Sestak Fights Back, Nails Specter Record

Following last night’s abominable behavior towards their candidate the Sestak campaign released a broadside against Sen. Specter’s record.  While other candidates may have released a bitter attack after being treated so badly Congressman Sestak simply decided to remind voters about Arlen Specter’s 30 years of voting Republican.

I was shocked to hear Specter remind the large audience about his cancer.  I also thought it disingenuous for him to criticize Rick Santorum after cozying up with him six years ago.  While running against Pat Toomey in 2004 Arlen got Santorum to not only endorse him but to campaign for him.  Now Rick is suddenly the devil.  Of course Sen. Specter moved to the far right in 2004 to defeat Toomey just as he’s trying to pivot left and outflank Sestak.  Maybe that explains his monumental screw up last night:  his head is spinning from all the pivoting positions.

When will Specter publicly apologize to the Congressman?  How many public apologies do you get in a major campaign?

From the Sestak people:

For the Record: PA Progressive Summit

Washington, DC – When you’ve been in Washington for more than a quarter-century, you learn to do or say whatever it takes to get elected. After having to appeal to a Democratic audience at the Pennsylvania Progressive Summit on Saturday, The Real Arlen Specter would like to clarify, for the record, his actual views.


“In my career I’ve voted with Democrats more often than with Republicans.”


   * Has voted with Republican presidents 85% of the time. (Lancaster Intelligencer Journal)

   * Cast more than 2,000 votes with President George W. Bush [Washington Post Votes Database]. In the years Bush was in office, Arlen Specter voted with the Republican Party over 70% of the time in the 110th Congress, over 77% of the time in the 109th Congress, over 85% of the time in the 108th Congress, and over 76% of the time in the 107th Congress.

   * Raised money for Republicans nationally and throughout the state, campaigning for George Bush, Dick Cheney, Rick Santorum and Sarah Palin.

   * Said John McCain and Sarah Palin were “the better choice.”


I supported a “robust public option” on health care.


Was dead-set against a public option before Joe Sestak entered the race:

NBC’s Meet the Press, May 3, 2009:

David Gregory: Would you support health care reform that puts up a government-run public plan to complete with a private plan issued by a private insurance company?


David Gregory: Let me-I just want to turn, then, to the issue of health care. You would not support a public plan?

SEN. SPECTER: That’s what I said … and that’s what I meant.


“My labor record is pure as ivory snow … I have a 99.4 rating.”


   * Has poor lifetime union ratings:  AFL-CIO-61%;  AFSCME-54%; IBEW-65%.

   * Voted to deny collective bargaining rights to federal employees. [HR 5005, 9/26/02]

   * Voted to restrict unions’ access to the workplace, voting for a bill that would have made it harder for unions to distribute materials and solicit contributions from employees. [HR 3061, 11/1/01]


“I believe there ought to be labor law reform.”


   * Totally opposed the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA) before Joe Sestak got in the race:

     “I think [EFCA] is a bad bill and I am opposed to it.” — April 28, 2009

     “I’m still against [EFCA]. Democrats are all for it, Republicans are all against it and I’m the critical vote.” — May 3, 2009


“I believe that the status of people of the same sex to marry ought to be the same as for men and women”


Voted with Rick Santorum for the Defense Of Marriage Act [HR 3396, 9/10/96, Record Vote 280].

In a letter to a constituent this September, Specter defended his support of DOMA and went on to say “I appreciate the goal of the proposed amendment (to ban gay marriage)” and “I support traditional marriage as defined in DOMA.”


Voted for Economic Stimulus Bill after Gov. Rendell said “I’m in deep trouble.”


Cut approximately $1.5 billion in state aid to Pennsylvania — enough to cut the state budget deficit in half.

Preferred John McCain’s plan of mostly corporate tax breaks and NO stimulus investments or aid for Pennsylvania.


“I opposed the Bush administration on warrant-less wiretapping.”


Worked with the Bush administration to write a bill that the Washington Post said was a “green light for domestic spying.”


“The Clean Air Act is vital and I support it.”


Supports George W. Bush’s “Clean Air” Act — the largest rollback of environmental protections in history. [HJRes2, 01/23/03, #28]


“Abstinence-only education has not worked. … I believe all the information ought to be available.”


Has earmarked nearly $10 million for abstinence-only education — the only Member of Congress to do so — in order to solidify his conservative base.


“Look how far out of touch Santorum was with the Pennsylvania electorate.”


Is proud of the strong support he’s received from Rick Santorum:

“If I’m a good enough Republican for [President Bush], and I’m a good enough Republican for Rick Santorum, then I think I’m a good enough Republican for a majority of Pennsylvanians.”

[See the 26:30 mark here.]

News & Notes From The Summit

It was truly a great weekend here in Harrisburg (I haven’t left as yet).Congratulations to all the sponsors and volunteers who put this event together in several short months.  Aside from a few glitches (giveaway items made in China for example) things went very well.  The energy level was incredibly high, everything flowed smoothly considering there were 600 people moving about a hotel not quite designed to accommodate so many, schedules were adhered to and so much networking was going on Eileen Connelly of SEIU Healthcare had to play traffic cop in the downstairs hallway.  Thank you Eileen, I don’t think I’d have made it to the Chestnut Room for a couple of my panels without that assistance.

Ms. Connelly received the Anna Burger Award for working to grow a progressive majority in Pennsylvania and, here’s where she’ll get ticked at me, I would have preferred to see such an award go to someone for whom this isn’t their job.  As much as I like and admire her, this is her job.  I can think of numerous people who were in that room for which this is their passion and who don’t get paid to do it.  It’s just my opinion but I think such an award should recognize folks like Lani Frank, Chuck Pennacchio, Tom Waters, Roger Lund, Jon Fox, Steve Crockett, and on and on.

Rick Smith and Jake Long brought The Rick Smith Show directly to the hotel and spent all weekend interviewing candidates and guests for their radio show which airs every weekend here in the Harrisburg area.  They do an excellent job in addition to Charles Showalter and Steve Crockett of countering right wing radio here in Pennsylvania.  I Co-Host Democratic Talk Radio with Steve, Walt Garvin and Dana Garrett and we need support and sponsorship to continue our work.  Don’t just get mad at Rush help us provide counter programming.

I want to thank the panelists who came and participated in the Blogging 101 panel with me.  Mark Cohen, Alan Franklin, Beth Becker and Chris Bowers.  Chris took the train from Philadelphia and back just to help on this and he was super, great and very informative as were all the other panelists.  I was asked to provide the PowerPoint presentation online and will as soon as possible.

I got four hours sleep Friday night, I think, from all the energy emanating from this event.  I got to bed very late Friday night with all the events and receptions and trying to touch base with as many people as possible.  I never even made it to Joe Hoeffel’s reception.  This was a super networking opportunity and I met many new people doing good, important work all over Pennsylvania and the nation.  Mark Karlin came from Chicago (Buzzflash) and Alan Franklin (ProgressNow) from Denver.  Many of my friends were here for whom all I was able to do was pass them in the hallways and say hello.  I wish there was more time.

