Senator Joe Lieberman Announces Candidacy for Presidency of the United States
January 13, 2003
Stamford High School
Stamford, Connecticut
As prepared for delivery
TRANSCRIPT   ---   TRANSCRIPT   ---   TRANSCRIPT

Thank you.  Thank you so much.  Thank you, President Mark Parrott; thank you Madame President Samantha LaRoache and thank you Mr. Principal Carmine Lamone, who graduated from Stamford High School in the class of 1961, perhaps the second greatest class in Stamford High School history.

I want to make clear to those who are not familiar to Stamford High School that when Mark or Samantha referred to me as a knight, that was not, you know, the office I'm running for; this school, we are known as the Black Knights of Stamford High.  Anyway I thank you three and all of you; my classmates who are here to my left and my family to my right for the warm welcome, and in your case for the generous introduction you've given me.  You have to be me to know how much this means to me.

I wanted very much to come back home to Stamford to make this announcement today, because it was here that I came to appreciate the miracle of America.

It was here that my parents Henry and Marcia themselves children of immigrants worked their way into the America's middle class and gave my sisters and me the opportunities they never had.  It was here that I first understood the power of the promise of America that no matter who you are or where you start, if you work hard and play by the rules, you can go as far in this country as your God-given talents will take you.  [applause].  Some day you might even grow up to have the chance to run for president of the United States.  [applause].

Let me say that when I was growing up and going to school right here, we called that promise the American Dream.  It defined our freedom, our opportunity, and our strength.  It set us apart as a nation from the rest of the world, but brought us together as a people, around our shared belief in an ever-brighter future for our country.

Today, unfortunately, that American Dream is in jeopardy, threatened by hate-filled terrorists and tyrants from abroad and a weak economy that makes it harder for people to live a better life here at home.  For too many Americans the middle class of which I've spoken is drifting out of reach.  In fact, over the past two years, 2.8 million people have lost their job and 1.3 million people have fallen into poverty instead of rising to the middle class.

That's unacceptable, but it doesn't have to remain that way or get worse.  I am confident that we as nation have what it takes to meet these challenges and renew the American Dream.  We can and must make it as real for those of you who are students here today as it was for me and my generation.  [applause].  But that will only happen if our leaders are ready to lead, willing to fight for what's right for the American people, and able to rise above partisan politics and put our country first.  [applause].

We must rise above partisan politics and put our country first to fix our economy and restore economic growth, because a strong middle class means a strong America.

We must rise above partisan politics and unite to defeat the threat of terrorism and make America safe again.  We must never shrink from using American power to defend our security and our ideals against evil in a time of war -- and we must never forget to use the power of our ideals as a force for good in the quest for peace.  [applause].

We must rise above partisan politics to heal the racial divide, not open old wounds, and to give a new generation of immigrants their fair chance to live the American Dream.  [applause].

We must rise above politics and restore independence to the White House, not compromise our economic or environmental or health security for political contributors or extreme ideologues.

We must rise above partisan politics and stand up for our values here at home, because family and faith and responsibility matter more than power and partisanship and privilege.  [applause].

My friends, two years ago we were promised a better America.  But that promise has not been kept.

So today I am ready to put our country first, to fight for what's right for the American people.  I am ready to protect their security, to revive their economy, and to uphold their values.  Yes I am ready to announce today that I am a candidate for President of the United States in 2004.  [applause].  And I intend to win.  [applause continues].  Thank you.  Hey, there's nothing like a hometown crowd is there?  [laughter].

This morning I will be filing the necessary papers to form a campaign committee, and then I'll then begin working to earn the support of the American people.

In the coming months, I want to convince them that I have the strength, the values, and the vision to lead our nation to a higher and safer ground.

I want to talk with them also about the tough fights that I have waged before.

As a young man, I marched with Dr. King and then went to Mississippi to fight for the right of African-Americans to vote.

