Bill Richardson photo

Speech: A New Vision: Foreign and Domestic

December 17, 2007

Thanks so much for having me here today. I have to say, I'm pretty impressed with myself -- a Presidential candidate who's only minutes late.

But you know, there's really only one politician that the American people need to be on time. And that's in 9,597 hours when George Bush has to leave the White House. Forever.

The next day we start repairing the damage and restoring the American dream.

And the most important part of restoring that dream is ending the war in Iraq.

In so many ways, it is the linchpin to everything we want to do as a country.

It is the key to healing our divisions and bringing America together again.

It is the basis for restoring American leadership around the world.

It is the foundation upon which we can rebuild our faith in American leaders.

And it is the necessary first step for creating good jobs, a quality education system, and a strong middle class.

Some of my fellow candidates have decided to stop talking about Iraq. Their campaign strategies have shifted to other issues. Over the last few debates and on the campaign trail, our brave troops in Iraq seem to have been forgotten.

I do believe that we need to talk about domestic issues. Too many Americans are worried about keeping their jobs and their homes.

Too many Americans are worried that their children are not getting the quality education that they need to compete in the world.

But the fact is...we cannot move forward on any of these issues while our troops are left behind in Iraq.

Some have said that we can change America at home, while we keep troops in Iraq for perhaps five years or longer. That's not an equation that adds up.

It doesn't add up financially.

It doesn't add up morally.

It doesn't add up for America.

And let me say that the national media deserves its fair share of blame for forgetting our troops as well. Perhaps they think the casualties are old news.

Perhaps they think that covering silly food fights between candidates will get them better ratings.

Perhaps they think that because fewer of our troops have died lately... that Americans don't care anymore.

Well, we do.

And I dare the media to tell the families of the 37 troops who were killed last month that this issue doesn't deserve front-page coverage.

I think about a young man from La Mesa, New Mexico named James Pirtle, an Army Specialist who served in Iraq. On October 3rd, 2003, he was killed in action, He was the first New Mexican killed there. And I think about his mother, who sent me a letter afterwards asking me to make sure that her son's sacrifice for this country never be forgotten.

Well, we will not forget.

The most important issue in this race to decide who will go up against Republicans next fall is not some abstract notion of the word change. It's not about who said what in kindergarten. It's not about past drug use.

It's about our brave troops being killed in the middle of a civil war. And it's about who's going to put an end to it.

My disagreements with my opponents in this race are not personal. I refuse to engage in negative character attacks. But there is a profound difference on the war in Iraq.

In a recent debate, Senator Clinton, Senator Obama, and Senator Edwards were asked to pledge to have all our troops out by 2013. 2013. They would not do so. I have made that pledge. In fact, I will get them all out in under a year.

2013 is over five years from now. If we still have troops in Iraq in 2013, the Iraqis sure won't think the war is over. And neither will the American people.

Five more years of our brave troops being killed and wounded. I won't allow it. Our troops have done a magnificent job. They DESERVE to come home.

Senator Clinton, Senator Obama, and Senator Edwards are saying it may take them longer to end the war in Iraq than it took FDR to win World War II. That's not leadership. We have to be bolder for the sake of our people in harm's way.

We can get out faster. I'm tired of the naysayers who say we can't do it. The experts know it. I've read the briefings. I've talked to my military advisors. I know we can do it...and the American people know it too.

And we don't just wave goodbye. I'll call a reconciliation conference to implement accords to end the war. I'll establish an international donor conference and build a UN-sanctioned predominantly Muslim peacekeeping force. That's how we fix Iraq. But we can't do it until all of our troops are on their way out.

The deaths of our troops will not bring the parties together. But diplomacy will. I know it will because I've worked in the region. As UN Ambassador, I spent eighty percent of my time on Iraq and the Middle East. As a special envoy, I negotiated with Saddam Hussein himself.

The bottom line is this: our presence in Iraq is blocking reconciliation by the parties and fueling hatred of the United States around the world. We are less safe staying in Iraq than we are leaving. We need to get our troops out in order to focus on our real security needs, and upon our needs at home.

