The 2011 Harkin Steak Fry in Indianola, Iowa (September 18, 2011)
The 2011 Harkin Steak Fry in Indianola, Iowa: Senator Bernie Sanders (I) (September 19, 2011)
The 2011 Harkin Steak Fry in Indianola, Iowa: Paul Begala – part 1 (September 20, 2011)
The 2011 Harkin Steak Fry in Indianola, Iowa: Paul Begala – part 2 (September 22, 2011)
“…She saw through the eyes of an immigrant maid who had lived that American dream. And I never forgot that. And the whole ride home that day she left me with these three words. She spoke, by the way, three languages. She was fearsome smart, just not formally educated. But the whole ride home, three words. Only in America. Only in America. And what she meant by that was not the purple mountain’s majesty and the amber waves of grain…”
Paul Begala speaking under the big tent at the Harkin Steak Fry in Indianola, Iowa on September 18, 2011.
Paul Begala was one of the featured speakers at the annual Harkin Steak Fry in Indianola, Iowa on Sunday. The final portion of Paul Begala’s speech:
….Paul Begala: …And, and today, apparently, it’s in the papers, the President is announcing that he is going to call on Congress to pass a Buffett tax, not Jimmy Buffett, [laughter] uh, although with some of my friends you tax a margaritas you make a pile of money. [laughter] Uh, but this is Warren Buffett, the second richest man in America who said, who wrote an op-ed a little while ago and said, raise my taxes. He says, it is unjust that he pays a lower tax rate than his secretary. And it is and he is right and the President is moving to address that now. [applause] God bless [inaudible]. [applause]…
…You know, and all he’s trying to do, I have these right wing friends, all these rich friends, trying to do is, is, we’re trying to do is get this thing moving again. Jump start this thing. ‘Cause here’s the dirty little secret, if we do what the President and, and these senators are trying to do, you know what will happen? We’ll get the middle class moving again. And what happens when the middle class gets moving again? [voices] It lifts people up out of poverty, the American dream lives again, and, guess what, Warren Buffett gets all the richer still. I’m all for it, but the only way to do this is to lift everybody up to get this thing humming again. It’s, see they’re two very, very different approaches to this. Their approach is classic elitism. Right? It’s, it’s, they believe this. Let’s target all of our resources to a tiny elite at the very top and it’ll all trickle down to the rest of us. [voices] Well, we tried that. And it failed. It was the Bernie Madoff strategy basically. [voice: “Yeah.”] Well, we’ll just trust old Bernie and it’ll all come down to the rest of us, right? We have a completely different approach. And that approach says, as we say back home, let’s put the jam on the lower shelf where the little folk can reach it. [laughter] Let’s empower people so that they can live a better life and earn a better income and raise their families and, and everything then moves up. Look, this is what happened the last time Democrats ran the House and the Senate and the White House. We did this. We know how to do this. We balanced the budget and created twenty-three million jobs and ushered in the greatest economic expansion that the whole world had ever seen. And we did it by focusing on the middle class, not on a few elites at the top. [applause] That’s what worked. [cheers] [applause]
You know, I, I mean, it’s, and it’s not that Republicans don’t love the poor. They must, ’cause they’ve created so many of ’em. [voice: “Yeah.”] [laughter] But they have a different view. It’s an honest to God true story. I have a friend in Houston who is a wealthy, wealthy man, but grew up poor. And God bless him, he’s still a Democrat. But he lives in the richest part of town and he told me this story a couple months ago. One of his neighbors came out and they were shooting the breeze. And the neighbor, of course, a big Republican, equally wealthy and grew up poor, and so he says to my friend, well, why do you still help all those Democrats, how can you be a Democrat and their, you’re such a liberal and, you know. Why, basically? And he said, well, heck, you and I both grew up poor, we got into good schools, we’ve lived the American dream and I want, and he looked around and there was a gardener across the street. And he said, well, I want that man, that gardener and his son to live the same dream that we lived, don’t you? And you know what that Republican said? [voices: “No.”] That gardener’s son will be my son’s gardener. [voices: “Yep.” “No.”] Friends, that is their belief. It is the death of the American dream. They believe that the only way they can advance themselves is to tear the rest of you down. [voices: “Yep.” “Fascism.”] And we have a completely different view [voice: “That’s right”], which is, we’re all in this together, friends. We’re one nation, under God, by God, and we’re gonna [applause] go up or down together. And that’s [applause], that’s why this is so profound. It is not even simply a debate about economics ’cause there’s no debate. We know what works, right?
It is also a debate about values. Values matter most. And, and think about how we were raised. And that’s why you’re here today, right? Think about this. And I’ve tried to raise my children this way, and certainly, my parents and, and the teachers and priests and coaches I had raised me this way. And they told me this, I still remember this, what was the first question ever asked in human history, recorded human history? The first question. Well, we know what it was, right, it was in the book of Genesis, right? When Cain and Abel, were the first two children of Adam and Eve, and they both were called upon to sa, to serve up a sacrifice to God. And, and Cain offered some of the fruits of his field and Abel offered like some goats and livestock, I guess the Lord preferred the, the meat. I don’t know [laughter], God’s not a vegetarian, I don’t know why. [laughter] But, Cain was, was thrown into a jealous rage. And so he picked up a rock and he slew Abel. He killed his brother. And so God, who wanted to spark conscience in humanity, he knew, God knows all. And he knew. So he said, though, to Cain, where is your brother? Even though he knew, ’cause he wanted to spark guilty conscience and knowledge of his own, Cain’s own sinfulness. And Cain said to the Lord, God, the first question any human being ever asked, Am I my brother’s keeper? [voice: “Yes.”] Am I my brother’s keeper? And I was raised to believe and I am raising my children to believe that how you answer that question will determine, frankly, whether you are good person or not. Right? [applause] Certainly, what, whether we’re [inaudible] or not. [applause] Am [applause], am I my brother’s keeper? [applause] Am I my sister’s keeper? [applause] And some of our friends have lost sight of that. Or they give the wrong answer, they go, no. No, I’m not, right, if you get work, but you’re on your own. Well, that’s not how I was raised. And that is not, I don’t think, it’s not the real values of, of the real Texas. It’s certainly not the values of Iowa and Iowa families. Because we all know this because we live it. Right?
