John Edwards Announces Bid for 2008 Democratic Presidential Nomination
New Orleans

Courtesy CQ Transcripts Wire
Thursday, December 28, 2006 10:21 AM

EDWARDS: Good morning. I'm here in New Orleans to -- in the Ninth Ward of New Orleans to announce that I'm a candidate for the presidency of the United States in the election in 2008.

The reason I'm here -- actually, the best explanation of the reason I'm announcing here in the Ninth Ward of New Orleans are these young people who are behind me right here and who worked with me yesterday at this house just over to my right.

New Orleans, in so many ways, shows the two Americas that I have talked about in the past and something that I feel very personally. And it also exemplifies something that I've learned since the last election, which is that it's great to see a problem and to understand it. It's more important to actually take action and do something about it.

And I think that's why I'm in New Orleans, is to show what's possible when we as Americans, instead of staying home and complaining about somebody else not doing what they're supposed to, we actually take responsibility and we take action.

And I don't mean we take action after the next election. I mean, we take action now.

And that's what these young people have been doing. They were with me at a food bank in New Orleans a couple days ago; here working yesterday.

Earlier this year, we were not in the Ninth Ward but in St. Bernard Parish with 700 young people who gave up their spring break to come here and work to help rebuild New Orleans.

This is an example of what all of us can do if we actually take it upon ourselves to take responsibility. And we want people in this campaign to actually take action now -- not later, not after the election. We don't want to hope that whoever's elected the next leader of the United States of America is going to solve all our problems for us. Because that will not happen, and all of us know it. Everyone listening to the sound of my voice right now knows that.

If we actually want to change this country and we want to move America the way it needs to move, we're going to have to do it, all of us, together. Instead of staying home and complaining, we're asking people to help.

You know -- all of us have so much to contribute and we have different things to contribute. And we want you to help not starting later, but starting right now.

And that's why we're here in New Orleans, because Americans can make a huge difference here.

You walk around in these neighborhoods and what you'll hear is most of the good that's been done in New Orleans has been done by faith-based groups, charitable groups and volunteers, people who cared enough to come here and spend some time and actually do some work, get their hands dirty. Well, that's what we need to do again. It's what America needs to do again.

And that's what's going to be the basis for my campaign. This campaign will be a grassroots, ground-up campaign, where we ask people to take action.

You know, some of these young people are wearing One Corps shirts, which is an organization that we started a few months ago, for the purpose of getting thousands of people involved around America in helping make a difference and actually doing something and taking action.

And what I've seen -- I learned a lot in the last campaign, which some of you heard me talk about -- but I've actually learned more since the last campaign, because I've seen firsthand what actually happens when, instead of waiting for somebody else to take care of our problems, we do something.

We were concerned about the Congress not having raised the minimum wage, so we went out to six states -- not just be, my by the way; there were a lot of people involved in this -- went out to six states and got it on the ballot and raised the minimum wage in six states in America, which is a good thing.

EDWARDS: We've made college available to young kids who are actually willing to work while they're in college for their tuition and books. We've organized thousands of workers around this country so that they can have a voice and have decent wages and decent benefits. It's helped strengthen America, strengthen the middle class and grow the middle class in this country, which is important for all of us.

So it's not like we don't know what needs to be done. And this is not rocket science. Everybody in America who's listening to me right now knows what we need to do. They know about the challenges we face and they know what needs to happen.

So we would ask everyone who's interested in changing America, who's interested in actually taking action to join us. You can join One Corps by going to These young people and thousands of others have joined this cause already. And we ask you to join us, too. Because, we can -- we can't wait for someone else to do this for us. There is just too much at stake.

And I want to actually talk for a minute about what's at stake. You know, my own view is that actually the biggest responsibility of the next president of the United States is to re-establish America's leadership role in the world, starting with Iraq.

And we need to make it clear that we intend to leave Iraq and turn over the responsibility of Iraq to the Iraqi people. The best way to make that clear is to actually start leaving, which is why I've said we ought to be taking 40,000 to 50,000 troops out now, and that ought to continue over time.

The problem in Iraq is not one that's susceptible to a military solution; it's going to require a political solution. Fighting between Shia and Sunnis have been going on for centuries, and a political solution is the only viable way there's going to be any success in Iraq over the long term.

EDWARDS: And it is a mistake -- I want to be absolutely clear about this -- it is a mistake for America to escalate its role in Iraq. It is a mistake to surge troops into Iraq. It sends exactly the wrong signal to the Iraqis and the rest of the world about what our intentions are there.

