April 23, 2004 Friday
HEADLINE: REMARKS BY DEMOCRATIC PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE JOHN KERRY (D-MA) TO NEWSPAPER ASSOCIATION OF AMERICA/AMERICAN SOCIETY OF NEWSPAPER EDITORS JOINT CONFERENCE
LOCATION: OMNI SHOREHAM HOTEL, WASHINGTON, D.C.
(Note: Off-mike conversation at the beginning not transcribed.)
SEN. KERRY: Well, I like the analogy. It's fantastic. (Laughter.) I'll take "Seabiscuit" any day as long as you don't put me out to pasture yet. (Laughter.) I don't know if war admiral is the right rank, though, is it? (Laughter.)
It is a great honor for me to be here with you today and I'm very, very grateful. Thank you. I hope I haven't kept you waiting, but I really appreciate the chance just to share some thoughts with you, and it's an honor for me to be on the dais here with somebody I've admired for a long time and I know all of you have. He was so much a part of our history as kids growing up at a time in this country, and I'm really in admiration of him.
Let me also say that I guess this is the 30th anniversary of that moment, but it's also, before we begin, I think a moment to take-to honor somebody very special. This is a full room, but in a sense there's somebody missing. And I think all of you will agree with that when I say that it feels a little empty knowing that Mary McGrory is gone.
Thirty-three years ago, during my first week in public life, she was one of the first journalists that I ever met here.
I came to Washington with other Vietnam veterans to stand up and protest the war. And for me, Mary was not just covering the story, she really was part of it in her own way. She was at the hearing, she was on the Mall talking to veterans constantly. And in her 50s, she walked with us across the Memorial Bridge to the locked gates at Arlington Cemetery. And I'll never forget how she was just after the story, after the personal piece of it. And for those who read today in the Post the wonderful things she did about Buddy, you get a sense of that. Everything was personal to her and to her readers, because getting the story right, getting the truth told, and getting her readers involved was her service to our country.
She earned a Pulitzer. She earned a loyal following. She had a loving family and extraordinary group of friends. I had the opportunity to go over to her house occasionally and celebrate one thing or another, and she loved to sing and tell stories into the evening. And she earned her way onto Nixon's enemies list, and she thought it doesn't get any better than that. (Laughter.)
Everything that your business can be and that you know and love about it, Mary was. Everything was on the record, every source had a name, every story was a success because she went out and she got it. And I don't care what side of the aisle you're on, I don't care where you come from, we're going to miss her, and we're so very grateful that she graced our lives. She was spectacular. (Applause.)
As we talk about things that happened 30 years ago, it's worth remembering at this moment in our country's history that 229 years ago, the first patriots from Massachusetts put their lives on the line at the Lexington Green.
And nearby, Samuel Adams, who was not only a patriot but was at times a newspaper editor, heard the battle shots of freedom, and he declared, quote, "What a glorious morning for America is this." I might say, for once an editor got it right!
AUDIENCE MEMBERS: Kerry -- (inaudible) -- generic AIDS drugs now!
SEN. KERRY: I agree.
AUDIENCE MEMBERS: (Chanting) Kerry -- (inaudible) -- generic AIDS drugs now!
SEN. KERRY: Would you like to hear-would you like to hear an answer?
AUDIENCE MEMBERS: (Chanting) Kerry -- (inaudible) -- generic AIDS drugs now!
SEN. KERRY: Would you like to hear --
AUDIENCE MEMBERS: (Continue chanting.)
SEN. KERRY: (Kim ?), would you like to -- (chuckles) --
AUDIENCE MEMBERS: (Continue chanting.)
SEN. KERRY: It's still a glorious day, ladies and gentlemen, I'm telling you, no matter what. We are a great country. (Applause.) We welcome these voices. And I will say something about the issue that they raise. Let me-let me sort of get to that point, because I think it is part of what I do want to talk to you all about a little bit here today.
You know, as you think about the headlines that you choose and the stories that you edit, and with all of the grim news that we read each day in our papers or see on television, it is important to remember what a glorious morning it has been for America and the possibility of those glorious days that are ahead. We're an optimistic country. We're a country of hope. And we need to remember that, even as we face great challenges.
