John Edwards photo

Address Announcing Candidacy for President of the United States in Robbins, North Carolina

September 16, 2003

Good morning.

Welcome to my hometown, Robbins, North Carolina.

It's great to be home with my family, my parents, my wife Elizabeth, and my children, and with my dearest friends. Thank you for the life you've given me and the example you've set for me. And thank all of you for being here today.

I have come home to stand in the shadow of the mill where my father worked, where I worked and where I learned the value of a hard day's work. We're not far from the post office where my mother worked, the church where we went each week, and the high school where I played football and hoped to be the first in my family to go to college.

I grew up in an American town, and I grew up with America's dream. I owe everything I have to the America I grew up in.

This is where I learned that a job is about more than a paycheck, it is about dignity, responsibility and self-respect.

This is where I learned that credibility is the currency of good people.

This is where I learned that the simple promise of America is the enduring greatness of America: a better life for all who work for it.

And so this is where - today - to make opportunity the birthright of every American, I declare myself a candidate for President of the United States.

America deserves a president who understands the people of this country, works for the people of this country, and will stop at nothing to create opportunity for all the people of this country.

That's the great promise of America -- a fair shake for all, a free ride for none.

We want to live in a country where the promise of America is always kept and never broken. We want the America we believe in to be the America our children grow up in, where all children have the same opportunity that I had - the chance to live out their dreams and make the most of the talents God gave them. We want to live in an America that works for all of us.

I have spent my life fighting my heart out for the kind of people I grew up with. As a lawyer for two decades, I stood with families and children against HMOs and insurance companies, standing up for folks who play by the rules against those who don't. We fought them and we won. And I promise to fight for you with the same passion and energy I fought for them.

I haven't spent most of my life in politics, but I've spent enough time in Washington to know how much we need to change it. You know, folks from Robbins don't have lobbyists fighting for them in Washington. They count on their government to protect their interests, and they deserve a President who goes to work every day thinking about them, fighting for them. I've never taken a dime from special interest PACs or Washington lobbyists. I have spent my life working for people against those special interests. I know this fight. I am ready for this fight. And we will win this fight!

We deserve a President who is close to our people, not the lobbyists. Who listens to our people because he knows them, he works for them. A president who hears them even when they cannot speak because they've lost their jobs, because they're caring for a child, or just because the simple struggle to make ends meet leaves them no time for anything else.

George Bush's guiding principle is a twisted reflection of the American bargain: Instead of "opportunity for all, special privileges for none," he's given us "opportunity for all the special interests."

I will put our government and our economy back in line with our values. Instead of helping HMOs to block the Patients Bill of Rights - when I'm President, we'll put medical decisions back in the hands of families and their doctors.

Instead of helping prescription drug companies to stop the sale of less expensive medicine - when I'm President, we'll make sure all our people can afford the medicine they need.

Instead of turning a blind eye to CEOs who give themselves massive raises while cutting jobs - when I'm President, we'll stand up for the people who do the work.

This President, who gives free rein to his friends at the expense of the country, will not get a free ride in 2004! We will challenge him in every single state, in small towns and large: in every place where there is a plant that closed, or an after-school program that turned away kids, or a retirement account that is no longer enough to live on. We will force him to defend his failed policies in the East and the West, in the North, and right here in the South!

I will be a champion for regular people every day. I will fight my heart out to bring back America's Dream. And together, we will take the power in our democracy out of the hands of that handful of insiders who are running our country right now, and give it back to you, give it back to the American people!

We need a different kind of politics that gives people solutions, not empty promises.

Americans know politicians can fight with each other. Now they need to know that someone will fight for them!

This campaign is built on new ideas and old values: work...responsibility... a fair shake for all and a free ride for none. We'll never get anywhere in this country if we keep offering America the same tired choices from those who say: we can have security or liberty, but not both; power or respect in the world, but not both; a strong defense or a strong economy, but not both. When I'm President of the United States, we will have both!

The opportunities of this country should be open to everyone willing to work. That's why I've offered the most specific, detailed plan out there, based on one simple idea: America works best when it works for all of us.

Make no mistake: President Bush has a war on work - you see it in everything he does. He wants to eliminate every penny of tax on wealth, and shift the whole burden to people who work for a living. So people won't pay any taxes at all when they make money from selling stocks, when they get big dividends every year, or when they inherit a massive estate.

But if you work at a restaurant earning the minimum wage - you'll pay more. If you're a teacher, already earning less than you deserve - you'll pay more. If you're a policeman working overtime - that's right, you'll pay more. I think that's wrong. It's wrong to tax millionaires less for playing the market than we tax soldiers for keeping America safe

It is time to put an end to this administration's war on work!

