Rep. Dick Gephardt
Announcement of Presidential Candidacy
Mason Elementary School
St. Louis, MO
February 19, 2003
(as prepared for delivery) C-SPAN video
"And I can't tell you what it means to me to be back at Mason Elementary School, the place where I was educated and raised with the people whose love and kindness has sustained me all my life.
"In this very room, I came to PTA meetings with my parents, took part in the Cub Scouts and the Boy Scouts, and learned what it means to serve. In this very room, I took part in school plays; it wasn't much, but we still could have given C-SPAN a run for its money. And it was the principal of this school, Ms. Thole, who called my mother one day and told her something she hadn't expected to hear: that I should go to college.
"My dad was a milk truck driver, a proud member of the Teamsters. He always told me his union's bargaining power made it possible for him to put food on our table. My mother was a secretary. Neither of my parents finished high school. They didn't have much money.
"But they saved what they could — five, ten dollars a week, so I could get an education and live out my dreams. I want to dedicate this day to my mother Loreen and my late father, Lou Gephardt. This campaign is for them and for all who seek and strive to do right by their kids. They're the true American heroes. They're the people I'm fighting for.
"The truth is, it's getting harder to raise a strong family in America. There are more and more families where both parents work, just to pay the bills; where parents rarely share meals with their own children; where it's a struggle to pass on the right values, to teach simple lessons of discipline and respect, right and wrong.
"A parent shouldn't have to lie awake at night, wondering if a doctor's bill or a mortgage payment is going to break their bank account. A family shouldn't have to worry that a lifetime of retirement savings could be drained away by a single act of corporate crime.
"President Bush keeps saying he wants to leave no child behind. I've got to tell you, Mr. President, you could start by bringing along some adults. Many in the other party believe in survival of the fittest, in feeding those at the top and hoping some crumbs fall off the table — kind of like Marie Antoinette with a business degree.
"I believe in what you might call trickle-up economics — that if we reward the work and initiative of ordinary Americans, if we empower them and enable them to prosper, then everybody benefits, from the factory floor to the corporate boardroom.
"We're all bound together. We're all members of the American family. And I won't be satisfied until every family, not just the few, can share in the bounty of America. I won't be satisfied until we've made opportunity real for everyone who's willing to work for it.
"And I pledge to you today: with your help and support, I'll take that crusade to the White House. I'll work day and night to lift this lagging economy, and build a new American prosperity. I'll put hard-working Americans first again.
"Ten years ago, America was at another economic crossroads. We were losing jobs. Incomes were falling. Our nation was choked with the highest deficits in history, $290 billion dollars, enough red ink to drown the Washington Monument.
"As House Majority Leader, I led the fight to pass the Clinton-Gore economic plan to slash the deficit, invest in education, cut taxes for working families and ask the wealthy to pay their fair share.
"Not a single Republican voted for that plan. They said it was a job-killer. Instead, it led to the single longest economic expansion in history. The highest home ownership ever. The lowest inflation in a generation — over 22 million new jobs.
"Turns out we were right, and the other side was wrong. And you'd think they'd have learned a lesson: that huge, budget-busting tax cuts for the wealthiest do not educate a single child, they do not extend health coverage to a single family, they do not create a single job — except for the special-interest lobbyists who fight for them.
"Yet President Bush has taken us right back to the broken policies of the past, the economics of debt and regret: unaffordable tax cuts for the few. Zero new jobs. Surging unemployment.
"I've got to hand it to him: never has so much been done, in so little time, to help so few. President Bush campaigned as a centrist, a coalition-builder, a 'compassionate conservative.' But on issue after issue, the only thing he's conserved is compassion itself. His latest budget cuts after-school programs that keep kids off the streets, efforts to fight juvenile delinquency, help for poor families in public housing, health care for the elderly, children's health insurance. If that's his idea of compassion, I'd hate to see his idea of indifference.
"He said he'd fight for education. Yet now he's trying to cut his own education plan, so local schools don't stand a chance of meeting their goals. What kind of education plan tries to add by subtracting?
"President Bush said he cares about the environment. Yet he tried to drill for oil in our precious natural lands, causing years of damage for just a few months' extra oil. They cut our partnership with the auto industry to develop more fuel-efficient cars and SUV's. Even with war and terror in the heart of our oil supply, this administration's idea of alternative fuel is Exxon instead of Texaco.
"President Bush said he was for limited government. Yet he brought back the era of big and bloated government: massive, permanent deficits; spools of new red tape for states and local communities. And that happened before September 11th, before we knew how badly we'd need those surpluses.