If we get our troops out and give diplomacy a chance, then we can give education a chance.

We can give health care a chance.

And we can give our economy a chance.

Right now, we can't move forward on these issues, because Iraq is poisoning the relationship between Congress and the President.

Domestic investments are being held hostage by Republicans who are demanding unfettered war spending. And they are being backed up by a stubborn President with nothing to lose.

They are refusing to move on any of our country's urgent domestic needs, until they get billions of dollars in war money.

Just look at the last twelve months. We still have nine million children with no health insurance. We still have the failed policy called No Child Left Behind. We still have no comprehensive immigration reform. We still have Guantanamo and torture and eavesdropping. We still have too many families worried about losing their homes to foreclosure. The economy may be slipping into a recession. Millions of Americans are worried about their quality of life.

Millions of Americans no longer have faith in their government. They elected this Congress to the end the war. They have not done so.

And they see a President more concerned about his legacy and his pride than about ending a war that continues to take too many lives and too many billions of dollars.

We all know the terrible human cost of this war. Some of America's children, who will know their fathers and mothers only through pictures and newspaper stories... know those costs all too well.

But it is also clear that there has been a grievous financial cost to our country. We've spent $500 billion dollars on this war already. The war's true cost could be closer to 2 trillion dollars1 when you look at disability care for our wounded vets. And make no mistake, those returning from Iraq absolutely must get the best care.

Closer to two trillion dollars when you consider that instability in the Middle East caused by the war has driven oil prices close to a hundred dollars a barrel. And that's not an abstract number for families here in Iowa trying to keep their homes warm this winter.

Closer to two trillion dollars when you consider the economic productivity that has vanished because of the lives lost to this war.

Think of what we could have done with two trillion dollars:

We could have had universal health care.

We could have fully funded Social Security for generations.

We could have raised the salary of every teacher in America.

We could have been well on our way to energy independence.

Just two weeks of the Iraq war costs us more than we spend on cancer research in a whole year.

Now think of what we will fail to do...if we stay in Iraq for another five years, as some of my Democratic colleagues are willing to do. Or even decades as some Republicans have said we must do.

It's time for a new vision.

This vision is not a Republican dream. It's not a Democratic dream. It's not a black dream. It's not a brown dream. It's not a white dream. It's not a poor dream. It's not a rich dream.

It's an American Dream, in which all of our troops are coming home.

In which our government works for the middle class.

To those who say our students can't do any better: I say they can.

I have a sixty-billion dollar plan to improve education from pre-K to college and beyond.

On No Child Left Behind -- I don't think "reforming" or "tweaking" it is enough. I think we need to be bolder. I would scrap it. We need to raise teacher salaries and focus on science and math. In fact, I would set a new national goal: That American students be number one in science and math within 15 years.

Part of that is putting arts back into the schools. Art and music help kids with math and science.

I know we can do it because in my state, we raised teacher salaries, established a statewide pre-K program, and made college more affordable.

To those who say we can't beat the lobbies and pass health care reform: I know we can -- because I did it.

All kids twelve and under in my state today have access to health insurance, and we are going cover everyone else by 2010.

When I am President, every family will have access to the same health insurance that Congress and the President have,

And our veterans will have a Heroes Health Card so that they can the care they deserve wherever they need it. We're going to require full, mandatory funding of the VA health care system. And we're going to start treating mental trauma such as PTSD the same way we treat physical wounds -- like the battlefield injuries that they are.

And we are going to do right by the families of the men and women serving in our nation's armed forces. Our military families make enormous sacrifices everyday on behalf of the nation. It is not uncommon that spouses and parents are forced to leave their jobs to care for their returning wounded. As President, I will offer up to one year of paid disability insurance for the family member who leaves a job to care for an injured veteran.

To those who say we can't create high-quality jobs here in America anymore -- I say we can.

When I took office as Governor, New Mexico's economy had stalled. Morale was low. We had no thriving industry, no plan for growth and a tax policy that discouraged investment and job creation.

So I passed a tax credit for companies to create jobs that pay above the prevailing wage. We passed a permanent rural jobs tax credit. We enacted a three-year tax holiday for high-tech startups.