I know that every year-every four years, anyway, people who are running for president come to you and they tell you, "This is the most important election." But I think this one is different. I think-make your own judgment-I think this the most important election of our lifetime, and it is for many reasons. Today we confront challenges that are as great, as varied, as complex as any time in American history. And I think even a dispassionate judgment of news stories on your front pages forces the conclusion that I just came to.
We see the haunting images again of war, of soldiers loading flag-draped coffins. We see rows of them in a belly of a cargo plane for their long flight home. We see images of them being saluted on their final journey to their resting place.
And those images are paired with a story about a husband and wife who took photos to show the world the touching way that we honor our fallen. They were fired for their openness and honesty.
I think truth is on the line in this election: the truth that a president shares with the American people, the truth of how we go to war, the truth of choices about our lives, the truth of how we improve our lives and deal with the issues facing our citizens.
And if you don't believe that this election is the most important in our lifetime, then all you have to do is look at the stories about the millions of middle-class families in our country who are struggling to get ahead unlike at any time in the recent modern history of our economy. I know Bob Rubin was here earlier and you had a good discussion about the economy. There are record bankruptcies, record foreclosure rates, and Americans who are credit carded up to the hilt owe more than $750 billion today in personal debt. People have refinanced and used the refinancing, and middle class sees their wages going backwards. Last year, because the cost of tuition has soared, 220,000 young Americans had to decide not to go to college. They had to give up on their dream, downsizing the American dream because they couldn't afford it. These people who make up the middle class in our country are literally the people who built this country. They've worked hard. They contribute week after week, and in return they're told by this administration, you're on your own. I think fundamental fairness is at stake in this election.
If you don't believe that this election is the most important in our lifetime than all you have to do is look at the story of Iraq itself. First, the administration would have you believe that we are about to turn over authority in Iraq to a new government, a handover that will signal the end of America's occupation. But in reality, we are no closer to a real Iraqi government capable of providing security for its people, making laws, ensuring freedoms. This is still America's problem. Ladies and gentlemen, the strength of our national security is at stake in this election.
The American ideas of fundamental fairness, truth and hope are what brought me to a life of public service. Apr 23, 2004 15:08 ET .EOF
And I appreciate Dave's introduction, though I might simply add that my commanding officer actually said that tongue in cheek. He never did consider court martialing me. (Laughter.)
But I am running for president today because I really want to bring back a different conversation to our country, because I really want to bring back those ideas of service to country that I just talked about and about the kind of political dialogue we can have in this nation so that together we can build a stronger America.
Ten years ago the Republicans introduced what they called the Contract with America. We're celebrating anniversaries here. They say that that contract was written to give the American people more faith and trust in their government. But it did the opposite. This wasn't a contract "with" America, it was a contract against our values and even our way of life as you would describe it, the way that we built the nation.
Behind the slogans and behind the rhetoric was an effort to balance the budget on the backs of the most vulnerable Americans. Unbelievably dramatic, drastic cuts, even, in Medicare and Medicaid and the Earned Income Tax were put on the table in order to pay for a tax cut for the wealthiest Americans. When have we heard of that?
And the contract actually led to the shutdown of our nation's government for the first time, as Democrats under the leadership of the president, President Clinton, fought to keep open the Department of Education to preserve our commitment to every child's opportunity through good schools.
Supporters of the contract were willing to shut down the federal government in order to impose their extreme agenda on the nation, including dramatic cuts in clean water programs, child health, nutrition funding, and long-term care for America's disabled and for parents and grandparents.
Now, I was proud then to stand up against those cuts, as most of us did on our side, and I'm proud to continue those fights today. But the contract, in the end, didn't help our nation. It wasn't a contract with America; it was a contract that divided America. And as you've heard from some of the political people who've talked to you today, after four years of a president who talked about uniting our country, we're as divided as ever.
And since that time, our politics has defined America down instead of lifting Americans up with a common sense of purpose.
The high road is harder, but I will tell you it leads to a better place. And that is why, in the months ahead, Republicans and Democrats and all of you who cover this race must make this a campaign of ideas, not personal attacks and personal destruction, not just point fingers at one another, but point America in a new direction.
I'm even willing to grant that George Bush was right about a couple things in the 2000 campaign. We do need to change the tone in Washington with leaders who are not uniters but dividers. We do need a responsibility era in this country, and a president who's a reformer with results. Those promises were worth making. And if I'm elected, those promises will be kept.
