America has always been driven by one powerful idea: with hard work and a moral compass, we can give our children a better life. Our economy and even more, our society, are built on that basic compact.
And that compact goes all the way back to the moral teachings of the great preachers and educators who taught the founders of our nation to believe that we could create a great and shining City on a Hill here in America.
Not long ago, that middle-class dream was within reach of all those willing to work for it. But today, America’s great middle class is in danger because of leadership that doesn’t share their values and won’t fight for their way of life.
Tell me this: Is it worthy of the good society to, not once, not twice, but three times deny health care to millions of children while giving tax cuts to the wealthiest Americans – those who earn more than $200,000 a year?
Are we living up to our values when we pass on the costs of a war to future generations instead of asking the wealthiest among us to bear a measure of the wartime sacrifice?
Are we living up to our values when government creates deficits so massive that they threaten the Social Security on which millions of our seniors depend for dignity and decency in their retirement?
How can we accept anyone breaking the fundamental compact with those who worked all their lives, raised our families, defended our nation, and lifted America to a place in the world never known before?
Are we living up to our values – are we serving the common good – by rewarding companies for shipping jobs overseas?
For me, this campaign is about more than a set of policies; it is about a set of ideals: fairness and opportunity, stewardship and community, concern for the middle class and the poor, and the on-going struggle for the security of our nation and a more peaceful world.
So today, I want to share with you my vision for America and the values that inspire it. For months now, you have heard President Bush and me debate the critical foreign and domestic challenges before us. There are clear differences between us. And while I am convinced that I offer the new direction and the fresh start America needs at this critical moment, today I want to talk about the foundations of belief and commitment that brought me to public service, that have sustained me in the best and worst of times, and that I will carry with me everyday as president.
It all began with my parents who, in addition to making sure I learned and lived my faith, also taught me at an early age that we are all put on this earth for something greater than ourselves. What they taught me was truly put to the test when I was in Vietnam. Faith was as much a part of our daily lives as the battle itself. Some of my closest friends were killed. I prayed. And I even questioned how all the terrible things I’d seen fit into God’s plan.
But I got through it. I came home with a sense of hope and a belief in a higher purpose. For more than 30 years, as a soldier, a prosecutor, a senator, and now as a candidate for president, I have tried to live that belief. And for the past two years, I have had the privilege of meeting people like you all across this land -- people who love their families, love their country, and are determined to build a better life for their kids. The single mother who lies awake worrying that her child’s health care might cost more than she makes in a month. Moms and dads who save and save and still come up short when they get a bill for college or child care that’s higher than they thought. The families hoping and praying that loved ones serving our country a world away will be safe in battle and soon return home. The factory workers whose jobs were sent overseas and who now have to take two jobs just to earn what they used to make.
In the Book of James we are taught: “It is not enough, my brother to say you have faith when there are no deeds…Faith without works is dead.”
For me, that means having and holding to a vision of a society of the common good, where individual rights and freedoms are connected to our responsibility to others. It means understanding that the authentic role of leadership is to advance the liberty of each of us and the good that can come to all of us, when we work together as one united community.
Catholics call this solidarity. We simply mean that as children of the same God, we share a common destiny. We express our humanity by reaching out to our fellow citizens, and indeed, to all our brothers and sisters in this country and on this earth. It means that the joys and hopes, the griefs and anxieties are not felt in isolation, they are shared by all. The anxieties of hard-pressed families are as much in our hearts as those who enjoy much more comfort.
Those values will guide me as president. I will put middle class families and those struggling to join them ahead of the interests of the well-to-do and the well-connected. Don’t get me wrong, there is nothing wrong with success. But if we mean what we say when we talk about lifting up the good society, then we have an obligation to give everyone the chance to succeed.
It’s time to stop making middle-class families work harder for less while paying more and more for health care, college, and all the necessities of life.
My faith, and the faith I have seen in the lives of so many Americans, also teaches me that, “Whatever you do to the least of these, you do unto me.” That means we have a moral obligation to one another, to the forgotten, and to those who live in the shadows. This is a moral obligation at the heart of all our great religious traditions. It is also the vision of America: “E Pluribus Unum.” The ethical test of a good society is how it treats its most vulnerable members.
