Former Sen. John Edwards (D-NC)
 Little Harbor Elementary School
Portsmouth, NH
December 29, 2006

Thank you.  Boy I'm glad to be back in New Hampshire.  Thank you all so much for being here and for waiting.  I also have to say a thank you, although they're gone now, we had over a thousand people outside who could not get in.  I want you to know I did go out there, the ones that were still there, I went out and spoke to them just a few minutes ago and thanked them for being here.  What I'm going to do is talk for just a few minutes and then do what we always do in New Hampshire and let you ask your questions.  I've got a wild guess that you might have a few.  So--

And I also want to take a minute and thank the online people who are participating in this event; we're streaming the event live online.  We had an event like this last night, did the same thing, and we had thousands and thousands of people who participated online.  I expect we'll have the same thing today, and I tell the people in the room this so you also know that during the town hall meeting we'll probably be taking some questions online too.  So we'll integrate them into what we're doing.

Let me first talk a little bit about what this campaign is about from my perspective and I hope, with some luck, from your perspective.  What I want to see happen is, and this is something I learned from my own personal experience over the last few years, is I don't want to see us stay back, wait for the primary, wait for the election, and hope that the next person that gets elected is going to solve our problems, because I don't think it's realistic and I don't think it's going to happen.  I think instead what we should do, all of us, not just me, is we should take responsibility; we should take action.  Not later.  Now.  We should take ownership of our own country.  [applause].

And instead of complaining that somebody else is not doing their job, we ought to ask what can we do to help?  What can we do for this country?  You know I'm talking about all of us, all of you and me, taking individual responsibility for America.  Not just for yourselves, but for America, because I think that's what's going to have to happen to bring the change that this country so badly needs.  And I don't have to guess about this.  I suspect that all of you know it before you heard me say it just now.  You know if you lay back and just wait for the next elected leader that it'll be very difficult for things to change.  Do we need government?  Of course we do.  We need an effective government, but that government has got to be working hand in hand with you.

And we need your help; your country needs your help.  I have seen in the last few years since the election what can be done by Americans when they take, seize control of things.  We've done things like raise the minimum--you know we got tired of Washington not raising the minimum wage--so we went to six states, got it on the ballot and in all six states we raised the minimum wage.  [applause].

We made college available to some young people who were willing to work when they were in college instead of just giving it to them.  We organized thousands of workers across America into unions so they could have  a decent job, decent benefits, decent health care coverage.  [applause].

And I just also have to tell you on a personal note, I saw, I spent some time with a great humanitarian group called the International Rescue Committee in Uganda in Central Africa, and there I saw about 500 mostly young people who devoted their lives to service, devoted their lives to helping people who are being subjected to incredible atrocities.  So I have seen first hand, personal experience, what we can do together, when we're willing to take responsibility and take action.

You know and I have to say life is a great learning experience, it really is.  And a lot of you heard me in the last campaign talking about the two Americas--I still believe it's true--and you heard me talk about hope and inspiration, which I think are still important, but identifying a problem and talking about hope is talking about tomorrow.  We can't wait for tomorrow.  We have to take action now.  If we want to create the kind of country and the kind of world that we believe in we, all of us, have to take action now.  That's what this comes from, this [pointing at the banner] "tomorrow begins today," that's what it means.  It means we need you now.  We need to take action now.  And there's so much that needs to be done.

My own view is the biggest responsibility of the next president of the United States is to restore America's leadership in the world.  [applause].  It so badly needs to be done.

And that [takes off jacket] and that means not, from my perspective, it means, that means rejecting an escalation of this war, which I think would be an enormous mistake.  [applause].  It means rejecting what I would describe as the McCain doctrine, surging thousands of more American troops into Iraq.  I think that's a mistake.  [applause].  Anybody who's paying attention knows that there is no military solution to what's happening in Iraq.  The only solution is a political solution.  And at the end of the day, at the end of the day it's the Iraqis themselves who have control of their destiny.  They have to decide whether they're going to have a government that's representative of all Iraqis, whether the Sunnis are going to be included, whether there's actually going to be a political solution.  So just to be clear about this, my view is we have to make it clear that we're turning responsibility over to them.  We have to make it clear to everyone in the world that we're going to leave Iraq and the best way to make that clear is to actually start leaving, which is what I think America needs to do.  [applause].

