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Public Statements

Remarks to Democratic National Committee Conference

Location: Washington, DC

October 3, 2003 Friday


SEN. KERRY: Thank you very much. Ronnie, thank you very much. Five thousand years ago, Moses said, "Hitch up your camel, pick up your shovel, mount your ass. I will lead you to the Promised Land." Five thousand years later, Franklin Roosevelt said, "Light up a Camel, lay down your shovel, sit on your ass. This is the Promised Land."

Today, George Bush will lay off your camel, tax your shovel, kick your ass and tell you there is no Promised Land. And we're going to take it back. We're going to take it back. (Cheers.)

Let me tell you something. Let me tell you -- (sustained cheers). All right, you noisy Democrats, let me tell you something: With each day that passes, with each bit of news, with each broken promise, we are witnessing the beginning of the end of the Bush presidency. (Cheers.)

And the evidence is clear everywhere that you look in our country: 3 million jobs lost; 2 million people have had their insurance taken away; countless numbers of seniors who've seen retirement deferred or destroyed; every friendship, virtually every friendship we have in the world left in tatters across the landscape of our planet; Halliburton, the federal treasury has been opened to them; and special interests have seen every loophole and every possible break given to them.

When you add all that up, my friends, it is clear: We're going to send George Bush back to Texas and put a Democrat in the White House. (Cheers/applause.)

In every decisive contest for the presidency of the United States, this great party of ours has had not just the policy but a soul. And we need to bare our soul to the nation, because never have the principles, the ideas and the hopes of our party and of this country been more at stake.

Let me tell you why I'm running for president of the United States. I'm running for president so I can stand up and fight for Democratic values. I'm running for president so we can put a Democratic vision before this country and offer our fellow citizens real choices that take us to a better place.

I'm running for president because George Bush is leading this nation in a radically wrong direction, and we need to turn it around. We need to hold him accountable. (Applause.) And every day, every single day of this campaign, I intend to go right at him and make it clear that the one person in the United States of America who deserves to be laid off is George W. Bush. And we're going to do it. (Cheers/applause.)

Let me say to you, as we approach this campaign, this is not a commitment that I made in the last few weeks. This is not a commitment that I've made in the last year or that I stumbled across in the course of this campaign. This has been a cause with me for a lifetime, for more than 40 years in the life of our politics—leading the struggle to end the war in Vietnam, standing up on the floor of the Senate in 1985 and helping to defend the woman's right to choose in this country -- (cheers/applause) -- taking the lead on the civil rights bill for all the citizens of this country long before it was popular, long before there'd been a television show or a march, and standing up and opposing George Bush's budget-busting, deficit- creating, special-interest-coddling, loophole-creating, job-destroying tax cut of 2001 and saying no. (Cheers/applause.)

My friends, I am proud that I stood against Richard Nixon, not with him. I know what it's like to be spied on by the government, because that's what they did to me when I came back and stood up against the war. And I'll tell you, the one thing we don't need in this country is an attorney general who spies on Americans. (Cheers.) And we will stop that.

I'm proud that I stood against Ronald Reagan, not with him, when his intelligence agencies were abusing the Constitution of the United States and when he was running an illegal war in Central America. I'm proud that I blew the whistle on Oliver North. I blew the whistle on Noriega.

I stood up with John McCain and we got answers that families have been denied for years. And I say today, we need to stand up against this White House and make it clear we will not tolerate endangering the life of an intelligence agent in the United States for purposes of political revenge. (Applause.)

One Republican source was quoted just a few days ago as saying that their defense to this scandal was to slime and defend. Well, I say to George W. Bush, "Mr. President, it's time to come clean. Slime is not a way to restore honor and integrity to the White House of the United States." (Applause.)

I'm also proud that when Newt Gingrich and the Contract for America took place, I stood with the Democratic wing of the Democratic Party and we fought to prevent that onslaught from taking place. I'm proud that I stood up and led the fight in the United States Senate to prevent his assault on the clean air and the clean water bill. And I am proud that I have stood and led the fight to stop the drilling in the Arctic Wildlife Refuge.

These are the principles that define us. And I bring to this fight the clear and absolute concept that our party needs to stand up and make it clear, on behalf of future generations, on behalf of common sense, that no young American in uniform, man or woman, ought to ever, ever be held hostage to America's dependency on fossil fuel oil from the Middle East. We need to declare that independence and strike out. (Cheers/applause.)

I am proud that in those other fights that define us, I've been there time and again, standing with labor on picket lines, helping to fight for the right to organize. And let me say to you unequivocally, we deserve a president of the United States who understands what fair labor standards practice is, who understands what the NLRB is. (Cheers/applause.)

We deserve a president who understands that every day in America, millions of people get up and get out of bed and they go to work, and they've got a decent wage and they've got health care and they've got a decent salary, and they may even have a pension.

