John F. Kerry photo

Remarks at the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute's 27th Annual Gala in Washington, DC

September 15, 2004

Thank you, Congressman Rodriguez for that generous introduction and thanks to the members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus for your powerful voice in the Congress. All of us here salute those of you who are beginning a bus tour tomorrow to carry the message of our campaign to Hispanic voters all across America.

I also want to acknowledge Congressman Bob Menendez, Chair of the Democratic Caucus; Congressman Ed Pastor, a DNC co-chair and one of our earliest supporters; and Ingrid Duran, executive director of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute.

I want to add my congratulations to the two awardees tonight – Dolores Huerta and Arturo Rodriguez. I'm sure you would agree that the best way we could honor their service is to finish the job and pass the AgJobs bill that has met such strong resistance by this administration. It is clear that President Bush will do everything he can to stop this legislation. As president, I will do everything I can to pass it. With your continued support, the strong support of the CHC and my fellow co-sponsors in the Senate, I am confident the AgJobs bill will become the law of the land and I intend to be the President who signs it into law.

Before I begin, Teresa and I want to extend our prayers to the people in the southeastern United States who have lost love ones, lost their homes and whose lives have been uprooted by the series of storms that have struck that region in recent weeks. Our government and our citizens should do all we can to assist the victims. Many of our Caribbean neighbors were also devastated by Ivan and the other storms. As Americans, we should extend not only our thoughts and prayers but also a helping hand as they begin rebuilding their homes and their lives.

Forty years ago, with the passage of the Civil Rights Act, our nation had a great moment of conscience. And while President Lyndon Johnson's signature inscribed that bill on our statute books, we know it was really written by millions of everyday foot soldiers for justice who were willing to stand up and speak out – risk their lives and put it all on the line for justice.

Cesar Chavez was one of those foot soldiers. He set an example – he inspired so many of us. And he brought America to another great moment of conscience when in 1968 he fasted for 25 days to promote equal opportunity for the farm workers in California's San Joaquin Valley and beyond. When he ended that strike by going to Mass and breaking bread with Robert Kennedy, he reminded us that while we may differ, in the end we are a "family bound together in a common struggle for justice."

That's what this struggle is really about. It is why we are here tonight. It is what the CHC and the CHCI are all about. And it is why I am running for president.

My friends, Cesar's dream – our dream – is dim and denied in the Washington of today. To put it bluntly: it is time for us to stand up to the powerful interests and fight for a new moment of conscience in America.

This is, quite simply, the most important election of our lifetime. Everything is on the line: our jobs, our health care, our role in the world, the character of our country – the Supreme Court of the United States. The stakes are high and the choices are clear.

On issue after issue, the other side has been trying to muddy the waters to keep voters from seeing the real differences and the real choices in this election. They have engaged in the most negative campaign in history – spending millions to distort my record, for one simple reason: On every issue -- from Iraq to Social Security, from fiscal discipline to education, from jobs and wages to worker rights, and immigration -- they don't have a record to run on; they have a record to run away from.

And John Edwards and I are going to fight every day to show the difference between the tired, old, negative politics of the past and a new direction for America.

Nobody understands the great differences in this election more than the members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus. You live with the wrong choices of the Bush Administration every day and you see the impact they're having on our families and communities. And in this room are some of the best ideas to make our nation stronger. But over the last four years, down the street at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, they've shut their doors and shut you out of the debate.

I'm running for president because it's time to open the doors to the People's House and let all Americans back in. Because we deserve a president who doesn't just meet with those he agrees with. We deserve a president who's not afraid to sit down with the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, the National Council of La Raza, the NAACP, and the Black Caucus. And despite the photo opportunities, expensive brochures, and contrived overtures – no community has seen more promises broken than this administration: immigration reform, no child left behind, affirmative action, small business lending, bilingual education, jobs. My friends: we deserve a president who doesn't just talk the talk. We deserve a President who walks the walk and speaks to the every day needs of the Hispanic community.

I've been privileged to be your partner on the legislative battlefield for a long time now. In my 20 years in the Senate, I have been proud to stand with the CHC on every issue that matters. And the CHCI has been a champion in the effort to expand college opportunity and prepare the leaders of tomorrow.