But I want to say I think Iraq, although it's a dominant, enormous issue for America and the world right now, it is not the only issue to restoring America's moral leadership.  You know, you look at the issues that exist all around the world.  First of all the world needs to see from us that we actually understand our responsibility.  And as the most powerful nation on the earth, we don't just have a responsibility to ourselves, we have a responsibility to humanity.  And when we fail to meet that responsibility there are consequences.  And we've seen the consequences.

This is not--you know there are such good things for us to do out there in the world.  I'm going to talk about a few of them in just a minute, but the truth of the matter is this is not just a feel good thing.  I'd love to feel good again; I bet most of you would, but it is not just a feel good thing.  Because it is not too much to say that the future of the world is at stake, because it is.

You know when America is not leading--we are the stabilizing force in the world--and when we don't have the capacity to lead, when the rest of the world doesn't come to us in times of crisis, when Iran, Ahmadinejad, the president of Iran, tries to get a nuclear weapon, when Kim Jong-il is testing nuclear weapons and missiles in North Korea, when Hezbollah is attacking the Israelis and fighting is going on in the Middle East--if the world doesn't rally around the United States of America they have no place to rally.  And there is no central force that stabilizes the world.  So this is not some abstract feel good thing.

If we want to be safe and we want the world to be safe, we have to provide that stabilization.  We, America does.  And that will not happen unless we actually have moral authority in the world.  The one thing that's been proven, I believe, beyond any doubt in the last six years is raw power alone does not make you a leader.  And the world recognizes that.  [applause].

And look at the opportunities for greatness for America.  Really, right now there's a genocide going on in Western Sudan; that's what this bracelet is that I have on, Western Sudan and Darfur, hundreds of thousands of people have been killed at the hands of the Janjaweed militia.  The Janjaweed militia, supported by the Sudanese government, the Sudanese government propped up by the Chinese buying oil from Sudan, and America declared this a genocide.  That's great.  What have we done about it?  What have we done?

We said after Rwanda we'll never let this happen again.  I still--some of you remember the phrase "not on our watch."  There's a genocide going on on our watch, right in front of us, right now.  Where is the United States of America?  Where are we?  There are thousands of children who will be born not tomorrow, today, in Africa with AIDS simply because their mother can't afford a $4 dose of medicine.  How can the richest nation on the planet stand by and watch that happen?  How can we let that happen?

I--poverty in America, which I'm going to say something about as I've spent a lot of time on it over the last couple of years, poverty in America is actually very mild compared to poverty around the world.  I know all of you know this already.  But I had a personal experience.

I went to spend some time in the slums outside of Delhi about a year ago, actually a little over a year ago, and the things I saw there made it hard for me to sleep.  Honestly.  I mean the conditions in which people live.  You know you walk down these little allies and there's open sewage and animals everywhere and people literally stacked into these rooms that go up on each side, and finally I came up on this little opening and it was about the size of this roped off area right here in the middle.  And there were these four blankets on the pavement, broken pavement.  There were kids sitting on each blanket.  And it was the same kind of conditions.  There was sewage everywhere, flies, animals.  And finally I figured out these children were in school.  This was their school.  And I walked out of there and all I could think to myself was where is my country?  Where is America?

Now we can't solve these problems by ourselves.  I don't think that for a second.  That's something else that's been proven in the last six years, but what we can do is we can lead others to the cause.  And we have to demonstrate to the world that we are willing to do things because they're in the best interest of humanity.  We need to demonstrate to the world that we're willing to do things that don't appear to be in our own short term strategic interest.

