John McCain's speech of June 3, 2008
Transcript of senator John
McCain's speech held in Kenner, Louisiana, on the day
Barack Obama clinched the Democratic presidential nomination.
Article added on June 4, 2008 at 18:30 Swiss time
Good evening from the great city of New Orleans. Tonight, we can say with
confidence the primary season is over, and the general election campaign has
I commend both Senators Obama and
Clinton for the long, hard race they have run. Senator Obama has impressed many
Americans with his eloquence and his spirited campaign. Senator Clinton has
earned great respect for her tenacity and courage.
The media often overlooked how
compassionately she spoke to the concerns and dreams of millions of Americans,
and she deserves a lot more appreciation than she sometimes received. As the
father of three daughters, I owe her a debt for inspiring millions of women to
believe there is no opportunity in this great country beyond their reach. I am
proud to call her my friend. Pundits and party elders have declared that Senator
Obama will be my opponent. He will be a formidable o ne. But Iím ready for the
challenge, and determined to run this race in a way that does credit to our
campaign and to the proud, decent and patriotic people I ask to lead.
The decision facing Americans in this
election couldnít be more important to the future security and prosperity of
American families. This is, indeed, a change election. No matter who wins this
election, the direction of this country is going to change dramatically. But,
the choice is between the right change and the wrong change; between going
forward and going backward.
America has seen tough times before.
Weíve always known how to get through them. And weíve always believed our best
days are ahead of us. I believe that still. But we must rise to the occasion, as
we always have; change what must be changed; and make the future better than the
The right change recognizes that many
of the policies and institutions of our government have failed. They have failed
to keep up with the challenges of our time because many of these policies were
designed for the problems and opportunities of the mid to late 20th Century,
before the end of the Cold War; before the revolution in information technology
and rise of the global economy. The right kind of change will initiate
widespread and innovative reforms in almost every area of government policy ó
health care, energy, the environment, the tax code, our public schools, our
transportation system, disaster relief, government spending and regulation,
diplomacy, the military and intelligence services. Serious and far- reaching
reforms are needed in so many areas of government to meet our own challenges in
our own time.
The irony is that Americans have been
experiencing a lot of change in their lives attributable to these historic
events, and some of those changes have distressed many American families ó job
loss, failing schools, prohibitively expensive health care, pensions at risk,
entitlement programs approaching bankruptcy, rising gas and food prices, to name
a few. But your government often acts as if it is completely unaware of the
changes and hardships in your lives. And when government does take notice, often
it only makes matters worse. For too long, we have let history outrun our
governmentís ability to keep up with it. The right change will stop impeding
Americans from doing what they have always done: overcome every obstacle to our
progress, turn challenges into opportunities, and by our own industry,
imagination and courage make a better country and a safer world th an we
To keep our nation prosperous, strong
and growing we have to rethink, reform and reinvent: the way we educate our
children; train our workers; deliver health care services; support retirees;
fuel our transportation network; stimulate research and development; and harness
To keep us safe we must rebuild the
structure and mission of our military; the capabilities of our intelligence and
law enforcement agencies; the reach and scope of our diplomacy; the capacity of
all branches of government to defend us. We need to strengthen our alliances,
and preserve our moral credibility.
We must also prepare, far better than
we have, to respond quickly and effectively to a natural calamity. When
Americans confront a catastrophe they have a right to expect basic competence
from their government. Firemen and policemen should be able to communicate with
each other in an emergency. We should be able to deliver bottled water to
dehydrated babies and rescue the infirm from a hospital with no electricity. Our
disgraceful failure to do so here in New Orleans exposed the incompetence of
government at all levels to meet even its most basic responsibilities.
The wrong change looks not to the
future but to the past for solutions that have failed us before and will surely
fail us again. I have a few years on my opponent, so I am surprised that a young
man has bought in to so many failed ideas. Like others before him, he seems to
think government is the answer to every problem; that government should take our
resources and make our decisions for us. That type of change doesnít trust
Americans to know what is right or what is in their own best interests. Itís the
attitude of politicians who are sure of themselves but have little faith in the
wisdom, decency and common sense of free people. That attitude created the
unresponsive bureaucracies of big government in the first place. And thatís not
change we can believe in.
You will hear from my opponentís
campaign in every speech, every interview, every press release that Iím running
for President Bushís third term. You will hear every policy of the President
described as the Bush-McCain policy. Why does Senator Obama believe itís so
important to repeat that idea over and over again? Because he knows itís very
difficult to get Americans to believe something they know is false. So he tries
to drum it into your minds by constantly repeating it rather than debate
honestly the very different directions he and I would take the country. But the
American people didnít get to know me yesterday, as they are just getting to
know Senator Obama. They know I have a long record of bipartisan problem
solving. Theyíve seen me put our country before any President ó before any party
ó before any special interest ó before my own interest. They might think me an
imperfect servant of our country, which I surely am. But I am her servant first,
last and always.
