Speech At Linn County Democratic Dinner
Marion, IA, January 18, 2003
Let me thank Joel Miller. I started out as a county chair; what Steve didn't tell you is that I was county chair back in 1980. When I got back from the convention we did a really great job, but we never managed to have three presidential candidates at any of our dinners. I don't quite understand that.
I also want to thank somebody who I deeply respect and think of as a wonderful human being. She's the first candidate that I did an event for last summer, and she's a colleague and a wonderful one, and that's Julie Thomas.
I want to thank Tom Harkin. The highest compliment I can pay to Tom Harkin is that he has the personality of a governor. You always know where he stands on tough issues. I want to thank Lynn Boswell, but I must admit I'm a little disappointed because I thought this time he was going to have some colleagues with him in Congress. In 2004, whichever one of us is running for the presidency, you all better make sure you get out the vote so people like Julie and John Norris and others - Ann Hutchison and Paul Shomshore in the fifth district - can go back and have a little company.
Let me also recognize someone who isn't here who I've been a proud friend of as long as he's been governor, and that's Tom Vilsack. I know Tom Vilsack, not as well as you do, but almost as well, because I've been in charge of recruitment and campaign support for all the Democratic gubernatorial candidates in the country, and I spotted him early and I talked about him early when he was thirty points behind. The thing that's so incredible about Tom Vilsack was demonstrated this morning in the headline in the Des Moines Register. This is a guy with courage who stands up to do the right thing and wants to include everybody. And I think people like Tom Vilsack, who we're so proud to have in the Democratic Party, underscore exactly what it is that's the matter with the other party and with the Administration in Washington.
I was deeply, deeply disappointed - more so than I have been in a long series of disappointments - with the Bush Administration. The President of the United States went before a national audience last week and, in response to the question of whether the University of Michigan should be allowed to continue the program that they have to make sure that their classes look like America, he used the word "quota" seven times on national television. The University of Michigan does not have a quota system, it never did have a quota system; the word "quota" is designed to foster racial divisiveness and to encourage other people to be fearful that folks are going to take their jobs. It is disgraceful for the President of the United States to ever use that word. If this were an isolated incident, you might say it was a mistake, but it wasn't. Two weeks before that, the Bush Administration renominated Charles Pickering to the United States Court of Appeals after he was turned down by the previous Democratic Senate because of his racial insensitivities. Let us not make a mistake about which party wants inclusiveness and diversity in this country. It is not the Republican Party. If you want a diverse nation, if you want to have an opportunity for Latinos and African Americans and immigrants, then you had better support Democrats, because this country is moving forward; it is going to be the most diverse country on the face of the earth and only the Democrats can build that country the way it needs to be built.
Naturally, when you do this you get asked by the media all the time, "Why are you running for president?" One of the reasons I'm running for president is that I think this country is fundamentally going in the wrong direction economically. Steve said that I was a fiscal conservative - I am. When I came into the governorship, we had the largest deficit and the highest tax rate in America. We had to cut taxes and balance the budget at the same time. It was very, very difficult. Today we've balanced the budget, we've cut our debt by 25%, we've gone from the having worst bond rating in New England to having the highest, we've put in a reserve fund, and today, because I wouldn't let the legislature spend all the money that was coming in, today while every state's revenues are worse than they've been since World War II, I am incredibly proud to tell you that Vermont is adding money to higher education, we are adding money to K-12 education, and we are not cutting Medicaid. And what the President of the United States is doing is setting the stage so that Medicaid will be gutted, so that we will not be able to support basic services to kids and seniors because he is about to run up the largest deficit in the history of the United States of America - $350 billion. Furthermore, the Republicans have now gutted CBO and gone in with some ridiculous concept called "dynamic scoring," so you can't even believe what they say anymore about their own budget.
We can do better in this country. We can do better.
The only person who's balanced the budget in the last thirty-five years - no Republican has balanced the budget in the last thirty-five years - is Bill Clinton. Not one Republican president. And it is not an accident - when Bill Clinton balanced the budget in 1993 without one single Republican vote it ushered in the greatest ten years of prosperity in the history of America. George Bush has thrown that away in two single years. From the largest surplus in the history of America to the largest deficit. We can do better. If you want somebody you can trust with your money you had better elect a Democrat because the Republicans cannot manage money.
Look at the President's foreign policy. We'll do it Texas style. We'll do it our way, and if you don't like it, get out of my way. What treaty has he embarked upon with other countries? He's turned down three. When did he reach out to get people to help us deal with Saddam Hussein's rearming? He was going to do that all by himself until the Democrats demanded he do it with other countries and Karl Rove went and told him, "Yup the Democrats are right, you'd better do it with other countries" and he went to the United Nations. We can do better. If we're going to have a strong country over the long term, we are going to have to learn how to cooperate with other nations.
