Remarks as prepared:
“It used to be that whenever a large building was being constructed, people in the community would set a time to hold a celebration. They didn’t do it when the construction began or when the walls went up or the roof was finished or the paint was dried. They held the celebration when the chief cornerstone of the building was laid. They knew that once you put that cornerstone in place, the building would stand forever.
“You – and all the grassroots activists you represent here today – are the foundation of our Democratic Party. It’s been my sense that in recent decades some in Washington have been celebrating our party’s walls and windows – and ignoring the cornerstone.
“But its my pledge to you – as I begin my work as Democratic leader in the Senate – that we will work with Governor Dean to make sure that your work is celebrated and honored and given all the support it deserves.
“I want to thank all the Democrats who ran for chair – and all the Democrats I tried to get to run for chair.
“This race has been good for our party. It has brought us together instead of tearing us apart. Governor Dean has support from Democrats across the country. And he has my enthusiastic support as the next chair of the Democratic National Committee.
“We will be working to build on the legacy of the last four years. I often hear it said that Chairman McAuliffe is the greatest chair in the history of the Democratic Party.
“And the facts bear this out. We have gone from a party that was flat broke to a party that was able to outspend the Republicans for the first time in 30 years. And we did it not with big money donations — but with small dollar donations from millions.
“We have gone from a party whose infrastructure was broken to a machine that is ready for the campaigns of this new century – with new databases, new voter lists, new technology, and a new headquarters.
“All Democrats owe Terry our admiration and our thanks.
“Now, Governor Dean and I and all of you need to work together to take this progress to the next level. To strengthen the grassroots revolution that is sweeping our party. To make sure every state party has the infrastructure, technology, and support it needs. And to be ready to run and win campaigns in all 50 states.
“And we need to start doing that now. We can’t be a party that just waits for the next presidential race. There are millions of people in America who are depending on our success. They desperately need the kind of change that the Democratic Party will bring. They are looking to us for leadership. And they can’t wait for 2008.
“There are middle class families who want Washington to live by their values – of honesty and decency and responsibility – and not the do-what-it-takes values of Halliburton. There are families struggling to afford their health care and struggling to send their kids to college. And they can’t wait for 2008.
“And they won’t have to. We have important elections in New Jersey and Virginia this year. Next year, every Congressional seat is up for election as are 36 Governors, 33 Senators, and thousands of state and local contests. We need to be competing all over America – up and down the ballot.
“I know we can run and win anywhere. You see, I’m from a place called Searchlight, a tiny town in the high desert of Nevada. It’s the type of place that the media tells us won’t support Democrats. But if our party talks to those voters – and if we listen – we’ll find that voters in the rural counties throughout this country are looking for something better than what the Republicans are offering.
“In places across America, President Bush’s economic policies have left Americans and American companies struggling. People may live in red states but that doesn’t mean they want to put up with George Bush’s red ink.
“It’s Democrats who worked so hard to eliminate the deficit…and its Republican policies that will continue to add trillions to the debt – in effect, a “birth tax” of $36,000 on every child that is born. And we need to carry that message all over America.
“Now, President Bush wants to claim he’s being fiscally responsible. But the budget President Bush submitted this week is as phony as a $3 bill. It claims to cut our deficit in half, but doesn’t count the hundreds of billions he is asking us to pay for the war in Iraq. It doesn’t count the $4.9 trillion he’s asking us to pay for his Social Security plan. And it doesn’t count the costs he’s asking us to pay for his tax cuts. When this Bush budget gets placed in the Library of Congress, it ought to get filed under fiction.
“If President Bush is serious about working to achieve real fiscal responsibility — then he should start by admitting that his tax breaks for the wealthiest few — and special favors for powerful interests — have gotten us into a financial mess. Instead, his new budget forces middle class families to pay for his mistakes.
“America does need real fiscal responsibility. And that will require the kinds of hard decisions and tough choices that Democrats made with President Clinton in the 1990s. We should never pretend that it won’t. But the fact is President Bush’s choices have revealed his true colors – or true color: bright red ink.
“President Bush’s choices have revealed what matters to his Administration – and we need to take that message to America.
“Instead of cutting back on tax cuts for corporations, President Bush plans to cut college loans for kids.
“Instead of closing the loopholes that let big businesses get away with avoiding taxes, President Bush plans to slash aid to family farmers and rural communities.
“Instead of stopping companies from dodging their responsibilities by setting up fake headquarters in Bermuda, President Bush plans to slice the help we give small businesses to create manufacturing jobs and keep them here — at home.
“At a time of war, when everyone is willing to do our part to pitch in, President Bush is insisting that we need further tax breaks for multi-millionaires. And to pay for that – he wants to tell schools we won’t help them keep drugs out of our classrooms. He wants to tell veterans we won’t keep our promise to them. He wants to tell communities to fire the cops and the firefighters that keep our streets safe and that guard America from attack.
“He can go ahead and say that. We won’t. Instead, we’ll tell America there is a better way – the Democratic way.
“And we won’t hesitate to tell America why the President’s plan on Social Security is so dangerous. There’s a lot we can do – and must do – to improve Americans’ retirement security. But it’s wrong to replace the guaranteed benefit that Americans have earned — with a guaranteed benefit cut of forty percent or more. [Pause]
“Make no mistake, that’s exactly what President Bush is proposing.
“The Bush plan would take our already record high 4.4 trillion dollar national debt and add another five trillion dollars, much of which would be borrowed from countries like China and Japan. That’s an immoral burden to place on the backs of the next generation.
“From health care that our families can afford — to investing in America’s future and Americans’ skills — to a national security policy that is as tough and decent and strong as the soldiers we admire so much, Democrats have a vision – and a better way forward.
“And we need to carry that message to every part of this nation: To big cities and small towns.
“To the country’s coasts and to its rural communities.
“To African-American voters and Latino voters and white voters that are looking to us for leadership and to include them in America’s future.
“This party will only be big enough to lead when we are broad enough to bring everyone aboard. We can’t wait for 2008 to begin this work. We can’t even wait for 2006. We need to begin right now. Because this is a struggle for America’s future. And the stakes are high.
“Already the dirty politics and attack-dog tactics have started from the Republican Party. They have brought one piece of legislation to the Senate floor, but they have mailed a million copies of a 13 page booklet on how to attack me. They want to do the same thing to me that they were able to do to our friend, Tom Daschle. We know their game – and they’re not going to get away with it again.
“We have a lot of work ahead of us. But we will do it with joy because it is the work of building the country we love. I spoke earlier about laying the cornerstone. There is another story I want to share. Its about the man who walked by a construction site. There was nothing there – construction had just started. He asked one of the workers, “What are you doing?”
“And the man said, “Me? I’m laying bricks.”
“He asked another worker the same question and the guy answered, “Me? I’m putting up a wall.”
“He found a third worker and asked him what he was doing. The worker stopped, raised his head, looked up and said, “Me? I’m building a cathedral.”
“Whenever you get tired while you are organizing a new voter drive — or setting up a phone bank — or spreading our message, remember that we are building a cathedral. A great, beautiful, soaring cathedral. A building strong enough to protect us and big enough to have room for all of us. We will get there. You are the cornerstone. Now we all have to build together.”