Monday, June 16, 2008 5:47 PM
SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-ILL.): You know, it is great to be at Kettering, a university that's teaching the next generation of leaders and training workers to have the skills they need to advance their own careers and their own communities. You know, for months, the state of our economy has dominated the headlines. And as all of you know, the news has not been good. The subprime lending debacle has sent the housing market into a tailspin and caused a broader contraction in the credit markets. Over 360,000 jobs have been lost since the beginning of this year. Unemployment has registered the biggest one-month jump since February of 1986.
Incomes have failed to keep pace with the rising costs of health insurance and college tuition. And record oil and food prices have left families struggling just to keep up.
But, of course, grim economic news is nothing new to Flint, and it's nothing new to Michigan. George Bush and Washington may not have noticed, but manufacturing jobs have been leaving here for decades now.
Incomes have been declining for decades now. The jobs that have replaced those lost jobs pay less and offer fewer, if any, benefits. Hard-working Americans who could once count on a single paycheck to support their families have not only lost jobs, but they've lost their health care and their pensions, as well.
You've got CEOs who are getting golden parachutes at a time when pensions are being dumped. Worst of all, many have lost confidence in that fundamental American promise: that our children will have a better life than we have had. That's the essence of the American dream, that the next generation does better than we had.
So these are challenging times. That's why I spent last week talking about immediate steps we need to provide working Americans with relief, not relief later, but relief right now.
It starts with a broad-based, middle-class tax cut, $1,000 per family, to help offset the rising costs of gas and food.
A foreclosure prevention fund, to help stabilizing the housing market and keep people in their homes.
A health care plan that lowers costs and give those without health insurance the same kind of coverage that members of Congress have.
A commitment to retirement security that stabilizes Social Security and provides workers a means to increase savings. And a plan to crack down on unfair and sometimes deceptive lending in the credit card and housing markets, to help families climb out of crippling debt and stay out of debt in the first place.
Now, these steps that I've proposed are all paid for. And they're designed to restore balance and fairness to the American economy after years of Bush administration policies that tilted the playing field in favor of the wealthy and the well-connected.
But the truth is that none of these steps, none of these short- term steps alone will ensure America's future.
Yes, we have to make sure that the economic pie is sliced more fairly, but we also have to make sure that the economic pie is growing. Yes, we need to provide immediate help to families who are struggling in places like Flint, but we also need a serious plan to create new jobs and new industries here in Flint and here in Michigan.
In other words, we can't simply return to the strategies of the past, for we're living through an age of fundamental economic transformation. Technology has changed the way we live and the way the world does business. The collapse of the Soviet Union, the advance of capitalism have vanquished old challenges to America's global leadership, but new challenges have emerged, from China, and India, and Eastern Europe, even countries like Brazil.
Jobs and industries can move to any country with an Internet connection and willing workers. And Michigan's children will grow up facing competition, not just from kids in California or South Carolina, but also from young people in Beijing and Bangalore.
You know, a few years ago, I saw a picture of this new reality during a visit to Google's headquarters in California. Towards the end of the tour, I was brought into a room where there was a three- dimensional image of the Earth that rotated on a large flat-panel monitor.
And across this image, there were countless lights in different colors, all around this globe. And I asked what those lights signified. And a young engineer explained that the lights represented all of the Internet searches taking place all around the world. Each color represented a different language.
And the image was mesmerizing: a picture of a world where old boundaries are disappearing, a world where communication, connection, and competition can come from anywhere.
Now, there are some who believe that we must try to turn back the clock on this new world, that the only chance to maintain our living standard is to build a fortress around America, to stop trading with other countries, to shut down immigration, rely on old industries. I disagree.
Not only is it impossible to turn back the tide of globalization, but efforts to do so can actually make us worse off.
So rather than fear the future, we have to embrace it. I have no doubt that America can compete and succeed in the 21st century.
And I know as well that, more than anything else, success will depend not on our government. It will depend on the dynamism, and determination, and innovation of the American people.
We have the best workers on Earth here in Flint and here in Michigan.
We work harder and we work better. Here in Flint, it was the private sector and American workers that helped turn lumber into the wagons that sent this country west.
It was the American worker that built the tanks that faced down fascism and that turned out the automobiles that were the cornerstone of America's manufacturing boom.