And you can measure that by my life. So much of what I know about being an American I learned starting with Vietnam. The tug of duty at that time and service to country meant something to me and to many of my friends after the Gulf of Tonkin episode, as we knew it then. The lessons of our band of brothers, many of whom you've been introduced to in the course of this campaign, have been with us ever since then. On that tiny boat that some of you have seen in the last days, we no longer came from different regions of the country, we were no longer a kid from Massachusetts and Iowa and Arkansas and California, with different races and regions and religions; we were just Americans, together, under the same flag, stronger for giving ourselves to a cause that was bigger than ourselves.
And that sense of duty has been the defining moment not only of my life but of my country's, our country's. For more than 200 years, that has been the great promise of America-the promise of giving opportunity to every single person to achieve their God-given potential and challenging them to make the most of it.
Now for too long many in our political system have simply tried to walk away from that personal bargain. I intend to keep it.
So today let me tell you why I'm running for president, in specific terms.
We all know that we live in a dangerous world, with enemies known and unknown plotting and planning to do us harm. I've served 20 years on the Foreign Relations Committee. I've been chairman of the narcotics/terrorism committee and involved in these issues for a lifetime. Osama bin Laden still has not been captured or killed.
Al Qaeda remains a threat dispersed across the globe, linking up with other terrorist groups, transforming and changing. And Iraq remains unstable. Together, I know that with the right plan, one that works with the world, we can keep America safe.
And I believe that to be strong in the world, we also have to be strong here at home. And that, in Andrew Jackson's words, the promise of America is "equal opportunity for all, special privileges for none." And I believe the measure of America's economy is a growing middle class. And to achieve that, folks, we've got to expand the reach of opportunity beyond where it is today in our country and not expand the size of government.
I believe in the values that form the common bond of our nation, which defined it generation to generation: hard work, fairness, the truth. These are things your parents talked to you about. These were what we were raised on. But they're absent, many of them, from today's public discourse.
And most of all, I believe that citizenship brings responsibilities as well as rights, and that all Americans have a duty to give something back.
But to succeed, a president has to set some clear priorities. So today I want to lay out to you what I think is a fair contract with America's middle class and those who are seeking to join it, who aspire to be part of it.
The first responsibility of our president, obviously, is to keep the country strong and safe and secure, and I will do that. I'm running because we're in a new kind of war and we need a commander in chief with a real plan to fight this war in the most effective way, recognizing that it's not only the war on the battlefield that will make a difference, but the war of ideas and public diplomacy and the values that have sustained us for years as we recognized that multilateralism was not weakness but strength.
Americans have never failed the cause of human freedom, and we're not going to fail it, not now; not in Iraq, not in Afghanistan, not anywhere. Now, I have many differences with President Bush over how we should wage the war against terror and extremism. I think he made a huge mistake, for instance, in relying on local Afghan forces to capture Osama bin Laden rather than committing sufficient American forces on the ground who were yearning to do the job. But we share the same goal of total victory, and you can count on this: no matter who wins the presidential election, the terrorists will lose.
As president, I will never hesitate to use American power to defend our interests anywhere in the world. I'll stand up for our country, our flag, our values, and I'll make it clear that the first definition of patriotism is keeping faith with those who wore the uniform of our country, something that today, if you talk to veterans across the nation, they would have serious reservations about whether that promise is being kept. I will make America's armed forces even stronger by adding troops so that our forces are spread less thin around the globe, and make sure that our forces have the armor and the support that they need.
But what this administration doesn't understand is that, to win this war, we have to make the world respect America's other source of strength: our economic engine, our ideals, and our profound purpose to be what Lincoln called "the last best hope of earth."
The second priority in my contract is this: I'm going to put our economy back on track, and I'm going to put the government back in line with our basic values as we do that. What does that mean? The middle class is the moral and economic backbone of this nation. Franklin Roosevelt realized that, and he set in motion programs that helped people to go to college, to buy a home, to build their wealth. And the country prospered. We created nearly 11 million new jobs, and homeownership increased by 13 percent from 1950 to 1960. President Eisenhower understood that in developing the Interstate Highway system. President Clinton saw the same thing. His plans invested in people, and we created 23 million new jobs, 7 million Americans lifted out of poverty, and more Americans went to college.