I frequently heard the lament that there were so many good workshops and panels that people wanted to attend them all.  I thank all those who attended our Blogging panel, Alan Franklin’s workshop on using video and YouTube on which I assisted and our Planned Parenthood panel on women’s issues.  I also attended the panel with Sen. Daylin Leach on marriage equality.  I was running back and forth to the train station yesterday morning so I missed the keynote speech.  Does anyone have it on video?

Leo Gerard was a very good speaker Saturday evening and I imagine disgruntled many Democrats watching on PCN when he castigated them for being weak kneed.  The applause from the crowd had to get the attention of Democrats who used to meet in this very same room for State Committee meetings.  The progressive vote isn’t automatically Democratic or Green.  Candidates and parties must earn the votes and respect of these activists.

I did have several opportunities to meet and chat with people and make new friends.  I met Chris Goldstein of NORML and found we had a mutual love of Santa Fe.  There were people for whom we’ve known or been in contact but never met face to face.  There were a few people who were hoping to get together and meet this weekend but never caught up with them because there simply so many folks here and so much happening.  Often you just someone you knew in the packed hallway, said hello and kept moving so as not to gum up the works.

The hotel staff here at The Sheraton was super.  Aside from the freezing ballroom last night (it didn’t help that Sen. Specter was keeping one of the doorways open and cold air was streaming through) service was excellent, food was good and rooms in good shape.  Anything we needed for our panels was provided quickly and with good cheer.  It was so cold in the ballroom many people (including five at my table) wore their coats all evening.  Regular blasts of frigid air hit us every time a door opened.  It was so cold my dinner got cold before I was able to finish it.

Several friends of mine were instrumental in organizing and running this event and I’d like to salute them.  First and foremost is Mike Morrill of Keystone Progress.  Mike told me last night he hadn’t eaten all day.  Beth Becker, Jon Fox and Jane Palmer worked tirelessly planning and running this along with Charles Corbit and others.  Congratulations on a job well done.

Arlen Specter’s Kanye West Moment

After refusing to debate his opponent and insisting on strict rules for tonight’s Senate forum with Joe Sestak Sen. Arlen Specter stormed the stage while the Congressman was speaking and seemingly tried to confront and/or intimidate him while he was speaking at the Pennsylvania Progressive Summit.  The rules Specter insisted upon said he would be sequestered while Sestak took questions and then the Senator would take the same questions.  Arlen Specter insisted on then shredded his own rules tonight.

Obviously standing just off the ballroom listening not only to the questions but to Joe Sestak’s responses he cheated on the format.  Then for some very strange reason he bounded for the stage and mounted it.  Was he having a senior moment, was he trying to throw Sestak off his game on live TV or was he deliberately trying to sabotage what was a finely organized event?  Only Arlen Specter knows for sure.

The Senator’s staff sat mortified after trying to stop his conduct and they also now have to answer why they cheated.  Specter took the stage finally and began berating Congressman Sestak “for lying about my record.”  How would he have known what was said when, by his own rules, he wasn’t to be listening to anything.  Specter wound up hearing all the questions in advance and so had considerable extra time to formulate his responses.  That’s cheating.  He also had no opening statement and no closing statement.  While charming the crowd with jokes he took a shot at his opponent by claiming he was being “more courteous” by standing throughout his session.  Already towering over both the moderator (Chuck Williams did a fantastic job) and the crowd I found it a blatant attempt at control.  Joe Sestak’s more relaxed, conversational approach was more appealing.  Specter screwed up mightily tonight.  I cannot see how his campaign can spin the fact he cheated.

It was bad enough the large crowd and PCN audience had to sit through a considerably longer event than if it had been a debate Specter took the stage and complained about wanting to rebut Sestak.  He had that opportunity by doing a debate but refused.  In fact he ran the organizers ragged with all his rules and refusing to debate after initially agreeing to do one.   To come before the audience and immediately complain about HIS format is what I found rude and discourteous.  

Arlen Specter did a Kanye West but was interrupted by Mike Morrill before he reached Congressman Sestak while he was speaking.  Someone in the crowd yelled out to Specter “be a gentleman!”  It appears Sen.  Specter will have to make yet another high profile apology in less than a week.  To his credit Joe Sestak, after he finished his closing statement, went up to Specter, who had still refused to leave the stage, and said “I’m sorry”to him.  For what, for his rude, obnoxious and inexcusable behavior towards him?  I can only imagine how furious the Sestak camp has to be after this fiasco and incorrigible behavior by their opponent.

Is Sen.Specter going senile or is he simply unfit now for office?  This was abominable behavior.

Updates:  I spoke with Mike Morrill Sunday morning and he said there’d been no hard and fast rule that Sen. Specter wouldn’t  listen to the questions and Congressman Sestak’s responses.  Eileen Connelly says that also.  She says “There was miscommunication on a number of fronts and nothing more. To insinuate that it is anything else is just incorrect. ”  

That isn’t entirely true either.  It was understood by both the organizers and the Sestak campaign that this would be the format.  This was due to the fact that Sen. Specter at first refused to debate.  After the Congressman agreed to do the forum by himself Specter consented to follow him and take the same questions.  Snarlin’ Arlen, who we clearly saw Saturday evening, demanded a “green room” because he refused even to share the room with Joe Sestak.  The Sestak people understood that by going first the Senator would not gain “an unfair advantage.”  By breaking the “understood rules,” yes, Sen. Specter did break the rules.

Eileen Connelly admits inviting Sen. Specter into the ballroom before 7 PM so he could mingle.  He did go to every table and greet every person including me.  The Congressman was not accorded this opportunity. (correction:  The Congressman was invited to work the room) Based on the understood rules for the evening this should not have happened and Arlen Specter should have declined.

The Sestak campaign is justifiably angered over the course of events.  They cooperated completely with the organizers and got screwed.  Sen. Specter was allowed to mount the stage and disrupt the Congressman while he was speaking.  

Talking Points Memo has the video from PCN:

News & Notes January 30, 2010

Lehighton lawyer Robert Frycklund has announced his candidacy for retiring Speaker Keith McCall’s State House seat.  He joins Bruce Nalesnik in the Democratic primary.

Pennsylvania Democratic Party Communications Director Abe Amoros has left for another position and yesterday was his final day in that job.  Abe is a good guy and we’ll miss him.

President Obama went to the Republican Congressional Retreat yesterday and blew them away.  Now if he can simply send them somewhere permanently we might something done in Washington.

There are tons of candidates here working the crowd.  Sherrie Cohen, a friend, is running for Philadelphia City Council as an at large candidate.  She’s a wonderful person and a dedicated activist.  Her brother is State Rep. Mark Cohen.  Such a fine pedigree the Cohens have for selfless public service!

