Senator Barack Obama (D-IL)
Special Dossier: Presidential Primaries
Remarks by Senator Barack Obama
Sen. Barack Obama was born and raised in Hawaii. As a youth, he spent some time in Kenya and lived in Indonesia. He graduated from Columbia University and then moved to Chicago to become a community organizer. In 1991, he earned a law degree from Harvard University, where he became the first African-American president of the Harvard Law Review. Soon after, he returned to Chicago to practice as a civil rights lawyer and teach constitutional law. He was elected to the Illinois State Senate, where he served for eight years and in 2004, he became the third African American since Reconstruction to be elected to the U.S. Senate. In February 2007, Obama announced his candidacy for President in the 2008 election.
Obama recently addressed the National Jewish Democratic Council's
Washington Policy Conference.
Obama was introduced at the conference by Alan Solomont of Boston, Chairman and CEO of Solomont Bailis Ventures, which launches new and innovative health and eldercare ventures. Solomont said Obama is a new voice, a new leader who will challenge the status quo, not represent the status quo. He noted that Obama is the only candidate for President who attracts new and young people in politics, and who attracts them in large numbers. Solomont called Obama "authentic" and "professional."
Senator Barack Obama:
I want to make a general point. This is not just about winning back the Presidency for a particular party or a particular politician. I think that this is about more than that. I gave a speech yesterday in Chicago where I outlined some of my views on foreign policy, and I said that we are in one of those rare moments where the American people are ready to turn the page and write a new chapter in American history and American leadership.
We know these are not the best of times for America’s reputation in the world. We know that this war in Iraq has cost us an enormous amount, in lives, in treasure, in influence and in respect. And we know that over the last six years much of world opinion has turned against us. But I still believe and I think most of the people here believe that America is the last, best hope on Earth.
I also believe that the disappointment that so many feel towards America right now is a testament to the high expectations that they hold for us. That people around the world want to believe in America again. The world needs us to lead because whether
it is the threat of terrorism or pandemic flu, the spread of weapons of mass destruction, or global climate change,
America can not meet these threats of the century alone.
At the same time, the world can not meet these threats without America.
Invest in the weak and failing states that are the breeding ground for terror.
Yesterday, I outlined five ways I believe America can restore its leadership in the world, not because being right is important in and of itself, but because the security of our people and the prosperity of this nation depends on the security and the prosperity of all people.
An America that leads will rebuild the greatest military on Earth and show the world that we will use that military wisely.
We will lead by marshalling a global effort to secure, destroy and stop the spread of weapons of mass destruction.
We will lead by rebuilding and reforming our damaged alliances to meet the threats of this new century.
we will lead by investing in the weak and failing states that are the most fertile breeding ground for terror. Because ensuring that those who live in fear and want today can live with dignity and opportunity tomorrow is one of the best ways for us to prevent chaos and anarchy and terrorism at its source.
But before any of this can happen, one of the most important ways that America must lead is by bringing a responsible end to this war in Iraq.
The President gave a press conference today in which he once again threatened to ignore the will of the American people, the Congress and the good advice of his own defense secretary by refusing to tell the Iraqi government that America will not be there forever.
Our troops will not end the bloodshed in Iraq.
I have said it before and I will say it again, the President’s insistence on keeping U.S. troops in the crossfire of a civil war for as long as he pleases will not end the bloodshed there or change the political dynamics in Iraq.
Many of you know I opposed this war from the beginning. And in a speech five months ago I argued that there can be no military solution to what has become a civil war between Sunni and Shiite factions.
I laid out a plan then that I still believe offers the best hope of pressuring these warring factions toward a political settlement – a phased withdrawal of American troops with the goal of removing all combat brigades out of Iraq by March 31, 2008.
My plan also makes clear that continued U.S. commitments to Iraq depend on the Iraqi government needing a series of well-defined benchmarks necessary to reach a political settlement. So far the Iraqi government has made almost no progress in meeting any of these benchmarks, in part because the President’s determination to make our commitment in Iraq open-ended.
The President’s escalation of U.S. forces can bring potentially some temporary respite from the violence in Iraq, although so far, at least, the record is not very good. But it
can not change the political dynamic in Iraq and I believe that a phased withdrawal can and I believe that it needs to begin here and begin now.
We have to bring a responsible end to this war because until we do it is going to be increasing difficult to refocus our efforts on the challenges of the wider region.