As my state's Attorney General, I stood with single moms to go after deadbeat dads -- and fought against oil companies that were trying to gouge consumers and corporate polluters who were spoiling our water and our air.

As a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, I have consistently supported a strong defense, our men and women in uniform, and the use of our mighty American military to protect our security and defend our values -- in the Gulf War, in Bosnia, in Kosovo, and now again in Iraq.  [applause].

As a father and, dear classmates, I must say now as a grandfather, I have taken on the entertainment industry for peddling violence and sex to our children.  I've spoken up for parents who feel they are in competition with the popular culture to raise their children and give them the right values.

And as the Democratic nominee for Vice President in 2000, I was proud to join with Al Gore in a great fight for America's families and their future. And I am also proud to say that in that election, as you may remember, Al and I got a half million more votes than our opponents, and even got more votes than any Democratic ticket in the history of the United States.  [applause].

Campaigns are about the future, and in this campaign, I will talk about the tough fights ahead.  Strengthening homeland security while protecting Social Security.  Making affordable health care available to every American.  Fixing our failing schools and restoring fiscal responsibility and economic opportunity, with the kinds of sensible tax cuts and sound investments that will bring back the prosperity of the Clinton-Gore years.  [applause]

I intend to talk straight to the American people, and to show them that I'm a different kind of Democrat.  I will not hesitate to tell my friends when I think they're wrong -- and to tell my opponents when I think they're right.

I know that this will be a long and sometimes journey begun today across America for my family and me.  We look forward to it with excitement and optimism.  Some mornings when I wake up, I may not know exactly where I am.  But I promise you this I will always know who I am and what I stand for.  [applause].

And every day along the way I know I will feel blessed by God to live in a land where dreams can become true.  And every day I will remember what President Kennedy told my generation, which is that here on earth, God's work must truly be our own.

So dear friends, here at home at Stamford High School, and my fellow citizens across America, I ask you to join with me in doing the urgent work of securing the hope of a better tomorrow for our beloved country.  Let us begin here.  Let us begin now.  And let us begin together.  Thank you.  [applause].  Heya!  [applause continues].

[Sen. Lieberman then greeted members of his family and classmates assembled on stage].

Let me just thank everybody and say a personal word of thanks obviously to my family who is such a source of strength to me.  To my mother, 88 years old, my mom Marcia.  Mom sets the standard.  I'll tell you my most favorite recent story about mom.  On the night that Al Gore announced that he wasn't running again, which surprised us certainly in its timing and the decision, my staff and I got on a conference call and we all agreed we're not going to say anything tonight; it's Al's night, so don't answer any of the media inquiries, and we'll do it tomorrow.  And about 11 o'clock that night I called mom and I said, How're you doing?  And she said, Well gee it's been a very exciting day.  I've done six or seven media interviews.  [laughter].

And to my beloved Hadassah.  No one could have a better, more devoted partner.  To our children; to our siblings; to the extended family who is here, God bless you and thank you.

These young people over here to the left are, and a few out there, are my classmates from the class of 1960.  This one here, Bonnie[?] you know I had a big crush on her in fourth grade.  And where's Vita [?]; come on Vita and Alex come on out.  Vita and Alex are the ones who always organize the class.  [applause].

But you know I'm pursuing a dream here today with high ambitions but once earlier in my life, Vita and I, we had pretty good titles.  I think it was our sophomore year at the prom.  She was the queen and I was the king.  [laughter, applause].  But Alex married Vita.

Anyway it's great to be home.  Thank you, thank you all.

I'll be glad to take some questions now for a while.  Maybe we'll start with the students, if you've got a few and then we'll go to the press.  Anybody have any?

Yes.
 

QUESTION 1: Good morning Senator.

LIEBERMAN: Good morning.

QUESTION 1 cont'd: In reference to the rising cost of a college education, a four-year degree at Yale University will cost $34,030  a year, including room and board.  That's $136,1[inaud.] for four years.  What do you plan to do about the rising cost of a college education and how do you plan to ensure that [every? the?] student who wants a college education can afford college?