But at critical moments of transition like this one, success has also depended on national leadership, political leadership that moved the country forward with confidence and a common purpose.
That's what our founding fathers did after winning independence, when they tied together the economies of the 13 states and created the American market.
That's what Lincoln did right in the middle of Civil War. He pushed for a transcontinental railroad. He incorporated our National Academy of Sciences. He passed the Homestead Act. He created our system of land grant colleges.
That's what FDR did in confronting capitalism's gravest crisis, when he forged the social safety net, built the Hoover Dam, created the Tennessee Valley Authority, and invested in an arsenal of democracy.
And that's what Kennedy did in the dark days of the Cold War, when he called us to a new frontier, created the Apollo program, and put us on a pathway to the moon.
This was leadership that had the strength to turn moments of adversity into opportunity, leadership...
... leadership that had the wisdom to see a little further down the road and around that next corner, leadership that had the courage to challenge conventional thinking and worn ideas so that we could reinvent our economy to seize the future.
And, unfortunately, that's not the kind of leadership that we've seen out of Washington recently. But that's the kind of leadership I intend to provide when I am president of the United States of America.
AUDIENCE: Obama! Obama! Obama! Obama! Obama!
These past eight years will be remembered for misguided policies, missed opportunities, a rigid and ideological adherence to discredited ideas.
Almost a decade into this century, we still have no real strategy to compete in a global economy, almost a decade into this century. Governor Granholm, Congressman Dingell have not had a partner in the White House to figure out how we are going to rebuild the manufacturing base here in Michigan.
Just think of what we could have done over the last eight years. We could have made a real commitment to a world-class education for our children, but instead we passed No Child Left Behind, a law that, however well-intended, left the money behind, alienated teachers and principals, instead of inspiring teachers and principals.
We could have done something to end our addiction to oil, but instead we continued down a path that funds both sides of the war on terror, endangers our planet, and has left Americans struggling with $4-a-gallon gasoline.
We could have invested in innovation, helping the automakers re- tool, rebuilding our crumbling roads and bridges, but instead we've spent hundreds of billions of dollars fighting a war in Iraq that should've never been authorized and should have never been waged.
Worse yet, the price tag for these failures is being passed onto our children. You know, Bill Clinton left behind a surplus, but this administration squandered it. We face budget deficits in the hundreds of billions of dollars and are nearly $10 trillion in debt.
We've borrowed billions from countries like China to finance needless tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans and an unnecessary war. And yet Senator John McCain is explicitly running to continue and expand these policies without a plan to pay for it.
And that's why we can't afford four more years of John McCain. We can't afford four more years of George Bush policies. We need to turn the page and write a new chapter in American history.
You know, the pundits talk about two debates, one on national security and one on the economy, but they miss the point. We didn't win the Cold War just because of the strength of our military. We also prevailed because of the vigor of our economy and the endurance of our ideals.
And in this century, we won't be secure if we bankroll terrorists and dictators through our dependence on oil. We won't be safe if we can't count on our infrastructure. We won't extend the promise of American greatness unless we invest in our young people and ask them to invest in America.
So there's a clear choice in this election. Instead of reaching for new horizons, George Bush has put us in a hole, and John McCain's policies will keep us there.
I want to get out of the hole. I want to climb out of the hole. I want to take us in a new and better direction.
I reject the belief that we should either shrink from the challenge of globalization or fall back on the same tired and failed approaches of the last eight years. It's time for new policies that create the new jobs and the new opportunities of the future. It's time for a competitiveness agenda built around education and energy, innovation and infrastructure, fair trade and reform.
That's what I want to deliver as president of the United States of America.
Now, this agenda starts with education. Whether you are conservative or liberal, Republican or Democrat, practically every economist agrees that, in this digital age, a highly skilled, highly educated workforce will be the key not only to individual opportunity, but to the overall success of our economy, as well.
We cannot be satisfied until every child in America -- and I mean every child -- has the same chances for a good education that we all want for our own children, every child.
Every child. That means a child in the inner city, a child in the barrio in south Texas, a child on the reservation in South Dakota, a child in the hills of Appalachia.
And yet despite this consensus, despite the fact that we know education is the key, we continue to fail to deliver.
