John Edwards 2004 Democratic Convention Acceptance Speech
Thank you. Now you know why Elizabeth is so amazing, right? I am a lucky man to have the love of my life at my side. Both of us have been blessed with four extraordinary children: Wade, Cate who you heard from, Emma Clair and Jack. We are having such an extraordinary time, myself and my entire family, at this convention. And by the way, how great was Teresa Heinz Kerry last night? My father and mother, Wallace and Bobbie Edwards, are also here tonight. You taught me the values that I carry in my heart: faith, family, responsibility, opportunity for everyone. You taught me that there's dignity and honor in a hard day's work. You taught me to always look out for our neighbors, to never look down on anybody, and treat everybody with respect. Those are the values that John Kerry and I believe in. And nothing makes me prouder than standing with him in this campaign. I am so humbled to be your candidate for vice president of the United States. I want to talk about our next president. For those who want to know what kind of leader he'll be, I want to take you back about 30 years. When John Kerry graduated college, he volunteered for military service, volunteered to go to Vietnam, volunteered to captain a swiftboat, one of the most dangerous duties in Vietnam that you could have. As a result, he was wounded, honored for his valor. If you have any question about what he's made of, just spend three minutes with the men who served with him then and who stand with him now. They saw up close what he's made of. They saw him reach into the river and pull one of his men to safety and save his life. They saw him in the heat of battle make a decision in a split second to turn his boat around, drive it through an enemy position, and chase down the enemy to save his crew. Decisive, strong: Is this not what we need in a commander in chief? You know, we hear a lot of talk about values. Where I come from, you don't judge somebody's values based upon how they use that word in a political ad. You judge their values based upon what they've spent their life doing. So when a man volunteers to serve his country, the man volunteers and puts his life on the line for others, that's a man who represents real American values. This is a man who is prepared to keep the American people safe, to make America stronger at home and more respected in the world. John is a man who knows the difference between right and wrong. He wants to serve you. Your cause is his cause. And that is why we must and we will elect him the next president of the United States. You know, for the last few months, John's been traveling around the country talking about his positive, optimistic vision for America, talking about his plan to move this country in the right direction. But what have we seen? Relentless negative attacks against John. So in the weeks ahead, we know what's coming, don't we? AUDIENCE: Yes. ... more negative attacks -- aren't you sick of it? AUDIENCE: Yes. They are doing all they can to take the campaign for the highest office in the land down the lowest possible road. But this is where you come in: Between now and November, you, the American people, you can reject the tired, old, hateful, negative politics of the past. And instead you can embrace the politics of hope, the politics of what's possible because this is America, where everything is possible. I am here tonight for a very simple reason: because I love my country. And I have every reason to love my country. I have grown up in the bright light of America. I grew up in a small town in rural North Carolina, a place called Robbins. My father, he worked in a mill all his life, and I still remember vividly the men and women who worked in that mill with him. I can see them. Some of them had lint in their hair; some of them had grease on their faces. They worked hard, and they tried to put a little money away so that their kids and their grand-kids could have a better life. The truth is, they're just like the auto workers, the office workers, the teachers and shop keepers on main streets all across this country. My mother had a number of jobs. She worked at the post office so she and my father could have health care. She owned her own small business. She refinished furniture to help pay for my education. I have had such incredible opportunities in my life. I was blessed to be the first person in my family to go to college. I worked my way through, and I had opportunities beyond my wildest dreams. And the heart of this campaign -- your campaign, our campaign -- is to make sure all Americans have exactly the same kind opportunities that I had no matter where you live, no matter who your family is, no matter what the color of your skin is. This is the America we believe in. I have spent my life fighting for the kind of people I grew up with. For two decades, I stood with kids and families against big HMOs and big insurance companies. When I got to the Senate, I fought those same fights against the Washington lobbyists and for causes like the Patients' Bill of Rights. I stand here tonight ready to work with you and John to make America stronger. And we have much work to do, because the truth is, we still live in a country where there are two different Americas... ... one, for all of those people who have lived the American dream and don't have to worry, and another for most Americans, everybody else who struggle to make ends meet every single day. It doesn't have to be that way. We can build one America where we no longer have two health care systems: one for families who get the best health care money can by, and then one for everybody else rationed out by insurance companies, drug companies, HMOs. Millions of Americans have no health coverage at all. It doesn't have to be that way. We have a plan... We have a plan that will offer all Americans the same health care that your senator has. We can give you tax breaks to help you pay for your health care. And when we're in office, we will sign a real patients' bill of rights into law so that you can make your own health care decisions.
