Senator John Edwards
100 Club Dinner
Center of New Hampshire Radisson
Manchester, New Hampshire
Saturday, Feb. 5, 2005
[partial transcript; prepared remarks]

Thank you Lou.  It's so great to be here with all of you. I want you to know first that I'm here with Jack and Emma Claire.  They're very pleased to be back in New Hampshire or as they call it New Hamster.  They had a great day skiing today.

I also want to thank all of you for all of your hard work over the last two years. You have brought New Hampshire a new Governor and a new hope for the people of New Hampshire.

And I want you to know that John Kerry and I are so grateful for what all of you did for the campaign and for America.  You gave New Hampshire back to the Democrats.  You turned the page and you were the first in the country to turn a red state into a blue state.  God bless you.  Thank you for everything you did.  We are so proud of you, proud of what you did for America.  And by the way we also know that New Hampshire will continue to lead the way with its primary, right?

Now I want to say a personal thank you first of all to those who've already spoken tonight and to all of you and so many in this room who have been so supportive  of Elizabeth.  I want you to know she's doing very, very well.  We've been so blessed.  You know we've got you, friends, family supporting us and we've had the best health care in the world, which by the way is the reason we have to continue this fight so that every family in America has exactly the same kind of health care that we've had.

But I've got to tell you--some you may have heard this--but I'm so proud of Elizabeth and how strong she is.  You know we left--she was diagnosed in Boston the day after the election. We went back to Washington that night.  The next morning we got up and Elizabeth came to me and she said, I want to go public with this, now.  And I said, sweetie, you know it's okay.  This is personal, it's private; we've just been two years in the public eye so it's okay to keep this private.  And she said,. If we can cause one woman to go to the doctor, who might otherwise not go, this is worth it.  We're going to beat this; we're going to beat this with your help.  Thank you all for your support.

Now, all the experts, all the political experts, since the Election have been talking about what the Democrats believe in.  What do the Democrats stand for; what do they believe in?  Some of them have been saying we don't believe in anything.  We don't stand for anything.  So what I want to talk about tonight, I want to talk about what what we believe in. 

Because here's what we believe in.  We believe in hope over despair, we believe possibilities in over problems, we believe in optimism over cynicism. We believe in doing what's right even when others say it can't be done.  And we believe in fighting desperately for those who have no America.  That is what the Democrats have always stood for, it is what we stand for today, and it is what we will always fight for as members of the Democratic Party.

And we know the difference between right and wrong.  It was right to talk about the two Americas that we still live in. One for those families who have everything they need, and then one for everybody else

We have to build one America that works for everybody.

Do we believe, do we believe that a child shouldn't get the health care they need because their parents can't afford for them to go to the doctor?  That is not we believe in.  We have to strengthen and expand health care in this country.  [transcript ends; prepared remarks>>]

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 deserve.

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 their families.

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 better life.

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 seniors.

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 believe in.

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 else will.

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 other people.

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 all about?

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 life.

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.