Vilsack’s turn at the DNC

Ex-Governor Tom Vilsack was the last presidential candidate to speak at the DNC winter meeting in Washington, D.C. this morning. (I transcribed the speech below and the Radio Iowa story includes an MP3 file of the speech.)

Vilsack came after Delaware Senator Joe Biden declared: "what a week" (a reference to his less than "clean" announcement this week) and New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson joked about the DNC request that each of the candidates keep their speeches to seven minutes.  (Yesterday it was reported that the shortest speech was 12 minutes, the longest in the 20-minute range — three times as long as requested.)   

"I don’t need seven minutes," Richardson joked at the beginning of his speech. "I can do it in four words:. elect a Democratic president."

Former Alaska Senator Mike Gravel also spoke before Vilsack.  DNC vice chair Lottie Shackelford introduced Vilsack, reading an introduction written by the Vilsack campaign.   

Vilsack began speaking at 9:56 a.m., thanking Shackelford for the introduction.

"First of all, let me say how privileged I am to be here this morning among so many Democrats who care so deeply about our party and about our nation and I want to take this opportunity specifically to acknowledge the chair of our party and DNC members for the support and confidence that you had in all 50 states of the United States.  (applause)

"I think our chair recognized that our Democratic values are welcome in all parts of our great country. Mr. Chair, thank you for your service, and good morning to all of you.  I’m Tom Vilsack.  That’s a name that my adopted parents gave to me.  I didn’t know my birth mother and I didn’t know my birth father.  The fact is I know very little about the circumstances of my birth other than that I was born in Pittsburg, Pennsylvania. (applause from the PA delegation) Shortly after I was born my birth mother handed me over nuns in a Catholic orphanage where I stayed until I was adopted. You know, in this city they talk a lot about No Child Left Behind.  Well, the fact is I was a child left behind.  I was born an outsider.  I’ve always understood the importance of being an outsider and I’ve always understood what it feels like not to belong. 

"You know, I’ve decidated my life to those who work hard, those on the outside looking in, those who struggle every day to make sure that their llives and their children’s lives are better.  For me, those are the people that I respect and admire the most in this great country (applause). 

"My adopted mom was one of the great and most amazing people in my life. Along with my wife Christie who is here with me today, she was an inspiration for me.  She was an alcoholic and she was addicted to prescription drugs but she overcame those addictions and she taught me a great, valuable life-lesson and she also allowed our lesson that had been separated by that addiction to be reunited again. The lesson she taught me was simple and that is that each of us has great capacity to overcome fear.  That indeed before hope there is courage — the courage to create change and that’s why I am here today as a candidate for president and as a Democrat asking for your support because I believe our country, now more than ever, needs that courage to create change in Iraq and across this great country (applause). 

"We long to be the United States of America, united in common purpose and shared purpose.  Sadly, today in this city, our nation’s capitol, so much of what takes place is motivated by fear.  The Iraq policy, our foreign policy, our energy policy, even our health care policy — all motiviated and arising out of fear. 

"You know, I was in Seattle not too long ago and I had the opportunity to speak to a group of young women and one of the young women brought her five-year-old son to the event and after I was finished speaking this little fellow came up to me and he asked me very seriously: ‘Would 100 more troops in Iraq make a difference?’  This fellow’s five years old, and I said, ‘No, I don’t think so.’   He said, ‘Would 1000 more troops make a difference?’ and  I said, ‘No, I don’t think so.’  Then he looked at me and he said — and I quote — ‘I’m frightened every day.’ 

"I’m frightened every day. You know, my fellow Democrats, I’m tired of being in a country where five year old children are frightened.  It’s time for a change.  (applause) 

"I am tired of a government that reminds me every day to be afraid and I am tired of a government that focused only on preventing evil and never talking about promoting goodness.  (applause) 

"We’ve been motivated by fear. Our policies have been directed by fear –..fear of special interests, fear of foreign government, fear of the unknown.  Well, let me say this very clearly:  no family can live in fear; no government can be run in fear and the American dream can never be revived by fear.  (applause) 

"This party has many great legacies but the greatest legacy of all is its ability to inspire people to overcome their fears and to embrace change and the time has come in this country for us to replace fear with courage, the courage to create change.  We are at our best as Democrats when we stand up and are inspired by those values that move us and never stand down to those who wish to scare us. We are at our best and do our best when we’re motivated by a desire to effect real, positive change, not change that results simply from political pressure.

