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Public Statements

Georgia Democratic Party Jefferson Jackson Day Dinner

By:
Date:
Location: Atlanta, GA

Thank you Zell for a very generous introduction. I can't tell you how proud we are to have Zell Miller in the United States Senate. On behalf of all my colleagues - 48 others and counting - thank you for sending us a man of courage and vision.
You know, when I look at Roy Barnes, Zell Miller and Max Cleland I realize that all 3 of them have the #1 qualification Democrats are looking for in a presidential candidate in 2004. Not one of them has an embarrassing brother.

And tonight you had a chance to hear from one of the terrific members of the great freshman class—Bill Nelson, who is following in the footsteps of another Florida Democrat—Lawton Chiles. You know it's amazing to think that Bill actually went into outer space on a shuttle mission. That requires almost as much courage as me coming to Georgia and admitting I'm from Massachusetts.

So I hear the goal of tonight's dinner was to raise $400,000 - or as we call that in Washington: enough for 2 presidential pardons.

What an extraordinary group of Democrats you have leading your party. Gov. Roy Barnes - who in his first two years has already done what Washington has failed to do: he took on the big insurance companies and thanks to your Governor, doctors and patients are gaining control over their HMO's. We thank you Governor for your perseverance.

And though he is not here tonight, he is with us in every way that counts: Jimmy Carter offered this country truth and honesty and decency at a time we needed it the most - and in his actions as well as his words, this decent man from Plains still honors his faith, stays true to his values, and sets the standard of how an ex-President ought to behave.

And Maynard Jackson—a man who was one of urban America's great Mayors and today fights not just for our Party, but to give young people a chance in life through the Maynard Jackson Foundation. We are all grateful for your leadership.
And John Lewis whose exploits and reputation are respected across our nation—and whose stand for everything worth fighting for on a bridge in Selma forty years ago still stiffens the spine of everyone who believes in the cause of civil rights today. We are in awe of your commitment and courage.

I particularly appreciate Zell's reference to my military service. I loved the Navy but not the War. Zell Miller, as all of you know, is a Marine. I say "is" because you never stop being a Marine. And there's a reason for that. It's because service in the United States Marine Corps is based on values - values that are at the center of our definition as Americans. Zell wrote a book about those values - Corps Values - and I thought a lot about the meaning of that service these last days.

Last Friday was the anniversary of one of the most enduring acts of patriotism we have memorialized in this country - that remarkable moment when six young American men - not far from being the boys next door - but suddenly transformed to manhood by the extremes of war - 6 young Americans - slogged their way through Japanese resistance - through withering machine gun fire, mortars exploding all around them—they pushed on foot by foot, yard by yard, across the beach and up Mt. Suribachi - to plant the American flag on top of that bloody peak at Iwo Jima. Here they were - after 36 days - 25,000 American casualties - a defining moment in America's heroic battle against Japan. And the man with his back to the camera - the last in line—he was killed the next morning. But Ira Hayes, one of the other 5, who came back a recognized hero, never forgot his friend and the sacrifice he'd made. These values were still evident years later when Ira - down in his own life - an alcoholic - still could not reconcile that his friend who died a day later never received recognition for his heroism. His family never knew the peace of mind and heart that should have been theirs. So Ira Hayes on his own walked up to the Pearl Harbor highway in Arizona and hitchhiked across the state to New Mexico, all the way to Texas where he found Harlon Block's mother Belle and brought her the news she'd waited for—the pride and the bittersweet knowledge that her son had been there to raise the flag over Iwo Jima . And through that journey Ira gave something to all of us: the simple gift of keeping faith with his friend, with himself, with his fellow marines - with his country! His story is really the story everyone of us would like to believe is part of us. What he did is what each of us knows America is and what each of us hopes we would do for our brothers.

I thought a lot about this story because I knew I was coming here to Georgia - Georgia, a state with a special understanding of what this kind of patriotism means.

It is no exaggeration to say that the strength of America represented in Ira's devotion to something bigger than himself is also at the center of your lives - in a state with 700,000 veterans - and most especially - a state that boasts my friend, Max Cleland.

I know there is no one in this room or in all of Georgia who needs instruction in how special Max Cleland is - as a Senator and as a person.

I have the privilege of serving with Max on two committees - Small Business and Commerce. He is always there - always fighting - pushing and cajoling for your schools - your businesses - your children - your roads and rail - your women's business centers - and in the great tradition of Richard Russell and Sam Nunn, a defense second to none in the world. In Senator Cleland, Georgia has a passionate advocate who knows his roots and knows his soul and I know you are overwhelmingly going to reelect him next year to help make the new Democratic majority!

Now the man I just urged you to overwhelmingly return to the Senate is the public servant Cleland - the Senator who has carved a Senator's record that deserves another term. But I also want to make a special plea to you about the other Max Cleland - my brother - the veteran - the citizen soldier, whose sense of duty and love of country lead him from Lithonia to the ROTC to volunteering for Vietnam.

Max and I served in Vietnam in the same tumultuous year of 1968. It was a year of upheaval. The Tet offensive shattered illusions about the War - It was a hard time to be there and to be here. Cities like Atlanta were smoldering from the fiery riots that followed the assassination of Martin Luther King. And the one chance of changing all of that seemed to die in the kitchen of a Los Angeles hotel.

In 1968 we were losing our illusions and our heroes at a rapid clip and in April of that year Max's life was changed forever by a grenade explosion on April 8th.

