John Edwards photo

Remarks to the City Club in Cleveland, Ohio

September 21, 2004

It is an honor to be with you.

When I was in school, I remember coming down the stairs at night. I would see the glow of the television, hear the volume on low, and see my Dad working at the kitchen table. He wasn't going over the family bills or paper work from his job at the mill. He was learning math on TV.

After a long day at work, he would come home and turn on a local TV station to learn. Every year, he'd see another young person with no experience and a college degree move past him. And he knew that if he didn't try something his chances of moving up would disappear.

So my Dad—like millions of Americans—did what he could for himself so that he could better provide for his family. I was proud of what he was trying to do. I was sad because he couldn't get a college degree. And I realized that I lived in a country where I could.

Standing in that house, I always had hope. At that time, America was a place where hard work and determination could take you anywhere. My mother ran her own small business, refinishing furniture to help pay for my tuition. Thanks to my mother and father's hard work in that mill, in that business, and at that kitchen table, they were able to buy a house. Later on, they were able to help me become the first person in my family to go to college. And I stand here today because I have lived in the bright light and the blessing of America.

What I saw in that house in Robbins, North Carolina was very American. It was two parents working hard, meeting their responsibilities, and living in an economy that made the American Dream possible. It was a time when you knew that faith, responsibility and hard work would lift your family up. They would give you and your children the future they deserve. And this is the great promise of America.

But I fear today, that that light is flickering and that blessing is no longer there for any but a few. And this great shift away from the power and the promise of our middle class means that the gifts and the graces of too many young people never have a chance to shine.

Today, I fear that a young boy in Athens who goes downstairs and sees his parents at the kitchen table doesn't sense hope in his house. He sees his parents trying to get through the month. He sees them divide up their bills into piles that say "pay now" and "pay later." And he sees his mother and father work hard and they can't even break even.

That boy thinks, "This is what life will be like." He looks on with resignation and the false belief that this is as good as it gets.

Two people are responsible for causing this great shift in America: George W. Bush and Dick Cheney. Their policies have decimated the economy of Ohio and the American values we believe in.

This campaign is about different leaders and different economic plans. It's about different visions for America. And it's about what's holding our economy down—the callous view of a few at the top who believe that the values that got us here can now be left behind.

It is because George Bush and Dick Cheney abandoned our values that Ohio has lost 237,000 jobs; family incomes have dropped by more than $1,500; health care costs have gone up more than $3,600; tuition at Cleveland State and Ohio State is up $3000; and once every five minutes an Ohio family files for bankruptcy.

The struggles people face in Ohio and the weakness in our economy are a direct result of decisions made by George Bush and Dick Cheney. And those decisions are the direct result of a vision that honors wealth and privilege rather than work and responsibility.

When our economy suffered after September 11, this President made a choice. He fought for tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans. And he did nothing to put more money into the pockets of working families.

When our country went 7 straight months of losing jobs, this President made a choice. He proposed $25 billion in backward-looking tax cuts for big corporations like Enron. But he did nothing to pass tax cuts that would encourage businesses to create jobs.

When the incomes of working families began to fall after 7 years of strong growth, this President made a choice. He slashed the overtime for six million workers. But he did nothing to raise the minimum wage.

When health care costs skyrocketed out of control, this President made a choice. He gave away $140 billion to the big drug companies and fought to lift the responsibilities of HMOs and insurance companies while taking away the rights of families. But he did nothing to lower health care costs so Americans could keep more of their hard-earned money.

When Ohio schools raised college tuition because of state budget deficits, this President made a choice. He stood up for subsidies to big banks and tried to cut off Pell Grants for 84,000 students. But he did nothing to relieve the burden on our state budgets and increase student aid.

Every choice he made did something to harm our middle class and weaken our economy. So when it comes to what working people need, this really is a Do-Nothing Presidency: Do Nothing to create jobs, do nothing to relieve the pressure on the middle class, do nothing to bring down health care costs, and do nothing to help more young people go to college.

You can count on George Bush and Dick Cheney to do one thing: look out for their friends at the top. It is very simple: they honor wealth, not work.

