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Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton Responds to the Open Letter

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Dear Mr. Simmons, Mr. Chopra, and Dr. Chavis:

You know, as do Americans throughout our country, that the stakes in this election couldn't be higher. We face enormous challenges - our economy is sliding into a recession, middle-class families are struggling to make ends meet, our schools are failing our children, and we have a war to end and alliances to rebuild all around the world. The next President must be ready to solve these problems from day one - ready to expand opportunity for all Americans and fulfill America's promise of justice and equality.

That's what I have done for more than 35 years as a lawyer, an advocate for children and families, a First Lady, and a Senator - and it is what I will continue to do every day as President.

Below are my thoughts on the six issues you have asked me to address.

1. How do you view the importance of being open to welcome and to encourage a more inclusive political dialogue with those who may be at the margins of the political establishment or with those who may be at the distant edges of the perceived rigidity of the mainstream political parties?

When I joined this race, I said I wanted to begin a conversation. That statement was not just about my campaign - but about the kind of leadership I want to bring to this country. For seven years, we have had a government of the few, by the few, and for the few. We have been told that dissent is unpatriotic and that those who disagree with the President don't love our country.

That is the opposite of everything I stand for and everything I've worked for over the course of my life. I believe that there is nothing more patriotic than speaking out for what you believe in. And I believe we have a fundamental moral obligation to listen to the voices of those who are too often silenced and unheard.

That was my goal when, after graduating from law school, I took a job at the Children's Defense Fund and went door to door in New Bedford, Massachusetts, trying to figure out why so many children were not enrolled in school. What I discovered was heartbreaking - children who were blind or deaf or in wheelchairs, kept out of school because of their disabilities. They wanted to learn and they wanted to succeed - but they were never given the chance and they had no one speaking up for them. So we wrote a report and helped create the momentum for legislation requiring public schools to give children with disabilities the education they need and deserve.

I believe that is the role of the President - to look beyond the official explanations and easy answers to the realities of people's lives and to give everyone a voice, especially to those on the margins and in the shadows.

That means restoring the federal government's historical role as a champion of civil rights and voting rights and renewing our fight against prejudice and discrimination, including prosecuting hate crimes to the fullest possible extent. It also means building an economy where how you start out doesn't determine where you end up - where everyone has the opportunity to realize their dreams. But when half of our African-American and Hispanic students never finish high school, we are far from reaching this goal. This is nothing short of a crisis, and as President, I will make it my mission to address it by providing pre-kindergarten education so that children start school ready to learn, by providing mentorship programs to ensure that they keep learning, and by making college affordable for students from all backgrounds.

2. How do you view the importance of diversity in our representative, constitutional democracy?

In his "Letter from a Birmingham Jail," Dr. Martin Luther King wrote, "We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly."

We are all tied together, and I believe that we cannot move forward as a nation unless we all move forward together. That's why it is so important that the voices of all our people are heard in our government.

For me, diversity isn't just an issue of bringing more voices to the conversation or different voices - though both those things are important. It's also about bringing the best voices and the brightest minds - the people who have the most to offer. And the way you do that is by bringing in people with a diverse set of life experiences and a diverse set of talents.
Again and again, starting from back when I was First Lady in Arkansas to First Lady in the White House to a member of the U.S. Senate to a candidate for President, I have benefited by surrounding myself with people from all different backgrounds. That's how I have broadened my perspectives and challenged my assumptions. That's how I have assembled the very best team.

I've put together perhaps the most diverse presidential campaign in American history, and I'm committed to having the most diverse administration in our history.

And as President, I will lead America to live up to our highest ideals. I will support strong and sensible affirmative action. I will call upon corporate America to be as diverse as the customers it serves. I will reverse the staffing cuts to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and strengthen the employment section of the Civil Rights Division. And I will make diversity at every level of our government a personal priority.

3. How will you use the office of President of the United States to work with the United Nations and other bodies to respond to the issue of global warming and to protect, nurture and respect the environment?

Climate change is the biggest challenge we have faced in a generation. It is a challenge to our economy, to our security, to our health, and to our planet. It threatens our very way of life. It's time for America to meet this challenge, and when I am President, we will.

Success will require every one of us to do our part - the government, oil companies, power companies, auto companies, businesses, and individuals. Every American has a role to play and every American must fulfill it. And with the right kind of leadership, a true American response to climate change offers a way to heal the partisan divide that has paralyzed our politics and compromised our future.

But climate change is a global problem, and it will require a global solution. That's why I will immediately engage with the United Nations and the world to tackle this it head-on. The United States will no longer be standing in the way - we will be leading the way.

I will personally lead on this issue. My administration will work to develop a new international agreement to replace the Kyoto treaty, which expires in 2012. And I will get on the phone to any world leader and get on the plane to any meeting to do whatever it takes reach a new agreement. I believe strongly that we need a new pact in 2009.

I will also encourage the G-8 nations and key developing countries to join the United States in establishing an "E-8." This group would be comprised of the world's major carbon-emitting nations and would hold an annual summit devoted to international ecological and resource issues - global warming foremost among them.

As we lead in the world, we need to do our part here at home. I have laid out a comprehensive strategy to reduce America's greenhouse gas emissions 80 percent from 1990 levels by 2050, the level necessary to avoid the worst impacts of global warming.

I will create a new cap-and-trade program to establish an overall framework for reducing greenhouse gas emissions. I will also increase fleet-wide fuel economy standards to 40 miles per gallon by 2020 and 55 miles per gallon by 2030.