But the fact is that so many of them are not members of labor, of organized labor, of a union. And the only reason they have what they have today in America is because for years organized labor was prepared to fight, stand in those picket lines, put themselves at risk. And we need somebody who understands that. (Cheers/applause.)

I cannot wait to lead our party to define to this president what is correct in terms of values in this country. I'm tired of listening to them give speeches about the heroes of New York, and then they turn away and they forget about the rights to organize, the rights for minimum wage, the rights for benefits. They don't even put people from Enron in jail where they belong.

But I'll tell you, I'm going to remind them that every single one of those workers, every police officer, every firefighter, every emergency medical personnel, every one of those SCIU members that we lost in New York in those buildings, when they went up those stairs to give their lives so others might live, every one of them believed in the right to organize, the right to bargain, the right to strike. They were members of organized labor in our country.

And we deserve a president who honors them, not just when the bagpipes are wailing but when they -- (cheers/applause) -- we deserve a president who honors them not just when the bagpipes are playing but when the flags return to full staff in our country.

And I also am proud that in 1995 -- and many of you will remember this fight. It wasn't a casual passing moment in the affairs of our country. It was the first time ever that the government of the United States was shut down as it was. And we stood up, the Democratic wing of the Democratic Party, and we fought against Newt Gingrich's $270 billion cuts in Medicare benefits. (Applause.)

And I'll tell you who we were standing with, who was leading the way. His name was Bill Clinton. And he never signed any bill that included the Gingrich Medicare cuts. In fact, he vetoed the bill, which is why Gingrich shut down the government.

But the Democratic wing of the Democratic Party never backed down. We never gave up our belief in this fundamental notion. We knew then and we know now that Medicare is not one of the worst federal programs ever invented. It is the best. (Cheers/applause.) And we need to protect it with people in our party and in this country. (Cheers/applause.)

And we not only—and we now have to stand up and fight for Medicare again, but we also have to fight for the patient's bill of rights. Some people want to suggest that that doesn't matter, that that's a casual component of how we fix things in America. Well, tell that to 50,000 Americans who almost daily can't get what they wanted or expected or are due from HMOs. Tell that to a woman who's denied her rights to see an ob-gyn.

We need to fight for that and understand that that is part of our Democratic value. And finally, we need to make clear to all of America, and we will, that it is long, long, long since past time that the richest country on the face of this planet does not recognize that health care is not a privilege. It is a right. And we have to make it available to all Americans, all people in this country. (Cheers/applause.)

You know, wherever I go in this country, I'm meeting people who've been out of work for a year and a half, a year; they've used up their COBRA. They don't have the ability to be able to pay. I met a man the other day in New Hampshire whose wife has been diagnosed with cancer, doesn't know what he's going to do. The kids wonder why he's at home.

We have an obligation and a responsibility in this country to care and to fight for a difference, not to ignore it and give tax cuts to the people who are the most comfortable in our nation. I learned something about this first-hand, because, as you know, I missed the last DNC meeting because of an operation. I did have a note from my doctor, so it was okay. (Laughter.) But I'm cured now, and I was lucky. (Cheers/applause.)

Some people have asked me the important question: Can a man be president of the United States without a prostate? (Laughter.) Well, I just answer them by saying, "Why not? We've had a lot of Republican presidents who didn't have a heart." (Cheers.) And I think we have to make it clear that we're moving forward.

But let me tell you, when I woke up in that bed with the best care in the world at Johns Hopkins, I knew that the reason I had it was, number one, I could afford it. Number two, I'm a United States senator.

And I vowed to myself that, if given the opportunity, I'm going to make it clear to everyone in this country that every American should have a right to buy in and have available the same health care that senators and congressmen give themselves. And I'm going to make it clear, with your help, that every family's health care in America is as important as any politician in Washington DC. (Cheers/applause.) We need to stand up for that principle.

And I'm going to keep fighting to repeal the irresponsible Bush tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans. And let me just say to you, I voted against it in 2001. I wasn't one of those who could stand up then and say that I thought that Bush or Cheney or Rumsfeld were right for America. I thought they were wrong then. I knew what compassionate conservative meant then. And I'll tell you, we understood then that their special-interest friends were walking away with the store at the expense of the average American.

I believe we need to stand up and make clear to all Americans that we need to fight for fairness in this country, which means a workplace where we're not always taking advantage of the worker so the CEOs can go to Bermuda and take advantage of loopholes and hide their income and stick the rest of the country with the bill. (Applause.)

Last week Joe Biden and I, just the other day, stood up on the floor of the Senate and said we don't think it's right to ask for $87 billion for Iraq but it ought to be paid for without getting rid of those lavish tax cuts at the top.