LIEBERMAN: Great question.  And the question is for those who didn't hear it, I'll make it short, what do I plan to do about the rising cost of a college education?

That relates right back to two parts of what I said in my statement on why I'm running for president.  The first is to make the American Dream real again.  And what's the way it became real?  It's with education.  If I didn't have the great education that I got in the Stamford school system -- I see a few of my teachers, Joe S- is here, looking good, looking strong; was very young when he taught me -- if I didn't have that education and then the opportunity to go on to college, I'd never have the chance to do all the things I've done in my life.  So to make the American Dream real, we've got to make college affordable.

Secondly if you ask most people in business in this country, what's the best thing that we could do to help the economy and help their businesses, you know they usually don't say give me a tax break, although sometimes they like that and sometimes they're a good idea; they usually say give me an educated workforce because we're in a knowledge age, and it's education that will make the economy grow.

Right now college education is being priced out of the reach of a lot of kids, and I'm actually going to give a major speech on this in a couple of weeks but let me just give you a hint of it.

One is I have supported now for a couple of years a tax deduction of up to $10,000 a year for the cost of a college education for your parents and yourselves.  And that's really for middle class families that are worried about meeting the cost of higher education for their kids.

The second is to increase the Pell grants which go to lower income American students.  The president has either cut those back or increased those in a miserly way over the last couple of years.  We ought to shoot 'em up close to at least $6,000 a year; again that's the best investment we can make.

And, I have a host of other ideas to make sure that we not only get all our children in a college who can go, but that we make sure we keep them there.  So I take this as a priority for me in the coming campaign.  Thanks for that question.  [applause].

Anybody else?  Yes.
 

QUESTION 2: Good morning.

LIEBERMAN: Good morning.

QUESTION 2 cont'd: Now that you're the sole candidate, as opposed to in 2000, when you ran with Al Gore, how will your campaign differ or will it remain the same?

LIEBERMAN: That's a--you may be asking tougher questions than the professional media will.  Well there's no question that when you join a campaign as a vice presidential candidate it's a campaign that's moving and one of the things you do is do everything you can to support the presidential candidate, and I was proud to do that in 2000.

This is different because you form your own campaign.  Although on a lot of the issues, the things that Al and I talked about for economic growth and for educational opportunity, for environmental protection, you'll see some echoes of that in this campaign as well.

But--one of the highlights of the 2000 campaign was that I -- my wife doesn't think it was one of the highlights -- I got to sing on Conan O'Brien's show "My Way," and so this gives me an opportunity to do it my way.  Thank you.  [applause].

Yes.  Yes go ahead and then we'll go to you, last one.
 

QUESTION 3: Good morning.  My name is [inaud.] and I'm a senior here at Stamford High and I'd like to ask you what you think about President George Bush's new economic plan.

LIEBERMAN: The new economic plan, the so-called stimulus plan for the economy, is not that.  And let me see if I can do this quickly because I could go on for a long time.  Our economy, is down as I said in my remarks.  People are losing jobs.  Last year the median income, that is the average middle class income, dropped for the first time in 10 years.  And again I want to say 1.3 million people fell out of the middle class into poverty.

I think any fiscal stimulus plan has to give business a reason to invest and grow because that's really what's stopping our economy.  One of the best ways to do that too is to put money in the pockets of consumers so they can spend, and the third is to restore confidence in our markets and our businesses, which was broken so by the Enron scandal and all that followed.  President Bush's plan doesn't do any of those.  It spends $674 billion over 10 years, $360-some-odd billion for a dividend tax cut that nobody thinks is going to stimulate the economy, probably will be rejected even by Republicans and in the end will put America further into debt.  We're probably going to run a debt of over $250 billion this fiscal year.  You can't keep doing that and keep America strong.  And most of the President's fiscal stimulus plan is not actually spent in this year when we need it to be spent.  I put one forward, about $150 billion, some for business, some for consumers, some for education, and almost all of it would be spent in this year.  That's the difference between the president and my economic recovery plans.  [applause].