So it's not -- and by the way, it's not just Iraq that'll help establish America's leadership role in the world again. We have to show that we have the moral authority to lead. You can't lead through raw power.

And in order to do that, we're going to have to lead on things that, at least in the short term, seem like they're beyond our self- interests, things like the genocide in Sudan and Darfur. We said after Rwanda we'd never let anything like this happen again. Well, it's happening right now. America needs to lead.

I was in Uganda a few weeks ago where there are huge atrocities going on in northern Uganda. America can make an enormous difference there. I was there with the International Rescue Committee, who are another group of Americans that are making a huge difference in the world.

There's so many opportunities -- global warming, which is a huge moral issue for America and for the entire world.

We need to ask Americans to be willing to be patriotic about something beyond war. We need to ask America to be willing to conserve, to take the steps necessary to get off our addiction to oil, to create a new energy economy in this country.

It's critical to America being able to do what it needs to do in the 21st century. We ought to be the example for the rest of the world. It's not just what we do over there; it's also what we do here.

You know, we've got 46 million, 47 million people without health care coverage? When are we finally going to say, "America needs universal health care"? Because we do. We need it desperately.

I spoke earlier about this issue of poverty and the two Americas.

EDWARDS: I've been running the poverty center for the last couple of years at the University of North Carolina, which I'm very proud of. And we've developed a whole new set of ideas about what we ought to do about poverty.

But we should be the example for the rest of the world. We're not the only ones that saw these pictures that came out of New Orleans. The whole world saw. And we need to show that the most powerful nation on the Earth won't stand by and let this continue.

So whether it's poverty, energy, health care, demonstrating that we are once again the beacon for the rest of the world, which is what we need to be, not just for us, but also for them -- because when America doesn't lead, there is no stability. We are the stabilizing force in the world. We are the preeminent power in the world. And we need to maintain that power, we need to maintain our strength. That what allows us -- gives us the capacity to lead.

But we also have to show that we have a responsibility to humanity. And the world needs to see that from us. They need to see our better angels again. Because it will affect the way they respond to us and it will affect our ability to lead.

So we're asking everyone who's listening to join us in this cause. As I said earlier, you can join us by joining One Corps, but there's so much good to be done out there, and together we're going to do it. We are going to do it together.

And I'll be happy to take questions from anyone who has them.

Come on, there are a lot of people here. I can't believe you don't have a question.


QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) are saying that having Hillary Clinton and Obama are the front runners. What are you going to do to dispel that notion? Do you think maybe the Earth will begin to shift a little bit today with this announcement and maybe you'll get more attention?

EDWARDS: I hope the Earth shifts, but I hope it shifts in a different way and in a different direction.

Speaking for myself, I hope that anyone who's considering running for president -- and I've been through this, as everybody knows -- is doing it because they want to serve. I've made my own personal decision and my family's made the decision that this is the best way for me to serve my country.

And if I really believe that, which I do, then I want the best human beings possible to run for president of the United States. We need a great president in 2009 because of all the problems and the challenges that we face.

So whether it's on our side or the other side, I hope good people run.

The change I want to see happen, though, has nothing to do with the candidates. It has to do with getting Americans involved and engaged in changing their own country.

Because, I'm telling you -- and everybody knows this. Everybody knows -- they don't need to hear it from me. They know it in their gut. If we wait for the next election and we stand by and hope that the next person that's elected president is going to solve all our problems for us, we are living in a fantasy world. It will never happen -- never happen. We have to take the action to change this country.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) New Orleans is to. You're kind of like one hand is rubbing the other here?

EDWARDS: Well, I hope so. For those of you who couldn't hear, the question was, you know -- are you doing some good for New Orleans or is New Orleans doing good for you? That's basically what you're asking.

I hope we're doing some good for New Orleans, because if you walk -- as you know very well, as you walk around to these houses and through these neighborhoods -- we're in the Ninth Ward. Earlier this year I was in St. Bernard Parish doing work, along with a bunch of other people. What you hear is people, they feel like they're just forgotten, that no one's paying any attention.

And in the worst-hit areas of New Orleans, as everyone in New Orleans knows -- they certainly don't me to tell them -- you don't see much change.

And the change -- I will say, though, on a positive note, the change that has happened has been mostly done by volunteers and volunteer organizations.