Make no mistake. This idea is the most radical and dangerous economic agenda to hit our shores since socialism a century ago. Like socialism, it corrupts the very nature of our democracy and our free enterprise tradition. It is not a plan to grow the American economy. It is a plan to corrupt the American economy and shrink the winners' circle.

John Kerry and I believe that the hard work and responsibility of the middle class are the engine of our economy. We believe our government should honor those values and give everyone who works hard and takes responsibility a chance to do well. We believe in expanding the winner's circle. We believe in one America.

History shows us that our approach works better for America. To have real economic growth in this country, we have to strengthen and expand the middle class.

We saw it with the G.I. Bill. Young men had fought for America, and America invested in them. Millions of young people went to college and triggered the greatest expansion of the middle class the world has ever seen.

We saw it in the 1990s. Government lived within a budget just like our families do. A tight labor market drove up wages. The average family made $7000 more, and we lifted 6 million Americans out of poverty.

And look where we are today. George Bush and Dick Cheney have replaced that virtuous path with a vicious circle when it comes to our economy.

We have a labor market that cannot keep up with our growing population. We see declining wages even as health care costs go through the roof. And the gap between the Two Americas is growing. Corporate profits are up. Our most expensive stores' sales are up. But average wages are down over the last year, and the Targets and Gaps are seeing their sales stall. Instead of creating good middle-class jobs, we're creating more temporary positions, part-time jobs, and jobs in fast food restaurants.

When you have a government that does nothing to reward work, our economy doesn't pick up and this vicious circle continues. The people at the top do just fine. The people who make this country work struggle to get through the month, and our economy never picks up steam.

John Kerry and I will break this vicious circle. And we will put America back on a virtuous path where work is rewarded, the middle class expands, and the American Dream is there for all who are willing to work for it.

It is time to build one America with one economy that works for everyone. Where no child ever looks on at his parents and thinks, "I can't hope for something better." But dreams only of building something better. And this is the season for change. It is time to build an economy that honors our values and rewards work.

I know personally what it's like when the factory or the plant closes down. The whole town suffers, and that's what happened when the textile mill my father worked in closed down.

We can prevent some of these jobs from leaving America. And there are real steps we can take that will stem the loss of manufacturing jobs in Ohio. But that alone won't be enough.

One constant of our new global economy is that there will always be change--one sector will be growing while another lags. It is the responsibility of our leaders to anticipate these changes, do what they can to save the old jobs and create new ones, and give our workforce the tools it needs to adapt to the new economy.

What I will present today is our plan to help Ohio and America build one economy. This plan will attract new business to Ohio and create more manufacturing jobs. And it will strengthen and expand the middle class so that the American dream of building something better is never replaced with the dream of just getting by.

First, we are going to create and keep good paying jobs right here in America.

Today, if one company wants to move its factory to China and another company wants to keep its plant open outside of Marietta, the company that ships its jobs overseas is rewarded. They get the tax break while our middle class watches more and more good paying jobs leave this country. They get the tax break while our middle class loses its muscle. And they get the tax break while your friends and neighbors have to figure out how to live on $12,000 less in their new job.

This administration values America's work so little that they actually proposed to offer new tax breaks for companies to go overseas. We should be exporting American products, not American jobs.

When John Kerry is President, we will end the tax deferral rules that encourage companies to ship jobs overseas. Instead, we will cut taxes for businesses that create jobs here. In fact we will cut taxes for 99% of American companies that pay taxes and create jobs.

For those small businesses and manufacturers that want to hire new employees we will create a new jobs tax credit to pay your share of the payroll tax for every person you hire. And for those small business owners who want to hire more employees but cannot afford to insure them, we will give you up to a 50% tax cut on your health care to cover your employees.

You see, we believe government should cut taxes on American business. But it shouldn't cut and run from America's values when it does.

Another way to honor work is to enforce our trade agreements and trade laws so we secure a more level playing field for our workers. We need to trade for our businesses, our consumers, and our economy. But we need to make sure that our trading partners honor their part of the bargain.

Your own Senator, George Voinovich called America's enforcement of trade laws, "nothing short of abysmal." Right now, this administration is using our trade policy to compensate for their own failed foreign policy, by cutting deals with small countries willing to support us. And in the meantime, our major trading partners are cleaning our clock, bringing two or three trade cases against us for every one we bring against them.