Manan Trivedi and Joe Hoeffel both had receptions last night after all the speeches and debates. SEIU’s Eileen Connelly was awarded the first Anna Burger Award for working towards establishing a progressive majority in Pennsylvania.  Sitting there listening to the parameters for the award I was able to think of quite a few deserving people.  We take our hats off to all of them.

Mike Morrill, Executive Director of Keystone Progress, the main sponsor of the Summit, emceed last night’s debate and Eileen Connelly moderated.  Young Ben Morrill collected question cards from the audience and delivered them to his father.  Following the event I queried him about his pay scale (none) and working conditions.  I told Mike I would be organizing his workers.

The panel on blogging which I organized for this morning’s round of workshops will consist of Alan Franklin of ProgressNow, State Representative Mark Cohen, Chris Bowers of  Open Left, myself and Beth Becker.  It’s a great group of experienced, dedicated bloggers.  There’s lots of knowledge so come and learn about blogging and using social networking.  For the first time in my 58 years I may utter the sentence “welcome Tweeters and Tweeps.”  Never imagined that…

Pennsylvania Progressive Summit Friday

I arrived at the Harrisburg Sheraton around 5 PM yesterday to find a lot of friends here, people who have worked tirelessly for months organizing this event.  I know the hotel well from covering many Democratic State Committee meetings at this venue.  Tons of dedicated liberal activists, labor leaders, and candidates are roaming the halls and networking.  There are lots of people I don’t know (yet) so seeing new faces is amazing.

The Gubernatorial debate was interesting.  It was quite clear who the progressives are and who the pretenders are.  The audience repeatedly gave Joe Hoeffel loud rounds of applause as he hit question after question out of the park.  The loudest applause of the night was his advocacy for single payer healthcare.  Chris Doherty is obviously the next best progressive candidate.  He isn’t the best speaker (by a long shot) but established his bona fides well.  Jack Wagner, as usual, was polished and professional but completely avoided answering a question about abortion.  He is virulently anti-choice.  He and Dan Onorato both said they would not support same sex marriage.  This is a core progressive issue along with a woman’s right to choose.

The state’s primary political reporters are all here covering the event and debates (well, forum tonight as Sen. Specter refused to debate).  Today will be a very long day full of speeches and panels.  I organized the panel on Blogging 101 and hop to see a good crowd gather to learn about blogging and ask questions.  I already have a full camcorder from the Gubernatorial debate and need to download it to my computer then upload it to YouTube.  

Support For Dow-Ford Is Going National

Blue America is lining up behind Congressional candidate Sheila Dow-Ford and will provide the 17th Congressional District candidate a national base of support for her challenge of Tim Holden.  Howie Klein who writes the blog Down With Tyranny and is a major contributor to Firedoglake is promoting her on his national blogs.  Howie reprints some of the great OpEd piece Dow-Ford wrote last fall in the Harrisburg Patriot News.

Howie’s article coupled with videos I took of Dow-Ford earlier this month will bring national money and support for her campaign.

Looking to Agriculture to Help Rebuild in Haiti

Cross posted from Nourishing the Planet.

A recent article in the New York Times highlights the critical role that agriculture will play in rebuilding Haiti in the wake of the devastating earthquake of January 2010.

Food security is not a new problem in Haiti, and development organizations such as the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and World Food Programme, as well as nongovernmental organizations like Heifer International and Oxfam, have been forced to halt food programs in the country as these groups themselves attempt to recover from the disaster.

Before the quake, FAO alone was implementing 23 food and agriculture projects in Haiti, hoping to improve access to food in the poorest country in the western hemisphere. Prior to the disaster, an estimated 46 percent of Haiti’s population was undernourished, and chronic malnutrition affected 24 percent of children under five.

Right now the most urgent need is to get food and water to millions of people in the capital city of Port au Prince and elsewhere in Haiti. But as the country looks to the future, the need for sustainable sources of food, such as those we are learning about in sub-Saharan Africa, is more important than ever.

News & Notes January 28, 2010

Tomorrow is the first of the two days for the Pennsylvania Progressive Summit.  Several hundred progressives from across our Commonwealth and some from parts hither and yon will convene in Harrisburg.  There will be debates, forums, panels, speeches and lots of networking happening.  Several candidates are holding receptions and if you aren’t there you’ll be missing a valuable opportunity to learn things and meet people.  I won’t have tons of time for blogging but I hope to cover as much as I can and catch up when I get home Sunday.

The following weekend is the Democratic State Committee meeting in Lancaster.  It too will be crawling with candidates seeking the two thirds vote for endorsement as the Party’s pick for Senator or Governor.

New polls out this week show that Joe Sestak needs to begin his media campaign.  Working his tail off traveling the state visiting group after group just won’t work.  I recall how Chuck Pennacchio did well over 220 such events but didn’t have the money to get on television and radio.  Running statewide means having to use media to get your message out to the masses.  Pennsylvania simply is too large a state to do it small group by small group.  Joe has to establish who he is, why he’s running and build name recognition state wide and do it soon.  Failing to do could dry up his cash as donors look at these poll numbers.

Sen. Musto of Luzerne County is the latest legislator to announce his retirement from Harrisburg.  This is a solidly Democratic county but no seat is safe this year.  Dems must get something productive done to remotivate their disenchanted and angry base.

So the explanation for James O’Keefe’s attempt to bug Mary Landrieu’s phones is that it was a “dumb stunt” doesn’t wash even though that could be this guy’s middle name.  This was a serious crime.

Don’t buy a used car in Virginia.  Under their new Governor Bob McDonnell, you saw him make the GOP response last night complaining about governmental regulation of business, used car dealers can now sell water damaged cars from Katrina without disclosing the damage if it is less than $5000.  And he wonders why Republicans are out of the mainstream.

It was good to listen to the President discuss Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell last night but he didn’t get into specifics or advocate for ENDA or the repeal of DOMA.  He has a long way to go to receive a passing grade on LGBT issues.

Did you see the reaction of Justice Samuel Alito when the President castigated the Supremes?  Remember that Sen. Specter was instrumental in putting him on the Court also.  These mistakes are monumental and illustrate we cannot trust him for another term in the Senate.

“There is no flag large enough to cover the shame of killing innocent people.”  I have a button with this Howard Zinn quote.  The historian passed away yesterday and will be sorely missed by all those who treasure true accounts of history.  Zinn reminded us of our genocide of Native Americans, the lies and deceptions behind our wars of imperialism and reminded us that papering over the ugly parts of our history only means we are doomed to repeat them.

Apple unveiled its new tablet computer yesterday.  The immediate negative responses to the name are swamping any publicity they expected.  This was a monumental marketing mistake on the order of “New Coke.”  I’ll wait for the next model, hopefully smaller, called the MiniPad.  I know some women who prefer to wit for the MaxiPad.  This was one douchebag marketing mistake.

Holden Caulfield will live forever because of the genius of J.D. Salinger who also passed away.  The recluse hadn’t published in forever and let’s hope he didn’t just idle away the hours in his solitude.  Hopefully a stash of new literature will be his legacy beyond “Catcher in the Rye.”

