Gordon Brown

Speech to a Joint Session of Congress

delivered 4 March 2009, Washington, D.C.

Audio mp3 of Address


[as prepared for delivery]

Madam Speaker, Mr. Vice President, distinguished members of Congress. I come to this great capital of this great nation, an America renewed under a new President, to say that Americaís faith in the future has been, is and always will be an inspiration to me and to the whole world.

Two centuries ago your creation of America was the boldest possible affirmation of faith in the future, it is a future that you not just believe in but a future you have built with your own hands. And on 20 January you, the American people, wrote the latest chapter in the American story with a transition of dignity in which both sides of the aisle could take great pride and on that day billions of people surely looked to Washington DC as Ďa shining city upon the hillí, lighting up the whole of the world.

And let me thank President Obama for his leadership, for his friendship and for giving the whole world renewed hope in itself.

And I know you will allow me to single out for special mention today one of your most distinguished Senators, known in every continent and a great friend. Northern Ireland today is at peace, more Americans have healthcare, children around the world are going to school and for all those things we owe a great debt to the life and courage of Senator Edward Kennedy.

I want to announce -- awarded by Her Majesty The Queen, on behalf of the British people -- an honorary Knighthood for Sir Edward Kennedy.

Madam Speaker, Mr. Vice-President, I come in friendship to renew, for new times our special relationship that is founded on our shared history, our shared values and, I believe, our shared futures.

I grew up in the 1960s as America, led by President Kennedy, looked to the heavens and saw not the endless void of the unknown, but a new frontier to dare to discover and to explore. People said it couldnít be done, but America did it. And 20 years later in the 1980s, America, led by President Reagan, refused to accept the fate of millions trapped behind the Iron Curtain and insisted instead that the peoples of Eastern Europe be allowed to join the ranks of nations which live safe, strong and free.

People said it would never happen in our lifetime, but it did, and the Berlin Wall was torn down brick by brick.

So early in my life I came to understand that America is not just the indispensable nation, you are the irrepressible nation. Throughout your history, America has led insurrections in the human imagination. You have have summoned revolutionary times through your belief that there is no such thing as an impossible endeavor. And it is never possible to come here without having your faith in the future renewed.

Now I want to thank you on behalf of the British people, because throughout a whole century the American people stood libertyís ground, not just in one world war, but in two. And I want you to know that we will never forget the sacrifice and the service of the American soldiers who gave their lives for people whose names they never knew, and whose faces they never saw, yet people who have lived in freedom, thanks to the bravery and valour of the Americans who gave that last full measure of devotion.

Cemetery after cemetery across Europe honors the memory of American soldiers, resting row upon row, often alongside comrades in arms from Britain. And there is no battlefield of liberty on which there is not a piece of land that is marked out as American, and there is no day of remembrance within Britain that is not also a commemoration of American courage and sacrifice far from home.

In the hardest days of the last century, faith in the future kept America alive, and I tell you that America kept faith in the future alive for all the world.

And let me pay tribute to the soldiers, yours and ours, who today fight side by side in the plains of Afghanistan, the streets of Iraq, just as their forefathers fought side by side in the sands of Tunisia, the beaches of Normandy and then on the bridges over the Rhine.

Almost every family in Britain has a tie that binds them to America. So I want you to know that whenever a young American soldier, or Marine, or sailor, or airman is killed in conflict anywhere in the world, we, the people of Britain grieve with you. We know that your loss is our loss, your familiesí sorrow is our familiesí sorrow, and your nationís determination is our nationís determination that they shall not have died in vain.

And after that terrible September morning when your homeland was attacked, the Coldstream Guards at Buckingham Palace played the Star Spangled Banner. Our own British tribute as we wept for our friends in the land of the free and the home of the brave.

And let me therefore promise you our continued support to ensure that there is no hiding place for terrorists, no safe haven for terrorism. You should be proud that in the years after 2001 that whilst terrorists may destroy buildings and even tragically lives, they have not, and will not ever destroy the American spirit.

So let it be said of the friendship between our two countries that it is in times of trial -- true, that in the face of fear -- faithful, and amidst the storms of change -- constant. And let it be said of our friendship also, formed and forged over two tumultuous centuries, a friendship tested in war, strengthened in peace -- that it has not just endured but has renewed each generation to better serve our shared values and fulfill the hopes and dreams of the day, not an alliance of convenience, it is a partnership of purpose.

