John F. Kerry photo

Remarks at Milwaukee Area Technical College

October 15, 2004

It's great to be here today with all of you at Milwaukee Area Technical College. Every day, this school brings the American dream to life, opening the doors of opportunity to so many hard-working, ambitious students.

And today, at a school devoted to preparing students for the jobs of the twenty-first century, it's fitting that I'm here to discuss what we must do to create the economy of the twenty-first century. An economy where the American Dream will once again become a reality for middle class families.

Right now, we've got an economy where, for too many people, the American Dream is harder and harder to reach. In just the past four years, we've lost 1.6 million private sector jobs – 67,500 manufacturing jobs right here in Wisconsin. Our opponents suggest telling the truth about the challenges we face is pessimistic. Well, I think the most pessimistic thing you can say is that America can't do better.

Job loss – which they proclaim is a myth – is just the beginning of the problem.

We know that the strength of our economy isn't just about how many jobs we've gained or lost. It's also about whether those jobs lift up our families. It's about whether our incomes are rising or falling. It's about whether people can buy a home, afford good health care, send their kids to college, and enjoy a comfortable retirement after a lifetime of hard work.

The truth is that right now, too many of them can't. The jobs we're creating today pay $9,000 less than the ones we've lost. Many are part-time or temporary, and many don't provide health care or benefits.

So today, even two incomes barely cover the basics. Health care costs are up 64%. College tuition up 35%. Gas prices up 30%. All while family incomes have fallen by $1,500. As President Reagan said, "Facts are stubborn things."

Right now, we've got an economy where people feel like they're on a treadmill, running faster and faster with each passing year. But they're not getting ahead. They're staying in place – and they're falling behind.

The bottom line: this economy has a bad case of the flu – and it a needs a dose of new medicine.

George Bush has had four years to do something – anything – to create an economy where hard working Americans can live out their dreams. But instead of seizing the moment, he squandered the opportunity. The problem is, this President either just doesn't understand what's happened to our economy or he understands and doesn't care.

Jobs are being shipped overseas – and his Administration says outsourcing is good for us. He's the first president to lose jobs in 72 years – and they say it's time to celebrate. The first president in 11 presidents to lose jobs on his watch. Wages are falling, costs are rising – and they tell us, hey, don't worry, this is the best economy of our lifetime! The first president in 70 years to see family income decline every year of his presidency.

Remarkably, the President said he was proud of his record. Proud of his record? Proud of millions of Americans unemployed ... proud of tens of millions without health insurance ... proud of millions of families facing rising costs and falling incomes? And this on the day the federal government announced the largest deficit in American history. If that's what he's proud of, I'd hate to see what he's ashamed of.

And just last week, Bush's Secretary of Commerce said – and I quote – "I just don't accept that conclusion that we've lost jobs during this administration." This week, his Treasury Secretary claimed that the job losses are nothing but a "myth." Mr. President, the millions of Americans who have lost jobs on your watch are not "myths," they are middle class families – and for four years, you've turned your back on them. With comments like that, we can stop guessing which mistakes the president was referring to the other day when he was talking about his appointments.

The President has proven beyond a doubt that he's out of touch, out of ideas, and unwilling to change course. He can spin until he's dizzy, but at the end of the day, who does he think the American people are going to believe – George Bush or their own eyes?

The reason the President doesn't talk about the real challenges is because for the wealthy and well-connected, it really is the best economy of their lifetime. When he handed Halliburton a $7 billion no-bid contract, they really did have reason to celebrate. When he gave tax breaks to companies that ship jobs overseas, it really was good for them. And when his Medicare bill gave the prescription drug companies a $139 billion in windfall profits, well, it doesn't get much better than that.

But it doesn't have to be this way. On November 2nd, we have a choice. We can choose a President who understands the challenges our economy is facing – and has the vision and daring to meet them. A President who will create an economy where the doors of opportunity are once again open to our great middle class. If you give me the chance, I will be that President.

I believe that we're ready for a fresh start in America. Because middle-class families simply can't afford four more years of the Bush economy. Because behind every statistic about lost jobs, behind every statistic about jobs that don't pay enough – there's a story.

It's the story of people like Ray Raschilla, who I met a couple of weeks ago. Ray's a steelworker who's been locked out of a job for almost a year. He's been looking hard for work, but when employers know he's in a lock out, it's hard to get hired.

For Ray, the most difficult moment came when his teenaged daughter told him she was going to her first homecoming. Ray asked her what she was going to do for a dress, and she looked at him and replied, "Well, Dad, I know you're not working, so don't worry, Mom and Grandma took care of it." Ray told me, "That was probably the toughest day of the last 12 months, because she knew I couldn't help her – and I knew I couldn't help her."

I meet people like Ray every day – folks who have that feeling of powerlessness. The feeling that they haven't just lost a way to make a living, they've lost a way of life.

And I meet people who've got jobs, but still aren't getting by. People who tell me, John, I'm working days, I'm working nights, I'm working weekends – isn't my family supposed to be doing better?

These folks are right on the edge as costs spiral beyond their control. For them, there's always that nagging sense that even if they've had their job for a year, or five years, or ten years – they don't know whether they'll still have it next week, or next month.