"President Bush said he'd be a uniter, not a divider. Yet he's trying to undo affirmative action programs that promote opportunity. Never mind that an older form of affirmative action helped him get into college as a family legacy. Now he wants to leave a legacy of anti-choice ideologues on our courts, people who would roll back a generation of progress on women's rights and civil rights. Once you've climbed up the ladder, you don't saw off the bottom rungs; you help everyone up.
"President Bush said if we passed his trickle-down tax cuts, it would help the economy and pay for itself. But he turned the largest surpluses ever — $5.6 trillion dollars — into the largest deficits, breaking his own father's record. His math wasn't fuzzy — it was clearly wrong.
"That's the Bush record — a nation with zero job creation, racked with debt, unprepared for the economy of the future. A nation that's growing apart, when we should be growing together.
"Let me be clear about this: President Bush is a good man. But he has no plan to get this economy moving again. At the dawn of the global economy and Information Age, we cannot afford to wait. At a time when world markets are getting more competitive — when we need to be leaner, smarter, more innovative than ever — we cannot afford four more years of jobless Bush economics.
"I love America. And I know we can do better; I know we can do more. Here in the home of my values, here at the heart of the American dream, I announce my candidacy for President of the United States.
"With pride and with purpose, I say to you today; I'm going to fight for you, and I'm going to win. I'm running for President because I'm tired of leadership that's left us isolated in the world, and stranded here at home.
"I'm running for President because I've had enough of the oil barons, the status-quo apologists, the special-interest lobbyists running amok in the White House.
"I'm running for President because we need an economic plan that works for everybody — with real job creation, real skills development, real help for hard-working families.
"I'm running for President because it's time to replace an agenda of division and exclusion, and fight for the whole American family again.
"A Presidential campaign is a contest for votes. But it's also a contest of ideas. Some politicians will say, give me your support now and I'll figure out the issues later. Well I'm in this to fight for your jobs, not merely to win one for myself.
"Every proposal I am making — every idea I'm advancing — has a single, central purpose: to revive a failing economy and give working Americans the help and the security they need to make the most of it, on their own. For if we strengthen working families, then everybody is stronger — including the companies and CEO's that profit most from their industry and ideas.
"And I believe there's a new way to achieve that fundamental purpose — a fourth way, if you will. Not government hand-outs, not tax cuts for the few, and not just focusing on incremental solutions, as important as that's been — but taking major steps to give people the tools of true self-reliance. Like tax credits that guarantee every worker health coverage. And pensions they can take with them everywhere they work. I want to recast our party's biggest goals for a new economy, a new age.
"Of course, as President, I'll start with an unshakeable commitment to keep our defenses strong. We're in a new world, with manifold new dangers — from global terror, to the recklessness of rogue dictators like Saddam Hussein, to international crime and drug-running that rips at the very fabric of freedom.
"In the face of new dangers, we need a familiar resolve. I will make sure our armed forces remain the best-equipped, best-trained, best-led fighting force in the entire world. We need a 21st century military — capable of rooting out and combating terrorism and all other threats to our well-being, at home and abroad.
"I stand with this administration's efforts to disarm Saddam Hussein. And I'm proud that I wrote the resolution that helped lead the President to make his case at the United Nations. For all our military might, there are too many threats to our security, too many global challenges for America to simply go it alone. We need the friendship and cooperation of our time-honored allies. We must lead the world, instead of merely bullying it.
"This is about more than armed conflict, as necessary as that sometimes is. America has a mission that's unique in human history — to prove that liberty and democracy are indivisible, the birthright of all people everywhere. If we can do more to share democratic values, then we won't have to rely on arms alone. We can wage peace, and not just wage war.
"And we must do more to ensure the security of our homeland where it matters most — in the places where you live and work. When we tried to add billions for security at airports and energy plants, Republicans in Congress said no. When we tried to help local law enforcement protect us in our homes and our neighborhoods, the President threatened a veto.
"As President, I'll give local police and fire departments, the first responders, unprecedented tools and training, so they can be the front line in the war against terror. I'll create a brand new Homeland Security Trust Fund, so states and local communities have all the resources they need to keep your families safe and secure.
"Security is paramount. But we will never win the war against global terror if we do not make our country economically strong again. How do we support the best military, the best intelligence, and meet ever-changing threats when our very foundation is shaking?
"My economic plan begins at the beginning. We have to scrap the vast majority of the Bush tax cuts for wealthier Americans and corporations. And I'll tell you why: they're unaffordable, unsustainable and patently unfair.