So the middle class built this country. They work hard, they pay their bills, they play by the rules. I'll tell you, in Iowa, New Hampshire, across the primaries in past months, I've met the most amazingly courageous people, out of work, struggling in two or three jobs. They can't make ends meet. These are the people for whom the country ought to do what is right. We need to do it. But for too long this administration has not honored those values. And I don't say that politically. Ask the people who are out there. They put wealth ahead of work; something for nothing ahead of responsibility; special privilege for the few ahead of what's right for the nation.
My plan will create 10 million new jobs with a proven strategy to build on a simple principle: We should reward work, we should make sure Americans have a chance to work and to get ahead when they do. And that's why we can cut taxes for businesses in America that do what's right by America and reward companies for creating jobs here instead of moving jobs overseas. If a company is torn between creating a job here or overseas, we now have a tax code that actually rewards you, tells you, gives you an incentive to go overseas. And if you're a company staying here, working here, you pay the standard corporate tax rate in the United States. Go abroad, you can defer it for years, instead of built in.
American taxpayers are paying $12 billion a year out of their pockets to make up the difference for those companies that go overseas. Now I think that's wrong, and if I'm president, it's going to end. We're going to put the federal government back in line with our values, and we're going to do it not only by making it fair to incent the companies that stay here and make them more competitive, but we're going to cap spending, as we did in the 1990s, and we're going to get rid of the programs that don't work.
I believe deeply-I'm an entrepreneurial Democrat. I don't want to lead a party that loves jobs and hates the people who create them, and I don't intend to. But I believe, and always have, that the private sector is the engine of growth but you have to help create a framework within which certain choices are made and you can move in the right direction. And instead of being a burden to business, I think government needs to fulfill a duty to help them to succeed. Responsibility has to begin in Washington, not end there.
When I first came to the Senate in 1985, we were running up massive deficits, as you remember. I was one of the first three Democrats to join with Fritz Hollings and with Warren Rudman and Phil Gramm in order to pass the deficit reduction act of that period of time. We thought it was going to work; it didn't work because it wasn't applied, it wasn't enforced. So in 1993 and again in 1997, I joined President Clinton to put the nation's economic house in order and to balance the budget for the first time since Vietnam.
Now our budget, as you know, is a mess again. Largest deficits in history going out as far as the eye can see. And we have to fix it to keep our country strong.
My plan calls for no new spending without cutbacks to pay for that spending. My plan will end the corporate welfare as we know it, as I've described it, in the 17,000 pages of our tax code today. And my plan will roll back the Bush tax cut for the two top brackets, the wealthiest people in the country, and impose a real spending cap and invest in the reduction of the cost of health care and education. And when I put forward a new idea, I'm going to tell you exactly how I'm going to pay for it. And that's what I've done on my education plan, my business tax cut, and I will continue to do that.
As I've already shown in this campaign, I'm not just going to hold everyone else's proposals to that tough standard, I'll hold my own proposals to it.
Third, I will say to America's middle class and all who wish to join it that I have a plan to raise your income and a commitment to cut your taxes. And on this president's watch, Americans are working harder, paying more-for health care, for tuitions, and paying more for taxes-because the federal cuts have resulted in an increase in local property taxes, sales taxes and so forth.
The average American family is making $1,400 less a year today than they were when President Bush came to office. Under President Clinton, they increased their income by $7,100 over those eight years.
We've lost 2.6 million private-sector jobs, and the industries that are expanding are paying an average of $9,000 less than the ones that are contracting.
Families, on the other hand, are paying $800 more a year for health care, $1,000 more a year to send their children to college, while the wages are sliding backwards or stagnant.
Meanwhile, the Bush administration has engineered the greatest tax shift in American history. Middle-class Americans are now paying more of the national budget. Wealthy Americans are paying less. The middle-class burden has gone up while incomes have gone down.
That's why, to build a strong economy, I intend to cut middle- class taxes, so that middle-class incomes will go up. And throughout this campaign, I've disagreed with those in my own party who wanted to take away the middle-class tax cuts that many of us fought for. My economic plan cuts middle-class taxes by three times as much as George Bush.
My plan makes it easier for families to pay for health care, because we lower the cost, using the money from the rollback of the tax cut.
And I give families a $4,000 tuition college tax credit per student.
Under my plan, 98 percent of Americans and 99 percent of American businesses will get a tax cut, completely contrary to the $58 million of advertising that has been spent to distort that plan to date.
