John F. Kerry photo

Remarks at the UNITY 2004 Conference in Washington, DC

August 05, 2004

Thank you for that gracious introduction. As you know, right after our convention, John Edwards and I set off on a journey to meet face to face with people all across this country – to share our plan for a stronger America at home, and a more respected America in the world. But more importantly, to listen to what people have to say. And today I'm honored to take a little bit of a detour on our westward journey -- because I want to hear your ideas, your concerns and your hopes for the future.

As Americans, we are living in a time transformed by 9/11. Ongoing conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan – and repeated increases in threat levels – are constant reminders that our soldiers and our homeland are still in harm's way. As journalists, you are operating in that new world. Yet I also believe enduring principles apply here: We won't win this struggle by hiding or ignoring the facts. You have a part to play – not as partisans, but as truth-tellers. Because the key to victory in the war on terror is not just the power of our arms, but the power of our ideals.

The information, the commentary, the debate that you bring to the eyes and ears of America – and the world – are critical to an informed public, critical to making the right decisions, and critical to correcting the wrong ones.

We are in this fight because we are a democracy. We must win it as a democracy. And one of the most powerful weapons in the arsenal of our democracy is the freedom of the press.

You have another great power and privilege in this decisive time. As Americans prepare to decide the direction of our free society – not just for the next four years, but perhaps for decades to come, you will report and referee the arena of a great national campaign. You know the questions people are asking because you hear them everyday:

Who has the right plan to win the war on terror and make America safe? Who has a real plan for a stronger America that will create new good paying jobs? Who has a realistic plan to hold down health care costs – and open up access to health care for all Americans? Who is being straightforward about taxes – about the need to cut taxes for the middle class, and rollback an unaffordable tax cut for individuals who make over $200,000 a year – so we can invest in health care and education, and cut the deficit in half in four years? And, above all, who is truly committed to bridging the divides in this country that continue to separate race from race, group from group, region from region?

These are questions that are important to communities of color and to every American. As the motto of Frederick Douglas' North Star newspaper proclaimed in 1848, "Right is of no sex--Truth is of no color--God is the Father of us all, and we are all Brethen."

We're really going to unite the country -- we're going to put in place the policies that will bring us together and move America forward.

We're being told this week, again and again, that we've turned corner. We're being told to look at the results. I agree. Let's look at the record. Have we turned the corner when forty-four million Americans don't even have basic health care coverage? Have we turned the corner when we've lost nearly 1.8 million private sector jobs? Have we turned the corner when we're told that outsourcing is good for America – and the new jobs that are being created pay $9,000 less than the jobs that have been lost?

My friends, just saying you've turned the corner, doesn't make it so. Slogans don't matter. Results matter. Results are what make the difference in people's lives.

We believe America, and all Americans, can do better.

Our plans for America embrace all Americans. Of course, I am also all too aware – how could you live in America and not be aware? – of the special challenges facing people of color. Fifty years after Brown v Board of Education, in too many painful ways, America is still a house divided; too many Americans continue to be separate and unequal in health status, educational achievement, and living standards.

Despite all the legal gains – and that journey isn't finished yet either – America can't be fully America when millions still face barriers to living up to their God-given potential. How, for example, can we accept a situation where 50% of African American men in New York City are without a job? How can we accept the fact that one of every five Asian Americans attempting to buy or rent a home faces discrimination?

This is unworthy of a nation that values equality, and we have to change it.

I believe with all my heart that America can do better and we will. And the best way to lift up those who have been left out is to honor the shared values that unite us and show the true face of America: Faith and family. Hard work and responsibility. Opportunity for all – so that every child, every parent, every worker, has an equal shot at living up to their God-given potential.

That is the heart and soul of my plan for a stronger America. The details of that plan were just released in book form earlier this week. The book is detailed and clear. I hope everything about it is straightforward; I know the title is. It's simply called, Our Plan for America. And you can download the entire volume at

Now, I am not going to turn this into a John Kerry book reading, but let me highlight just some of what's in the book.

