The 2008 Democratic National Convention Keynote Address
as prepared for delivery by Mark R. Warner, former Governor of Virginia and Candidate for U.S. Senate
August 26, 2008 – Democratic National Convention – Denver, Colorado
My fellow Democrats. My fellow Americans. The most important contest of our generation has begun.
Not the campaign for the Presidency. Not the campaign for Congress. But the race for the future. And I believe from the bottom of my heart with the right vision, the right leadership, and the energy and creativity of the American people, there is no nation that we can’t out hustle or out compete. And no American need be left out or left behind.
Yes, the race for the future is on, and it won’t be won if only some Americans are in the running. It won’t be won with yesterday’s ideas and yesterday’s divisions. And it won’t be won with a President who is stuck in the past.
We need a President who understands the world today, the future we seek, and the change we need. We need Barack Obama as the next President of the United States.
Now – I have a unique perspective on this race for the future. Like many of you, I was the first in my family to graduate from college. It was made possible by supportive parents, good public schools, and since my folks didn’t have the resources, thank goodness for the student loan program.
After I graduated law school, it didn’t take long to realize that America really wouldn’t miss me as a lawyer. So I started a business. My first company failed in six weeks. My next one was much more successful. It failed in six months.
And then, a buddy of mine told me that there was this new idea. This thing called “car telephones” … “cell phones.” Friends told me: “Warner get a real job… No one’s going to want a phone in the car.” But I saw a different future. And with luck and a lot of hard work, I got in on the ground floor of the cell phone industry.
There’s only one country in the world where I could have received that education, where I could have been given not just one chance, or two, but three, and where I could have succeeded. And that’s this country, the United States of America. At our best, it’s not your lineage or last name that matters. It’s not where you come from that counts – it’s where you want to go.
In America, everyone should get a fair shot. Barack Obama understands this – because he’s lived it. And Barack Obama is running to restore that fair shot for every American. When we look around today, we see that for too many Americans that fair shot is becoming more of a long shot.
How many kids have the grades to go to college, but not the money? How many families thought their home would always be their safest investment? How many of our soldiers come back from their second or third tour of duty wondering if the education and health care benefits they were promised will actually be there?
Two wars, a warming planet, an energy policy that says let’s borrow money from China to buy oil from countries that don’t like us. How many people look at these things and wonder what the future holds for them? Their children? Their country? How many?
In George Bush and John McCain’s America, far too many.
Let’s be fair, some of these challenges were inevitable. But all of them are more severe, more immediate, and more threatening because of the misguided policies and outdated thinking of this administration.
People always ask me, “What’s your biggest criticism of President Bush?” I’m sure you all have your own. Here’s mine: It’s not just the policy differences. It’s the fact that this president never tapped into our greatest resources – the character and resolve of the American people. He never asked us to step up.
Think about it: After September 11, if there was a call from the President to get us off foreign oil, to stop funding the very terrorists who had just attacked us, every American would have said, “How can I do my part?” This administration failed to believe in what we can achieve as a nation, when all of us work together.
John McCain promises more of the same. A plan that would explode the deficit that will be passed on to our kids. No real plan to invest in our infrastructure. And his plan would continue spending $10 billion a month in Iraq. I don’t know about you, but that’s just not right. That’s four more years that we can’t just afford.
Barack Obama has a different vision – and a different plan. Right now, at this critical moment in our history, we have one shot to get it right. And the status quo just won’t cut it. Now let me tell you, if you think there’ve been dramatic changes in the world and in technology over the last ten years, you ain’t seen nothing yet. The race is on, and if you watched the Olympics, you know China’s going for the gold.
You know, America has never been afraid of the future, and we shouldn’t start now. If we choose the right path, every one of these challenges is also an opportunity. Look at energy. If we actually got ourselves off foreign oil, we can make our country safer. We’ll start to solve global warming. And with the right policies, within 24 months, we’ll be building 100 mile-per-gallon plug-in hybrid vehicles right here – with American technology and with American workers.
Look at health care. If we bring down costs and cover everyone, not only will America be healthier, we’ll be more competitive in the global economy. Just think about this: In six months, we will have an administration that actually believes in science! And then we can again lead the world in live-saving and life-changing cures.
Look at education. If we recruit an army of new teachers and actually give our schools the resources to meet our highest standards, not only will every child in America get a fair shot, the American economy will get a shot in the arm. Whether they want to be an engineer or an electrician, every kid will be trained for the jobs of the 21st Century.