Unlike this president, I have a health care plan. He's been there for four years. He has no plan. I have a health care plan that goes after health care costs that are killing American jobs, burdening American families.
And I have an energy plan to hold down the costs and to make America energy-independent.
I also intend to keep faith with America's middle class by ushering in a new era of reform. And again, for 20 years, I've been fighting for that. Where government is broken, I think we can fix it, and when a government program doesn't work, as there are several that have been put back in that we got rid of, we will get rid of them. And where the political system is only serving people in public life, we're going to take away that connection to the influence-peddlers and others and give it back to the people.
That is something I've tried to do throughout my career, and I'm proud that I am the only person in the United States Senate who has run four times for the Senate without ever taking PAC money in that effort.
So I ask you, all of you, to-as we go forward in this effort, to recognize that this is a different time, different set of choices than we've ever faced. On almost every issue of choice in front of the country, I believe there is a better choice than we are being offered today.
I am a Democrat who believes like Franklin Roosevelt that the test is not whether an idea is Republican or Democratic, the test is whether or not it works. And on all the issues that I have talked about today, we can move America forward. We simply can't be a stronger nation unless we start to make those choices about long-term care, Medicare, so forth; unless we create the high-value-added jobs of the future.
John Kennedy inspired many of us of our generation to come into public life, and he challenged this country to go to the moon. He believed in our entrepreneurial creative spirit. So do I. I think this is a time for all of us again to summon that kind of feeling. The American people, in my judgment, are waiting to hear the country's call, and when they do, I suggest to you respectfully, what a glorious morning it can be for our country again.
Thank you for the privilege of sharing some thoughts with you. (Applause.) Let me open it up --
(Confers off-mike with moderator.)
MODERATOR: Thank you, Senator Kerry, on behalf of ASNE for being with us today.
The senator has agreed to take a few questions. The rules are as always; ASNE or NAA members. Please go to the microphones, identify yourself by your name and affiliation, your newspaper.
Over here. Go ahead.
Q Senator, it's Mike Mawgoff (ph) from the Pittsburgh Post- Gazette. You've been critical, including here today, of President Bush for too much unilateralism in foreign policy. But on one issue it seems that-and correct me if I'm wrong-that you and he are pretty much on the same page, and that's when it comes to Israel and Prime Minister Sharon's disengagement plan which would leave Jewish settlements on the West Bank. Many people in the Middle East believe that you cannot separate what's going on in Iraq and Afghanistan from the Arab-Israeli problem.
If you were president, would Prime Minister Sharon be able to expect the same sort of support he's getting from President Bush now on the questions of settlements?
SEN. KERRY: Prime Minister Sharon and the state of Israel could rest assured that I will provide the continuity that has been provided since the state of Israel was founded; that we will protect the security and do what we need to for an ally and a special relationship that exists and has through the years.
I believe that what the president did in recognizing the issue of the right of return and recognizing the issue of some of the settlements really recognized the reality on the ground that's existed in the negotiations in the last years. If you go back to Taba, President Clinton in fact arrived at an agreement on right of return as well as the annexation of a number of settlements. That obviously is not on the table today, but the principle was accepted. So for people to sort of raise a protest to that accepted principle at this point, I think events have moved well beyond that.
What I fault the administration for is that they haven't done enough to create the climate within the Arab world to advance an entity within the West Bank-within the Palestinian Authority that is capable of delivering a peace. Hamas has more influence in the street than the Palestinian Authority does. And to a large measure, that's an international responsibility that has been neglected, and the United States has always been the world's leader in that endeavor. I believe the absence of our leadership over the course of the last years has contributed to the current instability and hatred that exists in the region.
So I think we could help Israel even more, personally, by leading Europe and other countries to the kind of development effort economically that begins to show something to the Palestinians and begins to create an entity with which Israel ultimately can negotiate. But in the meantime, I support the building of the security fence, I support Israel's need to be secure, and I recognize that there is not that entity to deal with. But I fault this administration for its 14- month disengagement, for pulling General Zinni back as a special envoy, and for failing to understand the public diplomacy in the Arab world that is so critical to advance our interests as a fair broker in the region and elsewhere.
MODERATOR: Over here.
