Barack Obama's Remarks on Victory in Wisconsin Primary
Tuesday, February 19, 2008; 11:14 PM
OBAMA: Houston, I think we've achieved liftoff here.
Let me just, first of all, say thank you to some special people who helped put this together.
First of all, the pre-program entertainment Infinite Groove, thank you so much.
I want to thank the wonderful young lady who said the Pledge of Allegiance, Melissa Atkins (ph). That's not easy to do when you're 6 years old in front of 20,000 people. So thank you, Melissa.
There are many great elected officials state and local here, but I've got to give a special shout-out to three of my fellow members of Congress who are just great supporters, Congressman Al Green...
... Congresswoman Eddie Bernice Johnson, and Congressman Chet Edwards, thank you so much.
I want to thank all the wonderful faith leaders who are here who gave me a little circle of prayer before coming out here today.
I want to thank some wonderful union supporters. SEIU in the house.
The United Food and Commercial Workers and the Transport Workers, thank you so much for your wonderful support.
Now, there's a little bit of business that we've got to do before we get into the main event. Early voting has started here in Texas.
Early voting has started here in Texas. And so everybody has received one of these cards, and everybody knows that you can start voting today. And if you didn't vote today, you can start tomorrow, or the next day, or the day after that.
But we have early voting in Texas. I don't want you to wait until March 4th. I want you to go ahead and start voting tomorrow here in Texas.
You've got February 19th until 29th to vote, and you can also vote on election day, March 4th.
Now, I know this was explained to you. This is a little confusing. You're going to have to do two things for me now.
Not only do you have to vote -- and we would prefer you to vote early -- but on election day, March 4th, you're going to have to attend the caucus at 7 p.m. to get us a few more delegates.
Can everybody do that, Houston? Everybody going to do that?
AUDIENCE: Yes, we can! Yes, we can! Yes, we can!
OBAMA: Yes, we can.
And on the back -- on the back here are all the sites for all the early voting locations, so you don't have an excuse for not going. And we want you to grab your cousin, and your uncle, and your niece, and your nephew. Don't go alone. Take some friends and family to the polls.
Now, we just heard that we won tonight in Wisconsin.
And I am grateful to the people of Wisconsin for their friendship, and their support, and their extraordinary civic pride.
You know, in Wisconsin when you go to vote it's five degrees outside. But that has not deterred people from Milwaukee to Green Bay to Eau Claire, all across that state, from casting their ballot and exercising their civic duty.
We also have a caucus in Hawaii tonight. It's too early to know how that will turn out. It's too early to know, but we do know this. We do know this, Houston: The change we seek is still months and miles away, and we need the good people of Texas to help us get there.
We will need you to fight for every delegate it takes to win this nomination. And if we win the nomination, if we are blessed and honored to win the nomination, then we're going to need your help to win the election in November.
And if we win that election in November, then we are going to need your help and your time, your energy, your enthusiasm, your mobilization, your organization, and your voices to help us change America over the next four years.
Because understand this, Houston: As wonderful as this gathering is, as exciting as these enormous crowds and this enormous energy may be, what we're trying to do here is not easy, and it will not happen overnight.
It is going to take more than big rallies. It's going to require more than rousing speeches. It will also require more than policy papers and positions and Web sites. It is going to require something more, because the problem that we face in America today is not the lack of good ideas. It's that Washington has become a place where good ideas go to die...
... because lobbyists crush them with their money and their influence, because politicians spend too much time trying to score political points and not enough time trying to bridge their differences so we can get something done.
The problem is that we haven't had leaders who can inspire the American people to rally behind a common purpose and a higher purpose. And this is what we need to change today. This is what's hard, and we know this.
We know how difficult it will be, but I also know why we're here tonight. We're here because we still believe that change is possible.
We're here because we know that we've never needed it more than we do right now.
We're here because there are workers in Youngstown, Ohio, who've watched job after job after job disappear because of bad trade deals like NAFTA, who've worked in factories -- who've worked in factories for 20 years, and then one day they come in and literally see the equipment unbolted from the floor and sent to China.
They need us to end those tax breaks that go to companies that ship jobs overseas...
... and give them to companies that invest in jobs right here in the United States of America, that pay well, provide a pension, provide health care. That's the change they need.