Our plan has three basic parts:

The first part focuses on our security. It lays out a strategy to strengthen our military, build and lead strong alliances, and reform our intelligence system. It sets out a path to win the peace in Iraq – and to get the terrorists before they get us. To strengthen our homeland security, we will protect our ports, secure our chemical and nuclear power plants, and support our police officers, firefighters and EMT's. You know, color coded warnings aren't enough if we continue to let 95% of container ships come into our ports without ever being physically inspected.

The second part of the book focuses on expanding economic opportunity. It offers a real plan to keep and create good paying jobs in America. To end tax breaks that reward companies for shipping American jobs overseas. To revitalize manufacturing – and encourage investment in the new industries of the future.

At the same time, we will restore fiscal discipline not only by rolling back the tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans, but by closing tax loopholes that are nothing more than corporate welfare – and making government live by the same rule that our families do: pay as you go.

Third, our plan focuses on strengthening families. John and I don't want working families to just get by. We want them to get ahead. That's why 98 percent of Americans will pay lower taxes under our plan -- with additional tax breaks to help them cover health care, child care, and college.

In the past week, our opponents haven't offered a plan of their own, or a defense of their record. Instead, after four long years, all we've been given is a new slogan. In the past week, we've suddenly been told again and again that America has turned the corner. Well, you know, the last president who used that slogan – who told us prosperity was just around the corner was Herbert Hoover during the Great Depression.

We've been called pessimists for pointing out the facts, and being honest about the struggles of hard-working families. Here's my answer to that: there is nothing more pessimistic than saying that America can't do better.

You know and I know that just saying we're turning the corner on the war on terror, on jobs and opportunity and on building one America doesn't make it so. We have a lot of work to do.

The vision and values that John Edwards and I have set out in Our Plan for America can bring our country together again. We can build stronger communities. We can secure equality and strengthen opportunity. We can demand and support responsibility from all. For us, these values are not just words. They're about results. They're about the causes we champion and the people we fight for. Los valores son mas que palabras. Values are more than just words.

They're about good jobs for our families...good schools for our children...good prescription drug coverage for our parents and a nation that is coming together, not splitting apart.

John Edwards and I have a record to stand on and we have a real agenda to make America better.

Let me tell you what values mean to me and John Edwards:

Values mean having an opportunity agenda for America. That means bringing capital, small business opportunities and job creation to all of our communities – especially our central cities and the surrounding metropolitan areas. It means providing adequate funding for homeland security and port security so that the people in our metropolitan areas are able move about freely, get to good jobs and live without fear.

Creating opportunity also means creating good-paying jobs. More than a million Americans who were working three years ago have lost their jobs. African-American unemployment is now at 10 percent – double the rate for whites. And the new jobs finally being created pay an average of $9,000 less a year.

We have a plan to keep and create good paying jobs here at home. When I am president, no longer will American workers have to subsidize the loss of their own jobs.

We'll close tax loopholes that pay companies to move our jobs overseas – and we'll reward companies that create jobs right here in the good old USA. And we'll bring fairness back to the American workplace.

Values also mean giving all our children a first-rate education. Today, we see two school systems in America: one for the well off and one for the left out. Too many children of color are being told they have to lift themselves up in schools that are literally falling down. For us, values mean opening the doors of opportunity to all our children.

Values mean making health care affordable and accessible for all Americans. In the last four years, four million people have lost their health insurance. 44 million Americans don't have health insurance.

The truth is that nearly 60 percent of Hispanics and 43 percent of African Americans went without health coverage for all or part of the last two years. Today people of color are significantly more likely to suffer and die from diseases like cancer and asthma and AIDS and diabetes. And the life expectancy for Native Americans is 17 years shorter than it is for other Americans, largely because of poor health. America can do better than that.

When I am in the White House we are going to stop being the only industrial nation on the face of the earth that doesn't understand that health care is not a privilege for the wealthy, the connected or the elected. Health care is a right for all Americans.

We've got a plan to get the waste and greed out of our health care system and help families save up to $1,000 on their premiums.