Today we are running the biggest trade deficit in history. Exports are down for the first time in history. And no place feels the downside of an Administration that fails to look out for our businesses and our workers more than Ohio.

Ohio has lost 173,000 manufacturing jobs under this President. Here in Cleveland, CHC Industries shut down its plant because of Chinese dumping.

And I heard a similar story from the workers from Techneglas in Columbus. They were part of the television glass and components manufacturer that closed three plants and sent 1,100 workers home. And one of the reasons they closed is China's continued manipulation of its currency. They are able to sell products for up to 40 percent less—not because they're more efficient or cheaper, but because they play games in the currency markets. This president won't even say it's against the rules.

John Kerry will. He will fight China's currency manipulation. And he will stand up and defend the federal trade enforcement law that that has delivered over $200 million to Ohio manufacturers over the last four years.

These trade policies aren't abstract ideas or some things that happen over there. They impact our lives. While we must always trade and open our markets, we must do so in a way that is right for our workers and the world's workers.

We all have to do well if this economy is going to break this vicious circle and start to grow. And that means making sure businesses across America can compete with businesses around the world. Today, health care costs add $400 to the cost of a Japanese car, but $1400 to the cost of an American car. American manufacturers that have always done the right thing and offered health care are at a growing disadvantage compared to our international competition.

We can change that. We can change it by lifting the burden of catastrophic costs from businesses and by offering tax credits to make health care more affordable. We can change it by allowing the reimportation of prescription drugs and the government to negotiate a fair price. And we can change it by passing a new three-strikes-and-you're out rule that targets the lawyers who clog our court systems with meritless cases that should never be filed—not the victims whose injuries are all too real.

John and I also understand that a strong economy isn't just about Wall Street doing well. It's about the strength and livelihoods of our Main Streets and back streets in our small towns and rural areas.

That's why we'll create a venture capital fund to support small businesses and entrepreneurs in small towns that are hurting. We will make sure we have broadband everywhere in America and help small manufacturers upgrade their technology. And we can invest in the new technologies and renewable energies so that America can become independent of Middle East oil.

Here in Ohio, your leading universities, research institutes, and advanced manufacturing industries will spark new growth and innovation. They are critical for strengthening our high-tech economy and key to Ohio's economic future.

Since the Second World War, technology has accounted for nearly 50 percent of the state's economic growth. There are 167,000 Ohio workers employed in high tech jobs.

If we expand investment in technology, we can create an economic environment where these kinds of good paying jobs are created every day. And by investing in education, we can use our best and our brightest to solve our countries greatest challenges. The strength and knowledge of our working men and women will launch the next wave of economic expansion. And Ohio can and will lead the way.

Once we take these steps, our walk is not done. When we put America back to work, we also need to make sure that work is honored and rewarded.

George Bush is talking about building an ownership society, but he has spent four years building a debt society for everyone except those at the top. His economic vision has one goal: to get rid of taxes on unearned income and shift the tax burden onto people who work. And he has moved toward that goal with the tax cuts he has passed already.

The President's new "tax reform" is the ultimate expression of his values. We don't know all of the details, but we know a lot of them because of a memo released by his former Treasury Secretary.

We know people who inherit hundreds of millions will pay nothing; firemen and waitresses and working people will pay everything. And we know his plan will take away the most important incentive for the single most important form of ownership: it will eliminate entirely the tax deduction for home mortgage interest.

According to the Treasury Department, the effects of this project on the economy as a whole are "uncertain." But the effects on the middle class are clear. It means that they will bear more of the tax burden in America.

It's time to return to the idea that made this country great: Instead of helping wealthy people protect their wealth, we should reward the work of America's middle class.

That is why John Kerry and I have a plan to cut taxes on work and expand our middle class. To help middle class families pay for health care, health care reform and a tax credit to help lower premiums up to $1,000 a year. To help them cover the rising costs of child care, a tax credit up to $1,000 so children have a safe place to go while their parents work. To help middle-class families keep more of their hard-earned money, we will stop the deceptive and unfair credit card deals that cost families billions each year.