We're here because of the mother in San Antonio that I met just today, just this afternoon. She's got 2-year-old twins who are legally blind. She somehow entered into a predatory loan and saw her mortgage payments double in two weeks and has paid thousands in fees to try to stave off foreclosure.
She told me she was on the verge of packing and didn't know where her family would go next. She needed us to crack down on predatory lenders and give relief to struggling homeowners who were tricked out of their dream. She needs change today.
We're here because of the mother that I met in Green Bay, Wisconsin, who gave me this bracelet that I'm wearing. Inscribed on it is the name of her son, Ryan. He was 20 when he was killed by a roadside bomb in Iraq. And next to his name, it says, "All gave some, but he gave all."
We are here because it is time to ask ourselves as a nation if we are serving Ryan and his compatriots and all our young, brave men and women as well as they are serving us. They need us to end this war, and bring them home, and give them the care and the benefits that they deserve. They need change, Houston.
A year ago, a year ago I stood on the steps of the old state capitol in Springfield, Illinois, and I announced this improbable journey to change America. And there were those who said at the time, "Why are you running so soon? Why are you running this time? You're a relatively young man; you can afford to wait."
And I had to explain to them I'm not running because of some long-held ambition. I know that some people have been looking through my kindergarten papers, but that's not why I decided to run.
I'm not running because I think it's somehow owed to me. I'm running because of what Dr. King called the fierce urgency of now, the fierce urgency of now.
Because there's such a thing, Houston, as being too late, and that hour is almost upon us. We are at a defining moment in our history. Our nation is at war. Our planet is in peril. The dream that so many generations fought for feels like it's slowly slipping away.
You see it in your own lives and in your own neighborhoods. The stories I told you are not unique. Everywhere I go, I hear the same stories. People are working harder for less; they've never paid more for college, never paid more for gas at the pump.
Our health care system leaves 47 million people without health insurance. And those who have it are seeing their co-payments and deductibles and premiums going up year after year after year after year.
Despite the slogans, our children, millions of them, are being left behind, unable to compete in an international economy. In such circumstances, Houston, we cannot afford to wait.
We cannot wait to fix our schools. We cannot wait to fix our health care system. We cannot wait to put an end to global warming. We cannot wait to bring good jobs with good benefits back to the United States. We cannot wait to end this war in Iraq. We cannot wait.
We cannot wait. And one year ago, one year ago when I made the decision to run, it was based on the belief that the size of our challenges had outstripped the capacity of a broken and divided politics to solve.
And I was certain that the American people were hungry for something new, that they were tired of a politics that tears each other down. They wanted a politics that would lift the country up, that they had grown weary of a politics that was based on spin and P.R. They wanted a politics that was based on honesty and truthfulness and straight talk to the American people.
I was convinced, most of all, that change in America does not happen from the top down. It happens from the bottom up.
Some of you know I used to work as a community organizer with churches on the south side of Chicago after the steel plants had laid thousands of people off. And we brought together black and white and Hispanic to try to create job training programs for the unemployed and bring economic development to neighborhoods that had fallen on hard times.
And it was the best education I ever had, because it taught me that ordinary people can do extraordinary things when they're given an opportunity.
It reminded me that Americans are decent and generous, willing to work hard and sacrifice on behalf of future generations.
And if we could just get beyond the divisions that have become so commonplace in our politics, if we could bridge the divides so that black, white, Hispanic, Asian, Native American, young, old, rich and poor, Republican, Democrat, if we could join together to challenge the special interests in Washington, but also to challenge ourselves, also to challenge ourselves to be better, to be better neighbors, to be better citizens, to be better parents, then I believe there was no challenge we could not solve, no destiny we could not fulfill.
That was the bet that I made one year ago. And I'm here to report, Houston, that after a year of traveling all across the country, after countless miles and thousands of speeches, and talks, and shaking hands, and chicken dinners...
... I am here to report that my bet has paid off and my faith in the American people has been vindicated, because all across the country, people are standing up and saying, "It is time to turn the page. It is time to write a new chapter in American history. We want to move forward into a better tomorrow."
The American people...
AUDIENCE: Yes, we can! Yes, we can! Yes, we can! Yes, we can! Yes, we can! Yes, we can! Yes, we can! Yes, we can! Yes, we can!