So if we can help bring Americans to New Orleans to help rebuild this great city and get people to pay attention to what's actually going on here, I feel like we've done a good thing.

QUESTION: But you get something out of it, too, as well.


QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) patriotic about something other than war. What do you mean? And does that mean Americans should pay higher taxes to achieve benefits for global warming or universal health care?

EDWARDS: Well, I can give you some examples.

EDWARDS: We ought to be patriotic as Americans, not just as a government, although the government plays a critical role in helping to rebuild New Orleans.

We ought to be patriotic to do something about global warming. I don't mean in an abstract way. I mean, we've made mistakes in the past. We walked away from Kyoto unilaterally, which was, in my judgment, a serious mistake.

If you are under the age -- people often think about global warming as something that is going to affect the next generation. If you are under 60 and something doesn't change, global warming is very likely to affect your life.

And this is another example of a place where Americans can get off their addiction to oil, we can drive more fuel-efficient vehicles, we can invest in some of the cleaner alternative sources of energy -- wind, solar, biomass. There are a whole series of things that we need to do.

Because it's not just, by the way, a global warming or an energy security question, it's also a national security question, because it drives so much of our policy, particularly in the Middle East. And that has got to change.

QUESTION: Taxes? Taxes, Senator Edwards?

EDWARDS: Oh, I'm sorry. The answer to that question is, we do need, in my judgment, to get rid of some of the tax cuts that have been put in place, particularly for people at the top. I think that it may be necessary to put in place a tax on some of the windfall profits that oil companies are making in order to implement some of these changes that I've just talked about.

I think it's also really important that we be honest with people. We're in a -- we've gotten in a deep hole, in terms of our deficit. We have investments that need to be made. I've talked about some of them: Investments to strengthen the middle class; investments to end poverty; universal health care, which I'm completely committed to; some of these energy proposals that I've talked about briefly here today.

Those things cost money. So we're going to have to invest if we're going to transform America the way it needs to be transformed to make us successful in the 21st century, which is going to require rolling back some of these tax cuts, in my judgment, that have been put into place.


QUESTION: ... it's still on its knees from Hurricane Katrina. And you've pointed out, properly, that much of the work that's gone on here has been, much of the lifting has been done by volunteer groups, faith-based groups, school groups.


QUESTION: Are you saying that there is a larger role for the federal government to play in the rebuilding of New Orleans that it's not now doing?

EDWARDS: Of course, there is. And my own view about this is, this was a place where presidential leadership would have been critical. I really do believe that. I think if the president of the United States had come to New Orleans, spent some time here -- I mean, the president has a lot of responsibilities. He can't stake himself out for the long term in New Orleans, but he should have spent a period of days here, saw what was actually happening on the ground, and then demanded action.

EDWARDS: Should have had somebody at a high level coming into his office every day -- if I'd been president, I would have had somebody coming into my office every morning, and I would say to him, "What did you do in New Orleans yesterday?"

And then the next day, "What did you do yesterday? What steps do we need to take? What are we not doing? What are the people in New Orleans telling us that we're not doing?"

And that's the -- unfortunately, that's the kind of thing that didn't happen. And as a result the federal government, while there's been money allocated -- and I'm telling you things everybody in New Orleans already knows, but of course the country needs to hear it -- all this money's been allocated and very little of it has gotten to the ground. You just don't -- you ride around and walk around out in these neighborhoods, you don't see much change.

So, yes, the answer is yes, there is a very significant role that the federal government needs to be paying, that it's not paying right now -- playing, playing, I'm sorry.

QUESTION: Senator, your call to action seems, at this point, a little bit vague or non-specific. What specifically are you saying that you want people to do, when you talk about the responsibility the people have?

EDWARDS: We're going to have a whole series of things that we're going to ask people to do, very specific.

For example, in January, January 27th, we will have a national call to action day, where we ask people to do a very specific thing. Let me give you some examples of what I think we can do -- the best examples, by the way, in terms of what's possible are the things I've actually seen done in the past: raising the minimum wage, making college available to kids who are willing to work when they're in college, the humanitarian work I saw occur in Uganda, the work that has been done to organize workers all over this country. The government had, basically, nothing to do with any of that.

EDWARDS: That's action that was taken by me but with lots of other people.

An example of what we can do now is we can do the kind of work these young people were doing here in New Orleans yesterday. More people can come to New Orleans and volunteer and help rebuild this city that's struggling so very badly.

Another example of what we can do is Americans are going to have to take responsibility to deal with global warming and the energy insecurity that exists in this country today.

