Thank you for that wonderful, warm welcome. Provost Willihnganz, Dr. Gregg and our McConnell Scholars, faculty, Administrators and students. It is indeed a pleasure to be with all of you.
I'm especially delighted to join Senator McConnell, my colleague and dear friend, at his alma mater! Mitch, thank you so much for your very kind words of introduction. The McConnell Center for Political Leadership stands as a model for all of us in public service. And I have been so impressed with the McConnell Scholars. What a marvelous concept. And Mitch, I am just in awe of your vision, your commitment and your passion for educating the leaders of tomorrow! Congratulations and thank you so much for inviting me here!
As the number two ranking Republican, elected by his colleagues, Mitch McConnell, ladies and gentlemen, has provided real leadership and unwavering support for all of us in the United States Senate—especially the freshman class. He helped me with both funds and wise counsel during my race for the Senate. He is a senior member on the Appropriations Committee; and thank you, Mitch, you've been invaluable in my efforts to get help for our textile industry. And of course, we're both on the Agriculture Committee so we're working hard on a tobacco quota buyout—which I know is an issue of importance for our farmers both here in Kentucky and in North Carolina.
And talk about strong political leadership—it's clear the folks in Kentucky love you, Mitch. They sent you back to the Senate last year for a fourth term with 65 percent of the vote! And Elaine and I worked together at the Department of Transportation; and we were colleagues when she headed the United Way and I was president of the American Red Cross. And most recently, Elaine, as Secretary of Labor, has been so helpful in my efforts to assist workers in the largest layoff in North Carolina history. Bob and I treasure these two for their warm friendship.
Now folks, I want you to know I'm aware of the rivalry between U of L and UK—my press secretary grew up in Louisville—the little rivalry between Duke and Carolina PALES, he says, in comparison!
In a recent interview, Bob was asked about his service in World War II—about being part of the "Greatest Generation." "No," he responded, "It's the young men and women being deployed today—they are the greatest generation." I agree with him completely. Proud to serve on the Armed Services Committee. We have the best equipped, most capable, most courageous military force in the world. May God bless them all and keep them safe.
It's times like these, with the War on Terror, when it is so important for communities and neighborhoods to band together, to remember that we are one America. We cherish the principles of freedom and justice that make America such a great nation—they are the threads that bind us together as a community and as a country.
With the major conflict over in Iraq, our nation is helping to rebuild schools and hospitals, water supply systems and roadways. We need to communicate this better! Our forces continue to capture key figures in Saddam Hussein's evil regime, so that they may be brought to justice.
My friend, Secretary of State Colin Powell, who stood before students here not too long ago, described last week his visit to Iraq in the most poignant terms. He said, "Anyone who doubts the wisdom of President Bush's course in Iraq should stand, as I did, by the side of the mass grave in Iraq's north. That terrible site holds the remains of 5,000 innocent men, women and children who were gassed to death by Saddam Hussein's criminal regime."
In my view, Iraq was a righteous war. Saddam Hussein had thumbed his nose at the international community. He violated 17 UN resolutions over 12 years. He tortured, killed, raped and brutalized his own people.
Ambassador Paul Bremer's recent poignant words bear repeating: "Gone are Saddam Hussein's torture chambers. Gone are his mass killings and rape rooms. And gone is his threat to America and the international community." It is this that we should keep in mind, as we go forward to stay the course.
Today in Iraq, Secretary Powell tells us, streets are lined with shops selling newspapers and books of varied opinions. Children are back in school; Parents are forming PTAs; 95 percent of health clinics are open. 85 percent of towns now have city councils! A Constitution will soon be written, followed next year, hopefully, by elections which will help provide legitimacy and credibility to this new government. And meanwhile, millions of dollars of humanitarian aid are going to the Iraqi people to make sure they have food, water and shelter. 37,000 police officers have been brought back; reconstituted police stations; brought in their chiefs. Thousands of members of the Iraqi police force will be trained over the next several months in Eastern Europe. And the area around Saddam's hometown of Tikrit, one of the most dangerous sections in Iraq, is currently being patrolled by the Iraqi army. These measures are part of the larger goal: of turning over the security of Iraq to the Iraqis. Must communicate better!
Certainly, the operation there is proving to be a dangerous and more grinding conflict. The President addressed this fact candidly and resolutely in his address to the nation recently. But September 11th and its aftermath have demonstrated that America cannot ignore events in far-flung places like Afghanistan and Iraq.
Eliminating terror is more than removing the leaders of an evil regime from power. Terrorism must be torn out by its roots, ensuring that there is no toehold for its sponsors to re-establish their violent ways.