But I'm here to tell you they're in our long term strategic interest, and they're very much in the long term strategic interests of the world.  And it's not by the way just what we can do over there.  We should be the example for the world.

I talk about moral issues, let me talk about another huge moral issue: global warming.  [applause].  And America should be leading on global warming.  And those Americans who think well this is something for later, you know, maybe my grandchildren will have to worry about that, but I don't have to worry about it.  Anybody who can hear my voice in this room, if you're under the age of 60 and we don't change, there's a great chance that you're going to be affected by global warming.  We can't continue on this course that we're on right now, we just can't.  We can't continue our addiction to oil; we've got to make a real change toward what I would call a new energy economy in America, where we actually strengthen the American economy by investing in wind and solar and biofuels, and by asking Americans to be patriotic about something other than war.  By saying to America we ask you for your country to be willing to conserve.  [applause].

We have a health care system that's dysfunctional by any measure.  I had a mom who's in this room somewhere, who's a supporter of mine, a great friend, and has a son who has some challenges and she was telling me that her health insurance premium has gone from a thousand to two thousand dollars a month since she met me just three or four years ago.  How can I continue to pay this?  How can I possibly continue to pay it?  And she's just like millions of Americans all over the country--you know we got 46, 47 million people who have no health care coverage.  Listen.  The answer's simple.  We need universal health care in America.  [applause].  It's what will make America better and stronger.

Last issue, and then, 'cause I want to start taking questions.  Last issue I want to mention to you is one that is personal to me; I'd love to get as many of you engaged in it as I can.  I understand that it's not on a lot of people's radar screens, but I don't think it's okay that we have 37 million people who wake up in poverty every day in America.  Not in the richest nation on the planet.  [applause].  There are things we can do.

For any of you who don't know I've been running a poverty center at the University of North Carolina for the last couple of years and we've had the best people in America--in fact we got a book coming out this Spring laying out some new ideas about fighting poverty.  But some of its not rocket science.

We can do things like, I mentioned this earlier, raise the minimum wage, organize worker so they earn a decent wage, organized them into unions, do something about our dysfunctional housing policy in America that concentrates poor people together.  How long is going to take us to figure out that we can't continue to do that?  To help people to be able to save, to give kids access to college, to deal with some of the, I think the more difficult issues around poverty, things that politicians for some reason don't, well I know the reason, don't like to talk about 'cause they're a little bit red hot.  And I'm talking about the societal and cultural components of poverty.

You know you go to community centers all across the country, I've been in a bunch of them right here in New Hampshire, and when you meet a 14 or 15 year old girl who's having her third child, the odds are overwhelming that her and her children are going to live in poverty.  When you meet a young African American man who believes, in the inner city who believes with certainty that he is either going to die or go to prison, he has absolutely no reason to invest in his future.  We have to help.  We have to restore hope for that young woman and for that young man.

And I'll be honest with you, there's a role for the government; my view is there's bigger role for local institutions, local community action groups because that's where the work's being done.  A lot of it's being done by faith-based groups, by charitable groups.  But I've seen, like in Connecticut, I saw an extraordinary program that's being used to help teenage pregnancy.  Basically it's a mentoring program; had a huge impact.  I've seen exactly the same thing with young African American men.

Here's the bottom line.  You know if your church wants to add on, wants to build a new church, you don't say to your pastor you'll let us know when its over; you don't say to your minister let us know when you finish the construction.  If somebody out in your community out in rural New Hampshire or in my case rural North Carolina wants to raise a barn, we don't say well we'll watch you from the sidelines.  That's not America.  That's not who we are.  We do things together.  And I'm here to tell you we can't continue to hope somebody else is going to do this for us.  We have to do it.  All of us.  Starting today.  God bless you all.  Thank you for being here.  [applause].

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Edwards' remarks lasted about 18 minutes; he then took questions.