And to give more young Americans the chance I had to be the first member of their family to go to college, a plan to make college affordable. We will provide $10 billion in aid for states, including $340 million for Ohio, as long as the state holds tuition in line with inflation. We will provide every person with a tax credit on $4,000 of college tuition. And if young people are willing to give two years of service to their community, state or country, then we'll give them four years of college tuition.

When we say that we want to cut taxes for the middle class, these are more than words. It's what John and I have fought for over and over again. They want more tax cuts for millionaires. We want more tax cuts for the middle class because we know that a strong and growing middle class means a stronger America.

Just as families live within a budget, Washington should too. And we will restore fiscal discipline in Washington. We will roll back tax cuts on multimillionaires, restore real budget rules, and we will cut corporate loopholes, corporate welfare, and the federal bureaucracy that is growing again under George W. Bush. Our plan will cut the deficit in half and this will restore confidence in our markets. It will free up new capital for new businesses and encourage them to start hiring again.

There is a fundamental American principle we all believe in—creating wealth for those who'll work for it and expanding the middle class. But the very idea of the "working poor" has no place in our America.

Cleveland is a proud city, a great city. And it belongs at the top of many lists. But not the one we heard about last month—having the highest poverty rate in the nation. We need to see these numbers as a call to action.

Poverty isn't something we can live with. It's something we must strive to end. Based not on handouts, but based on hard work. We will encourage the job creation in Cleveland by fixing our tax policies and our trade policies and investing in our small businesses. We will honor hard work by raising the minimum wage. That will help 396,000 people in Ohio. And we will honor hard work by expanding tax credits for those who work.

In Cleveland, thousands of working families who are eligible for those tax credits don't collect them. Thousands get advance "tax refunds" that are actually loans at interest rates of 100 percent or higher. And often these families see their earnings eroded even more by predatory lending at rates no one should have to bear. Ohio has the highest foreclosure rate in the country, and in Cleveland, 1 in 66 homes were in foreclosure in 2003.

We can do something about it. First, we'll work with Cleveland to lead an outreach campaign, expand voluntary help with taxes, speed up tax refunds, and get the IRS out of the business of encouraging high-interest loans. We will crack down on predatory lending to save Ohio families $300 million a year, and use our laws to prompt banks to offer more loans and services to low-income families. And we can make sure fathers honor their responsibilities by paying child support and helping them work.

We can lead a rebirth right here in Cleveland. This city has 350 brownfields covering 6,000 acres. We can clean them up and replace hollowed out buildings with good new homes. And we can strengthen the public schools in Cleveland so that families stay in the city. You just laid off more than 800 teachers because the schools are underfunded. How are we going to educate the best minds of tomorrow without a good teacher at the head of every classroom?

One thing that you understand here in Cleveland is that poverty isn't "their" problem. Nobody is more eager than you to fight poverty because you understand that the fate of your city depends on the success of all of your residents. And that is exactly the same thing for America. Creating opportunity for all is not an expression of compassion. It is an expression of our commitment to do what is best for America.

At the heart of this campaign, we want to make sure that everyone has those same opportunities that I had growing up—no matter where you live, who your family is, and what the color of your skin is. This is the America we believe in.

You honor work and inspire confidence by building one economy that honors our values and strengthens our great middle class. With this simple and enduring principle serving as our moral compass, we can break this current vicious circle and put our economy back on a virtuous path.

This is what the politics of what's possible can build and John and I need your support to make this happen in America.

For in the end, this election comes down to a simple choice. If you believe that our economy—Ohio's economy—is strong when month after month jobs are lost and family incomes decline, then you can vote for George Bush and Dick Cheney. But if you want an economy that honors work and lifts up our middle class, then your choice is clear and it is time to make John Kerry our next president.

Many of us are angry at what George Bush and Dick Cheney have done to our great country and the values we cherish. But anger never changed America; our actions do. And this is what we will do create good paying jobs, invest in the jobs of the future, and lift up and expand our great middle class.

We will do this for America.

So that once again, we can live in the bright light and the blessing of America.

Where a child no longer sees despair when his parents sort bills at the kitchen table, but believes in the promise of America. That hard work, responsibility and the love of his family can create a future filled with hope and grace.

John Edwards, Remarks to the City Club in Cleveland, Ohio Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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