“America’s Choices: Why the Conventional Wisdom Is Wrong”
National Press Club
January 19, 2011
Good morning and thank you. I’m honored to stand beside firefighter Stan Trojanowski, who responded to a 9-1-1 call from the World Trade Center moments after the terrorist attacks in 2001. As America grieved, Stan returned to the scene day after day, first in the hopes of rescuing those trapped in the rubble, then to recover remains of those who had perished. Today, he continues to deal with the terrible aftermath of that terrible day, as he deals with the toll his bravery and commitment have taken on his health.
Last month, Stan and other firefighters, police officers and construction workers who answered the call that day—who ran into the fire and into the dust clouds—posed a question to our elected leaders: What kind of country are we?
For seven years they had pressed for a law that would do one simple thing—take care of the heroes who got sick because of their selfless acts, who suffered because they said yes, without hesitation, when America needed them. But for seven years, our leaders would not say yes in return.
Congratulations, Stan, for finally succeeding.
The question of how our political system treated our 9-11 heroes like Stan resonates still in this new year: What kind of country are we? A country of isolated individuals fending for themselves or a country with shared values and a shared vision? A country with scant resources, fading glory and no choices? Or a blessed nation with the potential to do right by its people and be a leader in the world?
The conventional wisdom in Washington and in statehouses around the nation is that we cannot afford to be the country we want to be. That could not be more wrong.
We can and should be building up the American middle class – not tearing it down. We should be honoring the heroes of 9-11, not turning them into scapegoats for a partisan political messaging operation. We should act like the wealthy, compassionate, imaginative country we are – not try to turn ourselves into a third-rate, impoverished “has-been.” The labor movement hasn’t given up on America – and we don’t expect our leaders to either.