Alliances can wither or be destroyed, but partnerships of purpose are indestructible. Friendships can be shaken, but our friendship is unshakable. Treaties can be broken, but our partnership is unbreakable and I know that there is no power on earth that can ever drive us apart.

We will work tirelessly with you as partners for peace in the Middle East: for a two state solution -- proposed by President Clinton and driven forward by President Bush -- that provides for nothing less than a secure Israel, safe within its borders, existing side by side with a viable Palestinian state. And we will work tirelessly with you to reduce the threat of nuclear proliferation and reduce the stockpile of nuclear weapons, and our shared message to Iran, it is simple -- we are ready for you to rejoin the international community, but first you must cease your threats and suspend your nuclear program.

Past Prime Ministers have travelled to this capital building in times of war to talk of war. I come now to talk of new and different battles we must also fight together, to speak of a global economy in crisis and a planet imperiled. These are new priorities for our new times. And let us be honest -- tonight too many parents, after they have put their children to bed, will speak of their worries about losing their jobs, or their need to sell their house. Too many will share stories of friends or neighbors already packing up their homes, too many will talk of a local store or business that has already gone to the wall.

For me this global recession is not to be measured just in statistics, or in graphs, or on a balance sheet. Instead I see one individual with one set of dreams and fears, and then another, and then another, each with their own stars to reach for, each part of a family, each at the heart of a community now in need of help and hope. And when banks have failed and markets have faltered, we -- the representatives of the people -- have to be the peopleís last line of defense.

And that is why for me there is no financial orthodoxy so entrenched, there is no conventional thinking so ingrained, there is no special interest so strong that it should ever stand in the way of the change that hard working families now need.

We have learned through this world downturn that markets should be free, but markets should never be values-free. We have learned that the risks people take should never be separated from the responsibilities that they must meet.

And if perhaps some once thought that it was beyond our power to shape global markets to meet the needs of the people, we now know that that is our duty. We cannot and must not stand aside.

In our families and workplaces, and in our places of worship, we celebrate men and women of integrity who work hard, treat people fairly, take responsibility, look out for others. And if these are the principles we live by in our families and neighborhoods, they should also be the principles that guide and govern our economic life.

And the world has learned that what makes for the good society also now makes for the good economy too.

My father was a Minister of the Church and I have learned again what I was taught by him: that wealth should help more than the wealthy, that good fortune should serve more than the fortunate, and that riches must enrich not just some of our communities, but all of our communities. And these enduring values are in my view the values we need for these new times.

We tend to think of the sweep of history of stretching across many months and years before culminating in decisive moments that we call history. But sometimes the reality is that the defining moments of history come suddenly, and without warning, and the task of leadership then is to define them, to shape them and to move forward into the new world they demand.

An economic hurricane has swept the world, creating a crisis of credit and a crisis of confidence. History has brought us now to a point where change is essential. And we are summoned not just to manage our times but to transform them. And our task is to rebuild prosperity and security in a wholly different economic world where competition is no longer just local but it is global, and where banks are no longer national but they are international.

And we need to understand therefore what went wrong in this crisis, that the very financial instruments that were designed to diversify risk across the banking system -- instead spread contagion right across the globe.

And todayís financial institutions, they are so interwoven that a bad bank anywhere is a threat to good banks everywhere.

But should we succumb to a race to the bottom and to a protectionism that history tells us that, in the end, protects no one?

No. We should have the confidence, America and Britain most of all, that we can seize the global opportunities ahead and make the future work for us.

And why? Because whilst today people are anxious and feel insecure, over the next two decades literally billions of people in other continents will move from being simply producers of their goods, to being consumers of our goods.

And in this way the world economy will double in size -- twice as many opportunities for business, twice as much prosperity, the biggest expansion of middle class incomes and jobs the world has seen.

So we win our future not by retreating from the world, but by engaging with it. And America and Britain will succeed and lead if we tap into the talents of our people, unleash the genius of our scientists, set free the drive of our entrepreneurs. We will win the race to the top if we can develop the new high value added products and services, and the new green goods that the rising number of hard working families across our globe will want to buy.

