vote for granted – and we won’t. We can’t afford four more years. My friends, I need your vote. And I need your help. And I’m asking for it now.

We have 52 days left until the election. The clock is ticking. Together, we can make the right choices. We can come together. We can fulfill the promise of a better America. There are those who want to divide us into red states and blue states. Not me. I want to unite us as one America – red, white and blue.

Thank you, God bless you, and God bless the United States of America.


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