How can the president tell reservists, "Spend another year in Iraq, but we're not going to tell the wealthiest in America to contribute to this cause"? Why should we be paying $87 billion for Iraq, cutting back health care, cutting back education? It is wrong to open up fire houses in Baghdad and shut them in cities in the United States of America. (Cheers/applause.) It is wrong.

And I say to you, don't forget who we are as Democrats and what we achieved with Bill Clinton. Bill Clinton stood up and fought for the middle class. We Democrats invested all of our political capital. We lost the House and Senate in 1994 because we had the courage to be fiscally responsible.

We showed America how to put people back to work. We showed America how to have low inflation, low unemployment, more women into the workforce, lifted 100 times the people out of poverty than Ronald Reagan ever did. But we protected the middle class.

Some in our party think you have to get rid of the whole Bush tax cut to do that. Well, let me tell you something. Part of that Bush tax cut is the Democrat tax cut. We fought for a child care credit. We fought for a 10 percent bracket. We don't want the Democratic Party telling America, "If you get married, we're going to charge you more in taxes."

I think we can do what we did with Bill Clinton—protect the middle class, cut the deficit in half, be fiscally responsible, grow the American economy. And we've earned our spurs to talk about that to the American people, because we paid down the debt of our nation for two successive years. (Applause.)

Now, a couple of last points and I will end. Let me make it clear that this is also a time to stand up for the civil rights of this nation. It's time to have an attorney general who respects, not disrespects, the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. It's time for us -- (applause). When I fought in Vietnam, I know that there were people in the military, because I know them today and I know the medals they won, who were gay. And they fought as clearly and with as much passion and sense of patriotism as anybody else.

You go up there on Capitol Hill and there is a cemetery where there is a grave stone, and on that grave stone it says this person's epitaph: "The Army gave me a medal for killing a man but gave me a dishonorable discharge for loving one." I think we deserve a president of the United States who brings all Americans together and recognizes the value of the service of everyone in the United States of America. (Applause.)

I'm proud—and I have made it clear—I think I'm the only one who has—I'm not going to get caught up in the words. Some people say it's a litmus test. Some people say whatever. I am not appointing anyone to the Supreme Court of the United States who doesn't understand and respect the right of privacy and who will guarantee we will not undo Roe v. Wade and a woman's right to choose in America. (Cheers/applause.)

And you can call it -- (sustained applause) -- you can call it a litmus test if you want, but I will explain to America what it really is. It's defending constitutional liberties in the United States.

And I also think we cannot afford to be a party that reads the wrong lessons from the last elections. Shame on us if we believe that we have to retreat from our principles and suddenly something like gun safety is not important in America. I come here to tell you we can't go out and win elections by throwing out our principles.

I won't do it.

I'm a hunter. I'm a gun owner. But I have never, ever thought of shooting with an AK-47 when I go hunting. And I will tell you I don't want to be the candidate of the NRA. I don't want our party to be the party of the NRA. I reject that notion. We can stand up for safety in America and keep guns out of the hands of children and felons and still respect the Second Amendment of our nation. (Applause.)

I close by saying this to you. This is a perilous time in our nation's history. We are challenged as never before. September 11th was our December 7th. And the test for our generation is whether or not we will step up and define this war for what it really is—not a military action so much but an intelligence-gathering and law enforcement operation. And we deserve leadership that understands that to win it, we need unprecedented levels of cooperation on a global basis.

We need and deserve a president who comes to this table with years of experience, not just in the military but in foreign policy, in the work of building relationships with other countries. We need a president who understands you talk to North Korea before it's a crisis.

You don't ignore the Middle East for months and let it become worse of one. You don't turn your back on Africa and AIDS and spend years playing politics with it. You don't walk away from global warming and forget the work of 160 nations. You don't ignore the problem of proliferation in Russia and loose nuclear materials.

We need a candidate for president who can stand up, as I believe I can, and take on Karl Rove and the Republicans and remind them that they're not the only ones who know something about aircraft carriers. I know something about aircraft carriers. And we're not going to let them hide the fact that they lost 3.1 million jobs, walked away from their responsibilities to the country. We need to hold them accountable on domestic affairs, on foreign affairs. We need to go right at them.

Remember, they thought that was their strong suit. They can't find Osama bin Laden. They can't find Saddam Hussein. They can't even find a leaker in the White House, and they probably don't want to be able to. (Cheers/applause.) And we need to take that away.

So I have confidence—I have confidence that we will win next year if we deserve to win. And I ask all of you, the backbone of the Democratic Party, the DNC, I say to you and I say to activists all across this country, have faith in who we are and what we believe. Stand up for our values.

Have the courage to make the choices that are right for our nation. Let's go out and do the work. Let's put America back to work by putting George Bush and Dick Cheney out of work. Let's go get it done. (Cheers/applause.)


Copyright 2003 Federal News Service, Inc. Federal News Service

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