I have worked with the President to
keep our nation safe. But he and I have not seen eye to eye on many issues.
Weíve disagreed over the conduct of the war in Iraq and the treatment of
detainees; over out of control government spending and budget gimmicks; over
energy policy and climate change; over defense spending that favored defense
contractors over the public good.
I disagreed strongly with the Bush
administrationís mismanagement of the war in Iraq. I called for the change in
strategy that is now, at last, succeeding where the previous strategy had failed
miserably. I was criticized for doing so by Republicans. I was criticized by
Democrats. I was criticized by the press. But I donít answer to them. I answer
to you. And I would be ashamed to admit I knew what had to be done in Iraq to
spare us from a defeat that would endanger us for years, but I kept quiet
because it was too politically hard for me to do. No ambition is more important
to me than the security of the country I have defended all my adult life.
Senator Obama opposed the new strategy,
and, after promising not to, voted to deny funds to the soldiers who have done a
brilliant and brave job of carrying it out. Yet in the last year we have seen
the success of that plan as violence has fallen to a four year low; Sunni
insurgents have joined us in the fight against al Qaeda; the Iraqi Army has
taken the lead in places once lost to Sunni and Shia extremists; and the Iraqi
Government has begun to make progress toward political reconciliation.
None of this progress would have
happened had we not changed course over a year ago. And all of this progress
would be lost if Senator Obama had his way and began to withdraw our forces from
Iraq without concern for conditions on the ground and the advice of commanders
in the field. Americans ought to be concerned about the judgment of a
presidential candidate who says heís ready to talk, in person and without
conditions, with tyrants from Havana to Pyongyang, but hasnít traveled to Iraq
to meet with General Petraeus, and see for himself the progress he threatens to
I know Americans are tired of this war.
I donít oppose a reckless withdrawal from Iraq because Iím indifferent to the
suffering war inflicts on too many American families. I hate war. And I know
very personally how terrible its costs are. But I know, too, that the course
Senator Obama advocates could draw us into a wider war with even greater
sacrifices; put peace further out of reach, and Americans back in harmís way.
I take Americaís economic security as
seriously as I do her physical security. For eight years the federal government
has been on a spending spree that added trillions to the national debt. It
spends more and more of your money on programs that have failed again and again
to keep up with the changes confronting American families. Extravagant spending
on things that are not the business of government indebts us to other nations;
fuels inflation; raises interest rates; and encourages irresponsibility. I have
opposed wasteful spending by both parties and the Bush administration. Senator
Obama has supported it and proposed more of his own. I want to freeze
discretionary spending until we have completed top to bottom reviews of all
federal programs to weed out failing ones. Senator Obama opposes that reform. I
opposed subsidies that favor big business over small farmers and tariffs on
imported products that have greatly increased the cost of food. Senator Obama
supports these billions of dollars in corporate subsidies and the tariffs that
have led to rising grocery bills for American families. Thatís not change we can
No problem is more urgent today than
Americaís dependence on foreign oil. It threatens our security, our economy and
our environment. The next President must be willing to break completely with the
energy policies not just of the Bush Administration, but the administrations
that preceded his, and lead a great national campaign to put us on a course to
energy independence. We must unleash the creativity and genius of Americans, and
encourage industries to pursue alternative, non-polluting and renewable energy
sources, where demand will never exceed supply.
Senator Obama voted for the same
policies that created the problem. In fact, he voted for the energy bill
promoted by President Bush and Vice President Cheney, which gave even more
breaks to the oil industry. I opposed it because I know we wonít achieve energy
independence by repeating the mistakes of the last half century. Thatís not
change we can believe in.
With forward thinking Democrats and
Republicans, I proposed a climate change policy that would greatly reduce our
dependence on oil. Our approach was opposed by President Bush, and by leading
Democrats, and it was defeated by opposition from special interests that favor
Republicans and those that favor Democrats. Senator Obama might criticize
special interests that give more money to Republicans. But you wonít often see
him take on those that favor him. If America is going to achieve energy
independence, we need a President with a record of putting the nationís
interests before the special interests of either party. I have that record.
Senator Obama does not.
Senator Obama proposes to keep spending
money on programs that make our problems worse and create new ones that are
modeled on big government programs that created much of the fiscal mess we are
in. He plans to pay for these increases by raising taxes on seniors, parents,
small business owners and every American with even a modest investment in the
market. He doesnít trust us to make decisions for ourselves and wants the
government to make them for us. And thatís not change we can believe in.