"Let me be clear: I’m not talking about small change.  I’m not talking about incremental change.  I’m talking about bold and courageous change.  Let me give you a few examples: adding a few dollars and tweaking a reauthorized No Child Behind is not real change.  Ending No Child Left Behind as we know it is real change and replacing it with a real, true commitment to the children of this country.  (C-SPAN just showed Christie, who led appaluse.) In this competitive world we live in we cannot be afford to be a nation of great, standardized test-takers. We must be a nation of creative and innovative thinkers and that’s what our education policy should be. (applause) 

"Identifying earmarks.  Excuse me, I see the time, Mr. Chairman," Vilsack said, acknowledging he had exceeded the seven-minute limit.

"You’d be the first to adopt the limit, Tom, so you might as well keep going," DNC chairman Howard Dean replied, referring to all the other candidates who had gone before Vilsack and who all talked more than seven minutes.  The crowd laughed during this exchange.

"Take it off the next speech I give," Vilsack continued, as the crowd laughed and a few clapped.. 

"Identifying earmarks and passing budget resolutions is not real change.  Balancing budgets, making real choices and eliminating what I call the birth tax is real change.  Think about it.  That’s what the deficit is. That’s what the deficit is.  It’s a tax on our children and we need to eliminate that tax.  (applause)  As a governor, I know something about that.  I balanced eight budgets. I left my successor with a surplus and I can tell you we that had to make tough choices, but I’m proud of that record as a governor.

"Giving lip-service to renewable fuel production and climate control and climate change is not real change…That’s real change.  Building a renewable fuels industry, creating opportunities for us to be the best country in the world in terms of conservation — that’s real change. That’s what we did in Iowa. We built a renewable fuel industry.  We expanded access to renewable fuel and to wind energy and we created new jobs and better paying jobs and I’m proud of that record and that’s real change. (applause)

"Proming access to health care coverage is not real change.  Doing the tough work of actually reducing the number of uninsured, making sure that coverage is universally available and lowering the cost of health care — that’s real change and that’s what we did in Iowa.  We were only one of two states last year to reduce the number of uninsured.  It can be done but it requires the courage to create real change in this country. (applause)

"And let me speak about Iraq.  The reality of capping troops or reducing the number of troops at some point in time in the future — that’s not real change.  Real change is saying we want our troops out of harm’s way now.  (applause) Real change is saying to the Iraqis it is your responsibility, you must assume responsibilty now for your country, you must put yourself at risk — not our young men and women.  That’s real change. (applause) 

"We cannot wait for (the) president or congress to make a political calculation as to when and how this is happening. Look around here today. I’m not sure how many people are in this hall, but let us assume for the sake of conversation that there are roughly 500 or 600 people. Look to your right and to your left.  Understand that delay will mean that the person to your right and to left — representing one soldier who will likely die — will occur over the next year.  A thousand soldiers will die; 5000 more will be hurt.  It is time for us to clearly say the war must end and our troops must be brought home now. (applause)

"And let me say that I think congress has a constitutional responsibility and a moral obligation to do it now.  Not a cap.  An end. Not eventually. Immediately. Those who voted for the war, those who voted to continue to support the war, those who voted to continue funding the war can surely vote to stop the war.  (applause)

"I said I was born an outsider and I am, but I think that’s a good thing if you want to effect change.   As an insider it’s difficult to effect change. Staying the course is a bit easier.  Basically, doing what you’ve always done is the way things most often happen.  As an outsider we can change things and we are a party of outsiders.  We represent outsiders and need I remind you, we win as outsiders.  The last two times we have won an election it has been with an outside — an outsider who was a governor.  That is the message. 

"It is important for us to also reflect on how we turn red states to blue. That’s something I know a little something about — the first Democratic governor in 32 years in my state, the first to be re-elected in 36 years, the first to be succeeded by a Democrat in 72 years.  We gave that Democratic governor (applause)  We gave that Democratic governor a Democratic legislature for the first time in 42 years. (applause) If we have the courage to create change we can change red to blue and this is the American that we can have:  we can have an America that respects rights and choices, we can have an America that understands and appreciates all people regardless of race or creed or color or religion or sexual orientation; we can have an America that can build an economy that works for all; an America that is energy secure; an America that can reclaim moral leadership in the issue of climate change; an American that can lead the world; an America that can be part of an effort to end world hunger, to promote literacy; an America that shows the goodness of our heart and most importantly of all — with the courage to create change we can be an America that is no longer at war and is at peace.  (applause)

"I’m proud to be a Democrat and you are, too.  I’m proud of what we did in 2006 in taking the congress back.  Now our goal, our challenge, is to take the White House back in 2008.  We know what we have to do.  All we need is the courage to get it done.  Thank you and God bless."

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About O.Kay Henderson

O. Kay Henderson is the news director of Radio Iowa.