Finally, I will invest $15 billion each year in new energy, including creating a Strategic Energy Fund that will support research, development, and deployment of renewable and alternative energy sources. And I'll pay for it by requiring the oil companies to either invest in alternative energy or pay into the fund.

4. Specifically, what is your plan of action to eliminate poverty in America?

The persistence of poverty in the richest nation on earth is one of our great shames. No one should go hungry in America. No one should be without health care in America. No one should be homeless in America.

But millions of Americans are living in poverty - and they are not only struggling day to day but they have also been forgotten by their leaders. To end poverty, we must start by ending this epidemic of indifference.

When I'm President, I'll address poverty head-on.

First, we will care for the poor, the sick, the disabled, and others who cannot care for themselves. We will do this by providing health care for all, by strengthening our social safety nets, and increasing food stamps to combat hunger.

Second, we will reward work for those who are capable of working. No parent who works full-time should have to raise his or her children in poverty. I will expand child care assistance; increase the Earned Income Tax Credit, which has been called the greatest anti-poverty program ever created; support unions, which allow workers to bargain collectively for higher wages and better working conditions; and increase the minimum wage. And I will create new jobs by investing in old and new industries, like manufacturing as well as alternative energy.

Finally, I will work to restore opportunity in America. I will create a high-quality early childhood education system so every child starts school ready to learn. I will invest in proven K-12 reforms, reduce the dropout rate, and make college affordable for everyone who wants to go. I will also provide more opportunities for lifelong learning, so those who need to acquire additional skills later in life won't be held back.

I will also help families who are struggling in today's economy - I will help put home ownership back in reach for low-income Americans, protect families from predatory lenders, provide assistance to help families pay their skyrocketing energy bills, and help people save for their future.

Eliminating poverty won't be easy, but we can do it. One of my husband's proudest accomplishments is that during his administration, poverty dropped to its lowest level in two decades and seven million families were lifted out of poverty. We've slid dramatically backwards since then, but the right policies can make a difference.

I'll bring to this work a lifetime of fighting to increase opportunity. For 35 years, I have worked to listen to those whose voices are often unheard or ignored. From representing abused and neglected children as a young lawyer to serving on the board of the Children's Defense Fund to helping create the Early Head Start program and the Children's Health Insurance Program as First Lady, I have always fought to ensure that every American can reach his or her full potential.

5. What do you intend to do to end the war in Iraq?

If President Bush does not end the war in Iraq, when I am President, I will. This war has taken from us more than 3,900 of our bravest men and women - our sons and daughters - and it is costing us more than $300 million a day. It is sapping our military strength, absorbing our strategic assets, diverting attention and resources from Afghanistan, alienating our allies, and dividing our people.

I have a three-point plan to end the war in Iraq as quickly and responsibly as possible: bring our troops home, work to bring stability to the region, and replace military force with a new diplomatic initiative to engage countries around the world in securing Iraq's future.

One of my first official actions as President will be to convene the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the Secretary of Defense, and the National Security Council and direct them to draw up a clear, viable plan to start bringing our troops home within the first 60 days of my administration. I will also redirect aid to provincial governments and reliable non-governmental organizations that are making progress in bringing stability and building political reconciliation. And I will begin intensive regional and international diplomacy, including convening a regional stabilization group composed of key allies, other global powers, and all the states bordering Iraq. A vital component of this diplomacy will be to address the refugee crisis exploding in the region. To this end, I will work with other countries to ensure that asylum seekers can find sanctuary, and I will help organize a multibillion dollar international relief effort, to be led by the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, to aid the roughly two million refugees and the two million internally displaced persons in Iraq.

6. As President of the United States, how will you exemplify leadership domestically and internationally toward the fulfillment of "the beloved community"?

I believe that at the heart of Dr. King's ideal of the beloved community is the notion that we are all connected - that we are all on the same journey, that the only way forward is together, and that our freedom is never fully realized until it's fully shared. My faith teaches me that we fulfill this vision by answering the call to love one another - the kind of love described in Corinthians that "bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things." Love that is strong enough to serve as the foundation and motivation for action. Because Scripture also tells us we cannot just be hearers of the word, we must be doers, and that "faith without works is dead."

If we truly love our brothers and sisters, we can no longer tolerate 36 million of them living in poverty, 47 million of them living without health care, and so many millions who never have the chance to fulfill their God-given potential. Because while we may have an income gap, and a health care gap, and an achievement gap, there is one thing we don't have: A potential gap.

As President, it will be my mission to capture that potential and inspire a movement of works to build the beloved community. That means creating good jobs with good wages, because no hardworking mother or father should ever have to raise a child in poverty. It means building an education system worthy of our children, from pre-kindergarten all the way to affordable college, so that every child will have the tools to build the life of his or her dreams. It means finally providing health care for every American, because it is a disgrace that a sick child in this country can't see a doctor and that many people receive their primary care in an emergency room. And that means ending the war in Iraq and restoring America's moral voice and moral leadership around the world.

We have our work cut out for us. There is no precedent for the challenges we face today. This is uncharted territory. But that is always the place where progress is made. We've learned over these past 220 years that perfecting our democracy isn't easy - but we get better as we go. And I know that we will find our way together, we will defy the odds together, and, together, we will fulfill the promise of this country that we love.

Thank you for your time.

Sincerely,

Hillary Rodham Clinton