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Richard Gephardt: The Democratic Response

January 29, 2002 at 12:00 AM EST
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RICHARD GEPHARDT: Good evening.

I want to commend the president for his strong and patriotic message tonight, and I can assure you of this: there were two parties tonight in the House Chamber, but one resolve.

Like generations that came before us, we will pay any price and bear any burden to make sure that this proud nation wins the first war of the 21st century.

Tonight, we say to our men and women in uniform: thank you for your bravery, your skill and your sacrifice. When the history of this time is written, your courage will be listed in its proudest pages.

To our friends around the world, we say thank you for your aid and support. True friendship is tested not only in treaties and trade, but in times of trial.

To our enemies, we say with one voice: no act of violence — no threat will drive us apart or steer us from our course: to protect America and preserve our democracy. And make no mistake about it: we are going to hunt you down and make you pay.

Now is not a time for finger-pointing or politics as usual. The men and women who are defending our freedom are not fighting for the Democratic Party or the Republican Party.

They are fighting for the greatest country that has ever existed on Earth: the United States of America.

As Americans, we need to put partisanship aside and work together to solve the problems that face us. On the day after the attacks, I went to the Oval Office for a meeting with the president. I said, “Mr. President, we have to find a way to work together.” I said, “we have to trust you — and you have to trust us.”

Since that day, there has been no daylight between us in this war on terrorism. We have met almost every single week and built a bipartisan consensus that is helping America win this war.

We also know that to defeat terrorism, our economy must be strong. For all the things that have changed in our world over the past four months, the needs of our families have not. While our attention has shifted, our values have not.

We know that real security depends not just on justice abroad, but creating good jobs at home; not just on securing our borders, but strengthening Social Security and Medicare at home; not just on bringing governments together, but creating a government here at home that lives within its means, cuts wasteful spending, and invests in the future. Real security depends not just on meeting threats around the world, but living up to our highest values here at home.

Our values call for tax cuts that promote growth and prosperity for all Americans. Our values call for protecting Social Security — and not gambling it away on the stock market.

Our values call for helping patients and older Americans — not just big HMOs and pharmaceutical companies — ensuring that seniors don’t have to choose between food and medicine. Our values call for helping workers who have lost their 401(k) plans and protecting pensions from corporate mismanagement and abuse. Our values call for helping the unemployed — not just large corporations and the most fortunate.

These same values guide us as we work toward a long-term plan for our nation. We want to roll up our sleeves and work with our president to end America’s dependence on foreign oil while preserving our environment — so we don’t see gas prices jump every year.

We want to work together to recruit high-quality teachers and invest more in our schools while demanding more from them. We want to say to every student who wants to go to college and every worker who wants to update their skills: the first $10,000 of your education should be tax deductible. We want to work together to raise the minimum wage — because nobody who works hard and plays by the rules should be forced to live in poverty. We want to work together to create a universal pension system that follows a worker from job to job through life and protects employees from the next Enron.

We want to work together to build our new economy, creating jobs by investing in technology so America can continue to lead the world in growth and opportunity. We want to work together to improve homeland security and protect our borders, to keep out those people who want to bring us harm — but also to celebrate our nation’s diversity and welcome those hard-working immigrants who pay taxes and keep our country strong. We want to work together — as we have over the last decade — to continue to build the best-trained, best-equipped fighting force on the face of the planet.

I refuse to accept that while we stand shoulder to shoulder on the war, we should stand toe to toe on the economy. We need to find a way to respect each other, and trust each other, and work together to solve the long-term challenges America faces. I’m ready to roll up my sleeves and go to work.

That’s one of the reasons I have proposed that next month, a group of leaders from both parties come together at the White House for an economic growth summit to figure out how we’re going to help businesses create jobs, reduce the deficit, simplify the tax code, and grow our economy.

To accomplish these goals, we need a political system that is worthy of the people of this country. In the next several weeks, the House of Representatives will once again consider campaign finance reform. If the nation’s largest bankruptcy coupled with a clear example of paid political influence isn’t a prime case for reform, I don’t know what is.

The forces aligned against this are powerful. So if you’ve never called or written your member of Congress, now is the time. I hope the president will stand with us to clean up the political system and get big money out of politics.

Our nation has been through a lot the past four months. If it’s even possible to suggest a silver lining in this dark cloud that has fallen over our nation, it’s the renewed sense of community that we have seen across America. The more we are able to turn that renewed sense of purpose into a new call for service — to encourage more Americans, young and old, to get involved — join the Americorps, the Peace Corps, the military or other endeavors — the more we’re going to make our nation a model for all the good things that terrorists hate us for: hope, opportunity and freedom.

It was brought home to me how Americans are already answering that call when I spoke to a friend of mine, who is the head of a postal union. Shortly after we learned of the anthrax threat, I spoke with him and asked how he was doing.

“Not well,” he said. “We’ve lost two workers and some are sick.” He said, “I went to New Jersey where they had some of the biggest problems. Because of anthrax, all the workers were working in a tent exposed to the cold — hand-sorting the mail.”

He said: “I thought I was going to get an earful, but when I asked for questions, a man stood up and said, ‘I have been a postal worker for 30 years. We’re here and we’re going to stay here. And if we’ve got to be outside all winter, we’re going to stay here. The mail is going out. The terrorists will not win.”

As one American said, the terrorists who attacked us wanted to teach us a lesson. They wanted us to know them. But these attacks make clear: they don’t know us. They don’t know what we will do to defend freedom, and they don’t know what they’ve started. But they’re beginning to find out.

As we look ahead to the future, we do so with the knowledge that we can never fully know what the men and women we lost on that day would have accomplished; we can never know what would have been the full measure of their lives, or what they would have contributed to our world if they had lived.

But one thing is certain: it is up to all of us to redeem the lives they would have lived with the lives we live today; and to make the most of our time here on Earth. Let us be up to that challenge.

Thank you. God Bless you and God Bless America.