Or look at America’s standing in the world. If we rebuild our military and rebuild our alliances, we can rally the world to defeat terrorism and restore America’s leadership.
Which candidate understands these opportunities, and which candidate knows we don’t have another four years to waste? Barack Obama. And Barack Obama knows this too: We need leaders who see our common ground as sacred ground. We need leaders who will appeal to us not as Republicans or Democrats, but first and foremost as Americans.
You know, I spent 20 years in business. If you ran a company whose only strategy was to tear down the competition, it wouldn’t last long. So why is this wisdom so hard to find in Washington?
I know we’re at the Democratic Convention, but if an idea works, it really doesn’t matter if it has an “R” or “D” next to it. Because this election isn’t about liberal versus conservative. It’s not about left versus right. It’s about the future versus the past.
In this election, at this moment, in our history, we know what the problems are. We know that at this critical juncture, we have only one shot to get it right. And we know that these new times demand new thinking. We believe in success. We believe that everyone should have an opportunity to get ahead. And with success comes a responsibility to make sure others can follow.
I think we are blessed to be Americans. But with that blessing comes an obligation to our neighbors and our common good. So you give every child the tools they need to succeed. That means quality schools, access to health care, safe neighborhoods. Not just because it’s the right thing to do – of course it is – but because if those kids do better, we all do better
You can be soft-hearted or hard-headed; both are going to lead you to the same place: we’re all in this together. That’s what this party believes. That’s what this national believes. That’s what Barack Obama and Joe Biden believe.
And we can do it. When I became Governor, this is what Virginia faced: a massive budget shortfall; an economy that wasn’t moving; gridlock in the capital. Sound familiar?
So what did we do? Working together — a Democratic governor with a two-to-one Republican legislature and a whole lot of good folks who didn’t see themselves as either Democrats or Republicans, but as Virginians – we closed the budget gap, and Virginia was named the best managed state in the nation.
We made record investments in education and in job training. We got 98 percent of eligible kids enrolled in our children’s health care program.
We delivered broadband to the most remote areas of our state, because if you can send a job to Bangalore, India, you sure as heck can send one to Danville, VA and Flint, MI, and Scranton, PA, and Peoria, IL. In a global economy, you shouldn’t have to leave your home town to find a world-class job.
Let me tell you about a place called Lebanon-Lebanon, Virginia. Lebanon is in the coalfields of southwest Virginia, and everyone in that whole town could fit right here on the convention floor. Lebanon is like many small towns in America, it has seen the industries that sustained it downsized, outsourced, or shut down.
Now, some folks look at towns like Lebanon and say, “Tough luck. In the global economy, you’ve lost.” But we believed that we shouldn’t, and couldn’t, give up on our small towns and expect the rest of the state to prosper. And that’s what brought me, towards the end of my term, to the high school gym in Lebanon. To announce that we were going to bring over 300 high-tech jobs. Jobs that paid twice the county average.
One student told a reporter from the Washington Post that before this, he always thought he’d have to move away to get a good job and raise a family. I just heard from this young man, Michael Kisor. Today he is a junior at Virginia Tech. His older brother just moved back home to Lebanon because there was an information technology job open for him that was just too good to pass up.
That’s a story worth rewriting all across America.
With the right leadership, we can, once again, achieve a standard of living that is improved, not diminished, in each generation. We can once again make America a beacon for science, and technology, and discovery. Ladies and gentlemen, we know how to do it. The American people are ready. And Barack Obama and Joe Biden will get it done.
As Governor of Virginia, it was humbling to occupy a position that was once held by Thomas Jefferson. Almost as daunting as delivering the keynote speech four years after Barack Obama… Or speaking before Hillary Clinton.
Towards the end of his life, Thomas Jefferson -the founder of our party- wrote one of his frequent letters to his old rival, John Adams. He complained about the aches of getting old, but what was on his mind was what life would be like for the next generation of Americans. As Jefferson was ready to go to sleep, he closed his letter by writing: “I like the dreams of the future better than the history of the past.”
Jefferson got it right at the dawn of the 19th century, and it’s our challenge to get it right at the dawn of the 21st. This race is all about the future. That’s why we must elect Barack Obama as our next President. Because the race for the future will be won when old partisanship gives way to new ideas. When we put solutions over stalemates, and when hope replaces fear.
Tonight, looking out at all of you, and with a deep faith in the character and resolve of the American people, I am more confident than ever that we will win that race and make the future ours.
God bless you.
And God bless the United States of America.