Who among us is more vulnerable today than the 8 million Americans who are out of work? Who is more vulnerable than the 45 million Americans without health insurance? Who is more vulnerable than the parents who have to choose between food and medicine for their children? Older Americans – our parents and grandparents – should not have to take bus trips to Canada to afford the medicines they need to live -- and live healthy lives. No mother who gets up and goes to work every day should have to raise her children in poverty. That’s why we have to raise the minimum wage, ensure equal pay, and finish the job of welfare reform, so we can honor work and once again grow the middle class instead of growing the number of people in poverty.
The Bible tells us that in others we encounter the face of God: “I was hungry and you fed me; thirsty and you gave me a drink. I was a stranger and you received me in your homes; naked and you clothed me. I was sick and you took care of me. I was in prison and you visited me.” This is the final judgment of who we are and what our life will mean.
I believe we must keep faith, not only with the Creator, but also with present and future generations.
Will we leave as our legacy a polluted land or will we pass on to generations to come a land that truly can be called America the beautiful?
Will we take action now to cut the cost of energy so that already overburdened seniors in the colder parts of our country can afford heat in the winter – and here in Florida, stay cool and healthy in the heat of summer?
And, let me say for Americans -- and I would venture to say for people all across this earth -- that there is no higher duty today than to defeat terrorism so, we can raise our children in security and peace.
This is the great test of our time. We pray for the brave Americans in uniform who are on the frontlines of that battle. I was one of those troops once – and I can tell you that those prayers matter.
But justice and lasting peace require the strength of our ideals as well as the strength of our arms. We must build and lead strong alliances – not just for defense, but for progress against the other common enemies of humanity – hopelessness, hatred, and disease. We need a president who knows how to win the war – and win the peace. And then we need to join with others to be true peacekeepers – whether the issue is ending the scourge of HIV-AIDs here and around this planet, draining the swamps in which terrorism breeds, or shaping a world where one-half of the world’s children are no longer ill-housed, ill-fed, and ill-educated.
But none of this will happen unless we come together as One America. An America that puts the politics of polarization behind us. An America that honors the truth that what unites us is stronger than what divides us. An America that understands that there is something for everyone single one of us to do – and challenges each of us to try.
I have tried and so much of that effort has been nourished by my faith. I know there are some Bishops who have suggested that as a public official I must cast votes or take public positions – on issues like a woman’s right to choose and stem cell research – that carry out the tenets of the Catholic Church. I love my Church; I respect the Bishops; but I respectfully disagree.
My task, as I see it, is not to write every doctrine into law. That is not possible or right in a pluralistic society. But my faith does give me values to live by and apply to the decisions I make.
In nine days, Americans will make their decision. How will we find our way forward? My answer is: Move our economy, our government, and our society back in line with our highest values. Hard-working families do right by their country every day. They deserve a country that will do right by them.
My faith gives me hope that we will come together and rise to that challenge. I believe we will find the strength to live out the words of President Kennedy that, “Here on Earth, God’s work must truly be our own.”
This isn’t about being a Democrat or a Republican. It’s about bringing Democrats and Republicans together for a higher purpose. It’s about the principles that have made America a land of opportunity and compassion -- and a beacon to all the world. It’s about that dream of “liberty and justice for all” – the vision that defines our destiny and our mission. We will never fully finish that journey – not on this earth. But let us move forward with a strong and active faith. I don't want to claim that God is on our side. As Abraham Lincoln told us, I want to pray humbly that we are on God's side.
So I ask all of you – Republicans and Democrats, progressives and conservatives, faithful and less faithful – to pray together that God guide this nation in the decision we make nine days from now.
We will elect a president. Whether it is me or George Bush, we will both be in need of your prayers and your support. And pray also that our president will help make this a more secure and peaceful world and lead us on our next step in America’s journey to that shining city on a hill.
We always end our speeches in campaigns like this by saying “God bless America.” But it seems to me that we should also say to God, “Thank you for blessing America in so many ways.”
May America always have God’s blessing.