PoliticsPA is citing an article from Lehigh Valley Ramblings saying John Morganelli is saying Dan Onorato supported Tom Corbett in 2008.  Morganelli ran against Corbett for Attorney General and got no help from the Allegheny County Executive.  In fact Morganelli says he took several fundraising trips to Pittsburgh only to find empty rooms.  Canny way to sabotage someone’s campaign without coming right out front.  If this is true it could seriously derail Onorato’s march to the Democratic gubernatorial nomination.

There’s absolutely no truth to the rumor that Aramark has hired Dave Raymond to be their new mascot:  a giant, personable, huggable mouse.  Hey, if you can’t get rid of the little critters you need to make them likable.

The AFL-CIO is considering supporting primary challengers to Blue Dog Democrats not voting with working people.  This is what I first reported last month when major labor leaders told me how upset they are with Congressmen like Jason Altmire and Tim Holden.  I asked if they’d support and fund primary challengers and they took the conversation off the record.  Today’s report in The National Journal reveals some of what they told me that afternoon.

Building a Methane-Fueled Fire: Innovation of the Week

Cross posted from Nourishing the Planet.

For half the world’s population, every meal depends on an open fire that is fueled by wood, coal, dung, and other smoke-producing combustibles. These indoor cookfires consume large amounts of fuel and emit carbon dioxide and other dangerous toxins into the air, blackening the insides of homes and leading to respiratory diseases, especially among women and children.

Biogas, however, takes advantage of what is typically considered waste, providing a cleaner and safer source of energy. Biogas units use methane from manure to produce electricity, heat, and fertilizer while emitting significantly less smoke and carbon monoxide than other sources of fuel. Access to an efficient, clean-burning stove not only saves lives-smoke inhalation-related illnesses result in 1.5 million deaths per year-it also reduces the amount of time that women spend gathering firewood, which the U.N. Development Programme (UNDP) estimates is 10 hours per week for the average household in some rural areas.

The IFAD-funded Gash Barka Livestock and Agricultural Development Project (GBLADP) helped one farmer in Eritrea, Tekie Mekerka, make the most of the manure his 30 cows produce by helping to install a biogas unit on his farm (similar to the unit that Danielle saw in Rwanda with Heifer International). Now, says Mekerka, “we no longer have to go out to collect wood for cooking, the kitchen is now smoke-free, and the children can study at night because we have electricity.”Additionally, Mekerka is using the organic residue left by the biogas process as fertilizer for his family’s new vegetable garden.

In Rwanda, the government is making biogas stove units more accessible by subsidizing installation costs, and it hopes to have 15,000 households nationwide using biogas by 2012.  While visiting with Heifer Rwanda, Danielle met Madame Helen Bahikwe, who, after receiving government help to purchase her biogas unit, is now more easily cooking for her 10-person family and improving hygiene on the farm with hot water for cleaning.

In China, IFAD found that biogas saved farmers so much time collecting firewood that farm production increased. In Tanzania, the Foundation for Sustainable Rural Development (SURUDE), with funding from UNDP, found that each biogas unit used in their study reduced deforestation by 37 hectares per year. And in Nigeria, on a much larger scale, methane and carbon dioxide produced by a water purifying plant is now being used to provide more affordable gas to 5,400 families a month, thanks to one of the largest biogas installations in Africa.

To read more about how waste can be turned into a source of fuel, energy, and nutrition see: Making Fuel Out of Waste, Growing Food in Urban “Trash,” ECHOing a Need for Innovation in Agriculture, Keeping Weeds for Nutrition and Taste, and Vertical Farms: Finding Creative Ways to Grow Food in Kibera.

If you know of other ways people are making the most of their waste and would like to share it with us, we encourage you to leave a comment or fill out our agriculture innovation survey here.

State of the Union

Here is the text of the President’s State of the Union address last evening:

Remarks of President Barack Obama – As Prepared for Delivery

The State of the Union

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Washington, DC

Madame Speaker, Vice President Biden, Members of Congress, distinguished guests, and fellow Americans:

Our Constitution declares that from time to time, the President shall give to Congress information about the state of our union.  For two hundred and twenty years, our leaders have fulfilled this duty.  They have done so during periods of prosperity and tranquility.  And they have done so in the midst of war and depression; at moments of great strife and great struggle.

It’s tempting to look back on these moments and assume that our progress was inevitable – that America was always destined to succeed.  But when the Union was turned back at Bull Run and the Allies first landed at Omaha Beach, victory was very much in doubt.  When the market crashed on Black Tuesday and civil rights marchers were beaten on Bloody Sunday, the future was anything but certain.  These were times that tested the courage of our convictions, and the strength of our union.  And despite all our divisions and disagreements; our hesitations and our fears; America prevailed because we chose to move forward as one nation, and one people.

Again, we are tested.  And again, we must answer history’s call.

One year ago, I took office amid two wars, an economy rocked by severe recession, a financial system on the verge of collapse, and a government deeply in debt.  Experts from across the political spectrum warned that if we did not act, we might face a second depression.  So we acted – immediately and aggressively.  And one year later, the worst of the storm has passed.

But the devastation remains.  One in ten Americans still cannot find work.  Many businesses have shuttered.  Home values have declined.  Small towns and rural communities have been hit especially hard.  For those who had already known poverty, life has become that much harder.

This recession has also compounded the burdens that America’s families have been dealing with for decades – the burden of working harder and longer for less; of being unable to save enough to retire or help kids with college.

So I know the anxieties that are out there right now.  They’re not new.  These struggles are the reason I ran for President.  These struggles are what I’ve witnessed for years in places like Elkhart, Indiana and Galesburg, Illinois.  I hear about them in the letters that I read each night.  The toughest to read are those written by children – asking why they have to move from their home, or when their mom or dad will be able to go back to work.

For these Americans and so many others, change has not come fast enough.  Some are frustrated; some are angry.  They don’t understand why it seems like bad behavior on Wall Street is rewarded but hard work on Main Street isn’t; or why Washington has been unable or unwilling to solve any of our problems.  They are tired of the partisanship and the shouting and the pettiness.  They know we can’t afford it.  Not now.  

So we face big and difficult challenges.  And what the American people hope – what they deserve – is for all of us, Democrats and Republicans, to work through our differences; to overcome the numbing weight of our politics.  For while the people who sent us here have different backgrounds, different stories and different beliefs, the anxieties they face are the same. The aspirations they hold are shared.  A job that pays the bills.  A chance to get ahead.  Most of all, the ability to give their children a better life.

You know what else they share?  They share a stubborn resilience in the face of adversity.  After one of the most difficult years in our history, they remain busy building cars and teaching kids; starting businesses and going back to school.  They’re coaching little league and helping their neighbors.  As one woman wrote me, “We are strained but hopeful, struggling but encouraged.”

