Helping Every American Achieve Their Full Potential
South Carolina Jefferson-Jackson Dinner
Thank you very much. Thank you. It is good to be in South Carolina. Thank you very much.
Emily, thank you for writing that speech for Jim. Jim, thank you for allowing me in your district. Ladies and gentleman, as Jim was speaking I was reminded of an old proverb. It says: A good example is the best sermon. Your example Jim has been the best of sermons.
Ladies and gentlemen and Mr. Chairman, thank you. This is what I understand you do every Friday night, get together with a few Democrats like this?
They told me the Democratic party in South Carolina was struggling. What are you, struggling to reach a million Democrats to show up at this dinner? I don't know what your struggle is.
Governor, I have two regrets. One: you are not governor and two: Inez is not a senator. Believe me, I have two regrets.
The governor said he learned for the first time what it is like not to be governor anymore, as that old story goes. He said he got in the back seat of his car and didn't move. It is a hard adjustment. But Inez, as senators we have to ride in the front seats. So if you have a choice, be governor.
Ladies and gentlemen, one of the guys who is well known in my state, almost as well as he is in your state, because he is related to the wife of my colleague in the United States Senate is John Spratt. Now, John, I want you to know that I pray that sometime when you come to my state again to speak that someone will walk up to you and say about me what someone just said about you. I will not identify this lovely woman, but she walked up to me tonight and said, "You know, I am from the same town as John. We went all through school together and he is the smartest man any of us ever knew."
Well John, I don't know what you paid her, but you won't find anyone in my state to say that about me. Mr. Mayor, thank you for your hospitality.
You know, Inez's efforts in education have been absolutely incredible. The way in which this state has move forward. The tradition that I have had beaten into my brain for 30 years as being Fritz Hollings's seat mate about public education. You think I'm joking, I'm not joking.
It reminds me of that quote by H. G. Wells. He said: "Human history becomes more and more a race between education and catastrophe."
And the truth of the matter is: as much as the world is changing if we don't rapidly, rapidly change the way in which we educate our children and the quality of time and effort we put into it then we are heading toward catastrophe.
You know I have had a number of really good friends from South Carolina over the years . My closest friend, and he really is my closest friend and was my closest friend in the U.S. Senate - got me elected when I was a 29 year old kid - I went to see him when he was Chairman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. His name was Fritz Hollings and he looked like the poster child for what I thought all southern senators were supposed to be.
"Well, Joltin' Joe," I never met him before. "What makes you think we should support you?" And from that moment, he was the first person in Washington DC, the first person from outside of my state who had faith that this kid could get elected to the United States Senate.
And as we say in the Senate - forgive a point of personal privilege, I got elected to the U.S. Senate on November 3 and on December 18, there was an accident in which Hunter's Mom and sister were killed and he and his brother were badly injured and I hadn't been sworn in yet and I wanted no part of being a U.S. Senator. When I talked to my Governor about who should take my place - it was Fritz Hollings and Mike Mansfield who came to see me and said "just give us six months."
And when I came to Washington, I never lived there and still commute, but it was Fritz and Peatsy Hollings that made me, literally, not figuratively, literally come to their home at least once a month for dinner. And it was Fritz and Peatsy Hollings that, when I got lucky, really lucky and found another magnificent woman 5 years later that I fell in love with. Fritz Hollings invited all of my colleagues in the Senate, the Supreme Court, the President of the United States of American to a reception - that he and Peatsy paid for out of their own pockets in the famous Caucus Room in the U.S. Senate to welcome my wife Jill, my wife into the family. Folks they don't make many people like that.
But it will not surprise Don Fowler and a lot of others that I still get a call every three weeks or so: "Joe, what in God's name are you doing?" So I haven't lost his advice.
My other friend who called is Governor Riley. I don't think I have ever told this story publically, but I used to be Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee and unlike other Presidents, when President Clinton had an opportunity to appoint some to the court - he called me and I'm sure other but he some others and said - "what kind of person do you think we should put on the court?"
I said, "Mr. President, we should appoint someone bright and knowledgeable - Someone like Hugo Black who stood for office at one time - who at least ran for dog catcher - who was as bright of the academics but did not come from a totally academic background - who knew the life of the law. And he said who do you have in mind and we went through some names - and he said, "I like Riley" and he authorized me to pick up the phone and call Sec. Riley and ask him if he would join the Supreme Court of the United States of America. And I called and I said "Guv, I still call him Guv, I have been talking to the President and we would like to know whether or not you'd like to go on the Supreme Court of the United States - and he thought about it for a second and said "no, Joe. Thank you."
And he called yesterday and said "there are still some folks in South Carolina who like me, so please let people know that you and I are such good friends." And I said sure, why am I doing that, and he said "because I am going to be in Iowa."
So my two closest friends that I have been involved with politics in this state are not here, so it tells you something about how they feel about me.
Ladies and Gentlemen, I prepared a speech a few weeks ago to deliver here tonight - but on the way down here with my son, Hunter - who is a grown man with a wife and three beautiful daughters. I was telling him about the speech I was going to give and he handed me a gave me a copy of a speech his older brother, Beau, gave recently at an event in Delaware.