I will not repeat his personal journey that all of you here know so well - but the stark fact is that Max Cleland should go back to the United States Senate because this country needs the example of a leader who knows what sacrifice means - who embodies duty - and who with every breath he takes reminds us what it means to be a hero. And Georgia and the country are lucky to have Max Cleland!

And so at a time when some are asking who the face of the Democratic Party should be, when some say we are casting about for a leader, I would say to you simply: look at yourselves—you are the face of the Democratic Party: the Democratic Party is Max Cleland who rose up from his hospital bed at the VA to fight to keep faith with America's veterans; the face of our Party is John Lewis and Maynard Jackson marching for civil rights and holding their ground for well over three decades; the face of our Party is Zell Miller who grew up in the home that his mother built with stones hauled from a creek, drawing from her strength to serve, and serving the state that he loved, a place where, because of Zell, a half a million Georgians have gone on to college with HOPE Scholarships.

Our Party has many faces - and many voices - and they each speak to our values—not just as a party but as a country, and as a people. And we need to share those voices and all these faces with the American people to remind them that despite the cynicism of a press that wants to make entertainment out of news - despite the ways in which personalties can at times overwhelm party values—despite people's distrust of government and distaste for partisanship - there is a difference worth fighting for between the parties. It is a difference that has a profound impact on the lives of our fellow Americans - and it's time we got back to being Democrats who stand up as citizen soldiers—in good times and in bad—and fight for a national politics that lifts up our nation.

We Democrats believe this nation is more than gleaming buildings and the gated communities with their swimming pools and finely-manicured lawns. We do not see America as a finished product; a city established upon the hill. We see an America still in the process of becoming; a dream not yet fulfilled; a promise not yet kept.

And let me tell you - if you want that promise fulfilled, African Americans better not be stopped trying to get to the polls. Latinos better not be intimidated from signing up to participate - and we better make sure that every time an American citizen walks into a polling place - their vote is counted!

And if we want that promise fulfilled - our party must lead the effort to do more than offer words to our children: They need great teachers - smaller classes - character education—and mentors. They need us to liberate schools from bureaucracy, challenge them with choice and competition—insist on high standards - and let the place where 90% of our kids go to school lead us in the next century.

And if we want that promise fulfilled we must guarantee health care that no bureaucrat can take away. This party exists so that the United States will stop being the only industrialized country on the face of the planet that does not provide even basic health care for all its citizens !

And if we want to make something great out of the promise of technology, we can't allow it to simply change our lives; we must force it to lift up the quality of life. At a time when Americans are working harder and longer just to make ends meet - when pensions—if they exist at all—and Social Security aren't enough to guarantee a safe and secure retirement for our parents—when too many working mothers and fathers kiss their children goodbye and head out the door to traffic jams and don't see their kids again until late at night - spending the day worrying about what's happening or not happening in daycare centers or on playgrounds - if they're lucky enough to access them—it's up to us to ask whether we live to work, or whether we work so that we can really live. It is up to us to help repair the frayed edges of modern life—to guarantee that we can care for our elderly parents, members of our Greatest Generation - to guarantee that mothers and fathers have the time to spend doing the most important job in our country: parenting - and that to be mothers and fathers first we need time to be good husbands and wives. I would tell you it's up to us to insist that even in a New Economy we stay true to our oldest values: family, faith, and fairness.

I remember coming of age in the 1960's and starting to think about these dreams for our country. When I was in college I heard the stories of John Lewis and Ralph Abernathy and Medgar Evers—it was an age when idealism was still a virtue, and we each responded in our own small way. I cut my political teeth in the Mississippi Student Voter Registration drive - raising money to put college students from the Northeast on buses to go down South to register our citizens to vote. We believed every one had to give something of themselves as citizens to make other citizens whole—and we Democrats still believe that's true. And it's impossible to come to Atlanta without being drawn to the Ebeneezer Baptist Church and the place where Martin Luther King's buried. I remember something Martin Luther King said many years ago, in a speech at Lincoln University. He talked about citizenship - and he confessed to being what he called a "maladjusted" person.

He said that he simply had not been able to adjust to a world sharply divided between the hardworking many and the privileged few.

He had not been able to accept an America where discrimination and bigotry still held millions of our citizens down.

He had not been able to get comfortable with a society that had become complacent in the face of human hardship and suffering. He said that the shape of the world today "does not permit us the luxury of an anemic democracy."
I think all of us should take pride that we still feel that kind of maladjustment—and that all of us in this room are the kind of Democrats who are going to stand up to do something about it. We may not agree on every point; but we do agree that our country has much further to travel on the road to greatness. We are not prepared to sit back and put our feet up. We are
grounded in Zell Miller's "Corps Values."

Now Zell said "everything he needed to know he learned in the Marines'.' I say it's the Navy, but I agree with the title: in the military, Zell and Max and I learned the full measure of what it means to be a citizen - and we learned that it had a lot to do with the promise we made to each other: The Army says they never leave their wounded. The marines say they never even leave their dead. And we as Americans must never leave each other behind. That commitment is what defines us. That's what defined those very young Americans raising the flag over Iwo Jima - not just for one glorious moment, but for a lifetime.

And that's the citizenship we need to stand for as a party. Just as Zell Miller does, just as Roy Barnes does, just as Max Cleland does - we've got to keep our word - just like John Lewis we've got stare down our opponents—just like Maynard Jackson we've got to keep our promises—and then we will have earned the right to lead and we will lead with those values we cherish. That my friends is what we need to fight for as Democrats in the United States of America.

If we keep that belief as strong for our children and the generations to come as it is in this room tonight, there is nothing that will stop us from fulfilling our promise—as Democrats and as Americans.

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