We shouldn't have two public school systems in this country: one for the most affluent communities, and one for everybody else. None of us believe that the quality of a child's education should be controlled by where they live or the affluence of the community they live in. It doesn't have to be that way. We can build one school system that works for all our kids, gives them a chance to do what they're capable of doing. Our plan will reform our schools and raise standards. We can give our schools the resources that they need. We can provide incentives to put our best teachers in the subjects and the places where we need them the most. And we can ensure that 3 million children have a safe place to go when they leave school in the afternoon. We can do this together, you and I. John Kerry and I believe that we shouldn't have two different economies in America: one for people who are set for life, they know their kids and their grand-kids are going to be just fine; and then one for most Americans, people who live paycheck to paycheck. You don't need me to explain this to you do you? AUDIENCE: No. You know exactly what I'm talking about. Can't save any money, can you? AUDIENCE: No. Takes every dime you make just to pay your bills. And you know what happens if something goes wrong, if you have a child that gets sick, a financial problem, a layoff in the family -- you go right off the cliff. And when that happens, what's the first thing that goes? Your dreams. It doesn't have to be that way. We can strengthen and lift up your families. Your agenda is our agenda. So let me give you some specifics. First, we can create good-paying jobs in this country again. We're going to get rid of tax cuts for companies who are outsourcing your jobs... ... and, instead, we're going to give tax breaks to American companies that are keeping jobs right here in America. And we will invest in the jobs of the future and in the technologies and innovation to ensure that America stays ahead of the competition. And we're going to do this because John and I understand that a job is about more than a paycheck; it's about dignity and self- respect. Hard work should be valued in this country, so we're going to reward work, not just wealth. We don't want people to just get by; we want people to get ahead. So let me give you some specifics about what we're going to do. First, we're going to help you pay for your health care by having a tax break and health care reform that can save you up to $1,000 on your premiums. We're going to help you cover the rising costs of child care with a tax credit up to $1,000 so that your kids have a place to go when you're at work that they're safe and well taken care of. If your child -- if your child wants to be the first in your family to go to college, we're going to give you a tax break on up to $4,000 in tuition. And everyone... And everybody listening here and at home is thinking one thing right now: OK, how are you going to pay for it? Right? Well, let me tell you how we're going to pay for it. And I want to be very clear about this. We are going to keep and protect the tax cuts for 98 percent of Americans -- 98 percent. We're going to roll back -- we're going to roll back the tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans. And we're going to close corporate loopholes. We're going to cut government contractors and wasteful spending. We can move this country forward without passing the burden to our children and our grandchildren. We can also do something about 35 million Americans who live in poverty every day. And here's why we shouldn't just talk about, but do something about the millions of Americans who live in poverty: because it is wrong. And we have a moral responsibility to lift those families up. I mean, the very idea that in a country of our wealth and our prosperity, we have children going to bed hungry? We have children who don't have the clothes to keep them warm? We have millions of Americans who work full-time every day to support their families, working for minimum wage, and still live in poverty. It's wrong. These are men and women who are living up to their bargain. They're working hard, they're supporting their families. Their families are doing their part; it's time we did our part. And that's what we're going to do -- that's what we're going to do when John is in the White House, because we're going to raise the minimum wage, we're going to finish the job on welfare reform, and we're going to bring good-paying jobs to the places where we need them the most. And by doing all those things, we're going to say no forever to any American working full-time and living in poverty. Not in our America, not in our America, not in our America. Let me talk about -- let me talk about why we need to build one America. Because I, like many of you, I saw up close what having two Americas can do to our country. From the time I was very young, I saw the ugly face of segregation and discrimination. I saw young, African-American kids being sent upstairs in movie theaters. I saw "White only" signs on restaurant doors and luncheon counters. I feel such an enormous personal responsibility when it comes to issues of race and equality and civil rights. And I've heard some discussions and debates around America about where and in front of what audiences we ought to talk about race and equality and civil rights. I have an answer to that questions: Everywhere, everywhere, everywhere. This is not an African-American issue. This is not a Latino issue. This is not an Asian-American issue. This is an American issue. It is about who we are, what our values are and what kind of country we live in. AUDIENCE: Everywhere, everywhere, everywhere, everywhere. The truth is, the truth is that what John and I want, what all of us want if for our children and our grandchildren to be the first generations that grown up in an America that's no longer divided by race. We must build one America. We must be one America, strong and united for another very important reason: because we are at war. None of us will ever forget where we were on September the 11th. We all share the same terrible images, the towers falling in New York, the Pentagon in flames, a smoldering field in Pennsylvania. We share a profound sadness for the nearly 3,000 lives that were lost. And as a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, I know that we have to do more to fight the war on terrorism and keep the American people safe. We can do that. We are approaching the third anniversary of September 11th, and one thing I can tell you: When we're in office, it won't take three years to get the reforms in our intelligence that are necessary to keep the American people safe. We will do whatever it takes, as long as it takes, to make sure this never happens again in our America. And when John is president, we will listen to the wisdom of the September 11th commission. We will lead strong alliances. We will safeguard and secure our weapons of mass destruction. We will strengthen our homeland security, protect our ports, protect our chemical plants, and support our firefighters, police officers, EMTs. We will always... We will always use our military might to keep the American people safe. And we, John and I, we will have one clear unmistakable message for Al Qaida and these terrorists: You cannot run. You cannot hide. We