This president passed the second-largest unfunded mandate in the history of education. The "Every School Board Left Behind" bill. I know there are a lot of people out there who teach, and there are a lot of people out there on school boards. Isn't this a big help to our school system? You know what the cost in New Hampshire is going to be? I don't know what it is in Iowa - you're a bigger state - but in New Hampshire it's going to cost property taxpayers $109 million. Property taxes pay for the unfunded mandate and so we can swear - which we are required to do - that schools have quote-unquote constitutionally-guaranteed school prayer, that the Boy Scouts can meet in our schools, and that every name of every upcoming junior and senior gets sent not only to institutions of higher learning, but to the military. It seems to me that those are questions for local school boards to decide, not the President of the United States.
Do you know why we didn't win that presidential election? Do you know why we didn't win that election in 2002? Because there are too many Democrats who voted for those tax cuts. Because I'm the only person running for President of the United States on the Democratic ticket that didn't support the President's resolution on Iraq. Because I'm the only person running for president who fought against the "No Teacher Left Standing" bill and fought against the mandates. And if I had run for governor for a sixth term and been reelected, I would have turned down the mandate and sent the money back to Washington so our taxpayers wouldn't have to put up any more.
Let me tell you where I stand on the issues. I want a foreign policy that's multilateral. The most significant defense and foreign policy initiative in this country was the Marshall Plan. What we did in Europe - which had been at war with itself for nearly a 1000 years - was to build institutions and democracy where women fully participate in economic and political decision making. And sixty years later, here's the dividend we get for investing those American taxpayer dollars: we have 12 countries formerly at war with each other in a monetary union, we have 15 - soon hopefully to be 25 - in an economic union, we have an ally to help manage the Third World economies, we have an ally to help us peacekeep in Bosnia and Afghanistan, and most importantly, we have not had to send hundreds of thousands of American kids to die in Europe for two generations. That's what you get when you have multilateral, farsighted policy, which involves vision and which involves middle class democracy-building. That is the future of our foreign policy and we need to embrace it. I want a foreign policy where we cooperate with other nations. The President spat upon Kyoto and said that it was a job breaker and that it was never to be taken up. Kyoto was not perfect - there were some significant problems there - but what we should have said was, "No, we can't sign this treaty the way it is because Third World developing nations don't have to improve their greenhouse gas emissions. But we want to sign the treaty because it's important for the globe and important for America, so let's renegotiate and find ways, even if we have to help Third World countries control their greenhouse gas emissions." That's the right approach, a multilateral, cooperative approach, and I think it's the one that we can get to best.
I want a foreign policy where we will say that we are going to have a renewable energy and an oil conservation policy in this country which will not prevent us from stopping terrorism in the Middle East. If we continue to buy oil from Saudi Arabia, they will continue to send money to Hamas, which will blow up children in Israel and prevent us from ever getting to peace in the Middle East. We can do better. Mr. President, what about oil? What about oil conservation? Look, I'm not asking anybody in Iowa -- I saw the cars in the parking lot -- I'm not asking anybody to get out of your SUVs and trucks. But I want mileage standards to be the same for SUVs and trucks as for the rest of the fleet. And I'm not just saying this because I'm in Iowa; I said it in Atlanta before I got here - I want ten percent ethanol in every gas tank in America. If you had ten percent ethanol in every gas tank in America you would reduce - and we're not even talking about renewable energy, wind and solar, which the Europeans have used so much better than we have - if you just had those things, you would be able to reduce the amount of oil imported in this country in three years by 10%. That is an enormous amount of money. And then the president would be able to go to the Saudis and the Iranians and the Syrians and say "enough; stop funding terror, let us get to peace in the Middle East."
I got back from Israel a month ago. I am convinced that people on both sides of the Green Line - a majority of people on both sides of the Green Line - would live in peace in two free, self-governed states side-by-side. We can't get there because of the terror. And the Americans don't do anything about it because we get so much oil from the folks that are funding the terrorists, and from folks that use that money - our money - to teach people to hate Christians, Jews, and Americans. We ought to be able to choke that off, and we can't do it because the President of the United States won't make us energy independent using basic conservation and alternative energy methods.
We can do better.
I want health care for every American. Everybody under eighteen in our state has health care. We made Medicaid a middle class entitlement and the conservative Republicans like it just as much as the Democrats do. For a year I have been saying that we ought to get rid of the Bush tax cut, use the money to balance the budget, and put the rest of it into health care - national health insurance for all Americans. Today Dick Gephardt joined me - and I appreciate that Dick, very much. Thank you very very much. We are not done yet, folks; there are six or seven other candidates out there - I want to hear that from every one of them. We need to get rid of the Bush tax cuts that have harmed the economy to subsidize health care for small business people, individuals and people who work for corporations that don't give health care. That would help the economy much more than the President's tax cuts that went to people who made more than $300,000 a year. It's not enough for Dick Gephardt and I to say it. I want to see everyone say it as well. Those tax cuts are a mistake and we should stand up and say so. If we were to get rid of the President's tax cut, which is $1.7 trillion dollars, we could afford a small pittance of that - $27 billion - to get rid of the largest unfunded mandate in the history of education. If I am elected president, in my first year's budget special education will be fully funded. Remember, I'm a fiscal conservative; what am I doing with this fat spending program? It is tiny. In a $1.2 trillion budget, two percent of that is spent on education. $27 billion is a small amount of money, but do you know who benefits? Property taxpayers benefit, because if we were to fully fund special education, school boards all across America could decide how to pay teachers more, how to have smaller class size, how to improve their buildings, and still have money left over for a property tax cut. If you want to cut taxes in this country, Mr. President, don't cut income taxes for people who make $300,000 or more; what about us middle class property tax payers who are suffering because you can't fund education because you've run up the biggest deficit in the history of the country? We can do better.
