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Speeches from the 2008 Presidential Campaign

Barack Obama
Remarks at the The Clinton Global Initiative
New York, New York
September 25, 2008

It's great to speak to you this morning. I'm sorry that I can't be there, but I did enjoy the opportunity to sit down with President Clinton recently in New York. He has helped to create a model for individual responsibility and collective action through the Clinton Global Initiative.

CGI brings people together to take on tough, global challenges. In four years, you have made concrete commitments that have affected over 200 million people in 150 countries. And I applaud your new commitment to help 20 million poor children get a healthy meal. It's time for us to come together to get this done.

You are meeting at a time of great turmoil for the American economy. We are now confronted with a financial crisis as serious as any we have faced since the Great Depression. Action must be taken to restore confidence in our economy.

Let me be clear: it's outrageous that we find ourselves in a position where taxpayers must bear the burden for the greed and irresponsibility of Wall Street and Washington. But we also know that a failure to act would have grave consequences for the jobs, and savings, and retirement of the American people.

Over the last few days, I've been in close contact with Secretary Paulson and leaders in Congress. I've also had the opportunity to speak directly to the American people about what we need to do moving forward. I've laid out several clear principles that I believe must be a part of our response to this crisis.

First, we need to set up an independent board, selected by Democrats and Republicans, to provide oversight and accountability for how and where this money is spent at every step of the way.

Second, if American taxpayers finance this solution, they should be treated like investors. That means Wall Street and Washington should give every penny of taxpayers' money back once this economy recovers.

Third, we cannot and will not simply bailout Wall Street without helping the millions of innocent homeowners who are struggling to stay in their homes. They deserve a plan too.

Finally - and this is important - the American people should not be spending one dime to reward the same Wall Street CEOs whose greed and irresponsibility got us into this mess.

Congressional leaders have made progress in their negotiations, and appear close to a deal that would include these principles. President Bush addressed some of these issues last night, and I'm pleased that Senator McCain has decided to embrace them too. Now is a time to come together - Democrats and Republicans - in a spirit of cooperation on behalf of the American people.

Later today, I'll be travelling to Washington to offer my help in getting this deal done. Then, I'll travel to Oxford on Friday for the first of our presidential debates. Our election is in 40 days. Our economy is in crisis, and our nation is fighting two wars abroad. The American people deserve to hear directly from myself and Senator McCain about how we intend to lead our country. The times are too serious to put our campaign on hold, or to ignore the full range of issues that the next President will face.

Since CGI is about deeds, not just words, let me tell you about four specific commitments that I will make on four issues that CGI has focused on - climate change, poverty, education, and health - if I have the opportunity to serve as President of the United States.

Here's how I approach these issues.

We live in a time when our destinies are shared. The world is more intertwined than at any time in human history. Walls that divided old enemies have come down. Markets have opened. The spread of information and technology has reduced barriers to opportunity and prosperity, and opened doors to new competition and risk. We have heard this time and again since the end of the Cold War. And over the last few weeks, this truth has been reinforced anew.

In America, we have seen that there is no dividing line between the ability of folks to live their dreams on Main Street, and the bottom line of investment banks on Wall Street. There is a lesson that cuts across this economic crisis. Prosperity cannot be sustained if it shuts people out. Growth cannot just come from the top down - it must come from the bottom up, with new jobs that pay good wages, and new innovation that creates opportunity across the globe.

And in the 21st century, we must also recognize that it's not just prosperity that comes from the bottom up. Our security is shared as well.

The carbon emissions in Boston or Beijing don't just pollute the immediate atmosphere - they imperil our planet.

Pockets of extreme poverty in Somalia can breed conflict that spills across borders.

The child who goes to a radical madrasa outside of Karachi can end up endangering the security of my daughters in Chicago.

A deadly flu that begins in Indonesia can find its way to Indiana within days.

Climate change. Poverty. Extremism. Disease. These problems offend our common humanity. They also threaten our common security. You know this. The question is what we do about it.

We're not going to face these threats of the future by grasping at the ideas of the past. In many cases, we know what we have to do. We talk about the solutions year after year. This must be the time when we choose not to wait any longer. We must marshal the will. We must see that none of these problems can be dealt with in isolation, nor can we deny one and effectively tackle another. That's why you've come to CGI. Because that's what this moment calls us to do.

No single issue sits at the crossroads of as many currents as energy. Our dependence on oil and gas funds terror and tyranny; it has forced families to pay their wages at the pump; and it puts the future of our planet in peril. This is a security threat, an economic albatross, and a moral challenge of our time. The time to debate whether climate change is manmade has past - it's time, finally, for America to lead.

The first commitment that I'll make today is setting a goal of an 80 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.