We need to join together now as never before. The fact is, the wrong choices of the Bush administration – reduced taxes for the few and reduced opportunities for the middle class and those struggling to join it – are taking us back to two Americas -- separate and unequal. Our cities and communities are being torn apart by divisive and destructive forces: crumbling schools robbing our children of their potential...rising poverty...rising crime, drugs and violence. Lost jobs, health care costs through the roof, the surplus gone, our alliances shredded, our influence challenged.

They see what we see but their answer is to say we've turned the corner or that the job is getting done or that this is the best that we can do. They've even mocked the very notion that there are two Americas. Well, they should spend time with struggling families in the colonias by the Texas the hills of Appalachia ... or in public housing in Detroit and then tell us our journey to build one America is finished.

For four years, we've heard a lot of talk about values. But values are not just words. They're what we live by – faith and family; the ability to work and send your kids to college; responsibility from all; opportunity for all; and the most important value of all – that we are all created in the image and likeness of God. I first learned these values at home from a strong, caring mother who taught me the importance of service to God, family and community.

Those are the values that bring us together as one America. So, this election all comes down to one decision: Do we want four more years of the wrong values and the wrong choices for our country, or do we want to move America in a new direction?

Of all the president's wrong choices, the most catastrophic one is the mess he's made in Iraq. It's not that I would have done one thing differently in Iraq, I would've done almost everything differently. It was wrong to rush to war without a plan to win the peace. It was wrong not to build a strong international coalition of our allies.

And because we went it alone, we are bearing the burden and paying almost all the cost by ourselves. Almost all the casualties are the sons and daughters of America. And 90 percent of the costs are being met by Americans – the total so far: $200 billion and rising every day. That's $200 billion we're not investing in health care and education That's $200 billion we're not investing to make sure no child is left behind. That's $200 billion we're not investing in incentives to create and keep good jobs in the United States of America. That's $200 billion we're not investing in homeland security to keep cops on the street, to protect our airports, our subways, our bridges and tunnels. That's unacceptable -- and that's why 47 days from now we're going to move this country in a new direction.

In the last three years, America has lost 1.6 million jobs. Eight million Americans are out of work. Hispanic unemployment is close to seven percent and 351,000 more Hispanics are out of work since George Bush took office.

My friends, the promise of a better America is not being met when in the last year alone, a million more people have fallen into poverty...when nine million Hispanics, including 30 percent of Hispanic children are living in poverty. Is that compassionate? Is that right? Well, 47 days from now we're going to move America in a new direction.

It has been said before, but it is so true: The best anti-poverty program is a job. That is why, as President, I will set a new direction. We're going to close the tax loopholes that reward companies for shipping jobs overseas. Instead, we're going to use common sense and reward companies that create and keep good jobs here in America. And we are going to do more to bring hope and jobs and businesses back to our hardest-pressed urban and metropolitan areas.

And, can you believe it -- at that convention in New York, this president actually promised the American people that after four years of failure, he now had a plan to get health care costs under control. Well, if you weren't suspicious enough of a plan announced two months before an election, we only had to wait twenty-four hours to find out what he meant. The day after he spoke, he raised Medicare premiums by 17 percent -- the biggest increase in Medicare premiums in the history of the program.

Under the Bush Administration, 5 million Americans have lost their health insurance, including almost a million and a half Hispanics. Forty-five million Americans have no coverage at all. As we know, minorities are far more likely to have poorer health and less access to affordable health care. And what's this administration's answer? At a time when the need is greatest, they have cut funding for Medicaid and children's health insurance. Instead of working to close disparities, they have closed the Office of Minority Health at CDC. That's the wrong choice and the wrong direction for America.

By the choices he has made, the President has proven that when it comes to health care, the big drug companies come first, the insurance companies come second, and the American people come last. That's the wrong choice and the wrong direction for America.

As President, I will set a new direction. I'm going to put hard working families first. Our plan will take on the waste and greed in the health care system and save the average family up to $1,000 a year on their premiums. Our plan will cover all children – automatically – from day one. Go to school, you're covered. Go to day care, you're enrolled. Every child in America will be covered.

