Barack Obama photo

Remarks in Dayton, Ohio

October 09, 2008

We meet today at a moment of great uncertainty for America. In recent weeks, we've seen a growing financial crisis that's threatening not only banks and businesses, but your economic security, as well. It's getting harder and harder to get a loan for that new car or that startup-business or that college you've dreamed of attending. And if you've invested your life savings in the stock market, you've probably watched a good chunk of it disappear.

It's a crisis that's been years in the making - the result of greed and irresponsibility that stretched from Wall Street to Washington. And the truth is, it will take more than a few days to repair the damage. Yesterday, the Fed took another unprecedented step to cut rates together with nations around the world, and those nations will soon be gathering in Washington to deal with this crisis. The next President will have to manage this recovery. The question is, will that President be looking out for you?

Senator McCain and I had a chance to talk about this the other night in Nashville. Some of you may have seen it. In that debate, he offered what he said was a new idea to help deal with the financial crisis, and that was to have the government - meaning taxpayers - buy up bad mortgages in America.

Well, the idea wasn't particularly new. The authority for the Secretary of Treasury to buy and renegotiate bad mortgages is part of the financial rescue plan we just passed. In fact, I proposed it myself because, if it's properly done and limited in scope, such buybacks can be one tool to help innocent homeowners stay in their homes on terms they can afford.

But I also said at the time that this should not be a vehicle to reward banks and lending institutions that recklessly wrote bad loans. It should not be a bailout for the high-rolling real estate speculators who took those loans to make a quick buck.

We have to act to fix our broken economy and restore the credit markets. But taxpayers shouldn't be asked to pick up the tab for the very folks who helped create this crisis.

And that's the problem with Senator McCain's risky idea. On Tuesday night, his campaign said that he would ask the banks to absorb some of the cost by selling the bad mortgages to the government at a discount. Then, by Wednesday morning, he'd changed his mind and was proposing to bail out banks and lenders with taxpayer money.

Senator McCain actually wants the government to pay the full face value of mortgages on the books, even though they're not worth that much anymore. It's a plan that would guarantee that American taxpayers lose by handing over $300 billion to underwrite the kind of greed and irresponsibility on Wall Street that got us into this mess.

But it's not just that the McCain bailout rewards irresponsible lenders, it's that his bailout would make it more likely that those lenders keep up their bad behavior. Just yesterday, Countrywide, one of the nation's largest lenders, reached an agreement to help homeowners refinance their mortgages. Under Senator McCain's plan, lenders like Countrywide wouldn't have any incentive to come forward and help homeowners - because they could just wait for the government to bail them out.

Now, this is just the latest in a series of shifting positions that Senator McCain has taken on this issue. His first response to this crisis in March was that homeowners shouldn't get any help at all. Then, a few weeks ago, he put out a plan that basically ignored homeowners. And now, in the course of 12 hours, he's ended up with a plan that punishes taxpayers, rewards banks, and won't solve our housing crisis.

Well, I don't think we can afford that kind of erratic and uncertain leadership in these uncertain times. We need steady leadership in the White House. We need a President we can trust in times of crisis. And that's the kind of President I intend to be.

Make no mistake: we must do more to help innocent homebuyers. I've worked on a series of proposals over the past two years to do that. And I support the Treasury's efforts to buy up troubled mortgages. But we need to do it in a responsible way. That means making sure that we're not overpaying for these mortgages and rewarding the very lenders whose recklessness helped cause this crisis. It means giving taxpayers a share of the benefit when our housing market recovers. And it means doing what I proposed more than two years ago and cracking down on predatory lenders by treating mortgage fraud like the crime that it is.

We also have to make sure that if the Treasury moves forward with its plan to put more money into struggling banks, taxpayers will be able to get their money back and the CEOs who contributed to this crisis won't get rich as a result. And those AIG executives who went on vacation with taxpayer dollars? They should return to Washington with a check for the taxpayers and be fired on the spot.

Now, there are other steps we can take to help homeowners that won't cost taxpayers a dime. One thing we can do is change our bankruptcy laws so they help ordinary folks. Right now, the law lets bankruptcy judges write down your mortgage if you own six or seven homes, but not if you have only one. That might help Senator McCain sleep easier at night, but it won't do anything for people like you. That's why if I'm President, and you're like most people and own only one home, I'll make sure those judges can write down your mortgage too.

So I know these are difficult times - for Ohio and for America. But I believe we can steer ourselves out of this crisis - not just because I have confidence in the plan I'm proposing or the leadership I'm offering, but because I believe in you. Because I believe in this country. Because this is the United States of America. This is a nation that has faced down war and depression; great challenges and great threats. And at each and every moment, we have risen to meet these challenges - not as Democrats, not as Republicans, but as Americans. With resolve. With courage. With that fundamental belief that here in America, our destiny is not written for us, but by us. That's who we are, and that's the country we need to be right now.