It is because of this spirit – this great decency and great strength – that I have never been more hopeful about America’s future than I am tonight.  Despite our hardships, our union is strong.  We do not give up.  We do not quit.  We do not allow fear or division to break our spirit.  In this new decade, it’s time the American people get a government that matches their decency; that embodies their strength.  

And tonight, I’d like to talk about how together, we can deliver on that promise.  

It begins with our economy.

Our most urgent task upon taking office was to shore up the same banks that helped cause this crisis.  It was not easy to do.  And if there’s one thing that has unified Democrats and Republicans, it’s that we all hated the bank bailout.  I hated it.  You hated it.  It was about as popular as a root canal.

But when I ran for President, I promised I wouldn’t just do what was popular – I would do what was necessary.  And if we had allowed the meltdown of the financial system, unemployment might be double what it is today.  More businesses would certainly have closed.  More homes would have surely been lost.

So I supported the last administration’s efforts to create the financial rescue program.  And when we took the program over, we made it more transparent and accountable.  As a result, the markets are now stabilized, and we have recovered most of the money we spent on the banks.

To recover the rest, I have proposed a fee on the biggest banks.  I know Wall Street isn’t keen on this idea, but if these firms can afford to hand out big bonuses again, they can afford a modest fee to pay back the taxpayers who rescued them in their time of need.

As we stabilized the financial system, we also took steps to get our economy growing again, save as many jobs as possible, and help Americans who had become unemployed.

That’s why we extended or increased unemployment benefits for more than 18 million Americans; made health insurance 65% cheaper for families who get their coverage through COBRA; and passed 25 different tax cuts.

Let me repeat:  we cut taxes.  We cut taxes for 95% of working families.  We cut taxes for small businesses.  We cut taxes for first-time homebuyers.  We cut taxes for parents trying to care for their children.  We cut taxes for 8 million Americans paying for college.  As a result, millions of Americans had more to spend on gas, and food, and other necessities, all of which helped businesses keep more workers.  And we haven’t raised income taxes by a single dime on a single person.  Not a single dime.

Because of the steps we took, there are about two million Americans working right now who would otherwise be unemployed.  200,000 work in construction and clean energy.  300,000 are teachers and other education workers.  Tens of thousands are cops, firefighters, correctional officers, and first responders.  And we are on track to add another one and a half million jobs to this total by the end of the year.

The plan that has made all of this possible, from the tax cuts to the jobs, is the Recovery Act.  That’s right – the Recovery Act, also known as the Stimulus Bill.  Economists on the left and the right say that this bill has helped saved jobs and avert disaster.  But you don’t have to take their word for it.

Talk to the small business in Phoenix that will triple its workforce because of the Recovery Act.  

Talk to the window manufacturer in Philadelphia who said he used to be skeptical about the Recovery Act, until he had to add two more work shifts just because of the business it created.

Talk to the single teacher raising two kids who was told by her principal in the last week of school that because of the Recovery Act, she wouldn’t be laid off after all.

There are stories like this all across America.  And after two years of recession, the economy is growing again.  Retirement funds have started to gain back some of their value.  Businesses are beginning to invest again, and slowly some are starting to hire again.  

But I realize that for every success story, there are other stories, of men and women who wake up with the anguish of not knowing where their next paycheck will come from; who send out resumes week after week and hear nothing in response.  That is why jobs must be our number one focus in 2010, and that is why I am calling for a new jobs bill tonight.

Now, the true engine of job creation in this country will always be America’s businesses.  But government can create the conditions necessary for businesses to expand and hire more workers.

We should start where most new jobs do – in small businesses, companies that begin when an entrepreneur takes a chance on a dream, or a worker decides its time she became her own boss.

Through sheer grit and determination, these companies have weathered the recession and are ready to grow.  But when you talk to small business owners in places like Allentown, Pennsylvania or Elyria, Ohio, you find out that even though banks on Wall Street are lending again, they are mostly lending to bigger companies.  But financing remains difficult for small business owners across the country.

So tonight, I’m proposing that we take $30 billion of the money Wall Street banks have repaid and use it to help community banks give small businesses the credit they need to stay afloat.  I am also proposing a new small business tax credit – one that will go to over one million small businesses who hire new workers or raise wages.  While we’re at it, let’s also eliminate all capital gains taxes on small business investment; and provide a tax incentive for all businesses, large and small, to invest in new plants and equipment.

Next, we can put Americans to work today building the infrastructure of tomorrow.  From the first railroads to the interstate highway system, our nation has always been built to compete.  There’s no reason Europe or China should have the fastest trains, or the new factories that manufacture clean energy products.

Tomorrow, I’ll visit Tampa, Florida, where workers will soon break ground on a new high-speed railroad funded by the Recovery Act.  There are projects like that all across this country that will create jobs and help our nation move goods, services, and information.  We should put more Americans to work building clean energy facilities, and give rebates to Americans who make their homes more energy efficient, which supports clean energy jobs.  And to encourage these and other businesses to stay within our borders, it’s time to finally slash the tax breaks for companies that ship our jobs overseas and give those tax breaks to companies that create jobs in the United States of America.

The House has passed a jobs bill that includes some of these steps.  As the first order of business this year, I urge the Senate to do the same.  People are out of work.  They are hurting.  They need our help.  And I want a jobs bill on my desk without delay.  

But the truth is, these steps still won’t make up for the seven million jobs we’ve lost over the last two years.  The only way to move to full employment is to lay a new foundation for long-term economic growth, and finally address the problems that America’s families have confronted for years.  

We cannot afford another so-called economic “expansion” like the one from last decade – what some call the “lost decade” – where jobs grew more slowly than during any prior expansion; where the income of the average American household declined while the cost of health care and tuition reached record highs; where prosperity was built on a housing bubble and financial speculation.

From the day I took office, I have been told that addressing our larger challenges is too ambitious – that such efforts would be too contentious, that our political system is too gridlocked, and that we should just put things on hold for awhile.

For those who make these claims, I have one simple question:

How long should we wait?  How long should America put its future on hold?

You see, Washington has been telling us to wait for decades, even as the problems have grown worse.  Meanwhile, China’s not waiting to revamp its economy.  Germany’s not waiting.  India’s not waiting.  These nations aren’t standing still.  These nations aren’t playing for second place.  They’re putting more emphasis on math and science. They’re rebuilding their infrastructure.  They are making serious investments in clean energy because they want those jobs.

Well I do not accept second-place for the United States of America.  As hard as it may be, as uncomfortable and contentious as the debates may be, it’s time to get serious about fixing the problems that are hampering our growth.

One place to start is serious financial reform.  Look, I am not interested in punishing banks, I’m interested in protecting our economy.  A strong, healthy financial market makes it possible for businesses to access credit and create new jobs.  It channels the savings of families into investments that raise incomes.  But that can only happen if we guard against the same recklessness that nearly brought down our entire economy.

We need to make sure consumers and middle-class families have the information they need to make financial decisions.  We can’t allow financial institutions, including those that take your deposits, to take risks that threaten the whole economy.  