Our involvement in Iraq has only strengthened Iran.
We know that among the other consequences of this conflict, Iraq has strengthened Iran, which only undermines the security of Israel at a time when its prospects for peace seem uncertain.
When I am President, the United States will stand shoulder to shoulder with Israel in search of this peace, and in defense against those who seek its destruction. But
we are going to do so with the credibility to draw other nations to our cause. Without taking the military option off the table, we will use sustained diplomacy to build a true international coalition that can pressure Iran to give up its nuclear ambitions once and for all.
Now, boldened by Iraq, our lackluster diplomatic efforts today leave a huge void that threatens the security of America and the broader Middle East. Out interests are best served when people and governments from Jerusalem and Amman to Damascus and Tehran understand that America will stand with our friends, work hard to build a peaceful Middle East and refuse to cede the future of the region to those who seek perpetual conflict and instability.
Such effective diplomacy can not be done on the cheap, nor can it be warped by an ongoing occupation in Iraq. Instead it will require patient, sustained effort and the personal commitment of the President of the United States. And
that is a commitment that I intend to make.
I can not and will not walk away from the genocide in Darfur.
It is a commitment I also intend to make when it comes to another issue that I know has been talked about and that you and I care deeply about – ending the genocide in Darfur. Already, NJDC and the broader Jewish community has been a major engine in pressing the Bush administration to do more to stop the horrors in that region. But as you know, the President has not yet made a sustained effort to end the slaughter, and as I speak at this very moment the killings continue.
As someone who has traveled to the camps on the border of Chad and Darfur where refugees beg America to step in and help stop a genocide
that has taken away their mothers, fathers, daughters, and sons, I
can not and will not walk away from this issue.
When I am President, I intend to show the world that when we say, "Never again," that we mean it.
And that means investing the full weight of the Presidency into ending that monstrous conflict and allowing the people of the region to begin the long and painful task of rebuilding their shattered lives.
The world needs America to lead again. Its time for us to turn the page and show the world why we are still the last, best hope on Earth,
why we are still a force for good, still a place where weary travelers can come from all corners of the globe and find hope and opportunity at our doorstep.
It is going to require leadership around the world, but its also going to require some leadership here at home. It requires the kind of leadership willing to turn the page on the failed politics of the past, politics of division and indifference, politics that says when it comes to the challenges we face there is nothing we can do as a nation to solve them;
that can’t-do-, won’t-do-, won’t-even-try style of leadership that
we have become accustomed to over the last six years, the notion that
we are all left to fend for ourselves in the face of enormous challenges.
Some of you know that from the time I was a community organizer in the South Side of Chicago dealing with folks that had been devastated by steel plants that had closed throughout the region,
I have always believed and practiced a different kind of politics, a tradition that says
we are all connected as a people; that we have a stake in each other. That there are some ties that bind us together as Americans that despite differences of race and region and faith cannot be dissolved, cannot be broken.
I said at the 2004 convention in Boston, if there is a senior citizen somewhere who is struggling, if right now somewhere in Washington there is a senior who thought he or she was going to be retiring but suddenly found themselves broke because the company they worked for decided to go through the bankruptcy courts to get out of their pension obligations, that diminishes us as a country, even if
we are not the grandchild of that senior citizen.
If there is a child somewhere who still can not read or is languishing in an underfunded city school or is unable to afford college despite being qualified and there are 200,000 young people around the country who fall into that category, then that makes us a lesser nation even if our children are taken care of.
If there are veterans in the United States that are foraging through dumpsters after having served their country because they
did not get the kind of services and treatment they needed, that diminishes all our patriotism.
That basic idea, that we have got a set of commitments that are sacred -- that I am by brother’s keeper, that I am my sister’s keeper -- that kind of tradition has to express itself not just in our churches and our synagogues and our mosques, not even just in our families, it has to express itself through our government.
And that is what I think has been forgotten over the last several years.
We know the challenges that we face today – a dependence on oil that threatens our future, schools where too many children are not
learning, families that are struggling from paycheck to paycheck. We know these challenges,
we have heard them, we have talked about them for years.
What has stopped us from meeting them is not the absence of sound policies and sensible plans.
What has stopped us from meeting these challenges is the failure of leadership and the smallness of our politics, our preference for scoring cheap political points instead of rolling up our sleeves and building a working consensus to get something done.
I have been in Washington long enough to know that it needs to change.