You know, a few years ago, I visited a high school outside of Chicago. The number-one concern I heard from those students was that the school district couldn't afford to keep teachers for a full day. School let out at 1:30 every afternoon. That cut out critical classes, like science and labs and foreign languages.
Now, imagine that: These kids wanted more school. Think about that. They knew they were being short-changed. But, unfortunately, stories like this can be found across America.
Only 20 percent of students are prepared to take college classes in English and math and science. We have one of the highest dropout rates of any industrialized country, and barely one-tenth of our low- income students will graduate from college. And that will cripple their ability to keep pace in this global economy and compromise our ability to compete as a nation.
Now, Senator McCain doesn't talk about education much. I don't know what his education policy is. But I can tell you this: I don't accept the status quo. It is morally unacceptable, and it is economically untenable.
It is time to make an historic commitment to education, a real commitment that will require new resources and new reforms. We can start by investing $10 billion to guarantee access to quality, affordable, early childhood education for every child in America.
Every dollar we spend on these programs puts our children on a path to success, while saving as much as $10 in reduced health care costs, and crime, and welfare later on. That's what will close the achievement gap, giving every child a good start.
We can fix the failures of No Child Left Behind while focusing on accountability. That means providing the funding that was promised. Bush left the money behind for No Child Left Behind. We've got to adequately fund these proposals.
More importantly, it means reaching high standards, but not by relying on a single, high-stakes standardized test that distorts how teachers teach.
I believe in high standards, but I don't want our children to be learning to a test. I want them learning art and music and science and literature and all the things that make an education well-rounded.
So we need to work with governors, educators, and especially teachers to develop better assessment tools that effectively measure student achievement and encourage the kind of research, and the scientific investigation, and problem-solving that our children will need to compete.
We need to recruit an army of new teachers. The baby boomers are starting to retire. We need more teachers. And I will make this pledge as your president: If you commit your life to teaching, America will pay for your college education.
We will recruit teachers in math and science and deploy them to under-staffed school districts in our inner cities and rural America. We'll expand monitoring programs that -- mentoring programs that pair experienced teachers with new recruits. And when our teachers succeed, I won't just talk about how great they are; I will reward their greatness with better pay and more support.
Now, here's the thing, though. Research shows that more money alone won't create the schools that we need to help our children succeed.
We also need to encourage innovation, by adopting curricula and changing the school calendar to the needs of the 21st century; by updating the schools of education that produce most of our teachers; by welcoming charter schools within the public school system, streamlining the certification process for engineers or businesspeople who want to shift careers and teach.
And we also have to challenge the system that prevents us from promoting and rewarding excellence in teaching. We can't ask our teachers to perform the impossible, to teach poorly prepared children with inadequate resources, and then punish them when teachers perform poorly on a standardized test. That's not fair.
But if we give teachers the resources they need, if we pay them more and give them time for professional development, if they are given ownership over the design of better assessment tools and a creative curricula, if we shape reforms with teachers rather than imposing changes on teachers, then it's fair to expect better results.
Where there are teachers who are still struggling and underperforming after we've made these changes, we should provide them with individual help and support. And if they're still underperforming after that, we should find a quick and fair way to put another teacher in that classroom. Our teachers deserve no less. Our children deserve no less.
Let me say one more thing about education, though. Teachers alone, government alone can't do it. Parents are going to have to step up.
Parents need to turn off the television set, and put away the video games, and read to your child. Parents have to instill a thirst for educational excellence in our children.
Finally, our commitment cannot end with a high school degree. The chance to get a college education must not be a privilege of the few; it should be a birthright of every single American.
Senator McCain is campaigning on a plan to give more tax breaks to corporations. I want to give tax breaks to more young people in the form of an annual $4,000 tuition credit, every student, every year, that will cover two-thirds of the tuition of an average public college and make community college completely free in America. (APPLAUSE)
In return, I will ask students to serve, whether it's by teaching, or joining the Peace Corps, or working in your community. And for those who serve in our military, we will cover all of your tuition with an even more generous 21st-century G.I. Bill.
John McCain opposes giving our G.I.s a better deal. I think it's the right thing to do, because the idea is simple: America will invest in you, and you invest in America. That's how we are going to march this country forward. That's how we'll ensure that America succeeds in the 21st century.