The President's call for a Supplemental Spending bill for operations in Iraq has spawned the most recent round of debate over the War on Terror. Many critics have argued that we should be focused on domestic concerns instead of rebuilding another country. Others have charged that the huge price tag on Iraq is a budget buster and is causing our deficit to spiral out of control. But I would point out that inaction would be much more devastating. Just look at the September 11th attacks. One study has pegged the cost to the economy at well over $2 trillion dollars! And a Brookings Institution study estimates that a biological terrorist attack against a major U.S city would cost our economy an estimated $750 billion dollars!
There are other critics who have accused the military of being slow in their progress. But consider these numbers I heard recently from Defense Secretary Rumsfeld. After WWII, it took 3 years to establish The Independent Central Bank of Germany. It was established in Iraq in two months. Police in Germany were established after 14 months—in Iraq, two months. A new currency in Germany took three years—it took two and a half months in Iraq. The Cabinet in Germany was created after 14 months. Iraq has a Cabinet today—after just four months!
We cannot afford not to do what is necessary to win the war against terror and secure our homeland. The funding for the war is necessary and significant, but it is temporary. And, the cost of fighting this war is well below the cost of previous conflicts.
And more than words, more than negotiations, the President's significant spending request sends an unmistakable signal to the sponsors of terror, to the liberated Iraqi citizens, and to the world—that the United States of America is staying the course. Attacks on U.S. troops and other targets in Iraq are aimed at undermining freedom and democracy -- but these attacks will not cause us to shy away from our commitment; failure to follow through in our mission would leave a lethal void—a void that would rapidly be filled by terror and its supporters.
President Bush has said, "Liberty is not America's gift to the world, it is God's gift to Mankind."
I believe that God's gift to all of his children is liberty—and also justice and equality, tolerance and opportunity. These belong to all people—no matter where they live.
Let me share with you a story. In the summer of 1989, I traveled to Poland as Secretary of Labor to extend a hand to Solidarity labor leaders and to help establish a training center for Polish workers. I remember walking through the shipyards of Gdansk with the electrician, and Leader of Solidarity, Lech Walesa.
That August, the Soviet bloc was crumbling. In Moscow, the Communist Party's "perestroika" reforms had failed to halt economic and political collapse. Hungary had daringly voted to allow independent parties in early 1989. And by July, floods of East Germans were pouring into Western embassies, seeking to escape the Iron Curtain.
Just as I arrived in Warsaw, the Polish Parliament elected its first non-Communist Prime Minister in more than 40 years. Soon after the vote, I was invited to attend a Solidarity Caucus as my husband spoke about the steps needed to set up a Legislature.
Well, I can't count the number of Congressional gatherings and legislative hearings I've attended here in the United States, but this simple gathering in Warsaw, such a familiar event in our free nation, felt electric. I will never forget it.
Now, 14 years later, the Soviet empire is gone. Warsaw is no longer the namesake of a communist military pact but the capital of a free nation.
In an emotional appearance before a joint session of the United States Congress late in 1989, a grateful Walesa began his remarks with these words: "We the People…I do not need to remind anyone here where these words come from. And I do not need to explain that I, an electrician from Gdansk, am also entitled to invoke them."
And so he is. And so are the Iraqi people. And the people of Afghanistan. And so many others across the globe.
I am reminded of a recent conversation with a treasured friend, Dr. David Young. David and I worked together in the White House when I was deputy assistant to the President for Consumer Affairs and he was Assistant to Dr. Henry Kissinger. I have great respect for David's ability and insight into world affairs.
We talked recently about how powerful America has become. Today we have a military might that is superior throughout the world, our technological advancements are unrivaled, our medical breakthroughs show the promise of modern medicine, and our people enjoy unparalleled prosperity and freedom. But with that power, comes responsibility. Too many people outside our country do not understand us. Too many harbor unfounded resentments, or hold unwarranted suspicions of our motives, or simply don't like the fact that we are an open society, standing for freedom and justice, and that we are willing to defend those values.
David summed up our challenge by comparing each of our lives to a pyramid. "You can only reach as high as your base is wide," he said. And it's true—unless we expand our base, broaden our horizons—we can only go so far before we are limited by our inability to communicate with the outside world. We need to understand how others see us, ladies and gentlemen, so that we can help them understand the blessings of liberty, and enjoy the fruits of their own freedom. As Scottish poet Robert Burns wrote, "Oh, would that some power would give us the gift to see ourselves as others see us."
It is often said that a man's character is determined by how he behaves when no one is watching. I believe a nation's character is determined by how it behaves when it alone has the power to exercise good or ill to shape the world. This is the opportunity, and the responsibility, that lies before America today.
To the students in the audience, let me say, our nation, indeed our world, cries out for your helping hands.
I urge all of you, don't let your valuable experiences thus far stop here. I want you to engage and listen. Get an internship or spend time working abroad. Travel as much as you can. Engage your fellow man, globally. Work to understand other cultures, and, above all, listen.
