Transcript of 9 September speech in Watertown, New York at fundraiser for Dr. Bob Johnson

Source: Perceval Press

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Transcript of 9 Sept. speech in Watertown, New York at fundraiser for Dr. Bob Johnson, Democratic party candidate for congress:

"Thank you for coming here this evening to support Dr. Bob Johnson's campaign, or at least to give him a fair hearing. It is an honour to be back in Watertown to lend a hand with his positive and forward-looking run for congress in the 23rd District. I know that I am in the right place for the right reason tonight. I recognize some familiar faces from the schools I attended in the North Country, Watertown High School and St. Lawrence University. I also am aware of the fact that a few brave Yankee fans and Republicans have come out to see what the fuss over Bob Johnson is about. We Mets fans bid you a sincere welcome.

A couple of days ago, a man wrote a letter to the Watertown Daily Times saying, in effect, that he would not vote for Bob Johnson just because Viggo Mortensen thought he ought to. He was absolutely right. I hope he and everyone else, including all of you in this room, will educate yourselves about the issues and make up your own minds as to how you wish to vote in November. In his letter, the gentleman also used a Robert Heinlein quote to imply that my field of knowledge, owing to my profession, was relatively narrow. I am an actor, in case you did not know. I did not say: "I am just an actor". I said: "I am an actor." I do not need to apologise for my line of work, which in fact involves regular efforts to try and see the world we live in from points-of-view different than my own. Neither do I need to apologise for volunteering to help Bob Johnson receive the necessary media exposure to have his views heard more widely in this congressional district. I do not live in a Beverly Hills mansion. I do my own laundry, my own dishes, and take out the trash. I clean my house as often as seems necessary - not that I am overly meticulous about it, as friends and family can attest to. I am an active and engaged parent, and do my best as a citizen to stay informed about current events. It does not matter if I am an actor, a plumber, a teacher, or anything else. It does not matter if I am employed and relatively well-off, or under-employed and economically disadvantaged as so many people in this part of the country are. I am a citizen of the United States of America, whose government is meant to be "of the people, by the people, and for the people". I vote, and I pay close attention to what politicians say and even closer attention to what they do. I try to keep in mind the admonition of the great teacher Plato: "One of the penalties of refusing to be involved in politics is that you end up being governed by your inferiors." We have certainly seen the proof of that statement in this country over the last five years or so.

It has been encouraging to see the positive reception that Bob Johnson has had over the last two days in the eastern and western ends of the district during our stops in the Plattsburgh and Oswego areas. I am only too aware of the fact that the people of Watertown and of Jefferson County share a serious problem with people of all the other counties in the 23rd District: you desperately need a new congressman. You deserve a representative who is truly in touch with your needs and concerns. A leader, like Dr. Johnson, who will not only listen to your suggestions and seriously consider the problems you face, but who will also address them constructively in Washington, D.C.

On some level it was flattering to learn of Republican candidate John McHugh's recent attacks on Bob Johnson for gaining my support. In a rather desperate effort to mislead voters, McHugh accused Bob Johnson of having to go to Hollywood for help because of a supposed lack of locally-connected support for his campaign. As most people in this area know, I, like Mr. McHugh, am a product of Watertown , N.Y. and its public school system. Also reasonably well-known is the fact that I attended St. Lawrence University in Canton, N.Y., and that I have family in the area that I regularly visit. Either John McHugh was out of touch with what people in his own district are well-aware of, or he was deliberately misleading voters. Neither possibility speaks well for him as a candidate that might seek to claim a measure of integrity and local relevance.

Obviously, in spite of McHugh's overwhelming advantage in terms of funding and, consequently, media access in this race, he and his handlers are apparently worried that I or anyone else might help bring Dr. Johnson's common-sense, persuasive views to the voting public. They no doubt understand that, were funds and media access equal for both candidates, the lack of substance and regional relevance of Mr. McHugh's positions on most all significant issues would likely pale in comparison to the well-reasoned and sensible positions put forward by Dr. Johnson. At least one debate, if not two or three, between the two candidates would be of great service to voters. Perhaps it is not too late to arrange this.

While we are on the subject of being responsive to the people in the 23rd Congressional District, I would hasten to point out that approximately 95% of John McHugh's campaign funds come not only from outside of this district, but outside of New York State altogether. Significantly, these funds come from defense contractors and large pharmaceutical companies - powerful interest groups that have little if any concern for the real issues facing voters in this district. On the other hand, 95% of Bob Johnson's campaign funds come from within this district, and always from individual contributors. He will not accept financial contributions from political action committees or corporations of any kind. The resulting disparity of a nearly 10 to 1 ratio in favour of Mr. McHugh has, however, been slightly reduced in recent weeks thanks to the generosity of individual supporters like those present here this evening.