To do our part, we'll implement a cap-and-trade program so that there's a price for pollution, and resources to transform our energy economy. I've proposed an investment of $150 billion in alternative energy over ten years, which will create millions of jobs and break the cycle of our addiction to oil. We need to do more than drill. Now is the time to develop every form of alternative energy - solar, wind, and biofuels, as well as technologies that can make coal clean and nuclear power safe. We need to raise fuel economy standards, put more plug-in hybrid cars on the road, and find new ways to be energy efficient.

Abroad, the United States must get off the sidelines. We'll reach out to the leaders of the biggest carbon emitting nations and ask them to join a new Global Energy Forum to lay the foundation for the next generation of climate protocols. We'll build an alliance of oil-importing nations, and work together to reduce our demand, and break the grip of OPEC. And as we develop clean energy, we should share technology and innovations with the nations of the world.

This effort to confront climate change will be part of our strategy to alleviate poverty. Because we know that it is the world's poor who will feel - and who may already be feeling - the affect of a warming planet. If we fail to act, famine could displace hundreds of millions, fueling competition and conflict over basic resources like food and water.

We all have a stake in reducing poverty. There is suffering across the globe that doesn't need to be tolerated in the 21st century. And it leads to pockets of instability that provide fertile breeding grounds for threats like terror and the smuggling of deadly weapons that cannot be contained by the drawing of a border or the distance of an ocean. These aren't simply disconnected corners of an interconnected world. That is why the second commitment that I will make is embracing the Millennium Development Goals, which aim to cut extreme poverty in half by 2015.

This will take more resources from the United States, and as President I will increase our foreign assistance to provide them. But resources must be focused on the right priorities. No one wants to put good money after bad, or ignore the underlying causes at the root of these problems.

We shouldn't just settle for a status quo - anywhere - where you can't start a business without paying a bribe. Corruption wastes our tax dollars. It also ruins lives. This is a human rights issue, and we need to treat it like one.

We shouldn't help those in need without helping them help themselves. That's why I'll partner with the private sector in creating a new fund for Small and Medium Enterprise, so we're investing in ideas that can create growth and jobs in the developing world.

Above all, we must do our part to see that all children have the basic right to learn. There is nothing more disappointing than a child denied the hope that comes with going to school, and there is nothing more dangerous than a child who is taught to distrust and then to destroy.

That's why the third commitment I'll make is working to erase the global primary education gap by 2015. Every child - every boy, and every girl - should have the ability to go to school. To ensure that our nation does its part to meet that goal, we need to establish a two billion dollar Global Education Fund. And I look forward to signing the bipartisan Education for All Act that was first introduced by Hillary Clinton - a true champion for children.

Finally, we must continue the progress that's been made to advance the cause of global health. I've been proud to support the PEPFAR program. I think President Bush - and many of you there today - have shown real leadership in the fight against HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, and malaria. This is a fight that I will continue as President.

Disease stands in the way of progress on so many fronts. It can condemn populations to poverty, and prevent a child from getting an education. And yet far too many people still die of preventable illnesses. Today, I'd like to focus on one: malaria.

We have eliminated malaria in the United States, but nearly one million people around the world still die from a mosquito bite every year. 85 percent of the victims are African children under the age of 5. In Africa, a child dies from a mosquito bite every thirty seconds. Beyond the devastating human toll, malaria weighs down public health systems, setting back global capacity to fight other disease.

So today, I want to join with the global malaria community that is meeting here in New York in making a new commitment: when I am President, we will set the goal of ending all deaths from malaria by 2015. It's time to rid the world of death from a disease that doesn't have to take lives. The United States must lead, and when I am President we will step up our focus on prevention and treatment around the world to get this done.

The first project of my Small and Medium Enterprise fund will be investing in the developing world's capacity to meet the demand for 730 million bednets. We'll also increase access to doctors and nurses through a new program - Health Infrastructure 2020 - that trains medical professionals in countries around the world, and gives them incentives to stay there. And we'll invest in research and development into new vaccines, and ensure that low cost anti-malaria drugs are available everywhere.

This effort must bring together governments from around the world. It must be a public-private partnership that draws on the resources, and ideas, and resilience of business and non-profits and faith groups. It must be a cause for countless individuals, and a common goal that unites us all.

In short, the effort to eradicate malaria must draw on the spirit that drives not simply the commitments at CGI - but the commitment that is visible everywhere that people go to work to make their communities, their country, and our world a better place.

The scale of our challenges may be great. The pace of change may be swift. But we know that it need not be feared. The landscapes of the 21st century are still ours to shape.

We see the potential for progress every time someone starts a job creating new energy, or an idea carries a community out of poverty; we see it every time a girl walks through the doors of a new school, or a boy lives to see another day because he had a simple net around his bed. These are the dreams that we must make our own.

We live in a time when our destinies are shared. But our destinies will be written by us, not for us. Now, it falls to us to get to work.



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