Beau is a 36-year-old attorney a partner in a law firm. He's a husband, a father, a Captain in the Army National Guard, a former federal prosecutor, worked at the Justice Department and spent time in Kosovo as a volunteer.
And he said why don't you read Beau's speech that he gave down in Sussex County, Delaware a couple weeks ago? And he meant for me to just read it to remind me what my son said. And I read it and decided I should give you my son's speech. I'm gonna give you just a few moments, it is short.
And I want to just read you what he said:
When my brother and I first came to Sussex County as very young democrats, speaking for himself, I was about two years old, and we Democrats held only one statewide office.
Now, because of the work of many of you in this room tonight, we hold all but three of the statewide elected posts. That is remarkable.
This year, with the Governor's leadership, we even picked up three seats in the state house; and Matt Denn took back the Insurance Commissioner post for us. That's a great record.
And on the national level, in spite of what Rush Limbaugh may say, and after losing a tight presidential election, we as a party did well this year -- even in those Red States.
For example, in Montana, one of those Red States, we elected a Democratic Governor. In Colorado, Democrats took control of both houses of the legislature.
And in even Crawford, Texas, the home Ranch, we re-elected a democratic congressman to represent the President in Washington.
He went on to say that however, we have our work cut out for us because in some ways, we have let President Bush, and the Republicans "hijack" issues that are ours - like Freedom, Security, and Fiscal Responsibility. We should be on the offensive and tell our story, because it's a good one.
For example, on Freedom and Force, we need to remind people that in 1999, Democrats - not Republicans -- led the fight to use force in Kosovo to stop a mad man from slaughtering millions of innocent people.
Remember, at the time, the National Republican Party, with very few exceptions, opposed the United States meeting its historic and moral commitment to freedom in Europe.
We need to remind people, as I saw first hand when I worked and lived there as a Department of Justice attorney, that the people of Kosovo not only greeted us as liberators, but like after World War II, they literally named streets after our leaders - who happened to be democrats. He went on to say, I actually remember driving back from a meeting at Camp Bondsteel, where we had based five thousand U.S. soldiers, and the Kosovoar driver asking me, seriously, how? How can we become the fifty-first state?
Similarly, with security and safety on the home front, we need to remind people that in 1994 a Democratic president, a Democratic congress, and a Democratic Senator from Delaware, enacted the toughest and most comprehensive crime prevention legislation in a generation.
We need to remind people that as a result: we had more cops on the street than ever before, violent crime fell 33%, and our streets were safer. He went on to say that he knew firsthand, as a former federal prosecutor, what an important tool that was.
And now, just this month, the other side killed the cops program. On top of that, this Administration's Department of Justice has already cut funding to local law enforcement by over 2 billion in last four years.
They think that giving the wealthy a massive tax break is more important than funding one more cop for the Seaford Police Department.
And, speaking of the economy and taxes, we need to remind people that when Democrats were in charge, a Democratic President and Democratic Congress actually balanced the budget, had a surplus, the economy grew, and maybe most importantly, the middle class grew.
Since then, the other side has squandered the surplus, lost jobs, and made the rich richer and the poor, poorer; and further squeezed the middle class families trying to send their kids to college, take care of their parents, and pay their mortgage and keep their jobs.
We need to tell this story. We need to communicate that we are the party that has historically fought for freedom around the world and against the abuse of power at home -- Roosevelt against Fascism; Truman against Communism; Kennedy for hope and a call to duty; and Johnson for justice.
We are the party that has always acted on our values. Since when has responsibility, accountability, and respect belonged exclusively to one side or the other. To paraphrase James Carville: the trouble with us democrats lately is that when we talk about values, we create a laundry list - a litany; while when the republicans talk about values, they create a conversation, a narrative.
We need to speak from our hearts. Instead, we too often try to win the debate and end up losing the election - kind of like the last two presidential races.
Ladies and Gentlemen, language is the art of communication - and we need to go back to our roots - Faith, Freedom, Fidelity, and Fairness. That's who we are; that's how we built this great country.
And Ladies and Gentlemen - my mother happened to be with him - these are not just values of my grandmother's generation; these are the values of my generation, my sister's generation, and my brother's generation.
We hold these values just as fiercely and we are ready to do what our country asks of us, just like my Grandmother's generation. Just look at what some in my generation are already doing in Iraq and in Afghanistan. I believe that if we tap into this generation -- tell our story -- we will have the energy and ability to not only organize winning campaigns and recruit winning candidates, but also to reclaim our legacy.
And I know it can start here in Sussex County, which has always been the heart and soul of the Democratic Party in Delaware.
Ladies and Gentlemen, the heart and soul of the Democratic party, for generations, is in South Carolina and the South and in border states like mine.
We have to have a little more faith, again, in our folks. Because our folks are pretty smart. They know when Tom DeLay says he wants to save Social Security by privatizing it, what he really means is that he wants to make the security of the elderly a private affair again.
They know this is not at all about the solvency of the Social Security system. It is about the elimination of the Social Security system.