The House has already passed financial reform with many of these changes.  And the lobbyists are already trying to kill it.  Well, we cannot let them win this fight.  And if the bill that ends up on my desk does not meet the test of real reform, I will send it back.

Next, we need to encourage American innovation.  Last year, we made the largest investment in basic research funding in history – an investment that could lead to the world’s cheapest solar cells or treatment that kills cancer cells but leaves healthy ones untouched.  And no area is more ripe for such innovation than energy.  You can see the results of last year’s investment in clean energy – in the North Carolina company that will create 1200 jobs nationwide helping to make advanced batteries; or in the California business that will put 1,000 people to work making solar panels.

But to create more of these clean energy jobs, we need more production, more efficiency, more incentives.  That means building a new generation of safe, clean nuclear power plants in this country.  It means making tough decisions about opening new offshore areas for oil and gas development. It means continued investment in advanced biofuels and clean coal technologies.  And yes, it means passing a comprehensive energy and climate bill with incentives that will finally make clean energy the profitable kind of energy in America.

I am grateful to the House for passing such a bill last year.  This year, I am eager to help advance the bipartisan effort in the Senate.  I know there have been questions about whether we can afford such changes in a tough economy; and I know that there are those who disagree with the overwhelming scientific evidence on climate change.  But even if you doubt the evidence, providing incentives for energy efficiency and clean energy are the right thing to do for our future – because the nation that leads the clean energy economy will be the nation that leads the global economy.  And America must be that nation.

Third, we need to export more of our goods.  Because the more products we make and sell to other countries, the more jobs we support right here in America.  So tonight, we set a new goal:  We will double our exports over the next five years, an increase that will support two million jobs in America.  To help meet this goal, we’re launching a National Export Initiative that will help farmers and small businesses increase their exports, and reform export controls consistent with national security.

We have to seek new markets aggressively, just as our competitors are. If America sits on the sidelines while other nations sign trade deals, we will lose the chance to create jobs on our shores. But realizing those benefits also means enforcing those agreements so our trading partners play by the rules. And that’s why we will continue to shape a Doha trade agreement that opens global markets, and why we will strengthen our trade relations in Asia and with key partners like South Korea, Panama, and Colombia.

Fourth, we need to invest in the skills and education of our people.

This year, we have broken through the stalemate between left and right by launching a national competition to improve our schools.  The idea here is simple:  instead of rewarding failure, we only reward success.  Instead of funding the status quo, we only invest in reform – reform that raises student achievement, inspires students to excel in math and science, and turns around failing schools that steal the future of too many young Americans, from rural communities to inner-cities.  In the 21st century, one of the best anti-poverty programs is a world-class education.  In this country, the success of our children cannot depend more on where they live than their potential.

When we renew the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, we will work with Congress to expand these reforms to all fifty states.   Still, in this economy, a high school diploma no longer guarantees a good job.  I urge the Senate to follow the House and pass a bill that will revitalize our community colleges, which are a career pathway to the children of so many working families.  To make college more affordable, this bill will finally end the unwarranted taxpayer-subsidies that go to banks for student loans.  Instead, let’s take that money and give families a $10,000 tax credit for four years of college and increase Pell Grants.  And let’s tell another one million students that when they graduate, they will be required to pay only ten percent of their income on student loans, and all of their debt will be forgiven after twenty years – and forgiven after ten years if they choose a career in public service.  Because in the United States of America, no one should go broke because they chose to go to college.  And it’s time for colleges and universities to get serious about cutting their own costs – because they too have a responsibility to help solve this problem.

Now, the price of college tuition is just one of the burdens facing the middle-class.  That’s why last year I asked Vice President Biden to chair a task force on Middle-Class Families.  That’s why we’re nearly doubling the child care tax credit, and making it easier to save for retirement by giving every worker access to a retirement account and expanding the tax credit for those who start a nest egg.  That’s why we’re working to lift the value of a family’s single largest investment – their home.  The steps we took last year to shore up the housing market have allowed millions of Americans to take out new loans and save an average of $1,500 on mortgage payments.  This year, we will step up re-financing so that homeowners can move into more affordable mortgages.  And it is precisely to relieve the burden on middle-class families that we still need health insurance reform.

Now let’s be clear – I did not choose to tackle this issue to get some legislative victory under my belt.  And by now it should be fairly obvious that I didn’t take on health care because it was good politics.

I took on health care because of the stories I’ve heard from Americans with pre-existing conditions whose lives depend on getting coverage; patients who’ve been denied coverage; and families – even those with insurance – who are just one illness away from financial ruin.

After nearly a century of trying, we are closer than ever to bringing more security to the lives of so many Americans.  The approach we’ve taken would protect every American from the worst practices of the insurance industry.  It would give small businesses and uninsured Americans a chance to choose an affordable health care plan in a competitive market.  It would require every insurance plan to cover preventive care.  And by the way, I want to acknowledge our First Lady, Michelle Obama, who this year is creating a national movement to tackle the epidemic of childhood obesity and make our kids healthier.

Our approach would preserve the right of Americans who have insurance to keep their doctor and their plan.  It would reduce costs and premiums for millions of families and businesses.  And according to the Congressional Budget Office – the independent organization that both parties have cited as the official scorekeeper for Congress – our approach would bring down the deficit by as much as $1 trillion over the next two decades.

Still, this is a complex issue, and the longer it was debated, the more skeptical people became.  I take my share of the blame for not explaining it more clearly to the American people.  And I know that with all the lobbying and horse-trading, this process left most Americans wondering what’s in it for them.

But I also know this problem is not going away.  By the time I’m finished speaking tonight, more Americans will have lost their health insurance. Millions will lose it this year.  Our deficit will grow.  Premiums will go up.  Patients will be denied the care they need.  Small business owners will continue to drop coverage altogether.  I will not walk away from these Americans, and neither should the people in this chamber.

As temperatures cool, I want everyone to take another look at the plan we’ve proposed.  There’s a reason why many doctors, nurses, and health care experts who know our system best consider this approach a vast improvement over the status quo.  But if anyone from either party has a better approach that will bring down premiums, bring down the deficit, cover the uninsured, strengthen Medicare for seniors, and stop insurance company abuses, let me know.  Here’s what I ask of Congress, though:  Do not walk away from reform.  Not now.  Not when we are so close.  Let us find a way to come together and finish the job for the American people.

Now, even as health care reform would reduce our deficit, it’s not enough to dig us out of a massive fiscal hole in which we find ourselves.  It’s a challenge that makes all others that much harder to solve, and one that’s been subject to a lot of political posturing.

So let me start the discussion of government spending by setting the record straight. At the beginning of the last decade, America had a budget surplus of over $200 billion. By the time I took office, we had a one year deficit of over $1 trillion and projected deficits of $8 trillion over the next decade. Most of this was the result of not paying for two wars, two tax cuts, and an expensive prescription drug program. On top of that, the effects of the recession put a $3 trillion hole in our budget. That was before I walked in the door.