Q Senator, I'm Wendy Zomparelli from the Roanoke Times in Virginia, and I have a political strategy question for you. Over the past couple of decades, conservative interests have done a good job of investing the word "liberal" with a lot of negative meaning that resonates even with people who are not necessarily politically conservative themselves.
What is your response when that label is applied to you? And is it going to be possible for your party to reclaim that word and give it a more positive meaning? Or is there another label that you would like to see applied?
SEN. KERRY: Well, I'm not much for labels, period. I think they do a disservice to a genuine political dialogue. I mean, George Bush throws out a label, "compassionate conservative." Tell me what's compassionate about not funding No Child Left Behind. Tell me what's conservative about running up deficits as far as the eye could see. There's nothing conservative about crossing that beautiful line drawn by the Founding Fathers that we've lived with for 229 years that separates church and state in the United States, but they do. There's nothing conservative about toying with the Constitution of the United States in an election year to drive a political wedge between people. There's nothing conservative about an attorney general who has stomped on civil liberties and civil rights in this country and been cited by his own inspector general for doing so.
What's conservative about any of that? That's extreme.
Am I conservative because I want to balance the budget and have PAYGO, as I just described, or is that liberal?
I think we waste our time with that. What we need are solutions to problems. We need leadership that's going to take us in a direction and not divide the American people with these phony labels.
The American people have been seduced for the last 20 years into voting for slogans-that have very little to do with their job, their income, with their education system, with their health care, with the air they breathe, the air they drink, and the quality of life in America, and our safety and security in the world.
Those are the principle issues of this campaign. Those are the issues I'm running to address. I'm not going to get stuck into a liberal/conservative label deal, because I just don't think it applies.
Q It may not apply, but it's the way that much of our political discourse is happening. So my question really is --
SEN. KERRY: Well, let's change it.
Q-what is your strategy for changing it? How do we change it?
SEN. KERRY: Tell the truth. Talk to the American people the way I am. Why do you think I'm tied, or ahead, or depending on where you see this race, after the spending of almost $60 million over seven weeks to attack (sic) every one of those labels to me-attach them to me? Because I think the American people are looking for something different. They want problems solved. They want a real conversation about our country.
I mean, let's talk about it. How do we make America safe and secure, folks? I mean, you got a choice now in Iraq. You can either just keep on doing what we're doing, you can pull out completely, which some people argue-and I don't; I think it would be disastrous for the war on terror, as well as our interests in the region, as well as the stability.
So there's a third way. This administration's trying to go through the back door to get that third way, using Ambassador Brahimi and trying to find a way to get a government, rather than launching an all-out assault and effort to bring people together to the table, to say, "Look, you folks in the Arab world have a huge interest in not having a failed Iraq as your neighbor, and you people in Europe have a huge interest in not having a failed Iraq at your doorstep." Notwithstanding those interests, none of them are at the table with this administration. Now I think that's a legitimate issue to have a debate about.
Health care. Is there one newspaper here that wouldn't love to lower its health care costs and not pay in as much for your employees? Well, I have a plan to help you do that. We can take the catastrophic cases out of the system, pay for them at the federal level, conglomeratizing them, reducing the risk that you pay for to $50,000 maximum exposure and therefore lowering premiums in America by at least a thousand dollars a person and lowering your co-pay. And that helps us begin to contain costs in this country as we go forward. That's worth debating about.
Following through on the promise of education reform is worth debating about. But from the attack ads you'd see today, you wouldn't know it.
So I'm going to try and change the discussion and just tell the truth to the American people. I never ran one negative advertisement against my opponents in the primaries, and I haven't run negative advertising. My advertisements in this race are positive, and you go see them in the next days, talking about where we need to take this country. And I'm going to try and change the discussion.
MODERATOR: (Off mike) -- please. Reid?
Q I'm Reid Ashe from Media General. May I ask you for a couple of numbers, please? What should be the rate of growth of government spending? And what should be the maximum marginal tax rate?
SEN. KERRY: I would not take the marginal tax rate above where it was at the end of the Clinton administration. I-to me, that's a maximum. I've always been in favor of lower marginal rates. I voted for lower marginal rates. When I came to the Senate, 1985, I think the marginal rates were around 76 percent or something, having come down from 90-something percent that they were previously. Of course, there were huge loopholes and gaps in what people paid.
But that's what I would keep it at.