OBAMA: Yes, we can.
The American people have spoken out, and they are saying we need to move in a new direction. And I would not be running, as aware as I am of my imperfections, as clear as I am that I am not a perfect vessel, I would not be running if I did not believe that I could lead this country in that new direction, that we have a unique moment that we have to seize.
But I have to tell you, Houston, I can't do it by myself. No president can. Remember: Change doesn't happen from the top. It happens because of you. And so the question I have for you tonight, Houston, is, are you really ready for change?
Are you really ready for change? Because if you are ready for change, then we can go ahead and tell the lobbyists that their days of setting the agenda are over.
They have not funded my campaign. They will not run my White House. And they will not drown out the voices of the American people when I'm president of the United States of America.
If you are ready for change, Houston, then we can stop talking about the outrage of 47 million people without health insurance and start doing something about it. I put forward a plan that says everybody will be able to get health insurance that is at least as good as the plan I've got as a member of Congress.
And if you already have health insurance, we will lower your premiums by $2,500 per family, per year. And if you can't afford it, we will subsidize your care, and we will emphasize prevention so we have a health care system instead of a disease-care system.
And we won't do this 20 years from now or 10 years from now. We will do it by the end of my first term as president of the United States of America.
If you are ready for change, if you're really ready, then we can start restoring some balance to our economy. I believe in the free market. I know Texans believe in entrepreneurship. We are an independent and a self-reliant people. We don't believe in government doing what we can do for ourselves.
But when we've got CEOs making more in 10 minutes than ordinary workers are making in a year...
OBAMA: ... and it's the CEOs who are getting a tax break and workers are left with nothing, then something is wrong, and something has to change.
So I want to -- I want to take away those tax breaks to companies that are shipping jobs overseas. We're going to give them to companies that invest right here in America.
And we're going to rollback those Bush tax cuts that went to all the wealthy people, and we're going to give tax cuts to ordinary families, people who are making less than $75,000. We will offset your payroll tax.
Senior citizens who make less than $50,000, we want to say to them: You don't have to pay an income tax. You're already having a hard time making ends meet.
We want to promote trade and we embrace globalization, but we also want our trade deals to have labor standards and environmental standards and safety standards so our workers aren't undermined and our children aren't playing with toys based in lead paint. That's the change we want.
And I will raise the minimum wage not every 10 years, but to keep pace with inflation, because if you work in America you should not be poor. And that's a goal that we should set for ourselves when I am president of the United States of America.
If you're ready for change, we can assure that every child in America has the best education this country has to offer...
... from the day that child is born to the day that child graduates from college. The problem is not the lack of plans, the lack of good ideas.
The problem is a lack of political will, a lack of urgency. We think that those children in inner-city Houston, those are those children. Those are somebody else's problem. We think that the child in south Texas, that's somebody else's problem. That's not our problem; that's not our child.
We think that that child in rural east Texas, where there's a low property tax base and they can't afford to buy new textbooks or put into computers, that's somebody else's problem.
Houston, I am here to tell you that every child is our problem, every child is our responsibility...
... every child needs to be nurtured and embraced. And so we are going to invest in early childhood education to close the achievement gap.
And I won't just talk about how great teachers are; I will reward them for their greatness...
... by giving them higher salaries and giving them more support.
And I want the highest standards in our schools. We have to have high standards, standards of excellence in order to compete in this global economy. But I don't want our standards measured just by a single high-stakes standardized test, because I don't want our teachers teaching to the tests.
I want our students learning art, and music, and science, and literature, and social studies.
And I don't know about you, but I think it's about time we made college affordable for every young person in America.
So we're going to provide a $4,000 tuition credit, every student, every year, but, students, you're going to have to give back something in return. You're going to have to participate in community service. You're going to have to work in a homeless shelter, or a veteran's home, or an underserved school, or join the Peace Corps.
We'll invest in you; you invest in America. Together, we will march this country forward.
If you are ready for change, we can start having an energy policy that makes sense. We send a billion dollars to foreign nations every single day, and we're melting the polar icecaps in the bargain. That has to change.
And so we're going to cap the emission of greenhouse gases. We are going to generate billions of dollars from polluters to invest in solar, in wind, and biodiesel.