America still has the most talented, most productive workers of any country on Earth who work two jobs or three jobs and take the last bus home at night because they want something more for their children. We're still the home to innovation and technology, colleges and universities that are the envy of the world. Some of the biggest ideas in history have come from our small businesses and our research facilities. It won't be easy, but there's no reason we can't make this century another American century. Of course we can.

But I also know this. It will take a new direction. It will take new leadership in Washington. It will take a real change in the policies and politics of the last eight years. And that's why the decision you make in twenty-six days is so important. That's why this is no ordinary election - because this is no ordinary moment for America.

And yet, even as we face the most serious economic crisis of our time; even as so many Americans are worried about keeping their jobs or paying their bills or staying in their homes, Senator McCain's campaign announced last week that they plan to "turn the page" on the discussion about our economy and spend the final weeks of this election attacking me instead. His campaign actually said, and I quote, "if we keep talking about the economy, we're going to lose."

Well I've got news for John McCain. This isn't about losing a campaign - this is about Americans who are losing their jobs, and their homes, and their life savings. I can take four more weeks of John McCain's attacks, but America can't take four more years of John McCain's George Bush policies. We can't afford four more years of the economic theory that says we should give more and more to those with the most and hope that prosperity trickles down to everyone else. We can't afford more four years of John McCain's call for less regulation so that no one in Washington is watching anyone on Wall Street. We've seen where that's led us and we're not going back.

It is time to turn the page on eight years of economic policies that put Wall Street before Main Street but ended up hurting both. We need policies that grow our economy from the bottom-up, so that every American, everywhere has the chance to get ahead. Not just corporate CEOs, but their secretaries too. Not just the person who owns the factory, but the men and women who work on its floor. Because if we've learned anything from this economic crisis, it's that we're all connected; we're all in this together; and we will rise or fall as one nation - as one people.

The rescue plan that passed Congress last week isn't the end of what we'll do to strengthen this economy, it's only the beginning. Now we need to pass a rescue plan for the middle-class that will provide every family immediate relief to cope with rising food and gas prices, save one million jobs by rebuilding our schools and roads, and help states and cities avoid budget cuts and tax increases. And we should extend expiring unemployment benefits to those Americans who've lost their jobs and can't find new ones. I've been fighting for this plan for months. My opponent has said nothing. And that is the choice in this election.

You've heard a lot about taxes in this campaign. Well, here's the truth - John McCain and I are both offering tax cuts. The difference is, he wants to give the average Fortune 500 CEO a $700,000 tax cut but nothing at all to over 100 million Americans.

I'll give a middle-class tax cut to 95% of all workers. And if you make less than $250,000 a year, you won't see your taxes increase one single dime - not your payroll taxes, not your income taxes, not your capital gains taxes - nothing. Because in an economy like this, the last thing we should do is raise taxes on the middle-class.

My opponent wants to give $200 million in tax cuts to the biggest corporations in America. I will eliminate capital gains taxes for the small businesses and the start-ups that will create the high-wage, high-tech jobs of tomorrow.

John McCain wants to give tax breaks to the corporations that ship our jobs overseas. If I am President, I will end those tax breaks and give them to companies that create good jobs in the United States of America. That is the choice in this election.

Senator McCain's first reaction to this economic crisis was to say that "the fundamentals of our economy are strong." Well, I don't know about you, but where I come from, there's nothing more fundamental than a job - not just because it's a source of income, but because it's a source of self-respect. And if we want to turn this economy around and lead the world in the 21st century, we have to create the high-wage jobs of tomorrow right here in America.

If I am President, I will finally fix our broken health care system. My opponent talks about giving every family a tax credit to buy health care, but what he doesn't mention is that he'll also tax your benefits for the first time in history. It's an old Washington bait and switch. He gives you a tax credit with one hand, but raises your taxes with the other.

He thinks we won't notice. Well, I've got news for John McCain: we notice, we know better, and we're not going to let him get away with it.

This issue is personal for me. My mother died of ovarian cancer at the age of 53, and I'll never forget how she spent the final months of her life lying in a hospital bed, fighting with her insurance company because they claimed that her cancer was a pre-existing condition and didn't want to pay for treatment. If I am President, I will make sure those insurance companies can never do that again.