"Mind you, I'm all for helping wealthy Americans grow our economy. But doling out tax cuts they don't want or need is not the way to do it. Without the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy, we can do more to promote innovation, the engine of growth in this ideas economy — like tax incentives for a new generation of automobiles.
"Without the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy, we can meet the legitimate concern of Fed Chairman Greenspan — that oceans of new government debt will lead to higher interest rates, choking off the business investment that creates growth and jobs.
"And without the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy, we can finish the unfinished business of providing high-quality health coverage to everyone who works in America, saving billions, and stimulating one of the biggest sectors of our private economy.
"To me, this is a moral imperative. Three decades ago, when I was an attorney here in St. Louis, my two-year-old son Matt was diagnosed with cancer. The doctors told Jane and me he probably wouldn't make it.
"My law firm had a health plan, and I'd never thought much about it before then. But Matt's only chance of pulling through depended on new and experimental therapies — the kind we couldn't have afforded on our own. That insurance plan, great doctors and nurses, and the grace of God saved Matt's life.
"But I'll never forget the nights we spent at Matt's bedside, talking to the parents of another patient — a child with severe cancer, and a family that couldn't afford health insurance.
"They were terrified — not just of their child's illness, but that they wouldn't be able to afford his treatment. They begged and borrowed to give him decent care, and never, as long as I live, will I forget the terror in their eyes.
"In the most powerful country in the world, it shouldn't be this way. That doesn't mean we can rest on the same government solutions. I supported the Clinton health care plan and worked hard to pass it. And I learned from that experience. America won't accept a big-government contraption, tangled in its own complexity.
"I plan to do it with no bureaucracy and no nationalized plan — by harnessing what's best about private health insurance and helping Americans afford it. My plan asks every employer to provide quality coverage, then gives tax credits to cover most of the cost. It's that simple, and we'll save billions by catching illness before it shows up at the emergency room — where we all pay even more.
"Under my plan, everyone who works will have health care, and everyone who works will have a good pension, one that moves with them when they change jobs.
"My mother changed jobs so many times that after a lifetime of hard work, she was left with one pension from just one employer — $42 dollars a month, not even enough to pay utility bills.
"Today there are so many conflicting pension plans, you have to be an accountant just to figure them out. As President, I'll create a single pension plan that follows you from the moment you're born to the moment you retire. That simple change will strengthen our workforce beyond measure. You'll get every penny of your retirement savings, no matter how often you change jobs.
"We're in an information-driven economy, where ideas are the new form of capital. It's long past time to remake our public school system — raising standards for students, teachers, and schools; getting more discipline, more character education, more parental involvement in our classrooms.
"We need a national commitment to rebuild crumbling schools. How can we lift our kids in buildings where the roof is falling in?
"As the children of the Baby Boomers surge through our school system, we must recruit a whole new generation for careers in teaching, and we must raise the quality of our teachers at the same time. It won't be easy. But we can do it by treating and paying teachers like the professionals they are.
"My daughter Kate dreamed for years of becoming a teacher. But she told me when she mentioned the idea to her college classmates, they laughed at her. She followed her dream, and she's working as a teacher — but she's living at home with Jane and me, because she started at $17,000 a year. Now she knows why her friends were laughing. Just imagine all the Kates we're losing, bright young people hungering to teach, yearning to give back, but so burdened with college loans they can't afford it.
"As President, I'll lift up the teaching profession and create a brand new Teacher Corps, modeled on the ROTC, to recruit two-and-a-half million well-trained teachers by the end of the decade. If you agree to teach for five years — and to be held to a high standard of excellence — we'll help pay your way through college.
"Just as it's essential to recruit the best soldiers, to ensure freedom's future, it's essential to recruit the best teachers, to ensure our children's future. We ought to listen to educators who tell us a child's success in life is determined in the first years, that the right start in school can mean better grades, even higher income later on.
"As President, I'll fight for the opportunity for pre-school — for every child, in every community in this nation. And we have to give kids a safe, educational place to go between the hours when school's out, but parents are still at work — the hours when most juvenile crime takes place, when most teenage pregnancy occurs.
"I propose a major expansion of after-school care across the country, to reduce crime and help working parents protect their own kids. A world-class education is the foundation of a strong economy. But let's be honest with ourselves: it does little good to create the conditions for growth at home, while wages and standards are dragged down around the world.
"I believe in free trade; open markets create good jobs for our people. But I've been to China, to Thailand and Indonesia — places where the most sophisticated, high-tech labor is now done for a few dollars a day. We have to raise wages and standards, so everyone does better.