Rather than use tax cuts to reward the wealthy ... I used them to reward putting people to work.

I focused on growth industries like clean energy, wind and solar, aviation and high tech. We ended up creating over 80,000 jobs. We have the lowest unemployment rate in 30 years. And we're seventh in the nation for income growth.

My friends, we are the Democratic Party.

We stand for jobs. We stand for the rights of working Americans. And we stand for fairness and opportunity.

And we can never forget that.

It's why I'm proud to offer the most detailed jobs plan of any candidate for President. And I'm proud to be the only Democrat in this race with a record of creating jobs and turning an economy around.

I know that we can do the same thing across the country. I know...because in Iowa I see people who haven't given up on the American Dream. Despite the failures in Washington, I see people more committed than ever to giving their kids a better life than they've had.

Restoring the strength of our economy is going to require fiscal responsibility. The single most fiscally irresponsible act in American history has been George Bush's unfunded war in Iraq.

Balancing the budget is investing in the future. It means that we are paying for what we get today, so our children don't have to. And that's why I support a Constitutional Amendment to balance the budget. And a line-item veto. We've allowed the Republicans to spend recklessly for too long.

I know how to balance a budget -- I've done it five times as Governor.

I also know that in a 21st Century economy, Government must act as a partner to help unleash the innovation and the job creation potential of the private sector.

I will restore and increase funding for federal research and development programs.

I will create a federal Angel Investor Tax Credit to encourage investment in high-tech startups. And I will make permanent and double the Research and Experimentation Tax Credit. We must provide incentives for investment in cutting-edge research and manufacturing.

While we build for the future and repair the damage of the past, we must also invest in our people now.

We need to move aggressively to create high-quality jobs and expand economic opportunity. The American Dream has always been big -- big enough for all of us. But for too many these days, the dream is shrinking and shutting them out. That is unacceptable. Every American deserves the opportunity to succeed.

We need to get back to big dreams and bold ideas.

In addition to creating new high-quality jobs, we need to preserve the ones we already have. We should restore America's focus on protecting our labor force.

I have stood with working men and women who belong to labor unions my entire career. They play a vital role in advancing the rights of American workers.

A union job means a good-paying job...with good benefits. I believe employees and workers have a fundamental right to organize and bargain collectively, which is why the second bill I signed as Governor restored collective bargaining rights to New Mexico Public employees.

We negotiated the first project labor agreement in my state's history, and we made our prevailing wage a union wage.

And when I am President, my Secretary of Labor will be a union member, and I will fire all the union-busting lawyers at the NLRB.

And I will push for and sign the Employee Free Choice Act.

We must move beyond the tired debate over "Free Trade" versus "Protectionism." Instead we have to roll up our sleeves and pursue better trade agreements; agreements that enhance rather than erode U.S. jobs.

Washington has failed to help families with the rising cost of living. Expenses for health care, child care, and a college education are rising faster than wages. Our next President must focus on making these more affordable.

And the war in Iraq has helped push oil prices through the roof. The price of keeping a home warm is a terrible pressure on American families.

Our national strength is our people, and we must do whatever it takes to protect that resource.

Now is a time for bold leadership. Washington should not be bickering while our troops are dying in the field.

The next President is going to have to bring this country together.

Think of our troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. They do not serve as Democrats or as Republicans -- they serve as Americans. We must do the same here at home.

But this war has divided us. And it will continue to do so until every American troop is out of Iraq. The human and economic toll this war is taking on our nation must end.

The day after I take the oath of office, and pledge to protect the Constitution of this country...I am going to tell our troops in Iraq: you have served magnificently. Now you are coming home.

The next day, I will tell the Congress that we are going to honor their service, by rolling up our sleeves, and doing the work that has been so long neglected.

Providing quality health care to all our citizens.

Making American classrooms the best in the world.

And creating the next generation of high-quality American jobs.

We can do it together.



We CAN do it together. I would be honored to have you caucus for me. Thank you very much.

Bill Richardson, Speech: A New Vision: Foreign and Domestic Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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