And let's be clear: An economy like this doesn't just happen by itself. Whether people win or lose in our economy is not a matter of chance – it's a matter of choices.

Think back to the 1990's, when we had a President with a vision of a new economy where the bright light of opportunity shone for all Americans. That President made the right choices, and the result was 23 million new jobs, incomes up $7,200, six million fewer people in poverty.

George W. Bush came into office with a very different philosophy. He made a different set of choices – and today, we see a very different set of results.

Not once, not twice, but three times, he chose to give tax cuts to the wealthiest Americans – those who earn more than $200,000 a year. Tax cuts that would increase the burden on middle class families. George W. Bush promised that his economic plan would create 6 million new jobs. He was wrong – and we're now seven million jobs behind where he predicted we'd be.

And then, when he had a chance to save American jobs, George Bush chose tax cuts that reward corporations for shipping jobs overseas – and he raised taxes on businesses that create jobs here at home.

But instead of talking about the real challenges facing America's middle class, all George Bush can do is launch more false attacks against me. Just yesterday, he finished his latest false charge by saying once again, "you can run but you can't hide."

Well as you may know, that line comes from the boxer Joe Louis. And it makes me think of another quote from another great boxer: what Muhammad Ali said to George Foreman, after Foreman had thrown some punches. Ali said, "Is that all you got?"

Mr. President, with the minimum wage the lowest it's been in nearly 50 years, denying 9.2 million women $3,800 a year, is that all you got? Mr. President, with health care costs skyrocketing, premiums up $3,500, and 5 million more Americans without health care on your watch, is that all you got?

Mr. President, with gasoline prices at record levels, with people emptying their wallets every time they fill up their tanks, is that all you got? Mr. President, with rising costs and falling incomes and middle class families squeezed like never before, is that all you got? After a campaign filled with excuses to justify your record and false attacks on mine, "Is that all you got?"

Well, let me tell you what I got. I will raise the minimum wage, so millions of Americans don't have to live in poverty. I will bring down health care costs and strengthen the middle class. And I will make America energy independent of Mideast oil.

In the end, George Bush and I just have fundamentally different approaches to jobs and the economy. He thinks that we should give more to the most – and eventually, a little something will filter down to the middle class. He judges the success of our economy by the success of those at the top.

I disagree. I believe that the success of our economy is about your success – it's about whether people who work hard every day can build a better life for their families. I believe that we should put middle class Americans first, and build an economy that lifts all Americans. And here's how I'm going to do it.

First, we're going to focus on keeping and creating good jobs right here in America. We'll close the tax loopholes that reward companies for shipping jobs overseas – and we'll reward companies that create and keep good jobs here at home. We'll help American business grow by cutting the corporate tax rate by five percent, giving 99 percent of businesses a tax break. And we'll provide a New Jobs Tax Credit for every small business and manufacturer who decides to add more employees to the payroll.

Second, we'll offer middle-class tax cuts that help families shoulder their biggest costs. We'll give parents a tax credit of $1,000 to help pay for the rising costs of child care. And we'll offer a tax break on up to $4,000 in tuition for all four years of college to give more young Americans the chance to live our their dreams.

Third, we'll provide immediate relief to middle class families who've been hit hard by soaring health care costs. We'll give a tax cut to every small business that provides quality health care for its workers. We'll help all businesses lower the costs of their health care plans. We'll fight to cut prescription drug costs. And we'll give every American access to same plan that members of Congress get.

Finally, we'll invest in our people and their ideas to build the foundation of the high-tech, high-wage economy of the future. The fact is that today, times are changing more rapidly than ever before. And it's not enough to change with the times – we need to change ahead of the times.

That's why we're going to support research and development – because we know that the jobs of tomorrow depend on the discoveries of today. And we'll invest in the energy technology of the future – in innovations that will create good jobs across America. We'll give automakers tax credits up to $5,000 to create the fuel-efficient cars of the future, and we'll make sure that alternative energy sources will account for 20% of our fuel and 20% of our electricity by 2020. I believe it's high time we had an America that relied on its own ingenuity, innovation, and skilled workers – not the Saudi Royal Family.

We'll do all of this while cutting the deficit in half – and we won't raise taxes on middle class Americans by one dime. Instead, we'll pay for our plans by rolling back the Bush tax cuts on Americans making over $200,000, closing corporate loopholes, cutting wasteful spending, and reinstating the basic pay-as-you-go rules that every family lives by.

When it comes to our economy, America is ready for a fresh start. I believe we're ready to leave the failed policies of the past behind, and look to the future with the hope that America can once again open the doors of opportunity to all.

We can get our economy moving again. We can make the tax code fair. We can raise the incomes of working Americans. We can make the economy work for everyone – not just those at the top. We need a president who understands the challenge and is committed to fighting for the middle class and those struggling to get into it.

My friends, in the end, this isn't about being a Democrat or a Republican. It's about what it means to be an American. It's about mothers and fathers who wake up every morning determined to build a better life for their children – and go to bed every night praying that they'll be safe and our nation will be strong. It's about the hope and optimism that says America can always do better. We're the country of the future – we're the can-do country. We just need to come together as one America and believe in ourselves. We can bring back our mighty dream. And, with your help, we will.

Thank you, and God bless America

John F. Kerry, Remarks at Milwaukee Area Technical College Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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