And it means reaffirming the truth that America is now, and has always been, a nation of immigrants. Within the first 100 days of my administration, I will send Congress a reform bill that lets immigrants earn legalization and encourages family reunification, while protecting our borders in ways that are fairer and more effective.

As president, I will also restore respect for tribal sovereignty throughout the Executive Branch and re-open the doors to the White House to the first Americans. We understand the struggles our Native American brothers and sisters face. In addition to the health care crisis facing tribes, we also know that poverty is rising in America, and nowhere is it worse than on our reservations. To ensure that your voice is heard on these and other vital issues, I will appoint Native Americans to key positions in the White House and throughout my administration.

And I will do my part to bring more diversity into the media. Right now people of color make up 32 percent of the nation's population but only 13 percent of daily newspaper staffs. And people of color represent only a tiny fraction of the number of editors, anchors, and executives at our nation's premier news organizations. Right now only 4.2 percent of radio stations and 1.5 percent of TV stations are owned by minorities.

I look around at all the talent in this room and say to the management of these organizations, we can do better.

As president, I will expand opportunities for people of color in the media, by appointing FCC commissioners committed to enforcing equal employment and insuring that small and minority-owned broadcasters are not consolidated into extinction.

Thirty-nine years ago tomorrow, when Lyndon Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act into law, he said: "Every American citizen must have an equal right to vote. Yet the harsh fact is that in many places in this country, men and women are kept from voting simply because they are Negroes." My friends, the harsh fact now is that in the last election, more than one million African Americans were disenfranchised in one of the most tainted election in history. We can do better – and we have to. We have to see to it in November that every vote counts – and every vote is counted.

Along with shared opportunity we must also demand shared responsibility. All of us, from the President in the White House to people in their homes and schools and workplaces, have to be responsible for our actions. And we owe it to all the people who follow the law to hold accountable those who don't.

That begins with having a president who tells the truth to the American people. It means staying vigilant to ensure that every American company plays by the rules and does right by its workers and customers. And it means giving young people alternatives to gangs and gang violence by first sending them a strong message that the violence must stop, and if it doesn't, police and prosecutors will hold them accountable, period. But second, by sending young people a strong, clear message that there is another path, and if they are willing to take that path, we will be there with them – with job training, job opportunities, and drug treatment.

Shared opportunity. Shared responsibility. That is how we really make our country stronger and bring real hope, real help and real opportunity to all Americans.

I want to thank you for doing your part every single day. No one in public life doesn't have some complaint, at some time, about the "fourth estate." But your persistent vigilance makes us all better – and it makes you watchmen on the walls of liberty.

I believe that this is the most important election of our lifetime. Everything is at stake. Your role in the next months is as important as any point in our shared history.

Your questioning, your demands for honest answers, your reporting on our progress, and your holding us accountable for our promises, are an indispensable force in moving America forward. Ladies and gentlemen, I ask you to measure me by my results, not just my rhetoric, by my actions, not just my words. Results matter.

Let's not forget the role that so many of your brothers and sisters in the media have played in exposing historic wrongs, lifting up communities of color and building one America.

Where would we be today if it were not for the stirring images of the civil rights movement captured for Life Magazine by the camera of Gordon Parks; or the searing war-time photojournalism of Nick Ut?

Where would we be without the pioneering word pictures painted by Ruben Salazar for the El Paso Herald Post and Los Angeles Times.

Where would we be without Carol Simpson, Frank del Olmo, Bernard Shaw, Ed Bradley or Max Robinson? Where would we be without the famed Native American historian and journalist, Arthur Caswell Parker, founder of American Indian Magazine, or Ignacio Lozano, founder of La Opinion?

Where would we be today without Unity 2004 and all of you?

So above all today, I thank you for all that you have done and all that you will do to help us become the America we were truly meant to be – the America whose best days are still to come. Thank you and now I will be happy to take questions...

John F. Kerry, Remarks at the UNITY 2004 Conference in Washington, DC Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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