We are going to raise fuel efficiency standards on cars because that is the only way that we can actually bring down gas prices over the long term, and I know you need that.
And, by the way, when I talked about increasing fuel efficiency standards, I didn't do it in front of some environmental group. I did it in Detroit in front of the automakers. And I told them they had to change their ways.
And when I said that, I've got to admit that the room was really quiet. Nobody clapped.
But that's OK, because part of what you need from the next president is somebody who will not just tell you what they think you want to hear, but will tell you what you need to hear, will tell you the truth.
If you're ready for change, we can stop using immigration as a political football and actually start solving the problem. We are a nation of laws and a nation of immigrants, and those two things we can join together.
We can get serious about our borders and crack down on employers who are taking advantage of undocumented workers and undermining U.S. labor.
But we can also provide a pathway for those who are living here. They can pay a fine and learn English and go to the back of the line, but we've got to give them an opportunity, too. We're a nation of immigrants.
If you're ready for change, we can start reinvesting in America, in the cities. We are spending $9 billion a month in Iraq, $9 billion. We can invest that money in rebuilding roads and bridges and hospitals right here in Houston, building schools, laying broadband lines, putting people back to work, employing young men and young women in our inner cities, in our rural communities. That is possible if you're ready for change.
We can create the kind of foreign policy that will make us safe and will lead to renewed respect of America around the world.
You know, as your commander-in-chief, my job will be to keep you safe.
My job will be to keep you safe. And I will not hesitate to strike against any who would do us harm. I will do whatever is required.
But part of keeping you safe is maintaining the finest military in the world, and that means providing our troops with the proper equipment and the proper training and the proper rotations.
And it means caring for our troops when they come home, not forgetting about our troops. No more homeless veterans; no more begging for disability payments; no more waiting in line for the V.A. We have a solemn obligation to honor those who have served on our behalf.
But part of keeping you safe is also deploying our military wisely. And the war in Iraq was unwise.
It distracted us from the fight that needed to be fought in Afghanistan against Al Qaida. They're the ones who killed 3,000 Americans. It fanned the flames of anti-American sentiment. It has cost us dearly in blood and in treasure.
I opposed this war in 2002. I will bring this war to an end in 2009. It is time to bring our troops home.
But I don't want to just end the war; I want to end the mindset that got us into war.
I want to end a politics based on fear that uses 9/11 as a way to scare up votes instead of a way to bring the country together against a common enemy. I want to rediscover the power of our diplomacy.
I said early in this campaign I would meet not just with our friends, but also with our enemies. And there were those in Washington who said, "You can't do that." And I said, "Yes, I can"...
... because I remember what John F. Kennedy said. He said we should never negotiate out of fear, but we should never fear to negotiate. Strong countries and strong presidents talk to their adversaries, and tell them where America stands, and try to resolve differences without resort to war.
And when we do that, I believe the world is waiting. I want to go before the world community and say, "America's back, and we are ready to lead."
But we will lead not just with militarily. Yes, we will hunt down terrorists; yes, we will lock down loose nuclear weapons that could do us harm.
But we are also going to lead on climate change. We're also going to lead on helping poor countries deal with the devastation of HIV-AIDS. We're also going to lead in bringing an end to the genocide in Darfur.
We are going to lead by example, by maintaining the highest standards of civil liberties and human rights, which is why I will close Guantanamo and restore habeas corpus and say no to torture.
Because if you are ready for change, then you can elect a president who has taught the Constitution, and believes in the Constitution, and will obey the Constitution of the United States of America.
All these things are possible, if you are ready for change. But I have to say that there are a lot of people these days who are telling you not to believe. They're trying to persuade you that, "Well, Obama may have good ideas, but he hasn't been in Washington long enough. We need to season and stew him a little bit more and boil all the hope out of him."
But I think you understand and the American people understand that the last thing we need is to have the same old folks doing the same old things, making the same mistakes over and over and over again.
We need something different. And we need new leadership to move into a new century.
There are those who would say that you have to be wary about inspiration because you might be disappointed, who say that Obama may make a good speech, but what is really going to make a difference is how you work our government.