Two years ago I signed a campaign finance bill for public financing of campaigns. I qualified to run under it and I couldn't, because the courts took out the spending limits and then my Republican opponent was going to spend four times as much money as I had. I had just signed the civil unions bill, so it was a little controversial, a difficult election (we'll get to that in a minute). If you want real campaign finance reform, here's what you've got to do. You've got to do all three things at once - you've got to have public financing of campaigns, you've got to have instant runoff voting so Ralph Nader doesn't take the election away from Al Gore (though we know it was really the Supreme Court that did that), and you've got to have either a constitutional amendment or a better Court that will say free speech and political contributions are not the same thing. We can do better than the FEC is doing right now - gutting McCain-Feingold, which a lot of folks here worked very hard for.
If you want to know what kind of president I'll be, I'll tell you. It's why I was so proud of Tom Vilsack today. Two years ago, our court said that gay and lesbian people weren't being treated properly, that they didn't have equal rights in our state. I told our press an hour and a half after that decision came out that I would support a bill that would make our state the first in the country to make all Americans equal. At the time 35% of the people thought it was a great idea and 65% of the people thought it was a terrible idea. We passed the nation's first civil unions bill. It's not gay marriage; we leave who gets married to the churches in Vermont. But it's equal inheritance rights, it's equal hospital visitation rights, it's equal insurance rights; every single right that I have, anybody in Vermont can have, even if they're gay or lesbian. Let me be frank with you. I did not do this for gays and lesbians, I did this for America. Because for a long time those of us who came of age during the civil rights movement understood that the strength of America was our commitment to equal rights under the law for all Americans. I'm proud that Vermont is the only place in America where equal rights under the law means equal rights under the law for everybody, not just the people we like or the people we're comfortable with or the people who look like us. Everybody in Vermont has equal rights under the law. I want to be the president where everybody in America has equal rights under the law. The reason I bring it up is this: I knew that people in an election year didn't like this bill and that it was going to be tough. I never had a discussion with myself about whether to sign this bill or not, because if you're the type of politician who's willing to sign off on the rights of a whole group of Americans simply because it's inconvenient for the future of your political career then you're in the wrong business, because that career that you have is all about you and it shouldn't be about you. Wherever I go in the country, if it's a place where people think that they're a little uncomfortable with the idea that everyone ought to have equal rights, I tell them that I can't wait, should I be the nominee of this party, to stand next to George Bush in the debates and have him explain to Americans why everybody - even though they're willing to die for this country in Afghanistan - why everybody shouldn't have equal rights under the law when they get back. I can't wait to see the President of the United States explain that. The reason I brought civil unions up is that that's the kind of president I'll be.
Bill Clinton said a few weeks ago that Americans would rather have somebody who's strong and wrong than somebody who's right and weak. We haven't stood up for our principles in this party. We're debating the Patients' Bill of Rights in Congress. In the argument over the Patients' Bill of Rights, the Democrats want to sue your HMO and the Republicans don't. I'll tell you something; it doesn't make a difference which bill passes, or if neither bill passes, because not one more American will have health care insurance and your premiums won't go down five cents. What our party ought to be doing, is debating why we don't have some kind of universal health insurance for all Americans. Where are our ideals? This is not some left-wing crazy kooky idea. Harry Truman put this in the platform in 1948; not exactly a big liberal. We can do better.
I need your help. I need you to stand up for the Democratic Party. I need a party where we're proud to talk about Democratic issues. A party where we don't consult the polls first to find out if it's all right to talk about things like health insurance. If you make me the nominee of this party, I will do my best to make you proud to be Democrats again. And I believe that the people of this country agree with our policies more than they agree with Republicans policies. We have got to stand up for what's right. And if we stand up for what's right, if we're proud to be Democrats again, if we look back to our forefathers and stand with the folks that built this party and built this country and are proud and sell our message and educate folks, we won't have to worry about Rush Limbaugh and we won't have to worry about the president's popularity rating and we can stand up for what we believe in as Democrats and move forward to take the country to the middle where it belongs, so that every American gets to participate in the American dream. If you give me the power to help you do that, not only will we be strong, not only will we be right, but we will win the presidency of the United States in 2004.
Thank you very much. I could use your help.