For the last six years right here in Washington, we have been told that mounting debts do not matter. We have
been told that the anxieties Americans are feeling about their health care costs and their retirement are an illusion, that climate change is a hoax and when all else fails – when Katrina happens or the death toll in Iraq mounts, we have been told that the crisis is somebody else’s fault.
That it is the problem of gay people or immigrants or some other group that can provide us from a distraction from our failures.
I know that some people say I have not been in Washington very long, but I will say this:
I have been in Washington long enough to know that it needs to change. And that the kind of politics
we have been practicing, a politics in which lobbyists and special interests are shaping the agenda as opposed to ordinary Americans, that that kind of politics has to come to a close; its time to turn a page on that politics.
We could have universal health care.
What has been lacking is the political
It has got to change on health care, to stop talking about the problem to death while premiums and copayments and the number of uninsured keep rising. We know what we have to do in terms of dealing with the health care problem. We know we can get a better bargain on health care if we bargain together, that we can save money if we modernize our system. That we can bring together businesses and unions, doctors and nurses and ordinary citizens, and we can have universal health care in this country and
there is no reason that we
have got to wait eight or twelve years to do it.
I have said and I will say again, by the end of my first term as President, there is no reason we can not have universal health care in this country if we spend enough money to do it. What has been lacking is the political will.
It is time to turn the page on education, to move past the old debate that says the only answer is either dismantling our public schools or simply pouring more money into schools that are dysfunctional. We know what works here. We know that if we give our children early childhood education that it pays enormous dividends. We know that we can develop tests and assessment tools that actually measure what our kids are learning and do so in concert with teachers as opposed to in opposition to teachers so that they feel some ownership.
We know that we have to recruit a new army of teachers who we pay more and support more and who we ask more of. And we know that we can make college affordable for every American who wants to go. There is no reason why we can not do those things.
We know that its time to turn the page on our energy policy, or better stated, our absence of an energy policy; the idea that we have no choice but to send millions of dollars a day to Middle Eastern dictators and destroy our planet in the process.
It is time to get serious about raising fuel standards.
We need new ideas on energy. We need to tell our automakers it is time to get serious about raising fuel standards that have not been changed in 20 years, which is why I have legislation right now that says there is no reason why we can not raise four percent fuel efficiency on every car. If we had cars that were getting 40 miles per gallon, 43 miles per gallon,
we would have to import zero oil from the Middle East. If they tell us that they can not afford to do it, if the automakers say
they are struggling under the weight of the retiree health care costs, then we can say to them
we will help pay for some of those health care retiree costs as long as the money
that is saved is actually put into transforming your industry.
And it is time to turn this crisis of global warming into a moment of opportunity for innovation and job creation and an incentive for businesses that will serve as a model for the world. We can do this right now and make future generations proud of what we do.
Selma, Alabama: An American Story.
It is time to turn the page. It is time to show the world who we are again as Americans. And it is time for our generation to tell a great American story.
You know, I was down in Selma, Alabama, a while back. Some of you know I was there to celebrate the 42nd anniversary of the march across the Edmund Pettis Bridge and it was a powerful occasion for me in part because I went into community organizing, and in some ways I went into public life, because of the memories of those young people. Straight back, clear-eyed that were willing to get on buses and ride down on behalf of the freedom of others, because of the young people who stood up and faced fire hoses and dogs and tear gas on behalf of their own freedom. And as I was marching over the bridge and standing next to John Lewis, I thought about all those ordinary Americans who had participated in bringing about a more perfect union.
And when I came back, some people slapped me on the back and they said,
"Boy, Barack, you gave a wonderful speech down in Brown Chapel and that was a wonderful celebration of African American history."
And I told them,
"No you do not understand, that was a celebration of American history." Because at every juncture in American history, what has truly made a difference is when ordinary people got engaged and transformed their idea of what was possible.
I am confident about my ability to lead this country as President. But I have said to the crowds that we are seeing all across the country I can not lead by myself. I can only lead with you. Because millions of voices join together and say that we can imagine something better, that we want to turn the page, that we want to write a new chapter.
And the exciting thing for all of us is that what the American people I genuinely think are ready for. They are hungry for something different.
They are hungry to see a politics that is crafted around common sense and pragmatism and optimism and a commitment to each other.
And that is what all of you represent and I look forward to being a partner with you in making that happen.
Question and Answer Session