But I have to say that it is my central premise that the only way we will bring about real change in America is if we can bring new people into the process, if we can attract young people, if we can attract independents, if we can stop fighting with Republicans and try to bring some over to our side.
I want to form a working majority for change. That's how we win elections; that's how we will govern. I want to reach out to everybody.
I know that there are some who say, "Well, what about John McCain?" And I revere and honor John McCain's service to this country.
He is a genuine American hero. But when he embraces George Bush's failed economic policies, when he says that he is willing to send our troops into another 100 years of war in Iraq, then he represents the policies of yesterday. And we want to be the party of tomorrow. And I'm looking forward to having that debate with John McCain.
But, you know, there's something deeper in this argument we've been hearing about inspiration. It really has to do with the meaning of hope. Some of you know I talk about hope a lot. And it's not surprising, because, if you think about it, the odds of me standing here are very slim.
You know, I was born to a teenage mother. My father left when I was 2. So I was raised by a single mom and my grandparents. And they didn't have money, and they didn't have fame. What they could give me was love, they gave me an education, and they gave me hope.
And so I talk about hope. I put "hope" on my signs. I gave a speech in Boston at the convention about hope. I wrote a book called "The Audacity of Hope."
But now some are suggesting that I must be naive, that if you talk about hope it means that you're fuzzy-headed, you're not realistic, you're peddling in false hopes, you need a reality check.
The implication is, is that if you talk about hope that you must be passive and you're just waiting for good things to happen, and you don't realize how mean and tough the world can be.
But understand that's not what hope is. Hope is not blind optimism. Hope is not ignoring or being ignorant of the challenges that stand between you and your dreams.
I know how difficult it will be to provide health insurance to every American. If it was easy, it would have already been done.
I know how hard it will be to change our energy policy, because the status quo serves many powerful people.
I know how hard it will be to alleviate poverty that has built up over centuries, how hard it will be to fix schools, because changing our schools will require not just money, but a change in attitudes.
We're going to have to parent better, and turn off the television set, and put the video games away, and instill a sense of excellence in our children, and that's going to take some time.
I know how easy it is for politicians to turn us on each other, to use immigrants or gay people or folks who aren't like us as scapegoats for what they do.
But I also know this. I know this because I have fought on the streets as an organizer, I have fought in the courts as a civil rights attorney, I have fought in the legislature, and I've won some battles, but I've also lost some, because good intentions aren't always enough. They have to be fortified by political will and political power.
But I also know this, Houston: that nothing worthwhile in this country has ever happened except somebody somewhere was willing to hope.
That is how this country was founded, a group of patriots declaring independence against the mighty British empire. Nobody gave them a chance, but they had hope.
That's how slaves and abolitionists resisted an evil system and how a new president chartered a course to ensure that we would not remain half-slave and half-free.
That is how the greatest generation, my grandfather fighting in Patton's army, my grandmother staying at home with a baby, working on a bomber assembly line, how that greatest generation defeated Hitler and fascism and lifted itself up out of a great depression.
That's how pioneers settled the west. That's how immigrants traveled at great risk from distant shores. That is how women won the right to vote. That's how workers won the right to organize.
That's how young people in the '60s traveled south, and some marched, and some sat-in, and some were beaten, and some went to jail, and some died for freedom's cause. That's what hope is.
That's what hope is. That's what hope is, imagining, and then fighting for, and then working for, struggling for what did not seem possible before.
You know, there is a moment in the life of every generation when that spirit has to come through, if we are to make our mark on history, when we decide to cast aside the fear and the doubt, when we're not willing to settle for what the cynics tell us we have to accept, but instead we are willing to reach for what we know in our gut is possible, when we decide that the next generation deserves the same chance that somebody gave us, when we determine that we're going to keep the dream alive for those who still hunger for opportunity and still thirst for justice.
It will not be easy. But at some point in our lives, we all have to decide, as hard as it's going to be, we are going to join together, lock arms, and go about the difficult but noble task of remaking this nation, block by block, county by county, state by state.
Houston, this is our moment. This is our time.
And if you are willing to vote for me, if you are willing to stand with me, if you're willing to caucus for me, then I truly believe that we will not just win Texas. We will win this nomination. We will win the general election. And you and I together will change this country and change the world.
Thank you, Houston. I love you.