Now if we had taken office in ordinary times, I would have liked nothing more than to start bringing down the deficit.  But we took office amid a crisis, and our efforts to prevent a second Depression have added another $1 trillion to our national debt.

I am absolutely convinced that was the right thing to do.  But families across the country are tightening their belts and making tough decisions.  The federal government should do the same. So tonight, I’m proposing specific steps to pay for the $1 trillion that it took to rescue the economy last year.

Starting in 2011, we are prepared to freeze government spending for three years.  Spending related to our national security, Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security will not be affected. But all other discretionary government programs will.  Like any cash-strapped family, we will work within a budget to invest in what we need and sacrifice what we don’t.  And if I have to enforce this discipline by veto, I will.

We will continue to go through the budget line by line to eliminate programs that we can’t afford and don’t work.  We’ve already identified $20 billion in savings for next year. To help working families, we will extend our middle-class tax cuts.  But at a time of record deficits, we will not continue tax cuts for oil companies, investment fund managers, and those making over $250,000 a year.  We just can’t afford it.

Now, even after paying for what we spent on my watch, we will still face the massive deficit we had when I took office.  More importantly, the cost of Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security will continue to skyrocket.  That’s why I’ve called for a bipartisan, Fiscal Commission, modeled on a proposal by Republican Judd Gregg and Democrat Kent Conrad.  This can’t be one of those Washington gimmicks that lets us pretend we solved a problem.  The Commission will have to provide a specific set of solutions by a certain deadline.  Yesterday, the Senate blocked a bill that would have created this commission.  So I will issue an executive order that will allow us to go forward, because I refuse to pass this problem on to another generation of Americans.  And when the vote comes tomorrow, the Senate should restore the pay-as-you-go law that was a big reason why we had record surpluses in the 1990s.

I know that some in my own party will argue that we cannot address the deficit or freeze government spending when so many are still hurting.  I agree, which is why this freeze will not take effect until next year, when the economy is stronger.  But understand – if we do not take meaningful steps to rein in our debt, it could damage our markets, increase the cost of borrowing, and jeopardize our recovery – all of which could have an even worse effect on our job growth and family incomes.

From some on the right, I expect we’ll hear a different argument – that if we just make fewer investments in our people, extend tax cuts for wealthier Americans, eliminate more regulations, and maintain the status quo on health care, our deficits will go away.  The problem is, that’s what we did for eight years. That’s what helped lead us into this crisis.  It’s what helped lead to these deficits.  And we cannot do it again.

Rather than fight the same tired battles that have dominated Washington for decades, it’s time to try something new.  Let’s invest in our people without leaving them a mountain of debt. Let’s meet our responsibility to the citizens who sent us here.  Let’s try common sense.

To do that, we have to recognize that we face more than a deficit of dollars right now. We face a deficit of trust – deep and corrosive doubts about how Washington works that have been growing for years. To close that credibility gap we must take action on both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue to end the outsized influence of lobbyists; to do our work openly; and to give our people the government they deserve.

That’s what I came to Washington to do. That’s why – for the first time in history – my Administration posts our White House visitors online. And that’s why we’ve excluded lobbyists from policy-making jobs or seats on federal boards and commissions.

But we can’t stop there. It’s time to require lobbyists to disclose each contact they make on behalf of a client with my Administration or Congress.  And it’s time to put strict limits on the contributions that lobbyists give to candidates for federal office. Last week, the Supreme Court reversed a century of law to open the floodgates for special interests – including foreign corporations – to spend without limit in our elections. Well I don’t think American elections should be bankrolled by America’s most powerful interests, or worse, by foreign entities.  They should be decided by the American people, and that’s why I’m urging Democrats and Republicans to pass a bill that helps to right this wrong.

I’m also calling on Congress to continue down the path of earmark reform. You have trimmed some of this spending and embraced some meaningful change.  But restoring the public trust demands more. For example, some members of Congress post some earmark requests online. Tonight, I’m calling on Congress to publish all earmark requests on a single website before there’s a vote so that the American people can see how their money is being spent.

Of course, none of these reforms will even happen if we don’t also reform how we work with one another.

Now, I am not na├»ve.  I never thought the mere fact of my election would usher in peace, harmony, and some post-partisan era.  I knew that both parties have fed divisions that are deeply entrenched.   And on some issues, there are simply philosophical differences that will always cause us to part ways.  These disagreements, about the role of government in our lives, about our national priorities and our national security, have been taking place for over two hundred years.  They are the very essence of our democracy.

But what frustrates the American people is a Washington where every day is Election Day.  We cannot wage a perpetual campaign where the only goal is to see who can get the most embarrassing headlines about their opponent – a belief that if you lose, I win.  Neither party should delay or obstruct every single bill just because they can.  The confirmation of well-qualified public servants should not be held hostage to the pet projects or grudges of a few individual Senators.  Washington may think that saying anything about the other side, no matter how false, is just part of the game.  But it is precisely such politics that has stopped either party from helping the American people.  Worse yet, it is sowing further division among our citizens and further distrust in our government.

So no, I will not give up on changing the tone of our politics.  I know it’s an election year.  And after last week, it is clear that campaign fever has come even earlier than usual.  But we still need to govern.  To Democrats, I would remind you that we still have the largest majority in decades, and the people expect us to solve some problems, not run for the hills.  And if the Republican leadership is going to insist that sixty votes in the Senate are required to do any business at all in this town, then the responsibility to govern is now yours as well.  Just saying no to everything may be good short-term politics, but it’s not leadership.  We were sent here to serve our citizens, not our ambitions. So let’s show the American people that we can do it together.  This week, I’ll be addressing a meeting of the House Republicans.  And I would like to begin monthly meetings with both the Democratic and Republican leadership.  I know you can’t wait.

Throughout our history, no issue has united this country more than our security. Sadly, some of the unity we felt after 9/11 has dissipated.  We can argue all we want about who’s to blame for this, but I am not interested in re-litigating the past.  I know that all of us love this country. All of us are committed to its defense. So let’s put aside the schoolyard taunts about who is tough.  Let’s reject the false choice between protecting our people and upholding our values.  Let’s leave behind the fear and division, and do what it takes to defend our nation and forge a more hopeful future – for America and the world.

That is the work we began last year.  Since the day I took office, we have renewed our focus on the terrorists who threaten our nation.  We have made substantial investments in our homeland security and disrupted plots that threatened to take American lives. We are filling unacceptable gaps revealed by the failed Christmas attack, with better airline security, and swifter action on our intelligence. We have prohibited torture and strengthened partnerships from the Pacific to South Asia to the Arabian Peninsula.  And in the last year, hundreds of Al Qaeda’s fighters and affiliates, including many senior leaders, have been captured or killed – far more than in 2008.