My health care plan will make sure insurance companies can't discriminate against those who are sick and need care most. If you have health insurance, the only thing that will change under my plan is the amount you pay in premiums. That will be less. And if you don't have health insurance, you'll be able to get the same kind of health insurance that Members of Congress get for themselves. We'll invest in preventative care and new technology to finally lower the cost of health care for families, businesses, and the entire economy. That's the change we need, and that's the choice in this election.

If I am President, I will invest $15 billion a year in renewable sources of energy to create five million new, green jobs over the next decade - jobs that pay well and can't be outsourced; jobs building solar panels and wind turbines and fuel-efficient cars; jobs that will help us end our dependence on oil from Middle East dictators.

I'll also put two million more Americans to work rebuilding our crumbling roads, schools, and bridges - because it is time to build an American infrastructure for the 21st century.

And we'll give every child, everywhere the skills and the knowledge they need to compete with any worker, anywhere in the world. I will not allow countries to out-teach us today so they can out-compete us tomorrow. It is time to provide every American with a world-class education. That means investing in early childhood education. That means recruiting an army of new teachers, and paying them better, and giving them more support in exchange for higher standards and more accountability. And it means making a deal with every American who has the drive and the will but not the money to go to college: if you commit to serving your country after you graduate, we will make sure you can afford your tuition. You invest in America, America will invest in you, and together, we will move this country forward.

Finally, I will take on the corruption in Washington and on Wall Street to make sure a crisis like this can never, ever happen again. I'll put in place the common-sense regulations and rules of the road I've been calling for since March - rules that will keep our market free, fair, and honest; rules that will restore accountability and responsibility in our corporate boardrooms.

And just as we demand accountability on Wall Street, I will also demand it in Washington. That's why I'm not going to stand here and simply tell you what I'm going to spend, I'm going to tell you how we're going to save when I am President.

I'll do what you do in your own family budgets and make sure we're spending money wisely. I will go through the entire federal budget, page by page, line by line, and eliminate programs that don't work and aren't needed. We'll start by ending a war in Iraq that's costing $10 billion a month while the Iraqi government sits on a billion dollar surplus. And we'll save billions more by cutting waste, improving management, and strengthening oversight.

These are the changes and reforms we need. A new era of responsibility and accountability on Wall Street and in Washington. Common-sense regulations to prevent a crisis like this from ever happening again. Investments in the technology and innovation that will restore prosperity and lead to new jobs and a new economy for the 21st century. Bottom-up growth that gives every American a fair shot at the American dream.

I won't pretend this will be easy or come without cost. We will all need to sacrifice and we will all need to pull our weight because now more than ever, we are all in this together. What this crisis has taught us is that at the end of the day, there is no real separation between Main Street and Wall Street. There is only the road we're traveling on as Americans - and we will rise or fall on that journey as one nation; as one people.

This country and the dream it represents are being tested in a way that we haven't seen in nearly a century. And future generations will judge ours by how we respond to this test. Will they say that this was a time when America lost its way and its purpose? When we allowed our own petty differences and broken politics to plunge this country into a dark and painful recession?

Or will they say that this was another one of those moments when America overcame? When we battled back from adversity by recognizing that common stake that we have in each other's success?

This is one of those moments. I realize you're cynical and fed up with politics. I understand that you're disappointed and even angry with your leaders. You have every right to be. But despite all of this, I ask of you what's been asked of the American people in times of trial and turmoil throughout our history. I ask you to believe - to believe in yourselves, in each other, and in the future we can build together.

Together, we cannot fail. Not now. Not when we have a crisis to solve and an economy to save. Not when there are so many Americans without jobs and without homes. Not when there are families who can't afford to see a doctor, or send their child to college, or pay their bills at the end of the month. Not when there is a generation that is counting on us to give them the same opportunities and the same chances that we had for ourselves.

We can do this. Americans have done this before. Some of us had grandparents or parents who said maybe I can't go to college but my child can; maybe I can't have my own business but my child can. I may have to rent, but maybe my children will have a home they can call their own. I may not have a lot of money but maybe my child will run for Senate. I might live in a small village but maybe someday my son can be president of the United States of America.

Now it falls to us. Together, we cannot fail. And I need you to make it happen. If you want the next four years looking like the last eight, then I am not your candidate. But if you want real change - if you want an economy that rewards work, and that works for Main Street and Wall Street; if you want tax relief for the middle class and millions of new jobs; if you want health care you can afford and education that helps your kids compete; then I ask you to knock on some doors, make some calls, talk to your neighbors, and give me your vote on November 4th. And if you do, I promise you - we will win Ohio, we will win this election, and then you and I - together - will change this country and change this world. Thank you, God bless you, and may God bless America.

Barack Obama, Remarks in Dayton, Ohio Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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