There is a kind of "Catch-22" situation that arises in our country's system of campaign financing: with a certain, considerable amount of money a candidate can buy television and radio access in order to advertise themselves and their positions. This media exposure tends, if the candidate can look and sound reasonably intelligent and pleasant, to attract more financial contributions, which buy more media access, which attracts more contributions, and so on. Without that certain, considerable amount of money in the first place, a congressional candidate is largely out of luck as far as reaching the greater voting public in his or her district goes. Although Bob Johnson has probably worked twice as hard as his opponent to repeatedly criss-cross this district in order to directly reach as many voters as possible, it will be very difficult for him to compete effectively with John McHugh if he does not gain regular access to television and radio advertising. We are here this evening in an effort to get Bob Johnson a little closer to being able to fund a significant media campaign.

Being beholden to out-of-state corporate pharmaceutical and defense industry interests, as Mr. McHugh's voting record has clearly shown him to be, does not motivate him to take a real and consistent interest in the concerns that people in the 23rd Congressional district have over the serious deficiencies of our health care system, or in the concerns of the average man or woman serving in the military. It is not enough to pose for photos at a hospital or at Fort Drum. Speaking of Fort Drum: Mr. McHugh has more than once taken credit for its continued existence, and the resulting economic benefits to the district. For the sake of accuracy, it must be pointed out that Fort Drum continues to exist, and the 10th Mountain Division continues to make its home there because the military authorities in our country think it a good idea - not because of anything Mr. McHugh might do or say, and not because of anything that Bob Johnson might do or say either. The difference between the two candidates is that Dr. Johnson would never stoop so low as to take such credit.

It is, in fact, tiresome to see Mr. McHugh continually wrap himself in the flag and use military personnel as backdrops for his photo opportunities, as so many George Bush Republicans across the country have a habit of doing. Dr. Johnson, who actually volunteered and served in the U.S. Army as a Lieutenant Colonel at the time of the first Gulf War, has a practical understanding of the needs of U.S. servicemen and -women. He has also had the courage to support our troops by demanding, as other brave individuals like former Marine John Murtaugh of Pennsylvania has, that they be used wisely and properly equipped for combat. Bob Johnson has been clear about backing a real and consistent pursuit of those responsible for the attacks on the United States on the 11th of September, 2001, fully supporting the hunt for Osama Bin Laden and his cohorts in Afghanistan and elsewhere. He has also, unlike George Bush's yes-men, which unfortunately include John McHugh, had the courage to speak out strongly against the tragically misguided invasion of Iraq and the totally unnecessary, wasteful ongoing occupation of that country. Like any sensible candidate, or any responsible American citizen, Bob Johnson believes we should never carelessly spend the people's money or the people's blood.

Bob Johnson would never attempt, as Mr. Bush and Mr. McHugh have in the lead-up to recent elections, to effectively stake a claim to "9/11" by using the tragedies visited on our country on that day five years ago as a test of absolute, unswerving allegiance to their narrow, partisan political agendas. Neither George Bush nor anyone else in the Republican party or any other party owns those tragic events or their symbols. It is in the poorest taste for Bush Republicans to have repeatedly attempted to do this. It is a grave insult to the memories of those who perished as a result of the terrorist attacks on that day, as well as being an ongoing affront to the friends and families that survive them. This effrontery alone ought to disqualify those culpable of using "9/11" as an all-purpose campaign slogan and moral battering ram from holding any office.

It is interesting to note that Mr. McHugh has of late attempted, like so many other Bush Republicans across the country, to gently distance himself from Mr. Bush and his administration's failing records in foreign policy matters, management of the economy, the environment, and most any significant national or regional issue. He has attempted to do this by calling himself a "moderate", which he most certainly is not, and by making much of his relatively minor differences of opinion with Mr. Bush on a couple of non-pivotal matters. Voters, however, are no longer buying Mr. McHugh's tired, nationally interchangeable and locally meaningless soundbites that can be heard from all Bush loyalists across the country. Please do not think that I have a personal dislike for John McHugh. I do not really know him, but I certainly have a soft spot for him since we both can call Watertown "home". I've heard that he is a nice man, who speaks nicely and is apparently unfailingly polite. "Nice", however, does not suffice. Although, contrary to received wisdom, "nice" guys like John McHugh have in fact often finished first in recent elections, this has meant that the people have finished last.

I know that Dr. Johnson will speak more specifically and eloquently to the important issues of the campaign than I have. Before presenting him, I would leave you with this: A good, responsible candidate must represent the people, and be answerable to them for guidance and support - not beholden to large out-of-state corporate interests as John McHugh is. We are very fortunate to have Bob Johnson running in this district. He is not a professional, well-subsidized, career politician. He is a full-time doctor and an army veteran who cares, a concerned citizen who is offering his time and passion to you, not to Big Business. He deserves and will continue to earn your support, as he has mine. Please join me in welcoming the next congressman from New York's 23rd District - Dr. Bob Johnson."
Last edited: 23 September 2006 12:21:23
© Viggo Mortensen. Used by permission.