In Afghanistan, we are increasing our troops and training Afghan Security Forces so they can begin to take the lead in July of 2011, and our troops can begin to come home. We will reward good governance, reduce corruption, and support the rights of all Afghans – men and women alike. We are joined by allies and partners who have increased their own commitment, and who will come together tomorrow in London to reaffirm our common purpose. There will be difficult days ahead. But I am confident we will succeed.

As we take the fight to al Qaeda, we are responsibly leaving Iraq to its people. As a candidate, I promised that I would end this war, and that is what I am doing as President.  We will have all of our combat troops out of Iraq by the end of this August. We will support the Iraqi government as they hold elections, and continue to partner with the Iraqi people to promote regional peace and prosperity. But make no mistake:  this war is ending, and all of our troops are coming home.  

Tonight, all of our men and women in uniform — in Iraq, Afghanistan, and around the world – must know that they have our respect, our gratitude, and our full support. And just as they must have the resources they need in war, we all have a responsibility to support them when they come home. That is why we made the largest increase in investments for veterans in decades. That is why we are building a 21st century VA. And that is why Michelle has joined with Jill Biden to forge a national commitment to support military families.

Even as we prosecute two wars, we are also confronting perhaps the greatest danger to the American people – the threat of nuclear weapons.  I have embraced the vision of John F. Kennedy and Ronald Reagan through a strategy that reverses the spread of these weapons, and seeks a world without them. To reduce our stockpiles and launchers, while ensuring our deterrent, the United States and Russia are completing negotiations on the farthest-reaching arms control treaty in nearly two decades. And at April’s Nuclear Security Summit, we will bring forty-four nations together behind a clear goal: securing all vulnerable nuclear materials around the world in four years, so that they never fall into the hands of terrorists.

These diplomatic efforts have also strengthened our hand in dealing with those nations that insist on violating international agreements in pursuit of these weapons.  That is why North Korea now faces increased isolation, and stronger sanctions – sanctions that are being vigorously enforced.  That is why the international community is more united, and the Islamic Republic of Iran is more isolated. And as Iran’s leaders continue to ignore their obligations, there should be no doubt: they, too, will face growing consequences.

That is the leadership that we are providing – engagement that advances the common security and prosperity of all people. We are working through the G-20 to sustain a lasting global recovery. We are working with Muslim communities around the world to promote science, education and innovation. We have gone from a bystander to a leader in the fight against climate change. We are helping developing countries to feed themselves, and continuing the fight against HIV/AIDS. And we are launching a new initiative that will give us the capacity to respond faster and more effectively to bio-terrorism or an infectious disease – a plan that will counter threats at home, and strengthen public health abroad.

As we have for over sixty years, America takes these actions because our destiny is connected to those beyond our shores. But we also do it because it is right. That is why, as we meet here tonight, over 10,000 Americans are working with many nations to help the people of Haiti recover and rebuild. That is why we stand with the girl who yearns to go to school in Afghanistan; we support the human rights of the women marching through the streets of Iran; and we advocate for the young man denied a job by corruption in Guinea. For America must always stand on the side of freedom and human dignity.

Abroad, America’s greatest source of strength has always been our ideals.  The same is true at home.  We find unity in our incredible diversity, drawing on the promise enshrined in our Constitution:  the notion that we are all created equal, that no matter who you are or what you look like, if you abide by the law you should be protected by it; that if you adhere to our common values you should be treated no different than anyone else.    

We must continually renew this promise.  My Administration has a Civil Rights Division that is once again prosecuting civil rights violations and employment discrimination.  We finally strengthened our laws to protect against crimes driven by hate.  This year, I will work with Congress and our military to finally repeal the law that denies gay Americans the right to serve the country they love because of who they are.  We are going to crack down on violations of equal pay laws – so that women get equal pay for an equal day’s work.  And we should continue the work of fixing our broken immigration system – to secure our borders, enforce our laws, and ensure that everyone who plays by the rules can contribute to our economy and enrich our nations.

In the end, it is our ideals, our values, that built America – values that allowed us to forge a nation made up of immigrants from every corner of the globe; values that drive our citizens still.  Every day, Americans meet their responsibilities to their families and their employers.  Time and again, they lend a hand to their neighbors and give back to their country.  They take pride in their labor, and are generous in spirit.  These aren’t Republican values or Democratic values they’re living by; business values or labor values.  They are American values.  

Unfortunately, too many of our citizens have lost faith that our biggest institutions – our corporations, our media, and yes, our government – still reflect these same values.  Each of these institutions are full of honorable men and women doing important work that helps our country prosper.  But each time a CEO rewards himself for failure, or a banker puts the rest of us at risk for his own selfish gain, people’s doubts grow.  Each time lobbyists game the system or politicians tear each other down instead of lifting this country up, we lose faith.  The more that TV pundits reduce serious debates into silly arguments, and big issues into sound bites, our citizens turn away.  

No wonder there’s so much cynicism out there.

No wonder there’s so much disappointment.

I campaigned on the promise of change – change we can believe in, the slogan went.  And right now, I know there are many Americans who aren’t sure if they still believe we can change – or at least, that I can deliver it.

But remember this – I never suggested that change would be easy, or that I can do it alone.  Democracy in a nation of three hundred million people can be noisy and messy and complicated.  And when you try to do big things and make big changes, it stirs passions and controversy.  That’s just how it is.

Those of us in public office can respond to this reality by playing it safe and avoid telling hard truths.  We can do what’s necessary to keep our poll numbers high, and get through the next election instead of doing what’s best for the next generation.

But I also know this:  if people had made that decision fifty years ago or one hundred years ago or two hundred years ago, we wouldn’t be here tonight.  The only reason we are is because generations of Americans were unafraid to do what was hard; to do what was needed even when success was uncertain; to do what it took to keep the dream of this nation alive for their children and grandchildren.

Our administration has had some political setbacks this year, and some of them were deserved.  But I wake up every day knowing that they are nothing compared to the setbacks that families all across this country have faced this year.  And what keeps me going – what keeps me fighting – is that despite all these setbacks, that spirit of determination and optimism – that fundamental decency that has always been at the core of the American people – lives on.  

It lives on in the struggling small business owner who wrote to me of his company, “None of us,” he said, “…are willing to consider, even slightly, that we might fail.”

It lives on in the woman who said that even though she and her neighbors have felt the pain of recession, “We are strong.  We are resilient.  We are American.”

It lives on in the 8-year old boy in Louisiana, who just sent me his allowance and asked if I would give it to the people of Haiti.  And it lives on in all the Americans who’ve dropped everything to go some place they’ve never been and pull people they’ve never known from rubble, prompting chants of “U.S.A.! U.S.A.! U.S.A!” when another life was saved.

The spirit that has sustained this nation for more than two centuries lives on in you, its people.

We have finished a difficult year.  We have come through a difficult decade.  But a new year has come.  A new decade stretches before us.  We don’t quit.  I don’t quit.  Let’s seize this moment – to start anew, to carry the dream forward, and to strengthen our union once more.

Thank you.  God Bless You.  And God Bless the United States of America.