They know when they hear some Republicans talk about more judicial independence, they really mean intimidating judges to the point of judicial dependence on the radical right's agenda.
They know how irresponsible it is for Tom DeLay and others to stand up and say: "These judges will pay."
I remind you all of a little fact: well over half the judges they are complaining about are Republican judges, nominated by Republican presidents.
This is not your father's Republican Party, ladies and gentlemen.
They know that if and when the Republican leader of the Senate climbs upon an alter this Sunday and participates in a telecast and endorses an ad campaign -- symbolized by a poster of a young man holding a Bible in one hand and a gavel in the other, declaring "Filibuster Against People of Faith" -- that he will have crossed the line. They know that the Founders drew a very bright line to prevent the perversion of theocracy and they will have discarded a time honored American tradition, which is not that God is on my side, but I pray that I am on God's side.
I believe that God has blessed America because we have recognized that he is not the sole possession of any faith, interest group, or any party. He is everybody's God and we need not do it their way.
The people of South Carolina, the people of Delaware, the people of Georgia, the people of Florida, they know the truth of that. They also know that America has a big heart. It is not a red heart or a blue heart, it is not a red state or a blue state. America has a purple heart. America's heart, and people know this intuitively, that we can not lead in this century as a nation divided as we are now.
I believe, as my son believes, that this generation and this country are poised to do great things. I believe the American people intuitively understand that we have a historic opportunity to set the United States and the world on a path of hope and freedom for the 21st Century that will allow us to avoid the carnage and mistakes of the 20th century. But divisiveness and cynicism fostered by this Administration have stymied the start of that journey.
You know, I believe this Administration will be held most accountable not for its mistakes in this post 9/11 world, rather they will be held accountable for the opportunities they have squandered.
Ladies and gentleman, let me remind you that in the immediate aftermath of 9/11, whomever was president would have had a tough time - Democrat or Republican - would have made some mistakes.
But I also want to remind you, in the aftermath of 9/11, all across this country, but particularly in that hard-baked city of New York, there were thousands of young people who stood in blood lines for block upon block upon block. And they stayed there even after they were told no more blood was needed. They did not leave. Why? Because they were yearning. Yearning for the opportunity to be asked to do something for their country.
Just imagine if Franklin Roosevelt, just imagine if John Kennedy or Ronald Reagan had been president on 9/12 or 9/13.
I expect you would have heard them say something to the effect of: we have been dealt a terrible blow, but we will overcome this. And I, President Roosevelt, President Kennedy, President Reagan, am going to the Congress tomorrow and I am delivering two messages:
The first is that I have called an international meeting of world powers to decide how we can unite to crush this rise of radical Islamic fundamentalism.
And I suggest they would have also said something like: I'm sending an energy bill to Congress to free us from the iron grip of the oligarches in the region. And it will require sacrifice and I will expect sacrifice.
But what were we told? What have we continued to be told? We continue to be told that we are a divided country. We continue to be told that we should pit religion against religion. We continue to be told it is North against South, blue against red.
Ladies and gentlemen, this country is ready to great things. This country is so ready to do great things.
And your generation, the generation of the young woman in the front here, your generation is so much better equipped and more ready to make the kind of sacrifice needed to make this country what it needs to be. But we continue to squander the opportunity that people in this country are yearning to participate in.
Ladies and gentlemen, I'll say it again: I believe America has a purple heart. The American people in South Carolina or Southern California, they are not cynical, they are not jaded, they are not anything but hopeful. But they are confused. They are confused by a country that seems not to call upon them to do anything to unite this country.
Here we are with staggering deficits. A war still raging in Iraq that we must, must win. A Middle East that is fraught with both incredible opportunity and significant danger.
But where is the sense of urgency? This Administration lays out it's priorities and what are they? They are tort reform, judicial reform, reform of the Social Security system. But this is not about reform, this is about turning back the clock. Turning back the clock in a way no recent Republican Administration has done, and when I say recent I mean the last sixty years.
So ladies and gentlemen, I really believe as I go around the country and I suspect you believe it here: the American people are beginning to fully understand what the agenda is for this Administration, and not all Republicans but the radical right of the Republican party, and I think they are beginning to understand that it is not in their interests.
And they are gonna soon turn to us and say, okay fellas what is your idea?' And if we don't remember, if we don't fire their passion and their hope with the same sense of fidelity to faith, freedom, and fairness then we are going to have squandered ourselves an opportunity to do the only thing a party is justified in existing for and that is to make things better in this country.
I'm always quoting Irish poets. I get kidded for saying that the only reason I quote them is because I'm Irish. But that is not why I do it, it is because they are the best poets. That is the only reason.
I think the Democratic party should adopt as it's anthem over the next three years a stanza from a poem by an Irish poet named Seamus Haney. It is called The Cure at Troy. He says:
"History says don't hope on this side of the grave. But then once in a lifetime the longed-for tidal wave of justice can rise up, and hope and history rhyme." I believe with every fiber in my being that we have an opportunity as a country that is only given rarely: to make hope and history rhyme. So may God guide us in remembering what our roots are, and may God bless us because we need it. Thank you very much.