We got here because we were all in this together. There’s this huge myth that they always say, oh, you know, the self made man. You know, well, actually, particularly out here and certainly out in Texas how did we get here? Well, you know what we did? We all pulled together. And a bunch of strangers, they formed a wagon train, but they all came out together. And they each protected the other. And then they got here and they cleared each other’s fields and they built each other’s barns and then they built a little one room school house and they all chipped in together to help each other. And that’s what they meant when they said, from many one. [voice: “Yep.”] That’s what they meant. And this is, in our time, how we all get here. I mean, I, I, I don’t know about you, but, I mean, I’ve lived this dream. It’s why I’m so passionate about it.
You, know, my grandmother was a maid. She came to this country, she didn’t speak a word of English, she didn’t have a nickel in her pocket, she came from Hungary, but she knew she wanted to be free. And she got the only job she could get. She never even went to a day of high school. But she had a strong work ethic and a great belief in freedom. And she got to America and she started working as a maid. And, you know, because it’s America she didn’t stay a maid. She got on with the phone company, she met an electrician at the phone company, they joined a union at the phone company [cheers][applause][inaudible], and, they had to be paid a minimum wage, they had to be given decent health benefits, they had to, the company had to help pay for their retirement and their pension. They, they were required to give them a safe workplace so that they didn’t lose fingers and hands in the machinery. They were able to send their son, my father, to free public schools, unimaginable in the old country. And my father got a good education and he got a college degree. My grandmother lived to see her son wear a suit and tie every day and be a businessman. She lived to see her grandson go to law school and advise the President of the United States. She was able to live in dignity, in Social Security. When her health needs came up she was able to go to Medicare which she had paid into all of her working life. And she lived the entire American dream. She lived to be ninety-four. And we, we lost her seven years ago so she’d be right almost, just over a hundred right now.
And, and I still remember, best day I ever had, honest to goodness, working the White House. It wasn’t, you know, the state dinners and all of, you know, the proms, and even getting to meet the Pope, which for a faithful Catholic was one of the great moments of my life. It was when I got to bring Grandma Begala to the Oval Office. [laughter] [cheers] [applause] Let me tell you, you talk about the American dream. [applause] And, you know, you can imagine, you know, President Clinton, and that is a room, one, one day you should all go to the Oval Office. It is the most spectacular room I’ve ever been in, believe me. And, I never got used to it I thought. And I had special reverence for it, even though I started every day in that room for a couple of years. And I saw four star generals turn to puddle of goo in that room. [laughter] I mean, it’s an intimidating place. Well, you should have seen Grandma B. She was about five foot nothing [laughter], little spitfire. She comes charging in like she owned the place. She goes over to the fireplace. There’s those two great wingback chairs there and the fireplace. And she says, Mr. President, come here. I said, oh, Grandma, we don’t say that. [laughter] he kind of ambles over, you know. Is this a working fireplace, Mr. President? [laughter] [voice impression] Yes, ma’am. [laughter] Why, why do you ask? [laughter] She said, well, these andirons that hold the log, they’re so clean. What do you use when you polish them, Mr. President? [laughter] Well, she’s a maid, right? She saw through the eyes of an immigrant maid who had lived that American dream. And I never forgot that. And the whole ride home that day she left me with these three words. She spoke, by the way, three languages. She was fearsome smart, just not formally educated. But the whole ride home, three words. Only in America. Only in America. And what she meant by that was not the purple mountain’s majesty and the amber waves of grain. They have those in Hungary. I’ve been.
In fact, I went when the Berlin Wall was coming down I went with a congressional delegation, actually, uh, as a staffer. And, and she didn’t want me to go. She’s like, oh, Paulie, I got you out of there, you don’t need to be going back. [laughter] I said, I think it’s going to be all right. She said, no, no, no, if I had stayed there you’re father, he’d be poor. And you, and she stopped for a second, she said, you, oh, they’d have shot you. [laughter] That, that mouth of yours, honey, they’d a shot you quick. [laughter] I said, Grandma, I believe it’ll be okay. So, she didn’t mean what the poets meant. She meant the moral America. She meant the America that you all have done so much to build, where neighbor cares about neighbor, where people help people, where families lift each other up and hold each other up, and actually even reached down to the people who haven’t come up yet. It is not the America of every man for himself and dog eat dog. It is the America of the founding fathers, it is the America of the people in this tent, and, most of all, it is the America of Tom Harkin and that is why I’m so glad to be fighting with Tom Harkin. God bless you all. [applause] Thank you very much. [applause][cheers]