Thank you.  Maybe one more student question and then we'll go to the media.
 

QUESTION 4: Good morning Senator Lieberman.  My name is [inaud.] and I'm also a senior at Stamford High and I was wondering what your major difference is with President Bush and the Republican Party.

LIEBERMAN: Well, this is a story that will be told as the campaign goes on, but I think what's happened is that the American Dream has been put in jeopardy over the last two years, and it's all about the ability of people to find, to work their way up into America's middle class, which is the miracle of our country.  And this president, I'm afraid, promised to come to Washington to change the tone and the reality is that the place is more partisan and polarized than ever.  The fact that I mentioned in my remarks that too many of the president's policies are either driven by extreme ideologues in the administration or major financial interests.  And the country doesn't benefit from the poor economic record, from the failure to fund education reform, from the inability to do anything to improve our health care system, and from the slowness with which the president has responded to the threat to Americans here at home from terrorism.

So this is a, this is a story that will be told over the coming year, but I tried to summarize it in what I said today which is that this is a--these are not ordinary times for our country and therefore those of us who seek its highest office or hold it cannot practice ordinary politics.  We've got to put partisan politics aside and put our country first.  We've got to fight for what's right for America and our people.

Thank you. [applause].

Yes, let's go back to the pros.

   [QUESTION: Could you clarify your position on vouchers; we're here at a public school?]

I'll do this one and then I'll come to yours.
 

QUESTION 5: I was wondering if you intend to remain in the U.S. Senate throughout your candidacy for president.

LIEBERMAN: I do.  I'm going to work harder.  But I believe both in my service in the Senate and even in the presidential campaign I can serve the state of Connecticut as well as I've always felt a responsibility to do so in the now almost three decades that I've had that honor in one office or another.

Question over here.
 

QUESTION 6: Could you clarify your position on school vouchers?  We're here at a public school, and there's been some controversy about your statements on this.

LIEBERMAN: Let me see if I can do this clearly and briefly.  America's hope is in the improvement of its public schools.  America's hope--thank you--America's hope and the renewal of the American Dream depend on us not just getting together and passing the No Child Left Behind Act, as we did last year, but in putting money in it to help schools like those in Stamford which President Bush has not done.  But I must say that while we are going about that task, that goal, to improve all our public schools, there are children in America, poor children, who are trapped in schools that are not properly educating them, whose parents cannot afford to put them in another school, who I think can use what I call student scholarships to help them get a better education.  And I've supported these programs, and I'll do this real briefly, with a few conditions.

One is that those eligible for them have to be below the poverty level.

Two, that the money to support those--these are demonstration test programs--  Two, that the money for them can't come out of existing public school budgets.

And three, that they go for a limited period of time and then we evaluate them, we see how did the kids do at the schools they went to, what was the effect on the public schools they left, and what have we learned which will help us achieve our national goal of giving a first rate education, world class to all of our children.
 

QUESTION 7: Senator Lieberman?

LIEBERMAN: Yes.

QUESTION 7 cont'd: Senator, back in 1960 JFK felt that he had to address the religious issue, the issue of his Catholicism, and take it head on.  Do you feel 40 years later that you're going to have to do the same thing?

LIEBERMAN: Well, times have changed.  You know I read a book a while back about Al Smith's candidacy for president in 1928, first Roman Catholic to run for president.  Some of the bigotry, overt, hateful bigotry that he faced is hard to believe that it happened in the last century in America.

When Senator Kennedy ran in 1960, he didn't face that kind of bigotry, but he did face some questions and he answered them.  I will tell you that from my experience and as a candidate for vice president in 1960--excuse me in 2000.  That was the president of the class here [laughter] at Stamford High School that I ran for in 1960 and in which case I experienced no bigotry at all [laughter] from my class.  And that's where I learned about the fairness and openness of the American people.

So in 2000 no questions asked; no bigotry expressed.  So I begin this campaign happy to answer questions but with the confidence frankly that the American people are too smart and too aware of how tough the times are to judge a candidate for president on anything other than his or her record, ability, and ideas and values for America's future.
 

QUESTION 8: ...endorse a cut in the capital gains tax, to follow up on the student's earlier question?  And are you afraid that some of your positions are a bit too conservative for the Democratic primary voter and are going to have to change your position for the primary and then change it back during the [inaud.]?

LIEBERMAN: No.  I not only, I not only once supported a capital gains tax cut to try to get money, investing money to business to help the businesses grow so they could hire more people, but my fiscal stimulus plan right now has a zero capital gains provision for money that's put into new businesses as a way to try to get some things going.  So I'm not against capital gains tax cuts.  I just think the dividend tax cut that the president offered while an interesting idea, maybe theoretically an idea that I could support, it doesn't do anything to help get us out of the rut our economy is in today.

And on the second broader question, Mark, you know I've come too far, I feel too fortunate to have this opportunity to run for the highest office in this nation that I love so much, to change anything about me.  I'm going to be myself.  And I think that's not only the only way I can do it; I want to look back, however this ends, and say that I was true to myself.  As I said, I may get up sometimes and not be sure where I am, but I'm never going to be in doubt about who I am and what I stand for.
 

QUESTION 9: Senator...what sets you apart from the other Democratic opponents...?

LIEBERMAN: What sets me apart from the other Democratic opponents?  Well we've begun a campaign, and the campaign is going to be a discussion.  And I'm going to leave it to you and even the voters to decide who among the Democratic candidates and then who, and then to compare us with President Bush, can best lead this country.  I think my record, the priorities that I've expressed today, the values that I've tried to bring to politics and public service, my whole life story give you an idea of what kind of president I would be.
 

QUESTION 10: Senator, you made faith a major topic of conversation when you ran in 2000.  Do you anticipate evoking faith, your faith, in the same way, and how do you think the American people will respond?

LIEBERMAN: Well you know I'm not running on my faith or faith, but the fact is that my faith is at the center of who I am, and I'm not going to you know conceal that.  I'm running because of the ideas that I have for our nation's future and how to make it better--how to renew the American Dream, how to protect the American people's security, how to revive our economy, but I'll not hesitate to talk about faith when it's relevant or to invoke God's name when it comes naturally out of me because I think that's what America's about.  Remember what it says right at the beginning of the Declaration of Independence, that those rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness that distinguish and define America, that I stand here before you as a beneficiary of, the Founders of our country said they weren't given to us by the politicians or even the philosophers, they were, as the Declaration of Independence says, the endowment of our Creator.  So I think if the spirit moves me occasionally to say a word or two of faith, I think it's a very American thing to do.  [applause].
 

QUESTION 11: ...does your religion [inaud.] a little more ticklish considering the role of Israel and the Middle East situation in American concerns?

LIEBERMAN: Well, again you know I've got a record here, it's a record that has always, as I've said in my remarks, put America first, and you know I'm going to leave it to the people of this country to decide.  Of course there's strong bipartisan support in Congress and throughout our country I think for a strong U.S.-Israel relationship.

Somebody had a question back there.
 

QUESTION 12: Do you plan to ask for Al Gore's support during the primary process and do you expect to get it if you [do/did]?

LIEBERMAN: In fact I've already asked for it, but I told Al I didn't expect him to get involved soon.  We were close friends and we remain close friends, and I would be honored by his support.  But I've got to earn it, as I have to earn the support of every other American.
 

QUESTION 13: Senator what do you mean when you say you're a different kind of Democrat?

LIEBERMAN: Well let's, I mean I think in the words that were spoken here.  I think the campaign will show as we go on what that means.  But I tried to make clear in the statement--I have a strong record on national security and defense.  In the last couple of years I've had a very strong record of leadership in Congress on homeland security.  I embrace a very different approach to the economy than President Bush does and than some other Democrats do, because I understand that as my late friend and classmate at law school, Paul Tsongas, used to say, you can't be pro-jobs and anti-business, because most of the jobs are going to come from business.  And I'm also not hesitant to talk about values because I think we've let the Republicans act as if they have a monopoly on values when we as Democrats in our positions on education, environmental protection, civil rights, human rights, civil liberties are embracing values, a sense of right and wrong.  But this is a story that will be told as the campaign goes on.
 

QUESTION 14: Senator.

LIEBERMAN: Yes.

QUESTION 14 cont'd: How, if at all, do you differ from President Bush on handling Iraq?

LIEBERMAN: Let me go back a bit and just say very briefly that I felt from the end of the Gulf War that the U.S. made a mistake in not going to Bagdad and taking out Saddam Hussein while his military was in disarray.  I felt that throughout the '90s as the UN inspectors worked to find and destroy the inventory of chemical and biological weapons that Saddam had.  In 1998, when the inspectors were ejected, Bob Kerrey and John McCain and I put in a bill called the Iraq Liberation Act, which said we can't trust this man; if we don't stop him, we're going to regret it because he's going to do damage to us and some of our allies in the region, particularly in the Persian Gulf.  That bill incidentally would have authorized support for Iraqi opposition to Saddam; never was funded very well until the last couple of months.

I'm grateful that President Bush has focused on Iraq, and I think he's done it--and Saddam--for the same reason that a lot of Americans are taking a different look at the world after September 11th.  We look back now and say we wish we had done more to stop Osama bin Laden and Al Queda before they struck at us.  And I think that's the lens through which we now look at Saddam.  So by and large I could disagree with one or another nuance of the President's policy toward Iraq, but basically, as was clear in the congressional debate when I co-sponsored the resolution of support, I support what the President has done.  I think this is one of those times where you do have to rise above partisanship and put your country's security first.
And right now, there was some uneasy news out of the Administration last week which seemed to raise some questions about whether President Bush was going to stay the course with regard to Saddam.  In the last day or two there have been reassuring affirmations that he is, and I'm going to support him so long as that is so.
 

["Last question."]

QUESTION 15:  Has the Bush Administration mishandled the North Korean situation, and if so how would you have handled it differently?

LIEBERMAN: Respectfully I do believe that the Bush Administration has mishandled the situation on the Korean peninsula and in North Korea.  Look the problem is North Korea and a very unpredictable, dictatorial regime headed by Kim-Jong il.
But as clear and consistent as the Bush Administration's policy has been with regard to Iraq, it has not been clear and consistent with regard to North Korea.  At the same time the President took both the option of negotiating and the military option off the table with regard to North Korea.  The last time in my knowledge of American history that the military option was taken off the table with regard to North Korea was when Dean Atchinson did it prior to the Korean War.  And the result--our refusal to--  We're a great nation.  I mean the President has at times been for sanctions and then not, taken the military option off the table, put it back on; now seems to be back--focus on negotiations and the possibilities there, and I think that's the right way to go.  We don't lose anything by negotiating with them.

The fact is--  And now I was very upset that over the weekend somebody in the Bush Administration seems to be blaming the Clinton Administration's 1994 agreement with North Korea for the current problem.  Well if that agreement had not been entered into, the North Koreans, by experts I've talked to, would have at least 20 nuclear weapons and maybe 30, and the world ceretainly would not have been a more safe and secure place.  So you know it's a shame when the North Koreans have to go to Santa Fe to talk to Gov. Bill Richardson, open up a dialogue.  They ought to be going to Washington to talk to Secretary Powell and see if we can work this out.  If we can't, we have to reserve all our options.

I thank you all very much.  [applause].  It's been a great day.  On to victory!

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Transcript Copyright © 2003  Eric M. Appleman/Democracy in Action.