will destroy you. John understands personally about fighting in a war. And he knows what our brave men and women are going through right now in another war, the war in Iraq. The human cost and the extraordinary heroism of this war, it surrounds us. It surrounds us in our cities and our towns. And we'll win this war because of the strength and courage of our own people. Some of our friends and neighbors, they saw their last images in Baghdad. Some took their last steps outside of Fallujah. Some buttoned their uniform for the last time before they went out and saved their unit. Men and women who used to take care of themselves, they now count on others to see them through the day. They need their mother to tie their shoe, their husband to brush their hair, their wife's arm to help them across the room. The stars and stripes wave for them. The word "hero" was made for them. They are the best and the bravest. And they will never be left behind. You understand that. And they deserve a president who understands that on the most personal level what they've gone through, what they've given and what they've given up for their country. To us, the real test of patriotism is how we treat the men and women who have put their lives on the line to protect our values. And let me tell you, the 26 million veterans in this country will not have to wonder when we're in office whether they'll have health care next week or next year. We will take care of them because they have taken care of us. But today, our great United States military is stretched thin. We've got more than 140,000 troops in Iraq, almost 20,000 in Afghanistan. And I visited the men and women there, and we're praying as they try to give that country hope. Like all of those brave men and women, John put his life on the line for our country. He knows that when authority is given to a president, much is expected in return. That's why we will strengthen and modernize our military. We will double our Special Forces. We will invest in the new equipment and technologies so that our military remains the best equipped and best prepared in the world. This will make our military stronger. It'll make sure that we can defeat any enemy in this new world. But we can't do this alone. We have got to restore our respect in the world to bring our allies to us and with us. It is how we won the Cold War. It is how we won two World Wars. And it is how we will build a stable Iraq. With a new president who strengthens and leads our alliances, we can get NATO to help secure Iraq. We can ensure that Iraq's neighbors, like Syria and Iran, don't stand in the way of a democratic Iraq. We can help Iraq's economy by getting other countries to forgive their enormous debt and participate in the reconstruction. We can do this for the Iraqi people. We can do it for our own soldiers. And we will get this done right. A new president will bring the world to our side, and with it a stable Iraq, a real chance for freedom and peace in the Middle East, including a safe and secure Israel. And John and I will bring the world together... John and I will bring the world together to face the most dangerous threat we have: the possibility of terrorists getting their hands on a chemical, biological weapon or nuclear weapon. With our credibility restored, we can work with other nations to secure stockpiles of the world's most dangerous weapons and safeguard this extraordinarily dangerous material. We can finish the job and secure the loose nukes in Russia. We can close the loophole in the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty that allows rogue nations access to the tools they need to develop these weapons. That's how we can address the new threats we face. That's how we can keep you safe. And that's how we can restore America's respect around the world. And together, we will ensure that the image of America -- the image all of us love -- America, this great shining light, this beacon of freedom, democracy and human rights that the world looks up to, is always lit. AUDIENCE: Edwards. Edwards. Edwards. And the truth is -- the truth is, that every child, every family in America will be safer and more secure if they grow up in a world where America is once again looked up to and respected. That is the world we can create together. Tonight, as we celebrate in this hall, somewhere in America, a mother sits at the kitchen table. She can't sleep because she's worried she can't pay her bills. She's working hard trying to pay her rent, trying to feed her kids, but she just can't catch up. It didn't use to be that way in her house. Her husband was called up in the Guard. Now he's been in Iraq for over a year. They thought he was going to come home last month, but now he's got to stay longer. She thinks she's alone. But tonight in this hall and in your homes, you know what? She's got a lot of friends. We want her to know that we hear her. It is time to bring opportunity and an equal chance to her door. We're here to make America stronger at home so that she can get ahead. And we're here to make America respected in the world again so that we can bring him home. And American soldiers don't have to fight this war in Iraq or this war on terrorism alone. So, when you return home some night, you might pass a mother on her way to work the late shift, you tell her: Hope is on the way. When your brother calls and says he's spending his entire life at the office and he still can't get ahead, you tell him: Hope is on the way. When your parents call and tell you their medicine's going through the roof, they can't keep up, you tell them: Hope is on the way. And when your neighbor calls and says her daughter's worked hard and she want's to go to college, you tell her: Hope is on the way. And when your son or daughter, who is serving this country heroically in Iraq calls, you tell them: Hope is on the way. When you wake up and you're sitting at the kitchen table with your kids, and you're talking about the great possibilities in America, your kids should know that John and I believe, to our core, that tomorrow can be better than today. Like all of us, I have learned a lot of lessons in my life. Two of the most important are that, first, there will always be heartache and struggle; we can't make it go away. But the second is that people of good and strong will can make a difference. One is a sad lesson, and the other is inspiring. We are Americans and we choose to be inspired. We choose hope over despair, possibilities over problems, optimism over cynicism. We choose to do what's right even when those around us say, "You can't do that," we choose to be inspired, because we know that we can do better, because this is America where everything is still possible. What we believe -- what John Kerry and I believe is that you should never look down on anybody. We ought to lift people up. We don't believe in tearing people apart. We believe in bringing them together. What we believe -- what I believe -- is that the family you're born into and the color of your skin in our America should never control your destiny. Join us in this cause. Let's make America stronger at home and more respected in the world. Let's ensure that once again, in our one America -- our one America -- tomorrow will always be better than today. Thank you, God bless you, and God bless the United States of America. John Edwards Quote Page