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June 15, 2011

The American Century

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Mr. RUBIO. Mr. President, I have the honor of representing the people of the great State of Florida here in the Senate, and today I speak for the first time on this floor on their behalf.

The Senate is a long ways away from where I come from, both literally and figuratively. I come from a hard-working and humble family, one that was neither wealthy nor connected. Yet I have always considered myself to be a child of privilege because growing up I was blessed with two very important things: I was raised by a strong and stable family, and I was blessed to be born here in the United States of America.

America began from a very powerful truth--that our rights as individuals do not come from our government, they come from our God. Government's job is to protect those rights. And here, this Republic, has done that better than any government in the history of the world.

Now, America is not perfect. It took a bloody civil war to free over 4 million African Americans who lived in slavery. It took another 100 years before they achieved full equality under the law. But since its earliest days, America has inspired people from all over the world, inspired them with the hope that one day their own countries would be one like this one.

Many others decided they could not wait, and so they came here from everywhere to pursue their dreams and to work to leave their children better off than themselves. The result was the American miracle--a miracle where a 16-year-old boy from Sweden, with no English in his vocabulary and $5 in his pocket, saved enough money to open a shoestore. Today, that store, Nordstrom's, is a multibillion-dollar global retail giant; a miracle that led to a young couple with no money and no business experience opening a toy company out of the garage of their home. Today, that company, Mattel, is one of the world's largest toy manufacturers; a miracle where the French-born son of Iranian parents created a Web site called AuctionWeb in the living room of his home. Today, that company, known as eBay, stands as a testament to the familiar phrase ``only in America.''

These are just three examples of Americans whose extraordinary success began with nothing more than an idea. But it is important to remember that the American dream was never just about how much money you made; it is also about something that typifies my home State of Florida: the desire of every parent to leave their children with a better life. It is a dream lived by countless people whose stories will never be told, people--Americans--who never made $1 million. They never owned a yacht or a plane or a second home. Yet they too live the American dream because through their hard work and sacrifice, they were able to open doors for their children that had been closed for them.

It is the story of the people who clean our offices here in this building, who work hard so that one day their children can go to college. It is the story of the men and women who serve our meals in this building, who work hard so that one day their children can accomplish their own dreams.

It is the story of a bartender and a maid in Florida. Today, their son serves here in the Senate and stands as a proud witness of the greatness of this land.

Becoming a world power was never America's plan, but that is exactly what the American economic miracle made her. Most great powers have used their strength to conquer, but America is different. For us, our power always has come with a sense that those to whom much is given, much is expected; a sense that with the blessings God bestowed upon this land came the responsibility to make the world a better place. And in the 20th century, that is precisely and exactly what America did. America led in two world wars so that others could be free. America led in the Cold War to stop the spread of and ultimately defeat communism. While our military and foreign policy contributions helped save the world, it was our economic and cultural innovations that helped transform it.

The fruits of the American miracle can be found in the daily lives of people everywhere. Anywhere in the world, someone uses a mobile phone, e-mail, the Internet, or GPS; they are enjoying the benefits of the American miracle. Anywhere in the world where a bone marrow, lung, or heart transplant saves a life, they are touched by the value of the American miracle. On one night in July of 1969, the world witnessed the American miracle firsthand, for on that night an American walked

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on the surface of the Moon, and it was clear to the world that these Americans could do anything.

Now, clearly America's rise was not free of adversity. We faced a civil rights struggle that saw Governors defy Presidents; that saw police dogs attack innocent, peaceful protestors; that saw little children murdered in churches by bombs. We faced two oil crises. America faced Watergate. America faced American hostages in Iran.

I grew up in the 1980s, a time when it was morning in America. Yet even then we faced the war on drugs. We lost soldiers in Beirut and astronauts on the Challenger. We faced a devastating oilspill in Alaska and a terrifying new disease called AIDS. Through challenges and triumphs, the 20th century was the American century--a century where America's political, economic, and cultural exceptionalism made the world a more prosperous and peaceful place.

But now we find ourselves in a new century, and there is this growing sense that for America, things will never be the same, that maybe this century will belong to someone else. Indeed, we do now stand at a turning point in our history, one where there are only two ways forward for us: We will either bring on another American century or we are doomed to witness America's decline.

Another American century is fully within our reach because there is nothing wrong with our people. The American people haven't forgotten how to start a business. The American people haven't run out of good ideas. We Americans are as great as we have ever been. But our government is broken, and it is keeping us from doing what we have done better than any people in the history of the world--create jobs and prosperity.

If we here in Washington could just find agreement on a plan to get control of our debt, if we could just make our Tax Code simpler and more predictable, if we could just get the government to ease up on some of these onerous regulations, the American people will take care of the rest.

If this government will do its part, this generation of Americans will do theirs. They will give us a prosperous, upwardly mobile economy, one where our children will invent, build, and sell things to a world where more people than ever can afford to buy them. If we give America a government that can live within its means, the American economy will give us a government of considerable means, a government that can afford to pay for things government should be doing because it does not waste money on the things government should not be doing.

If we can deliver on a few simple but important things, we have the chance to do something that is difficult to imagine is even possible--an America whose future will be greater than her past. Sadly, that is not where we are headed. We have made no progress on the issues of our time because, frankly, we have too many people in both parties who have decided that the next election is more important than the next generation. And our lack of progress on these issues has led to something even more troubling--a growing fear that maybe these problems are too big for us to solve, too big for even America.

Well, there is no reason to be afraid. Our story, the story of America, is not the story of a nation that never faced problems. It is the story of a nation that faced its challenges and solved them. Our story, the story of the American people, is not the story of a people who always got it right; it is the story of a people who in the end got it right.