You are our messengers. To those abroad, show them that we have no sinister motives, share with them our ideals of freedom and tolerance. Show them that we only wish to share freedom and liberty.
Many of you, McConnell Scholars and others are already traveling as our "goodwill ambassadors" to other parts of the world. So many of you already give of yourselves for humanitarian needs. But this nation needs more from you. My final thought for you today: we need you active in public service and politics, too.
During the last presidential election cycle, the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard did some interesting tracking. Nearly half of adults under age 30 said they paid no attention at all to the campaign. A quarter said they were paying "only a little" attention. Four percent said they were paying "a great deal" of attention and just 8 percent claimed to be giving the campaign "quite a bit" of attention.
Perhaps one of the reasons is what a study by the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism found during the last presidential campaign: 80 percent of all campaign stories, these journalists tell us, focused on internal campaign strategy and activities—things like who had more money, changes in tactics, or organizational problems. Only 13 percent of the stories concerned the candidates' ideas, honesty or past experience—things that would really affect voters if the candidate were elected. Thirteen percent! Good lesson in campaign tactics—Period!
And there's another reason for apathy—
Too many of our young people have been turned away from public service because there has been so much cynicism and doubt. Our institutions have been tarnished.
One of my goals is to inspire young people, once again, to see public service as a noble endeavor. I want you to understand that strong values and committed hearts do make a difference.
As anthropologist Margaret Mead once said, "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has."
It is you who can change policies by voting good people into office—and by engaging in public service yourself.
It is you who can instill your children with timeless values—and insist that our schools teach those values as well.
In closing, I want to share a few of the opportunities my new role in public service in the Senate has provided me just this year. Back in August, I was deep in a cornfield in North Carolina, happily pulling ears of corn off the stalks, gleaning for those in need who're dealing with hunger.
As Senator McConnell knows, I gave my maiden speech on the subject. I am passionate about gleaning to help alleviate the real problem of hunger in America. In fact, I've called on President Bush to hold another White House conference. I had the privilege of working on the White House Conference on Food, Nutrition and Health in 1969, and it's time we do it again.
Gleaning is when excess crops that would otherwise be thrown out are taken from farms, packing houses, and warehouses and distributed to the needy.
It's a practice we should utilize much more extensively today. Approximately 96 billion pounds of good, nutritious food—including that at the farm and retail level—is left over or thrown away. One farmer in my state sends 20,000 pounds of tomatoes to landfills each day during harvest season.
And dumping that much food isn't good for the environment. In fact, food is the single largest component of our solid waste stream.
There are gleaning efforts already underway in Kentucky—even right here in Louisville. The Dare to Care Food Bank on Fern Valley Road actually gleans from local grocery stores. I think some of the officials from this worthwhile center are here with us today, and I'd like to encourage all of you to take their information and become involved in fighting hunger in our communities.
Now, the first bill I submitted in the United States Senate is something I feel passionate about too—and that's full recognition for the Lumbees. They are Native American Indians, yet they have never been fully recognized by the federal government with the attendant financial assistance in education, health care, economic development. I pushed for a hearing before the Senate Indian Affairs Committee and it occurred just a few days ago. Robeson County, North Carolina, where most of the Lumbees live, is one of the poorest counties in our state. Many of the Lumbees got on buses to Washington with the threat of Hurricane Isabel—just to back up those of us testifying on their behalf before the Senate. Even after 100 years of fighting for recognition and financial benefits, the Lumbees still haven't given up. It has been my privilege to represent them, the largest Indian tribe east of the Mississippi with 53,000 members. This really is the joy of public service. You can take something like this—an injustice—and make it right.
And let me tell you where I've spent the last 3 days. I have been with the victims of Hurricane Isabel. One man, Kurt Michel, told me how a wall of his home fell out as a wall of water rushed in. He and his wife Jeannette swam out of the home with his daughter Hannah on his back. And I met Brooks Stalnecker, whose home had been totally flattened. His living room wall lay on the ground with family photographs still attached. But Brooks was off to help his neighbors, though their loss was much less than his.
My precious mother is 102 years old. When we're my mother's age and looking back, I believe the question we'll be asking ourselves is, what did I stand for? What did I stand for?
Did I make a difference, a positive difference, in the lives of others?
I truly believe it is such service to the public that brings out the best in ourselves. Let me leave you with one of my favorite quotations. In the words of Teddy Roosevelt, "We are face to face with our destiny, and we must meet it with a high and resolute courage. For ours is the life of action, of strenuous performance of duty. Let us live in the harness, striving mightily. Let us run the risk of wearing out, rather than rusting out."
God bless each and every one of you, God bless this great state, and this land of the free—America.