Senator Obama thinks we can improve
health care by driving Americans into a new system of government orders,
regulations and mandates. I believe we can make health care more available,
affordable and responsive to patients by breaking from inflationary practices,
insurance regulations, and tax policies that were designed generations ago, and
by giving families more choices over their care. His plan represents the old
ways of government. Mine trusts in the common sense of the American people.
Senator Obama pretends we can address
the loss of manufacturing jobs by repealing trade agreements and refusing to
sign new ones; that we can build a stronger economy by limiting access to our
markets and giving up access to foreign markets. The global economy exists and
is not going away. We either compete in it or we lose more jobs, more
businesses, more dreams. We lose the future. Heís an intelligent man, and he
must know how foolish it is to think Americans can remain prosperous without
opening new markets to our goods and services. But he feels he must defer to the
special interests that support him. Thatís not change we can believe in.
Lowering trade barriers to American
goods and services creates more and better jobs; keeps inflation under control;
keeps interest rates low; and makes more goods affordable to more Americans. We
wonít compete successfully by using old technology to produce old goods. Weíll
succeed by knowing what to produce and inventing new technologies to produce it.
We are not people who believe only in
the survival of the fittest. Work in America is more than a paycheck; it a
source of pride, self-reliance and identity. But making empty promises to bring
back lost jobs gives nothing to the unemployed worker except false hope. Thatís
not change we can believe in. Reforming from top to bottom unemployment
insurance and retraining programs that were designed for the 1950s, making use
of our community colleges to train people for new opportunities will help
workers whoíve lost a job that wonít come back, find a job that wonít go away.
My friends, weíre not a country that
would rather go back than forward. Weíre the worldís leader, and leaders donít
hide from history. They make history. But if weíre going to lead, we have to
reform a government that has lost its ability to help us do so. The solution to
our problems isnít to reach back to the 1960s and 70s for answers. In just a few
years in office, Senator Obama has accumulated the most liberal voting record in
the Senate. But the old, tired, big government policies he seeks to dust off and
call new wonít work in a world that has changed dramatically since they were
last tried and failed. Thatís not change we can believe in.
The sweeping reforms of government we
need wonít occur unless we change the political habits of Washington that have
locked us in an endless cycle of bickering and stalemate. Washington is consumed
by a hyper-partisanship that treats every serious issue as an opportunity to
trade insults; impugn each otherís motives; and fight about the next election.
This is the game Washington plays. Both parties play it, as do the special
interests that support each side. The American people know itís not on the level.
For all the problems we face, what frustrates them most about Washington is they
donít think weíre capable of serving the public interest before our personal
ambitions; that we fight for ourselves and not for them. They are sick of the
politics of selfishness, stalemate and delay, and they have every right to be.
We have to change not only government policies that have failed them, but the
political culture that produced them.
Both Senator Obama and I promise we
will end Washingtonís stagnant, unproductive partisanship. But one of us has a
record of working to do that and one of us doesnít. Americans have seen me put
aside partisan and personal interests to move this country forward. They havenít
seen Senator Obama do the same. For all his fine words and all his promise, he
has never taken the hard but right course of risking his own interests for
yours; of standing against the partisan rancor on his side to stand up for our
country. He is an impressive man, who makes a great first impression. But he
hasnít been willing to make the tough calls; to challenge his party; to risk
criticism from his supporters to bring real change to Washington. I have.
When members of my party refused to
compromise not on principle but for partisanship, I have sought to do so. When I
fought corruption it didnít matter to me if the culprits were Democrats or
Republicans. I exposed it and let the chips fall where they may. When I worked
on campaign finance and ethics reform, I did so with Democrats and Republicans,
even though we were criticized by other members of our parties, who preferred to
keep things as they were. I have never refused to work with Democrats simply for
the sake of partisanship. Iíve always known we belong to different parties, not
different countries. We are Americans before we are anything else.
I donít seek the presidency on the
presumption Iím blessed with such personal greatness that history has anointed
me to save my country in its hour of need. I seek the office with the humility
of a man who cannot forget my country saved me. Iíll reach out my hand to
anyone, Republican or Democrat, who will help me change what needs to be
changed; fix what needs to be fixed; and give this country a government as
capable and good as the people it is supposed to serve. There is a time to
campaign, and a time to govern. If Iím elected President, the era of the
permanent campaign of the last sixteen years will end. The era of reform and
problem solving will begin. From my first day in office, Iíll work with anyone
to make America safe, prosperous and proud. And I wonít care who gets the credit
as long as America gets the benefit.
I have seen Republicans and Democrats
achieve great things together. When the stakes were high and it mattered most,
Iíve seen them work together in common purpose, as we did in the weeks after
September 11th. This kind of cooperation has made all the difference at crucial
turns in our history. It has given us hope in difficult times. It has moved
America forward. And that, my friends, is the kind of change we need right now.