We should never forget who we Americans are. Every single one of us is the descendant of a go-getter, of dreamers and of believers, of men and women who took risks and made sacrifices because they wanted their children to live better off than themselves. So whether they came here on the Mayflower, on a slave ship, or on an airplane from Havana, we are all descendants of the men and women who built the Nation that saved the world.

We are still the great American people, and the only thing standing in the way of our solving our problems is our willingness to do so. And whether we do so is of great consequence not just to us but to the whole world. I know some now say that because times are very tough at home, we can no longer afford to worry about what happens abroad, that maybe America needs to mind its own business. Well, whether we like it or not, there is virtually no aspect of our daily lives that is not directly impacted by what happens in the world around us. We can choose to ignore global problems, but global problems will not ignore us.

One of my favorite speeches is one that talks about our role in the world. It was the speech President Kennedy was set to give had he lived just 1 more day, and it closes with these words:

We in this country, in this generation, are--by destiny rather than by choice--the watchmen on the walls of world freedom. We ask, therefore, that we may be worthy of our power and responsibility, that we may exercise our strength with wisdom and restraint, and that we may achieve in our time and for all time the ancient vision of ``peace on Earth, good will toward men.'' That must always be our goal, and the righteousness of our cause must always underlie our strength. For as was written long ago, ``except the Lord keep the city, the watchman waketh but in vain.''

Almost a half century later, America is still the only watchman on the wall of world freedom, and there is still no one to take our place.

What will the world look like if America declines? Well, today people all over the world are forced to accept a familiar lie, that the price of security is their liberty. If America declines, who will serve as living proof that liberty, security, and prosperity can all exist together?

Today, radical Islam abuses and oppresses women, has no tolerance for other faiths, and it seeks to impose its will on the whole world. If America declines, who will stand up to them and defeat them?

Today, children are used as soldiers and trafficked as slaves. Dissidents are routinely imprisoned without trial, and they are subjected to torture and forced into confessions and labor. If America declines, what nation on Earth will take these causes as their own?

What will the world look like if America declines? Who is going to create the innovations of the 21st century? Who will stretch the limits of human potential and explore the new frontiers? And if America declines, who will do all these things and ask for nothing in return, motivated solely by the desire to make the world a better place?

The answer is, no one will. There is still no nation or institution on this planet that is willing or able to do what America has done.

Ronald Reagan famously described America as a shining city on a hill. Now, some say that we can no longer afford the price we must pay to keep America's light shining. Others like to say there are new shining cities that will soon replace us. I say they are both wrong.

Yes, the price we are going to pay to keep America's light shining is high. But the price we will pay if America's light stops shining is even higher.

Yes, there are new nations emerging with prosperity and influence. That is what we always wanted. America never wanted to be the only shining city on the hill. We wanted our example to inspire the people of the Earth to build one of their own. You see, these nations, these new emerging nations, these new shining cities, we hope they will join us. But they can never replace us because their light is but a reflection of our own.

It is the light of an American century that now spreads throughout the Earth, a world that still needs America, a world that still needs our light, a world that needs a new American century. I pray that, with God's help, that will be our legacy to our children and to the world.

Mr. President, I yield the floor.

The PRESIDING OFFICER. The Republican Leader.

Mr. McCONNELL. Mr. President, on behalf of all of our colleagues, I commend our new Senator from Florida for his remarkable speech. No one is a better example of the American dream than he is, and no one expresses American exceptionalism better than Senator Rubio. I congratulate him on behalf of all of our colleagues.

The PRESIDING OFFICER. The majority leader.

Mr. REID. Mr. President, I join with my Republican counterpart in congratulating my friend from Florida for his fine speech. But I wish, in his remarks, he would have once in a while

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mentioned where he spent a lot of his youth: Las Vegas and North Las Vegas, NV.

The PRESIDING OFFICER. The Chair recognizes the Senator from Florida.

Mr. NELSON of Florida. Mr. President, I congratulate my colleague from Florida, and I want him to know that it is a great pleasure for me to serve with him. It has been a tradition in Florida that the two Senators get along. This has been a great tradition that goes back to when Bob Graham and Connie Mack were the two Senators. It continued with Mel Martinez and me, and now I have the privilege of continuing that kind of relationship with Senator Rubio.

The maiden speech is a big deal for a Senator, and it is always a memory that is forever etched in my mind.

I was in one of those desks over there as a very junior member, and I will never forget in the course of my speech--and it was mostly an empty Chamber--that I mentioned that it was my maiden speech. In a few minutes, all of a sudden those side doors flung open and in strode Senator Robert Byrd. So here I am giving my maiden speech and Senator Byrd is sitting in his seat. As I finished, he said: Would the Senator yield?

I said: Of course, I yield to the Senior Senator from West Virginia.

Senator Byrd, off the top of his head, gave an oration about the history of maiden speeches in the Senate. Now, of course, that is indelibly etched in my memory. Surely, the Senator's maiden speech today will be indelibly etched in his, and I congratulate him.

I thank him for his personal friendship. I thank him also for the privilege of the professional relationship that we have.

The PRESIDING OFFICER. The Senator from Illinois.

Mr. DURBIN. Mr. President, very briefly, I have come to know Senator Rubio. We have early morning seminars, and we have come to know one another a little better. I hope that continues. But at this point, I especially thank him for that speech because it was clearly a speech with a lot of personal reflection on one's own life and on the life of America. What he said will endure. There are things in there that we all should remember about this Nation and about our responsibility as Senators.

I thank the Senator for that fine speech, and I am glad that I was here to be a witness to it.

(Senate - June 14, 2011)

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