Now, reforming our education system will require sustained effort from all of us: parents and teachers, federal, state and local governments. The same is true for the second leg of our competitiveness agenda, and that's a bold and sustainable energy policy.
You know, in the past, America has been stirred to action when a new challenge threatened our national security. That was true when German and Japanese armies advanced across Europe and Asia or when the Soviets launched Sputnik.
The energy threat we face today may be less direct, but it is real. Our dependence on foreign oil strains family budgets, and it saps our economy. Oil money pays for the bombs going off from Baghdad to Beirut and the bombast of dictators from Caracas to Tehran.
Our nation will not be secure unless we take that leverage away, and our planet will not be safe unless we move decisively towards a clean energy future.
Now, the dangers of inaction are eclipsed only by the opportunities that would come with change. We know the jobs of the 21st century will be created in developing alternative energy. The question is whether these jobs will be created in America, in Michigan, in Flint, or whether they're going to be created overseas.
Already, we've seen countries like Germany, Spain and Brazil reap the benefits of economic growth from clean energy, but we're decades behind in confronting this challenge.
George Bush has spent most of his administration denying that we even have a problem and making deals with big oil behind closed doors.
And while John McCain deserves credit for speaking out against the threat of climate change, his rhetoric is undercut by a record of voting time and again against important investments in renewable energy. So it's time to make energy security a leading priority. My energy plan will invest $150 billion over the next 10 years to establish a green energy sector that will create up to 5 million jobs over the next two decades, 5 million jobs.
And good jobs, good jobs, like the ones I saw in Pennsylvania where workers -- they used to work in the steel mill -- are now working in a transformed mill making wind turbines, or the jobs that will be created when we have plug-in hybrids or electric cars starting to roll off the assembly line right here in Michigan.
We will use that money to help manufacturers, particularly in the auto industry, convert to green technology and help workers learn the new skills that they'll need.
And unlike George Bush, I won't wait until the sixth year of my presidency to sit down with the automakers. I'll meet them during my campaign, and I will meet them as president to talk about how we're going to build the cars of the future right here in Michigan, right here in America.
And when I'm president, we will invest in research and development of every form of alternative energy -- solar, wind, and biofuels -- as well as technologies that can make coal burn cleanly and nuclear power safe.
We will provide incentives to businesses and consumers to save energy and make buildings more efficient. That's how we're going to create jobs that pay well and can't be outsourced. That's how we're going to win back control of our destiny from oil-rich dictators.
And that's how we'll solve the problem of $4-a-gallon gas, not with another Washington gimmick, like John McCain's gas tax holiday that would pad oil company profits while draining away the highway fund that Michigan depends on.
Moreover, our commitment to manufacturing can't end with green jobs. That's why I'll end tax breaks that ship jobs overseas and give those tax breaks to companies that are investing in American workers and American jobs.
Senator McCain has a different view. He's voted to keep tax incentives that encourage companies to move abroad. He should listen to leaders in Michigan like Congressman Dingell, and Senator Levin, and Governor Granholm, who've put forward serious proposals to address the crisis in manufacturing.
We need to support programs like Michigan's 21st Century Jobs Fund and build on best practices across the country. And that's why I'll create an advanced manufacturing fund to invest in places hit hard by job loss. I'll partner with community colleges so that we're training workers to meet the demands of local industry.
And we can't just focus on preserving existing industries. We have to be in the business of encouraging new industries, and that means science, research and technology.
You know, for two centuries, for two centuries, America led the world in innovation, and that's why we ended up leading the world in economic growth. But this administration's hostility to science has taken its toll.
At a time when technology is shaping our future, we devote a smaller and smaller share of our national resources to research and development. It's time for America to lead again.
I will double federal funding for basic research and make the R&D credit permanent. We can ensure that the discoveries of the 21st century happen in America: in our labs and universities, at places like Kettering and the University of Michigan, Wayne State and Michigan State. We can create and innovate right here in Michigan, right here in America, if we've got the will to do it.
Encouraging new industry also means giving more support to American entrepreneurs.
You know, the other day, Senator McCain gave a speech to the Small Business Summit, where he attacked my plan to provide tax relief for the middle class. What he didn't say is that I've also proposed exempting all start-up companies from capital gains taxes.
