Speeches by Jim

On Givers and Takers

September 27, 2012
Senator Jim Webb, Virginia Beach, VA

Excerpted from Senator Jim Webb’s speech.

People are worried.  They want to know that America will retain its place as the guarantor of global stability but they’re fed up with unnecessary military adventures.  With schools in need of construction and highways needing repairs here at home they’re no longer interested in spending trillions of their own tax dollars building schools and roads and military bases as we occupy countries like Iraq and Afghanistan.  With a busted economy they want to know that their education will lead to a decent job, that their retirement years will be protected, and that their children and grandchildren will still be living in the greatest and most prosperous nation on earth.  And most of all, they want to live in a country that is founded on fairness and opportunity.

We all want the American dream – unending opportunity at the top if you put things together and you make it, fairness along the way, and a safety net underneath you if you fall on hard times or suffer disability or as you reach your retirement years.  That’s the American Trifecta — opportunity, fairness, and security.  It’s why people from all over the world do whatever they can to come here.
Many of those who need government assistance today want to live the American dream just as much as those who have already made it. That the y don’t think of themselves as part of a culture of dependency, but maybe need a little help here and there so that they might say they are living in a land of opportunity.

The stock market has doubled since this great recession bottomed out.  That doesn’t sound like socialism to me.  As our working people have struggled following the collapse of the economy in the final months of the Bush administration, the people at the very top have continued to separate themselves from the rest of our society.  I’ll say it again.  The stock market has doubled, from 6443 in March of 2009 to 13,430 as of yesterday.  Investors pay a capital gains tax rate of only 15 percent on those profits, and no payroll tax.  Many people here today are still struggling to pay for an education, to find permanent full-time employment, adequate health care, predictable retirement plans.  I doubt your in come has doubled.

Don’t get me wrong.  I want the stock market to double again.  I want investments to grow.  But I want this to happen in an economy where jobs and employment security grow along with it, and where those who have done their fair share can be guaranteed that their retirement years can be spent in a measure of comfort and dignity.

It’s hard to figure out where Governor Romney really is on this.  We’re all familiar by now with his comments about the culture of dependency in our society, in which he claims nearly half of our people don’t pay taxes.  Included in that number, as far as I can tell, are people who paid payroll taxes, plus people who receive social security that they paid into for years, Medicare and veterans benefits.  They’re calling these people takers rather than givers.

Let me say something about veterans’ benefits.  I grew up in the military.  My dad was a pilot who served in World War II and the Berlin Airlift, among other assignments.  I was a Marine.  My brother was a Marine.  My son was a Marine.  And I’ve worked on veterans issues my entire adult lifetime.

Governor Romney and I are about the same age.  Like millions of others in our generation we came to adulthood facing the harsh realities of the Vietnam War.  2.7 million in our age group went to Vietnam, a war which eventually took the lives of 58,000 young Americans and cost another 300,000 wounded.  The Marine Corps lost 100,000 killed or wounded in that war.  During the year I was in Vietnam, 1969, our country lost twice as many dead as we have lost in Iraq and Afghanistan combined over the past ten years of war.  1968 was worse.  1967 was about the same.  Not a day goes by when I do not think about the young Marines I was privileged to lead.

This was a time of conscription, where every American male was eligible to be drafted.  People made choices about how to deal with the draft, and about military service.  I have never envied or resented any of the choices that were made as long as they were done within the law.  But those among us who stepped forward to face the harsh unknowns and the lifelong changes that can come from combat did so with the belief that their service would be honored, and that our leaders would, in the words of President Abraham Lincoln, care for those who had borne the battle, and for their widows and their children.

Those young Marines that I led have grown older now.  They’ve lived lives of courage, both in combat and after their return, where many of them were derided by their own peers for having served.  That was a long time ago.  They are not bitter.  They know what they did.  But in receiving veterans’ benefits, they are not takers.  They were givers, in the ultimate sense of that word.  There is a saying among war veterans: “All gave some, some gave all.”  This is not a culture of dependency.  It is a part of a long tradition that gave this country its freedom and independence.  They paid, some with their lives, some through wounds and disabilities, some through their emotional scars, some through the lost opportunities and delayed entry into civilian careers which had already begun for many of their peers who did not serve.

And not only did they pay.  They will not say this, so I will say it for them.  They are owed, if nothing else, at least a mention, some word of thanks and respect, when a Presidential candidate who is their generational peer makes a speech accepting his party’s nomination to be Commander in Chief.  And they are owed much more than that – a guarantee that we will never betray the commitment that we made to them and to t heir loved ones.

This is true for our younger veterans as well, so many of whom are the sons and daughters of those who served in other eras, as with my son, who left college to enlist as an infantry private in the Marine Corps and fought in Ramadi during some of the darkest days of the Iraq War.  It is the reason that I worked so hard from my first day in office to write and pass the Post-9/11 GI Bill, giving those who’ve served a chance for a first-class future.  As of today more than 800,000 Iraq and Afghanistan era veterans have been able to use this new GI Bill.

Our very system is being challenged by a handful of economic monarchists who are throwing tens of millions of dollars into this race.  This is America; they are welcome to their views.  But their flood of money is perverting our democratic process.  This is exactly what our campaign finance laws were designed to prevent.  It is not healthy.  We are being challenged, as Americans.  We must either meet this challenge or accept that the United States of America has descended into a financially based aristocracy.