"If we don't, it'll be a race to the bottom, where wages plummet and living standards fall through the floor. Again, as with every proposal I'm making today, I want to reward work, responsibility, individual initiative — so our families can make the most of the free-trading global marketplace.
"As President, I'll press the World Trade Organization to establish an international minimum wage — different for each country, but always high enough so we don't compete with slave, sweatshop and child labor around the world. This isn't some form of global charity.
"It's right for our families, and it will create millions of new global consumers for our products. And we should lead the way by making our own minimum wage a living wage, so work always pays more than welfare.
"Let's raise the minimum wage for hard-working Americans. Finally, we cannot revive our economy — we cannot defeat terror in the Middle East — as long as we look to that dangerous region for a quarter of our daily oil supply.
"I've got news for the President, the Vice President and the oil companies they used to run: there is no path to oil self-sufficiency. We can't drill our way there, no matter how many public lands we despoil; two-thirds of the world's oil is in the Persian Gulf, and only three percent of it is here in America. And that's not going to change.
"There's a new way. Industry is already working toward totally hydrogen-powered cars that get better gas mileage, at a lower price without using a single drop of oil. So what are we waiting for? The next spike in oil prices? The next gasoline crisis? The next terrible attack on our country? President Bush gave us 30 seconds of rhetoric on this topic in his State of the Union address, but the way he's cut back efforts to promote alternative energy, we wouldn't make a dent in the problem for 30 years.
"As President, I'll launch an aggressive new Apollo Project — to work with industry to achieve true energy independence within ten years. We'll make energy-efficient products cheaper and more widely available by giving businesses tax cuts to make them, and by giving families tax cuts to buy them. If we don't do this now — if we don't appeal to common sense, and our common cause as Americans — we'll be at the mercy of the terrorists and the oil barons for the rest of our lives.
"I want to be clear about something. Across the months and miles of this campaign, I won't be asking America to do what's easy. I'll be asking us to do what's hard. It's easy to give a quick tax break to a corporation, so they have higher profits for the next quarter. It's hard to modernize our education system, so that corporation has a smarter, better-educated workforce for the next century.
"It's easy to wring our hands and say, our old health care ideas didn't work, so I hope you can afford coverage. It's hard to find a new path to a timeless goal: that everyone who works in this country will have health coverage. It's easy to open the floodgates to cheap labor overseas. It's hard to have free and open trade that truly lifts up wages and standards, so everyone advances.
"It's easy in our political system to protect the powerful, the special interests, those who can afford six-figure lobbyists to speak for them. It's hard to speak for those who have no voice in the halls of power: the working families that are the soul and strength of our country. People like my parents.
"That's what I aim to do, each and every day of this campaign. I already know what the other party will say. They'll say I'm practicing 'class warfare' by opposing their tax giveaways for the wealthy, their endless procession of loopholes for the special-interests to jump through.
"Let me tell you: the real class warfare is a President who thinks it's okay to eliminate taxes on stock dividends, while shifting the tax burden onto middle-class families. The real class warfare is an administration that released its own monthly report on private sector lay-offs this Christmas Eve — 240,000 people lost their jobs — and the administration sprang right into action. They got rid of the monthly report.
"Instead of just helping those at the top, I want to give everyone a chance to reach the top. And I believe with all my heart that if we strengthen all our families, if we make sure our economy enriches everyone, then the people at the top will do even better.
"Dr. King taught us that we are all 'tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.' As he once said, 'I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be.'
"We're all bound together. If a child doesn't have health insurance, we all pay the price when she shows up at the emergency room. If a child drops out of school and joins a gang, or goes on welfare, we all pay the price of violence, dependence and indigence.
"If a family can't afford to put a child through college, we all pay the price of sinking productivity, of shattered human potential. I thank God for the love of my parents, the strength of this community, the values and discipline I learned here at Mason Elementary School.
"I thank God for my mother's savings, the church scholarship, and the government loans that were the only way this Teamster's son could go to college. I want every child to have the chances I had, to go as far as their dreams and hard work can carry them.
"I'm not going to say what's fashionable in our politics — that I'm a Washington outsider, that I couldn't find the nation's capitol on a map, that I have no experience in the highest levels of government. I do, and I think experience matters. It's what our nation needs right now.
"I'm not the political flavor of the month. I'm not the flashiest candidate around. But the fight for working families is in my bones. It's where I come from; it's been my life's work.
"With your help, we can take that fight to the most powerful office in the history of humankind. We can build an America where we grow together, instead of being pulled apart — where our economy's strong, because all our families are secure — where nobody's left out or left behind.
"Thank you. God bless you. And may God bless these United States of America."