In other words, John McCain would tax those companies, and I won't. We will work at every juncture to remove bureaucratic barriers for small and start-up businesses, for example, by making the patent process more efficient and reliable. And we'll help technical support -- we'll help with technical support to do everything we can to make sure the next Google or Microsoft is started right here in America, started right here in Flint, Michigan.
And we know that America won't be able to compete if skyrocketing costs cause companies like the Big Three to spend $1,500 on health care for every car and condemn millions of Americans to the risk of no coverage.
And that's why we need to commit ourselves to electronic medical records that enhance care while lowering cost. We need to invest in biomedical research and stem-cell research, so that we're at the leading edge of prevention and treatment.
And that's why we finally need to pass universal health care, so that every American has access to health insurance that they can afford and are getting the preventive services that are the key to cutting health care costs. That's what I will do not 20 years from now, or 10 years from now, but by the end of my first term as president of the United States of America.
The third part of our agenda must be a commitment to 21st-century infrastructure. If we want to keep up with China or Europe, we can't settle for crumbling roads and bridges, aging water and sewer pipes, faltering electricity grids that cost us billions in blackouts, repairs, travel delays.
It's gotten so bad the American Society of Civil Engineers gave our national infrastructure a D.
A century ago, Teddy Roosevelt called together leaders from business and government to develop a plan for 20th-century infrastructure. It falls on us to do the same in the 21st century.
As president, I will launch a National Infrastructure Reinvestment Bank that will invest $60 billion over 10 years, a bank that can leverage private investment in infrastructure improvements and create nearly 2 million new jobs.
And the work will be determined by what will maximize our safety and our security and our ability to compete. We'll fund this bank as we bring the war in Iraq to a responsible close. It's time to stop spending billions of dollars a week on a blank check.
It's time to stop spending billions of dollars a week on a blank check for an Iraqi government that won't spend its own oil revenue.
Understand, the main source of Iraqi revenue is oil. Prices have doubled; their revenues have doubled. They need to pay more of their share in rebuilding their own country.
And that will allow us the ability to strengthen transportation and to protect vulnerable targets from terrorism here at home. We can modernize our power grid, which will help conservation and spur on the development and distribution of clean energy.
We can invest in rail, so that cities like Detroit, Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Louis are all connected by high-speed trains and folks have alternatives to air travel. That's what we can do if we commit to rebuilding a stronger America.
Now, as part of this commitment to infrastructure, we need to upgrade our digital superhighway. And when I looked at that map of the world mounted on the screen at Google, I was struck at first by the lights generated by Internet searches coming from every corner of the planet.
But then I was struck by the darkness, huge chunks of Africa, parts of Asia where the light of the information has yet to shine. And then I noticed portions of the United States where the thick cords of light dissolved into a few discrete strands.
It is unacceptable that here, in the United States of America, the country that invented the Internet, we have fallen to 15th place in the world in broadband deployment. When kids in downtown Flint or rural Iowa can't afford or access high-speed Internet, that sets back America's ability to compete.
So as president, I will set a simple goal: Every American should have the highest-speed broadband access, no matter where you live or how much money you have. We need to connect libraries and schools and hospitals.
And we'll take on special interests to unleash the power of wireless spectrum for our safety and our connectivity.
A revamped education system, a bold new energy strategy, a more efficient health care system, renewed investment in basic research and our infrastructure, these are the pillars of a more competitive economy that will take advantage of the global marketplace's opportunities.
But even as we welcome competition, we need to remember that our economic policies must be supported by strong and smart trade policies. I've said before and will say again: I believe in free trade. It can save money for consumers; it can generate business for U.S. exporters; and it can expand everybody's wealth across the globe.
But unlike George Bush and John McCain, I do not think that any trade agreement is a good trade agreement.
I don't think an agreement that allows South Korea to import hundreds of thousands of cars into the U.S., but continues to restrict U.S. car exports into South Korea to a few thousand is a smart deal. That's not a smart deal.
We need reciprocity. That's what Governor Granholm talks about. That's what John Dingell talks about. I don't think that trade agreements without labor or environmental agreements are in our long- term interests.
If we continue to let our trade policy be dictated by special interests, then American workers will continue to be undermined and public support for robust trade will continue to erode. That might make sense to the Washington lobbyists who run Senator McCain's campaign, but it won't help our nation to compete.