And we're going to face up to, not run away from the crisis in minority health. We can't claim to value equality and then accept ever-widening disparities in health and health care that continue to break down along ethnic lines. We cannot call ourselves "One nation under God" until all our people are able to share equally the benefits of the best health care system in the world.

When I am president, America will stop being the only advanced nation on earth which fails to understand that health care is not a privilege for the wealthy, the connected, and the elected, it is a right for all Americans.

And, at that convention in New York, this president, incredibly, talked about demanding accountability from everybody in education -- except his own administration. We know that you can't really get the job done in our classrooms when too many children, especially minority children, are forced to attend overcrowded and crumbling schools and are being taught by overworked and underpaid teachers. The promise of a better America is not being met when nearly 50 percent of Hispanics do not finish high school and only 11 percent are expected to finish college.

And, Mr. President, if you say you value education and want to leave no child behind, then why are you freezing Pell grants, cutting student loans, abandoning efforts to help more low income students go to college and why won't you support the Dream Act?

I will support the Dream Act, because the Dream Act offers a simple deal that keeps faith with American common sense: any child who is brought here, who works hard in school, stays out of trouble and earns the chance to go to college – should have that chance. They say that's wrong. Well, I say that's right. And that is why they are the wrong choice, the wrong direction and the wrong leadership for America.

As President, I will set a new direction. We know the answer to closing the achievement gap is both higher expectations and greater resources. You can't promise to leave no child behind and then leave the money behind. John Edwards and I have a plan to invest in our future, provide the needed funding and put a good teacher in every classroom – so that all our children will have the chance to develop their God-given potential. And the chance to go to college.

Finally, like Franklin Roosevelt, I understand that a strong Latin America is key to a strong America. But, this administration has neglected our relationship with our southern neighbors. As president, I will build a new "Community of the Americas," where neighbors work together toward shared goals.

So, we've got work to do. We have to march. We have to do the hard work of changing people's minds. We have to expand opportunity and close the gaps of inequality that impede the progress of our nation. Our job, between now and November is to end the division between the fortunate America and the forgotten America. We must come to together to build one America.

As Cesar Chavez reminded us, "We cannot seek achievement for ourselves and forget about progress and prosperity for our community...Our ambitions must be broad enough to include the aspirations and needs of others, for their sakes and for our own."

Como he dicho antes, esta es la elección más importante de nuestras vidas. Todo lo que es importante para nuestras familias está en riesgo. Empleos. Cuidado de salud. Nuestros hijos. Disciplina fiscal . Igualdad de oportunidades. El papel de los Estados Unidos en el mundo. Nuestro futuro. Si ustedes creen que este país va en la dirección equivocada, entonces manténganlo en la Casa Blanca. Pero si creen, como yo, que no podemos aguantar cuatro años más de decisiones equivocadas y de ir en la dirección equivocada, entonces únanse a nosotros por un país más fuerte en casa y respetado en el mundo.

As I said before, this is the most important election of our lifetime. Everything we care about is on the line. Jobs. Health care. Our children. Fiscal discipline. Equal opportunity. America's role in the world. Our future. If you believe that this country is heading in the right direction, you should keep them in office. But if you believe, as I do, that we can't afford for more years of the wrong choices and the wrong direction, then join with us for an America that's stronger at home and respected in the world.

And let me say this: The Hispanic vote is critical this year. We can't afford to sit this one out or leave it up to our neighbor – and we won't. We can't afford to take any vote for granted – and we won't. We can't afford four more years. Mis amigos, necesito su voto. Necesito su ayuda. Eso les pido ahora. My friends, I need your vote. And I need your help. And I'm asking for it now.

Together, we can fulfill the promise of a better America. There are those who want to divide us into red states and blue states. Not me. I want to unite us as one America – red, white and blue.

Thank you, God bless you, y que Dios bendiga a los Estados Unidos de America.

John F. Kerry, Remarks at the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute's 27th Annual Gala in Washington, DC Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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