This is not something the government or the president of the United States can fix on their own. That's what I meant when I said a few minutes ago, we need to call on Americans to be patriotic about something other than war.

I have personally seen what happens in communities where community action networks are involved in lifting up families that are living in poverty.

Again, the government plays a minor role in a lot of the work that's being done by faith-based groups, charitable groups and community organizations to lift up families who are living in poverty.

There is a long list of things that we can begin to do today -- not when the election happens, today -- to bring about the change that needs to occur.

Almost every state in America, we have thousands and thousands of kids who don't have health care just because they haven't signed up for the children's health insurance program. So we're not asking for the government to do anything. We're not asking for a new law. It's there. It's been there for a long time. But these kids don't know about it and they can't take advantage of it. Those are some of the kinds of things that we want to ask people to do.

QUESTION: Senator, you've done a lot of international travel recently, but some of your critics say all that's done is highlight how little experience you have in international and especially military affairs.

And in this age of the war on terror and the war in Iraq, why would the American people select as the commander in chief somebody with a relatively modest amount of experience in those areas?

EDWARDS: It's a very fair question and it's a question that I would ask if I were deciding who I thought should be the next commander in chief and the president of the United States.

My answer to that question is that what I've done over the last couple of years -- I've been all over the world, met with leaders, met with the people all over the world. And it's been helpful to me. It's given me some depth and understanding that didn't exist before that time.

EDWARDS: But if you look at what's happened over the last six years, we've had one of the most experienced foreign policy teams in American history -- Rumsfeld, Cheney. They've been an absolute disaster by any measure. Rumsfeld just resigned under -- resigned or was asked to quit by the president of the United States.

I don't think anybody in America thinks those people have done a good job, and they were extraordinarily experienced.

Experience, number one, doesn't equal good judgment, and, number two, doesn't indicate that you have a vision, long-term vision for what America should be doing, and, secondly, that you can adapt to a rapidly changing world. Because we've seen no capacity to be mobile, to be able to move when the environment changes, when the world changes.

If I can take just a second and say what I think America should be doing, I think that it is so critical that we not only maintain our strength, but that we -- when crises occur, when Ahmadinejad wants a nuclear weapon, when Kim Jong Il is testing missiles and nuclear weapons, when China's economic and military power is growing every single day with very little being done about it by the United States of America, when Hezbollah and the Israelis are engaged in conflict, when the Israelis are attacked by Hezbollah, America needs to be able to engage and bring the rest of the world with us to deal with those crises.

What's happening, instead, is we encounter resistance. When we go to the Security Council on all of these issues, we encounter resistance. Instead of the world naturally coming to us, they resist us.

And when we are not leading, there is no leadership. The world is literally in chaos. And look at what's happening from Central Africa all across the Middle East, and through Afghanistan, Pakistan, up through North Korea. We live in an unstable, chaotic world today.

The only way that'll change is if America becomes the stabilizing force. We cannot be the stabilizing force (inaudible) rest of the world once again sees us as the great beacon (inaudible)

To do that, we're going to have to show (inaudible) on the big moral issues that face the world, and that's what I've been talking about.


EDWARDS: My vote -- for those of you who can't hear, he asked if I wish I could take back my vote on the war. My vote was a mistake and I should never have voted for this war. I now know that. I came to that conclusion some time ago. I didn't do it for the first time here today.

I do think it's important to note, for anybody who voted for the war, that we didn't conduct the war. Bush, Cheney, those people -- Rumsfeld, they conducted the war. And they've been an absolute disaster in the conducting of the war.

But none of that changes or affects my responsibility. I'm responsible for what I did.

EDWARDS: And I believe that my vote was a mistake. I also feel a responsibility now to tell the truth about the circumstances we're in, which are very, very difficult.

I think America -- my own view is I think America can accept that we can't guarantee what the results are going to be in Iraq, no matter what path we take. And I think we should be honest with people about that.


EDWARDS: Yes. The answer's yes. The question was, should we be a part of the International Criminal Court? The answer's yes.

America -- when America doesn't engage in these international institutions, when we show disrespect for international agreements, it makes it extraordinarily difficult when we need the world community to rally around us to get them there.

We should be the natural leader in all of these areas, and, certainly, we should be a member of the International Criminal Court.

You know, we didn't used to be the country of Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib. We were the great light for the rest of the world, and America needs to be that light again. And we can -- and we can be that light again. Thank you all very much.


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