Allowing subsidized and unfairly traded products to flood our markets is not free trade and it's not fair to the people of Michigan. We cannot stand by while countries manipulate currencies to promote exports, creating huge imbalances in the global economy.
We cannot let foreign regulatory policies exclude American products. We cannot let enforcement of existing trade agreements take a backseat to the negotiation of new ones.
Let me put it simply: We need tougher negotiators on our side of the table to strike bargains that are good not just for Wall Street, but also good for Main Street, not just for K Street, but also good for Flint, Michigan. And when I am president, that's what we will do.
Finally, let me say a word about fiscal responsibility. I recognize that my agenda is ambitious, particularly in light of Bush administration fiscal policies that have run up the national debt by over $4 trillion.
Entitlement spending is bound to increase as the baby boom generation retires. So we are financially pinched; there's no doubt about it.
But the answer to our fiscal problems is not to continue to short-change investments in education, energy, innovation, infrastructure, the investments that are vital to our long-term growth. That's not the right way to go.
Instead, we need to end the war in Iraq.
We need to eliminate waste in existing government programs. We need to generate revenue by charging polluters for the greenhouse gases that they're sending in our atmosphere. We need to put an end to the reckless, special-interest-driven corporate loopholes, and tax cuts for the wealthy that have been the centerpiece of the Bush administration's economic policies. That's what we need to do.
John McCain wants to double-down on George Bush's disastrous tax policies, not only by making permanent the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy, but by adding $300 billion in new tax cuts that give a quarter of their revenue to households making over -- get this -- $2.8 million a year.
How many people here make more than $2.8 million a year? Raise your hand. Come on. Don't be shy. And if you do, then John McCain's the candidate for you.
By the way, an independent study showed that my tax cuts for the middle class gave the average worker and the average middle-class person three times the tax relief that John McCain's tax cuts are providing, three times.
Worse yet, John McCain hasn't detailed how he would pay for this new giveaway. There is nothing fiscally conservative about John McCain's approach. It will continue to drive up deficits; it will force us to borrow massively from foreign countries and shift the burden onto working people today and our children tomorrow.
Meanwhile, John McCain will short-change investments in education, energy, and innovation, making the next generation of Americans less able to compete. That's unacceptable. It's time to make tough choices now so that we have a smarter government that pays its way and makes the right investments for America's future.
You know, it falls to us to shape this new century. Every aspect of our government should be under review.
We can ill-afford needless layers of bureaucracy or outmoded programs. My administration will open up the doors of democracy. We'll put government data online. We'll use technology to shine a light on spending.
We'll invite the service and participation of American citizens and cut through the red tape to make sure that every agency is meeting cutting-edge standards.
We will make it clear to the special interests that their days of setting the agenda in Washington are over, because the American people are not the problem. They are the answer.
So just to sum up, Flint, we have a choice. We can continue the Bush status quo, as Senator McCain wants to do, and we will become a country in which a few reap the benefits of the global economy, while a growing number work harder for less and depend upon an overburdened public sector, an America in which we run up deficits and expose ourselves to the whims of oil-rich dictators, while the opportunities for our children and grandchildren shrink.
That's one course we can take. Or we can rise together.
If we choose to change, just imagine what we can do. The great manufacturers of the 21st century can turn out cars that run on renewable energy in the 21st century.
Biotechnology labs can find new cures; new rail lines and roadways can connect our communities; goods made here in Michigan can be exported around the world.
Our children can get a world-class education, and their dreams of tomorrow can eclipse even our greatest hopes of today. We can choose to rise together, but it won't be easy. Every one of us will have to work at it by studying harder, training more rigorously, working smarter, thinking anew. We'll have to slough off bad habits, reform our institutions, and re-engage the world.
We can do this, because this is America, a country that's been defined by a determination to believe and work for things unseen.
You know, every so often, there are times when America must rise to meet a moment. So it has been for the generations that built the railroads and beat back the depression, that worked on the first assembly line, and that went to the moon. So it must be for us today.
Flint, this is our moment. This is our time to unite in common purpose, to make this century the next American century, because when America comes together, there is no destiny too difficult, no destiny too distant for us to reach.
And if you'll vote for me, if you'll work with me, if you'll organize with me, we will win Michigan, we will win this election, and you and I together will change the country and change the world.
Thank you very much, everybody. God bless you.