Monday, October 25, 2004

John Kerry's Last Stump Speech: A modest suggestion

I've written a speech for Kerry to use his final week. It's time to go positive, and to present the case in its essence. I know campaigns are loath to use previous Presidential quotations in speeches because it makes the candidate look derivative, but it's time to put things in context, and I think looking at how past Presidents have framed their own problems can be used to both remind people about the continuum of good leadership in this country, above and beyond mere partisanship, and how Kerry stands in this great tradition.

This is my last blog entry before the election, I think. It's going to be a busy week.

Good evening. My name is John Kerry.

In 1980, President Reagan asked you, "Are you better off now than you were four years ago?" It was a fair question then, and it's a fair question now.

The many wonderful Americans I've met while campaigning have shared their stories with me, and I have learned so much from you. I believe that for most of you, the answer to that question -- are you better off after four years of the current President? -- is a resounding no. Salaries and wages are down, real unemployment is up. For the first time since the Great Depression, the economy has lost jobs. Fewer jobs affects us in so many ways. You have a harder time making ends meet. The government gets less in taxes, and this puts programs like Social Security in jeopardy. We have built up a gigantic deficit. Gas and energy prices are up, prescription costs and health insurance cost more than ever. College has long been the dream for middle class and poor families in this country, because more education offers the promise of a better future, a generation that improves the lot of each family. College tuition costs have skyrocketed in the past four years, making even this hope of a better tomorrow seem very dim. People can't even get the flu shots they could get four years ago.

Things have gone very wrong for most people in this country over the past four years. There is much to be concerned with, but we must not confuse concern with fear. Concern means facing the facts of the situation and carefully deciding how to address it. Every family has its concerns. Fear is concern out of control, letting an emotion conquer all. Fear confuses a situation, causes panic, and does not address the problems at hand. I am very concerned about the future of this country, but I am not fearful.

In 1933, at his first inaugural address, the great President who saved this country from a depression and lead us to victory in World War II, Franklin D. Roosevelt, said these familiar words: "The only thing we have to fear, is fear itself." This was not just a political slogan. What I believe President Roosevelt meant by this was that while a country might face many problems, many threats, even hostile enemies, with faith and hard work it will triumph. That faith has many dimensions. It is a faith in our God. It is a faith that our country's principles are our ultimate strength. It is a faith, ultimately, in our families and ourselves.

We as a country have always used that faith to rise above our problems, and move ourselves forward. At times in our country's history, things have seemed very dark. These are the times when fear threatens to cloud our faith in ourselves. Fear is the enemy, because it is the only thing that can defeat us. Our enemies cannot defeat us, the problems of daily life cannot defeat us, if we look past fear and into that great faith we will persevere and triumph.

"Its hard work." I mentioned that this is going to be hard work. You may have heard Mr. Bush say in one of our debates that being President is hard work. I agree with him. This is why, as President, I promise and pledge faithfully to work hard for you. When I am tired, and feel like I need a break or a vacation, I will remember that a family struggling to meet expenses does not have that luxury. A doctor trying to save a patient's life cannot take a break whenever he feels like it. A soldier fighting in Iraq can't just leave when he feels like it, or his buddies might die. I agree that being President is hard work, but unlike the current President, I will work harder, longer, I will never stop working for you as long as I'm President.

The President also said something four years ago that I believe resonated with many people. I know that I wanted to believe it. He said, "I'm a uniter, not a divider." We so wanted to believe that, because our faith in this country in ourselves has been tested in recent years. It has been tested by those who would divide us for their own agenda, for their own greed or personal ideology. Being fearful divides us. It causes us, without need, to fear our fellow Americans. It causes fear in those in other countries who are naturally inclined to love Americans. It causes those who dislike us already to take up arms against us, because they see disunity among us and mistakenly believe we have lost our faith in ourselves.

How do we unite, instead of dividing into ever-more fractious special interests? We start by listening to one another. We listen to the other guy's side of the story, hear out new information he might bring to the table. We may not agree with the other guy, but if we listen to him, two things are going to happen. One is, we may come to understand what it's like to walk in the other guy's shoes. The other is: we might actually learn something. When we listen to those who disagree with us, we bring that person's heart into our own.

When I am your President, I pledge to listen to the "other side". I solemnly pledge to try to understand everybody's point of view. Above all, I pledge to listen to you with my ears and heart and brain all open -- whether or not I start out agreeing or disagreeing with you, whether you're a Republican or a Democrat or an Independent, whether you're a billionaire or are struggling at a minimum wage job. The framers of our constitution understood this as being the most important, fundamental act of democracy. Our constitution begins with the words: We the People of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union. They understood we always have our differences, we always will have a tendency to be of different minds and hearts on different issues. But we must strive towards being "we" and not a nation of "mes". We must, and will, always try to be united.

Another President, Jimmy Carter, promised when he was running for election, direct to the American People, "I will never lie to you." President Carter came to offfice at a time when many people had had their faith in the government shaken by those who lied to continue a war most Americans did noy believe in, and who lied and cheated just to retain power.

I understand that four years ago, many of you had your faith in the Presidency shaken because you believed you were being lied to. All too often, Presidents have not been truthful for reasons of political expediency. All too often, the prospect of re-election, and maintaining power, and of just a stubborn unwillingness to admit that the other guy might have a point, has trumped the ability or willingness of the incumbent President not just to tell the truth, but to be a straight shooter. As any parent who's confronted a child over a lie knows, you can phrase something in a way that is not technially a lie but is not really the truth. As your President, I will never lie to you. More than that, I will always tell you the truth. You may not like what I have to say, but I have great faith that if, united, we confront unpleasant truths instead of repeating to ourselves convenient untruths, we have the strength to work our way through the problem.

Finally, let me quote perhaps our greatest President, Abraham Lincoln. Lincoln was the first Republican President, and he presided over the most calamitous disaster in our nation's history, the Civil War. Over 600,000 Americans died in that war -- 200 times more than died on 9/11 -- that pitted brother against brother, state against state. When Lincoln delivered his great benedition to the soldiers of the country who died in the belief that we should, we must, remain united and not divided, he included this familiar line:

"From these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion -- that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain -- that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom -- and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth. "

Of the people. By the people. For the people. That is democracy. Democracy means not just that all votes should count, and that every person has the right to cast their vote. It means, paradoxically, that every one decides the election. You are an Army of One in your country. It is your individual vote, your individual decision, your invididual wisdom, that matters in this election. We are together as a people, yet we vote one at a time, each person mattering as much as the next. The single mother working two jobs to support her family has as many votes as the richest billionaire in this country.

This will be a close election. No matter which candidate wins it, we must remember that we are one country, one people, and that in this country, the government is all the people's government. I will be all the people's President. I pledge you my life, and my sacred honor, on that.

When you vote on Tuesday, you will be showing your faith in our country. You will be fighting to conquer fear. You will be voting for the truth as you believe it. You will be showing your faith in yourself. You will be showing your faith in We the People. You will be voting for a future where that government of the people, by the people, and for the people shall not perish from the earth.

As your President, I will never lose that faith, I will never waver, I will never stop believing that every American counts. E Pluribus Unum -- it says it on the quarter in your pocket. We are many, and we are one.

Good night, God bless you, and God bless the United States of America.

No comments: