Senator John Edwards
100 Club Dinner
Center of New
Saturday, Feb. 5,
It is so great to be here with you tonight. I want to say thank you for
all of your hard work over the last two years. You have a new Governor
and a new hope for New Hampshire's families.
John Kerry and I are so grateful for all that you did for the campaign.
You won back New Hampshire. You were the first state in the country to
turn the page—to turn a red state blue. And I know that New Hampshire
will always lead the way with your primary and your commitment to
change this country.
I want to say a personal thank you to all of you for your prayers and
well wishes for Elizabeth. She's doing well. My wife and I are blessed
to have the support of loving friends and family and the best health
care in the world. We are so thankful for it. But we must keep up our
fight so that every family gets the same chance that we've had.
And to just give you an idea of how strong she is let me tell you what
she said the day after we left Boston. She said, "Let's go public right
now. If we can help one woman go early to see her doctor, then that
would make this worth it." Thanks to all of you we're not in this alone
and we're so grateful and blessed to have you standing with us.
You know all these political experts out there question what you and I
and the Democratic Party believe in. They say that we don't believe in
anything. That we don't stand for anything. Well, tonight I want to
talk about what we believe.
We believe in hope over despair, possibilities over problems, optimism
over cynicism. We believe in doing what is right even when others say
it can't be done. And we believe in fighting desperately for people who
don't have a voice. That's what the Democratic Party has always
believed in and that's what we will always believe in. That's what you
and I believe in.
We know the difference between right and wrong. And it's right to talk
about the two different Americas we still live in. We've got one for
those who have been blessed and have lived the American Dream. And
another for those who are struggling to get by.
It's time to build the one America we all believe in.
Do we believe that any child in our country should go without health
care just because their parents can't afford to go to the doctor?
That's not we believe in. We have to strengthen our health care system.
Do we believe one child should go to a school with computers while
another goes to a school without enough books? That's not what we
believe in. We have to strengthen our schools. We can start by
expanding early childhood education and treating our teachers and those
who work in our schools with the dignity and the respect that they
Do we believe in an America that is satisfied with two economies—one
for wealthy insiders and one for the rest of us? That's not what we
believe in. I'll tell you what's right. It's right to want to build one
economy that honors work, not just wealth.
You know all of my life I have seen the power and dignity that comes
from hard work. In the mills, the post office, and in our schools. I
grew up believing that there are two important things we can give to
each other—our love and our labor.
I believe there is dignity in work. It goes beyond the numbers on any
paycheck. The men and women in my hometown—and yours—feel stronger and
better when they know their hard work always—always—can provide for
You've all heard my story—you know how my father had to borrow $50 to
get home from the hospital, how he worked in a mill, and how I worked
in the mill as a young man. The truth is, I have lived in the bright
light of America. But today, that light is flickering. People are
struggling more and more. They're falling deeper and deeper in to debt.
And they don't know if it's even possible for their kids to have a
This is not an accident. It is by design.
Our Republican leaders value one thing: wealth. We see it in everything
they do. Tax "reforms" that shift more of the burden onto the wages of
working people. Health savings accounts that serve as tax shelters for
millionaires. And now, Social Security—they want to borrow trillions of
dollars, add even more to the deficit, and cut benefits for millions of
And now they admit that private accounts will do nothing to solve the
long-term problem. They want to stand with their friends on Wall
Street. We want to stand with people who've worked hard all of their
lives. And we believe that people should have the freedom to grow old
with dignity without having to depend on their children. That's what we
George Bush likes to talk about an "Ownership Society." We already have
one: CEO's with jets; Power companies that get their way even if the
health of children and pregnant women suffer. Oil companies who write
our energy policy. George Bush's so-called "Ownership Society" is a
secret society that rewards the wealthiest and shuts out those who work
hard every day.
What we know and understand in our soul is that hard work built
America. Men and women who worked with their hands and their heads—who
still do—and just want America to be the land of opportunity again.
What we want is an Opportunity Society where everyone who works hard
and does right has the chance to get ahead. And you create an
Opportunity Society by honoring work.
We want work to pay. We want work to matter. We want a trade policy
that gives our workers a fair chance—with environmental and labor
standards. And no American company should ever be allowed to leave this
country, go overseas, and hire children to do their work. When people
do right by America, America ought to do right by them.
And it's wrong that millions give every day to this country and still
live in poverty. This is one of the great moral issues of our time.
You know, this president flies over America and goes to events and
stands with his friends. Well, we ought to stand up for people nobody
Last week, I went to Little Washington, North Carolina and met
privately with a group of men and women who were struggling.
One woman had been living in a shelter. She told us how she wanted to
work. If she walked into this room tonight, you wouldn't think anything
of it. But when she walked into the local Laundromat to get warm, she
said she was told to: "Get out of here. Anybody living in the shelter's
got to be trash." There but for the grace of God go I.
And then I met Loretta.
You know I can still feel her hand shake—determined and strong like a
truck driver. She spent 14 years working at a wash house—working for
the minimum wage—earning a little more that $200 a week. She would
always try to do better but no one would give her a chance.
Well, she kept pushing and pushing. She got her GED and a loan. And now
she owns her own pizza franchise. We asked her how many people worked
there. She said that there are "eight of us." Not seven people work for
me. There were "eight of us." She was asked about the cost of her
employees and she said that it was an honor to be able to give them
their paychecks. You could hear in her voice the respect she has for
There was hope in that room. America was in that room. It was a million
miles from that mill in Robbins, but sitting with Loretta and the
others—it was a very familiar place. That natural respect for other
people. That belief in effort. And that hope that if you just keep
going, try some more, things will get better—isn't this what America's
So we're going to let the Republicans stand with their friends on Wall
Street and the big oil, big insurance companies and the HMO's. And who
are we going to stand with? We're going to stand with the teachers,
nurses, factory workers, tech workers, and small business owners. We're
going to stand with Loretta.
That is why I have launched the Center on Poverty, Work and Opportunity
at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
We don't pretend to have all the answers, but I can promise you this:
we will ask the hard questions: Can we combat poverty in a way that
also honors our core beliefs in hard work, responsibility, family? Can
we find ways to build more homes and fewer shelters, more small
businesses and fewer minimum wage jobs? Can we find a way for
government and charities and religious groups to work as more effective
partners and honor America's traditions? Can we work to end drug
addiction and teen pregnancy? Can we restore the promise of America for
those living in poverty?
But here's what we know and can do.
We'll work on strengthening financial security so more families can put
money into their own savings accounts and stop the poisonous hold of
payday lenders. We'll work on raising the minimum wage and expanding
the earned income tax credit so that families who work hard don't have
to live in poverty. We'll work on extending health care so that nobody
who works has to lose their insurance. We'll work on launching a new
race to the top that brings good jobs to forgotten corners. And we'll
work on providing a real education and a real chance for every child.
Because what we believe—what I believe—is that great potential is in
all of us if given the chance.
It may seem like an impossible goal to end poverty, but that's what the
skeptics said about all of our other great challenges. If we can put a
man on the moon, conquer polio, and put libraries of information on a
chip, then we can end poverty for those who want to work for a better
My family and my faith didn't teach me to turn my back on a friend or
neighbor in need. They taught me to open the door, let them in and help
them get back on their feet. And millions are calling for help right
now. We hear them. We're going to do something about this. Together,
we're going to lift people out of poverty and into the middle class so
that America's bright light of opportunity is always lit.
That's what freedom means to you and me. It means having a fundamental
right to try and succeed. This belief doesn't come from a book; it
comes from our hearts. And it inspires us knowing that each person who
walks among us has the same worth as ourselves.
Our freedom inspires us; it also inspires the world. You and I know
that freedom means more than standing up and giving a speech. It's not
just what you say; it's what you do.
More than 60 years ago, President Roosevelt defined freedom for America
and the world.
And we stand by those words and all their meaning: freedom of speech,
freedom to worship, freedom from fear, and freedom from want.
But right now, you tell me.
Is that six year old child going to bed hungry in the Sudan—is that
child free? How about the woman in Saudi Arabia who wants to vote this
month but can't simply because she is a woman? Is she free? How about
the Christian in China who wants to worship but can't? Is he free? And
what about the Russian in jail whose only crime was telling the truth?
Is he free?
Free nations must always fight tyranny, together. Not just with our
muscle but with our moral clarity. And that means never again turning a
blind eye to those who suffer, who want to educate their child, or who
want to speak their minds.
This is what you and I believe. 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—that that beacon is always lit.
We must also ensure that democracy remains strong here. We have work to
do. We believe is that it's time to move past these days of division
where we have "vote challengers" and "vote protectors"—and launch a
historic effort to ensure more participation and confidence in our
elections. It is an outrage that anyone in America—America—would have
any reason to doubt their vote.
So in this century, let's finally build the best that money can buy
here in America. So that when we elect the next leader of the free
world, every American will have confidence in their vote and that their
vote was counted.
All week, we have seen the power of freedom pulling people to the
polls. No one could turn on the television or pick up the paper and not
feel the weight of the Iraq war. No matter where we stood on getting
into this war … no matter where we stand on getting out of this war.
All Democrats and all Americans should stand together in honoring the
millions of Iraqi's who risked their lives to exercise the precious
right to vote and to build their own democracy.
We are blessed to have friends and neighbors and loved ones who are
willing to serve their country. We stand with the men and women on the
ground in Iraq and Afghanistan. And we wish them God's speed and that
they'll return home safely soon.
And here's what we believe: when our soldiers come home—they deserve a
country that will honor their service. We believe that no one who's
worn the uniform should have to beg for their back pay. We believe that
no veteran should have to pay a registration fee to get the health care
they are entitled to—they paid that fee when they put on the uniform of
the United States of America. And we believe that no soldier who's just
returned from serving their country in Iraq should be homeless—they
earned their right to a home!
That's what you and I believe in—as Americans.
So don't tell me Democrats don't stand for anything. We do. We stand
for work and opportunity. We know when something's right. And we know
when something's wrong.
It's wrong when our neighbors work fulltime and they still live in
poverty. It's wrong when too many towns are forgotten because the jobs
are gone. It's wrong when our children give up on a dream because our
schools are broke. It's wrong when our men and women return home from a
war and have to fight for the health care to recover from their wounds.
And it's wrong when we let a young person in another country thousands
of miles away grow up hating us, never knowing or believing in the good
of our country.
So don't tell me we Democrats don't believe in anything and don't know
where to go. Because we do.
I know the soul of this party and so do you. It lies deep inside each
of us and goes to the core of what we believe not just as Democrats --
but as Americans. Everyone - -and I mean everyone -- deserves a fair
chance. And we have a moral responsibility to help those who are doing
everything right, but are still struggling.
We have been given minds to think with. But we've also been given
hearts to inspire us.
When we try to lead with just our minds, we are neglecting the better
half of our nature
So don't tell me Democrats don't stand for anything. Because we do.
What we believe is that you should never look down on anybody, we
should lift people up. We don't believe in tearing people apart. We
believe in bringing people 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.
Let's turn the page. Let's move forward. Let's build that one America
we all believe in.
Thank you. God bless you and the United States of America.