With respect to rate of growth of government, it ought to be-it depends, obviously, on what the rate of growth of your economy is, to some measure, and what the needs of the economy are, because there are times where stimulus is needed.
I mean you've got more stimulus in the American economy today, frankly, than we've probably ever had before. And we're gaining our productivity mostly through either technology or the expense of the labor side of the ledger. That's the depression in the wages that I've just talked about, or the give-backs that organized labor and others are going through.
So I think-I can't give you a fixed percentage. It would be dangerous to do that. What I would tell you is that my goal is to cut the deficit in half in four years. But obviously, you got to see where you are in terms of the economic cycle and what the needs of the country are. Franklin Roosevelt pumped prime to a fare-thee-well, got the country moving. And hopefully we're not going to have that kind of need.
But one of the problems that's not being talked about that we need to look at is America's dependence on foreign capital to buy our debt today. And many of the countries doing so have enormous safety- net confrontations looming on the horizon. In Japan, for instance, a diminishing workforce, a growing retiring population and huge requirements to meet that. What happens if those requirements require them to pull money back, and so forth?
So I think we've got some larger economic issues to put on the table in terms of the global economy. Europe is pretty stagnant right now. Japan, many people think is doing better, but still fairly broke. And we've got some big issues on the table, I think, to work through. So I'm not going to get locked in to a specific rate of growth. I'll tell you this, I'll cut the spending level from where it is today, and we will reduce the size of government from what it is today. That I will pledge to you.
MODERATOR: Okay, one more here right in front, please.
SEN. KERRY: Yes, sir?
Q Senator Kerry, the man who's sitting right next to you, Peter Bhatia, earlier this week, in his outgoing presidential address, raised a lot of concern about the growing secrecy in the federal administration, secrecy that goes beyond the bounds necessary for national security. So my question is, if you're elected president what will you do to restore freedom of information?
SEN. KERRY: I believe very deeply in that freedom of information. And I have pledged that as president, I will hold a press conference at least-a full press conference at least once a month. And I think that if you're trying to move America in a legitimate direction, and if you're trying to accomplish something that's genuinely for the broader good of the country, you should welcome the opportunity to talk to you folks about it because it's a great marketing moment, it's a wonderful opportunity to put out the high side of what you're trying to do.
It's-if you're trying to do things that are hard to explain, that you have to hide; if you're trying to do things that, you know, are in secret like Mr. Cheney's energy policy, which we're still trying to figure out, you know, who was at those meetings-I'll hold open meetings, folks. Nothing-I'd love to have an open negotiation on health care in America, love to have C-SPAN cover it and listen to some of the flimsy excuses we hear about why we can't do this or why we can't do that. So I'm for moving, within the limits of national security, obviously, to be as open as possible, and I think there are many ways to be able to guarantee that.
I've released --
Q Thanks for taking our questions.
SEN. KERRY: Beg your pardon?
Q Thanks for taking our questions today.
SEN. KERRY: Thank you. Well, I'm delighted to.
Q Skip Perez with the Lakeland, Florida Ledger. Senator, the Nader factor once again looms potentially large over the coming election. I'm wondering whether you have had any conversations with Mr. Nader about whether he should run and what your thoughts generally are about how his presence in the race could affect the outcome.
SEN. KERRY: I have had a conversation with him. I've known Ralph Nader for 30 years. I've respected many of the things that he's accomplished through those years, and there are some great accomplishments. And I did talk to him sometime last year, so-then I've had a conversation with him on the phone subsequent to that. So I've stayed in touch.
My hope is that, over the course of this campaign, as I lay out the agenda as I have today and as I continue to go around the country and talk about what we can do with respect to energy independence, the environment, corporate responsibility, trade, et cetera, I believe that I can hopefully speak to the people who, in the 2000 election, felt a need to support Ralph Nader and to make it clear that this time there is not a need, and not only is there not a need but it could be counterproductive to the very things that they want to achieve. So I hope that by September or so, if I do my job properly, Ralph Nader's candidacy will not be necessary, and that's my intention. So we'll see where we are at that point in time, but I certainly respect him and hope that he will see in the end that we have a common interest here.
Anybody else? You've been very patient. Thank you.
MODERATOR: Senator Kerry, thank you so much for being with us today.
SEN. KERRY: It's good to be here. Thank you. (Applause.)
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