The Speech She Won’t Give

Illustration by Thomas Fuchs

Thank you for that warm welcome, and thank you all for coming today. It’s wonderful to be back in Jamestown with Bill and Chelsea.

Six years ago, when I decided to run for the United States Senate, I traveled throughout the state, listening to the hopes and concerns of thousands of New Yorkers. One of the first places I visited was Jamestown. Back then, my opponents were calling me a carpetbagging liberal elitist who’d never be accepted by real New Yorkers. Well, we certainly proved them wrong, didn’t we? The people of Jamestown made me feel at home right away. They didn’t hesitate to show one of the things I’ve always loved about New Yorkers: They tell you what they think. They tell you the truth. Right here at the Crawford Furniture factory, a woman stood up and told me she’d lost her job at a textile plant and that she blamed NAFTA. Thanks again for that, Bill.

But I’m pleased to give you a happy update. Crawford Furniture, a family-owned company since 1883, is not only still in Jamestown, but it’s grown. Unemployment in western New York is at its lowest level in years. I’m proud to say I’ve been able to help a little bit. As your senator, I’ve steered millions of economic-development dollars to the Jamestown area and towns all across upstate New York.

The job is far from finished, however. Too many small businesses are still being forced out of New York by high costs. Too many of the state’s hardest-working citizens are still without health insurance.

George Pataki is already spending more time in Iowa, running his fantasy campaign for president, than he is in Albany, and next year you’ll have a Democratic governor in Eliot Spitzer to clean up Pataki’s mess. I want to continue to fight for New York, and so I’ll be asking for your votes again, in the 2006 Senate race. My opponents will try all sorts of attacks to confuse voters. In fact, they’ve already started. New Yorkers are plenty smart enough to see through the smoke screens. But today I’d like to eliminate one distraction:

I will seek the Democratic nomination for president of the United States.

Why am I telling you this now? My opponents will say that I’m trying to get a head start on my rivals in the 2008 Democratic primaries. They’ll say that by declaring my presidential intentions now I will avoid spending the 2006 Senate campaign evading questions about whether I want to run for the White House.

The truth is a whole lot simpler.

For one thing, it will be good for New York to have a senator who is also a declared presidential candidate. By using what I’ve learned during my first term, and combining it with the increased clout that comes from being a presidential candidate, I’ll have the opportunity to be an even more effective advocate for New Yorkers. I’ll use the larger spotlight to draw attention to New York’s issues.

My opponents will say I’m using New York as a stepping-stone. I’ve given the state every ounce of my energy for the past six years, and I’ll continue to do so as long as I’m in the Senate. But now New York will benefit by serving as a model for what I’d do for the country as president. As senator, I’ll continue to demonstrate that I know how to deliver affordable health care, good jobs, homeland security, and a clean environment. As a senator and a presidential candidate, I’ll test the themes that will work for a Democratic presidential candidate in the swing regions of our nation. Let’s be blunt: I’m going to trounce Jeanine Pirro or whoever runs for the Republicans. So New York can do the nation a service by using the 2006 Senate race as a plainspeaking forum on where this country needs to go after eight years of George W. Bush.

My opponents will say that I’m being calculating and ambitious. Sure I am. New Yorkers wouldn’t want a senator who isn’t. But this isn’t about what’s best for me personally, or about doing what’s “political.” If it were, I’d follow the conventional wisdom, play it safe, and milk another year of suspense.

This is a moment in American history that demands unconventional thinking. And, more important, a time that demands honesty. We’ve seen the damage that six years of White House dishonesty have done to this country.

In 2000, you, the people of New York, took a chance and trusted me to be your senator. Once I decided what I wanted to do about running for president, I owed it to New Yorkers to tell them.

Until recently, I hadn’t made up my mind. Then Bill, Chelsea, and I sat down for Thanksgiving dinner. Chelsea asked what I thought about Congressman John Murtha’s saying the U.S. should withdraw from Iraq in six months. I commented on this publicly not long afterward; I said that setting a specific withdrawal deadline too soon would be a mistake. I still believe that. But the Bush administration’s open-ended war is just as big a mistake.

“It will be good to have a senator who is a presidential candidate. I’ll use the spotlight to draw attention to New York’s issues.”

My opponents will say that I’m being an opportunist, shifting with the public-opinion polls. But that’s just more Republican cynicism. The truth is that I wanted to give President Bush every chance to succeed. That was only fair. The goals—defeating terrorism and building a free Iraq—are too important for partisan bickering. It’s also true that these are genuinely complex problems demanding patience and nuanced solutions.

But President Bush has had his chance. After misleading the nation about weapons of mass destruction, alienating our allies, and unrealistically claiming that triumph would be rapid, the president now offers a false choice between “total victory” and cowardly withdrawal. His refusal to face reality has been disastrous for our troops in Iraq, and it undermines faith in government here at home.

Which brings me back to Jamestown and western New York. Too many of its brave sons and daughters, soldiers Chelsea’s age and younger, have died in Iraq. They deserve our respect and admiration. We also owe the veterans who return an America where they can find good jobs, affordable health care, and quality schools. The Bush administration is failing the Jamestowns of our country, by spending $6 billion a month in Iraq with no end in sight, pushing our national debt deeper into the trillions while cutting the taxes of our wealthiest citizens. Even if this president finds a way out of Iraq soon, he’ll leave a tremendous challenge here at home for the next president. And I’ve seen firsthand how a Democratic president can create a prosperous country after inheriting Republican debt.

Over the past three years, I have criticized President Bush on specific points. A broader, harsher antiwar statement might have been emotionally satisfying to some. But I wouldn’t have been able to forge the kind of bipartisan alliances that helped me deliver for New York, particularly on homeland security. Now, though, it is time for a Democrat of principle and conscience to stand up and say we’ve had enough of the lies. I am that Democrat.

Thank you and God bless America.

Online E-mail:

The Speech She Won’t Give