Working people have been shut out by this President because he values only one thing: wealth. He wants to make sure that those who have it -- keep it. That they belong to an exclusive club - that the barriers are up, the doors closed and no one else ever gets in. I don't want to build barriers, I want to knock them down. I don't want to close doors, I want to open them. I want to give opportunities to more Americans!

One of my first jobs was at the trailer plant not far from here. The men in that plant worked so their children could get ahead. It was a promise America made to them, and it is a promise I am going to keep. Just as prosperity is good for the people this President grew up with, it's also good for the people we grew up with.

And the price of opportunity or security can't be higher taxes for the middle class. I grew up in a family that struggled to make ends meet, just like millions of families today.

We should get rid of tax cuts for the very wealthiest Americans, ask them to pay their fair share, and use the money to reward hard, American work. Under my plan, we give tax cuts to help working families buy a home, save for college or retirement, and own a piece of the rock. Under my plan, we won't explode the deficit by giving tax cuts to people who don't need them. We'll get the economy going again by getting middle-class incomes growing again.

Let's give every American the chance to build a better life by doing more to keep jobs right here in America! This is what the Washington crowd will tell you. They'll put you in a job retraining program. Retraining to do what? For what job? Instead of giving tax breaks to companies that move jobs overseas, let's give tax breaks to companies that keep those jobs here... and bring jobs back to America.

I am a father, and I take my responsibilities as a father seriously. As President, I will take our responsibilities to all our children seriously. For the first time in history, we'll provide health care for every child in America, and we'll do it the only way we can: by making it the law of the land!

Let's end the shame of two public schools systems in America where the quality of your education too often depends on the affluence of your neighborhood. And let's provide every person the chance to go to college by making the first year tuition free if they're willing to work for it. I worked my way through college, and it didn't hurt me a bit. One of my jobs was unloading tractor trailers, and let me tell you, you spend a summer night in North Carolina unloading tractor trailers and you will get up and study in the morning.

And let's keep our children - and our country -- safe and secure by leading in a way that brings others to us, instead of driving them away. We must work with the world to win the war on terrorism and to finish the job in Iraq. The defeat of Saddam is a good thing for the freedom of the Iraqi people and the security of the world. We must not fail.

But we need a President who will unite the world -- in the war on terror and in the fight for security. Because we are all in this together. When I am President, we will lead in a way that always defends our people and always respects our friends. Our children will be safer growing up in a world where the United States of America is looked up to and respected.

And we need to reward our soldiers for their service and keep our promise to veterans!

I take a back seat to no one when it comes to keeping our country safe. Two years have passed since September 11th, and we have not done enough to defend our nation against another terrorist attack.

We need to give our firefighters and police officers the resources and equipment they need to protect us. We need to secure our ports and borders, our chemical plants and nuclear power plants. And we need a new domestic intelligence agency. But we cannot, in the name of the war on terrorism, let people like John Ashcroft take away our rights, take away our liberties, and take away our freedom!

And let me say something that is very personal to me. Like many of you, I grew up in the South in the 50s and 60s. I grew up with segregation all around me, and it had an effect on me that will be with me forever. Those of us from the South - we have a special responsibility when it comes to civil rights. We cannot follow - we must lead on civil rights. I talk about this everywhere I go - because this is not an African American issue. This is not an Asian American issue. This is not a Latino American issue. This is an American issue. It is about who we are, what we believe, what our values are.

This election is about a lot of issues. But in the end, it's about something bigger. It's about what kind of America we are, what kind of America we want to be. The America I believe in is a country where work is rewarded, opportunity is equal, and faith and family fill our souls.

That's the kind of town I grew up in. It's the kind of place most of us grew up in, from the backstreets of our biggest cities to the side streets of our suburbs to the Main Streets of our small towns. And everywhere, the promise is the same.

Work hard, do the right thing, and build the life you dream.

I believe in an America where the family you're born into never controls your destiny.

I believe in that America because I've lived it. It's the reason I'm standing here today. I owe everything I am to the America I grew up in.

Everything I believe about our country - every value I learned in this town, every person I have fought for in my life, every idea I have learned along the way, has brought me here.

I am running for president because I have lived in the bright light of the blessing of America. I am running for President because the great gift of an equal chance is the greatest gift I know. I am running for President, because the greatness of America that has come before is nothing compared to the greatness of America that lies ahead.

It's right in front of us. I've seen it in the promise of every city and town I visit. I hear it in the voices of every man and woman I talk to.

Together, we can make their voices heard!!!

Together, we can make opportunity the birthright we all share!!!

Together, we can restore the promise of America!!!

God bless you. God bless the United States of America.

John Edwards, Address Announcing Candidacy for President of the United States in Robbins, North Carolina Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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