'We can do it, with your help'


THIS WEEK, AS we wait for the torch to pass from one administration to another, we stand at the threshold of great opportunity. At noon on Wednesday, people worldwide will witness not just the inauguration of the new U.S. president, but an American Reunion: new beginnings and renewed hope. Buoyed by the spirit of the people that I met throughout the campaign, I am confident we can fulfill the promise this opportunity offers.

To those who voted for me in the election, I say, "Thank you" -- for your support, and for having the courage to change. To those of you who supported one of my competitors, I say, "Give us a chance." Our country can do better, and with your help we will create more jobs, improve education, make health care more accessible and affordable, protect the environment and leave our children a better than we ourselves inherited. It will take work. But as afriend of mine once said: Next to love, the greatest gift a person can give is labor. And I will work for our country.

During the presidential campaign, as I traveled from small towns in New Hampshire to the streets of Los Angeles, I met men and women who were ready to believe again and who were hopeful about what we could accomplish.

Somewhere at this very moment another child is born in America. Let it be our cause to give that child a happy home, a healthy family and a hopeful future. Let us work to see that child reach the fullest of her God-given abilities, to grow up strong and secure. Let her be braced by life's challenges but never struggling alone, with family and friends and a faith that in America no one is left out, no one is left behind.

I want to bring our diverse country together, take that collective energy and move the United States to even greater heights. Think of what we can accomplish if we stop turning against each other and begin working together. With your help, we can embark on a new path for our country: one of hope, unity and economic opportunity. There are steps that must be taken, and the government can help:

Restoring America's economic vitality will be the first priority of my administration. I pledge to create a high-growth, smart-work, high-wage economy that will put America on top again. Our global competitors succeed because they educate their people better and invest more in their future. My economic philosophy starts with the values that built America: providing opportunity, taking responsibility, rewarding work, encouraging entrepreneurship, and investing in people and products.

Another cornerstone of my plan to rebuild America also is one of the great passions of my life: education. We've done a good job of improving the quality of education in Arkansas, and I will seek to institute similar reforms on a national scale. By fully funding Head Start, I will ensure that our children are ready to learn when they enter school. I will establish tough standards and a national examination system in core subjects, attempting to level the playing field for disadvantaged students. In Arkansas, I gave every parent the right to choose the public school that his or her child attends; this is a step I will urge other states to take.

Windows of opportunity must also be opened for students after high school. I want to give every young American the chance either to go to college or learn a trade. Under my administration, students who want to go to college will be lent the money to do so through a National Service Trust Fund, regardless of family income. Students who borrow money will pay it back either as a small percentage of their income over time, or through working in their communities as teachers or law enforcement officers, or in other needed roles. For high-school graduates who don't go on to college, I will join with business, labor and education leaders to develop a national apprenticeship program. This program will offer non-college-bound students the skills they will need to get and keep good jobs. Finally, I will give teenage dropoutS a second chance by developing a Youth Opportunity Corps, which will match dropouts with adults who will help them develop self-discipline and learn a trade.

There are other things we need to do to improve the quality of life for Americans both young and old.

We must recognize that health care is a right, not a privilege. One of the top priorities of my administration will be to send to Congress a health-care plan that will control skyrocketing costs without reducing the high quality of care all Americans deserve.

Americans have been divided by the politics of the past. But if we work together to improve the economy, education and health we, the backbone of our nation will be strengthened, and we will have gone a long way toward improving relations among all Americans.

We need not feel intimidated by what lies before us. Rather, we must see the possibilities open to us and get to work with the knowledge that we can accomplish anything we set our minds to: economic prosperity, increased opportunity and a better life for all Americans. In this time of new beginnings, there is nothing to stop us. We can do it, with your help.

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