Published on Sunday, August 17, 2003 by CommonDreams.org
Our Nation is in Crisis
by Howard Dean
This is an edited version of a July 30 speech Democratic presidential candidate and former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean gave in Des Moines, Iowa.
I am running for president because it is time to rebuild the American community, reclaim our democratic heritage and restore our country to its rightful place as a moral leader.
Today, our nation is in crisis. At home, this crisis manifests itself in this president's destruction of the idea of community. This president pushes forward an agenda that divides us and economic polices that beleaguer the middle class and raise their property taxes so income taxes may be cut for those who ran Enron.
Our country's founders feared that those with economic power would one day try to seize political power. And under this administration, that fear is becoming a reality.
The very ideal of American community is under the biggest assault in our history by the radical agenda of those in power and a flood of special interest money.
But in order to change America, we are first going to have to change the Democratic Party, and make it stand for its principles once again. Too many Democrats in Washington have become so afraid of losing that they have remained silent, or only half heartedly fought the very agenda that is destroying the democratic dream of America.
When America has been threatened with a radical conservative agenda in the past, it has been the working people and unions that rose up to resist and to take the country back from the special interests. It is time to do that again.
We became a great country because we built a strong middle class. All Americans, not just union members, owe a debt of gratitude to the men and women of America's labor movement. They grew the roots of our prosperity, and built a nation with blood, sweat and toil.
At the same time, we created institutions that shared risks. Companies were offered incentives to provide health and pension benefits to their workers. Social Security and Medicare were founded to make sure that no Americans would end their lives in poverty or lack medical care. We built a strong public education system, and offered training and advancement through loans, grants, and the GI Bill.
But then came the election of George W. Bush — the most conservative president this nation has seen since the time of the robber barons of the 19th century. He came to office promising a “compassionate” administration.
Instead he's brought a government in which truth is the victim of expediency. Credibility is sacrificed for temporary advantage. And trust is an afterthought.
Listen to the Bush economic record.
•Since this Administration took office, over 3.1 million jobs have been lost the worst job creation record in over 60 years.
• Unemployment has reached 6.4 percent, the highest in 9 years.
• Over 9.3 million Americans looking for work; over 2 million Americans are suffering long-term unemployment.
• For the first time in seven years, workers' wages are growing slower than inflation.
Month after month, employers have laid off more workers than they have hired, and month after month, the manufacturing power of American industry declines.
Never has a president talked so much about jobs while doing so much to destroy them. As they say in Texas, the president is all hat and no cattle.
This is also the most anti-union administration in history.
Under cover of national security, he stripped 170,000 workers of collective bargaining rights.
While he's pulling back on his original plan to privatize 850,000 government jobs, his objective remains the same.
He bailed out the airlines with $15 billion without one penny for 100,000 laid off workers.
He increased funds to investigate unions but slashed funding for enforcement of health and safety laws, child labor protection and violations of the minimum wage.
I will reverse every one of these policies, and I will defend, support and expand the rights of American unions to organize as an essential prerequisite to the prosperity of our nation.
Let me say a few things about my approach to the economy.
Vermont is the only state that does not require a balanced budget but I balanced the budget every year of my 11 years as governor. I'm a thrifty person, and I hate waste and inefficiency.
Republicans don't seem to understand the simple notion that a government like a family must eventually live within its means. Since the days of president Reagan and the first President Bush, Republican administrations have run up more than $3 trillion in deficits.
But balancing the budget is not the be-all and end-all of an economic program. The central economic goal of a president must be to speak to the core concerns of America's workers and their families – adequate health care, an excellent education, the assurance that every American who wants one has a decent job, and the confidence that they will be secure in their retirement.
Tax cuts irresponsible
This president has failed to address these core concerns. With an economic agenda that consists of little more than irresponsible tax cuts, he offers little comfort to our country's working families.
The average working American would much rather have guaranteed health care than a $400 tax rebate.
As president, I will be committed to preserving the integrity and long-term stability of the Social Security Trust Fund. I will oppose privatizing the Social Security System. And I will pursue a responsible economic agenda, and under my plan we will never have to consider raising the retirement age.
The long-term future of Social Security and financial security for all of us in our retirement years depends on ensuring a healthy rate of economic growth over the next several decades. Even a modest increase in long-term growth rates will ease the burden on the Social Security Trust Fund. If we do need to bring more money into Social Security, then I'm prepared to look at reasonable options for expanding the ceiling on payroll taxes.
The best guarantee for our Social Security, therefore, is an economic plan with three basic principles:
First, we must create economic growth and new jobs;
Second, we must return to fiscal sanity. We cannot be a world-class country if we are the world's largest debtor;
Finally, we must reform our tax system. When I am president, I will work to repeal the top heavy Bush tax cuts, and replace them with a system that is fairer, and simpler, and places less of a burden on working Americans who live off their paychecks.
We need to put more money in the pockets of people who will spend it.
We should begin by raising the minimum wage. At a time when 9 million Americans are out of work, let's at least help those who are still working. When I was governor, I raised the minimum wage. It's now $6.75 an hour, compared to the federal minimum of $5.15. We're the richest nation in the world. We can do better!
We should expand unemployment insurance to cover more low-wage and part-time workers. Less than 1 in 5 of them are covered today.
We should double the Community Development Block Grant Program.
Just this week, we've seen new data that shows that as states and local governments are raising taxes and cutting spending, they're slowing the economy by as much a half a percentage point. By increasing assistance to them, we're pumping money directly into the economy.
No economic plan can ignore the issue of health care. My plan will reduce the cost of health insurance to employers, take a contentious issue off the bargaining table, and permit more money to be used to compensate employees and create new jobs.
Our country is built on the notion that we are all in this together. We are a community. We share in our prosperity and we take care of each other when times get tough. We must not lose that precious gift. We cannot allow a widening gap between the richest and the poorest among us.
I am tired of seeing a nation divided whether by race, or gender, or sexual orientation or economic status. We need a government that works with the people and for the people that unites us in a common vision for the common good.