So in these unprecedented times we must educate our way out of the downturn, we must invest and invent our way out of the downturn, we must retool and reskill our way out of the downturn. And this is not blind optimism or synthetic confidence to console people; it is the practical affirmation for our times of our faith in a better future.

Every time we rebuild a school we demonstrate our faith in the future. Every time we send more people to university, every time we invest more in our new digital infrastructure, every time we increase support for our scientists we demonstrate our faith in the future.

And so I say to this Congress, and this country, something that runs deep in your character and is woven in your history, we conquer our fear of the future through our faith in the future. And it is this faith in the future that means we must commit to protecting the planet, for generations that will come long after us. The Greek proverb, what does it say? Why does anybody plant the seeds of a tree whose shade they will never see?

The answer is because they look to the future. And I believe you, as a nation that had the vision to put a man on the moon, are also the nation with a vision to protect and preserve our planet earth.

And you know it is only by investing in environmental technology that we can end the dictatorship of oil and it is only by tackling climate change that we can create the millions of new green jobs that we need and can have.

But the lesson of this crisis is that we cannot just wait for tomorrow, we cannot just think of tomorrow today, we cannot merely plan for tomorrow today. Our task must be to build tomorrow today.

And America knows from its history that its reach goes far beyond its geography. For a century you have carried upon your shoulders the greatest of responsibility: to work with and for the rest of the world. And let me tell you that now more than ever the rest of the world wants to work with America.

If these times have shown us anything, it is that the major challenges we face are global. No matter where it starts, an economic crisis does not stop at the waterís edge, it ripples across the world. Climate change does not honor passport controls Terrorism has no respect for borders. Modern communication instantly spans every continent, the new frontier is that there is no frontier, and the new shared truth is that global problems now need global solutions.

And let me say to you directly, you now have the most pro-American European leadership in living memory. It is a leadership that wants to cooperate more closely together in order to cooperate more closely with you. There is no old Europe, no new Europe, there is only your friend Europe.

So once again I say we should seize this moment, because never before have I seen a world willing to come together so much, never before has that been more needed, and never before have the benefits of cooperation been so far reaching.

So when people here and in other countries ask what more we can do to bring an end to this downturn, let me say this: we can achieve more by working together. And just think of what we can do if we combine not just in a partnership for security, but in a new partnership for prosperity. On jobs, you the American people through your stimulus proposals could create or save at least three million jobs. We in Britain are acting with similar determination, but how much nearer an end to this downturn would we all be if the whole of the world resolved to do the same.

And you are also restructuring your banks. So are we. But how much safer would everybodyís savings be if the whole world finally came together to outlaw shadow banking systems and outlaw offshore tax havens?

So just think how each of our actions, if combined, could mean a whole, much greater than the sum of its parts

- all and not just some banks stabilized

- on fiscal stimulus: the impact multiplied because everybody is doing it

- rising demand in all our countries creating jobs in each of our countries

- and trade once again the engine of prosperity, the wealth of nations restored.

No one should forget it was American visionaries who over half a century ago, coming out of the deepest of depressions and the worst of wars, produced the boldest of plans for global economic cooperation. They recognized that prosperity was indivisible. They concluded that to be sustained it had to be shared.

And I believe that ours too is a time for renewal, for a plan for tackling recession and building for the future, every continent playing their part in a global new deal, a plan for prosperity that can benefit us all.

And first, so that the whole of our worldwide banking system serves our prosperity rather than risks it, let us agree at our G20 summit in London in April rules and standards for accountability, transparency, and reward that will mean an end to the excesses and will apply to every bank, everywhere, and all the time.

Second, America and a few others cannot be expected to bear all the burden of the fiscal and interest rate stimulus. We must share it globally. So let us work together for the worldwide reduction of interest rates and a scale of stimulus that is equal to the depth of the recession around the world and to the dimensions of recovery, and most of all equal to the millions of jobs we must safeguard and create.

And third, let us together renew our international economic cooperation, help emerging markets rebuild their banks, let us sign a world trade agreement to expand commerce, let us work together also for a low carbon recovery. And I am confident that this President, this Congress and the peoples of the world can come together in Copenhagen in December and reach an historic agreement to combat climate change.

And let us never forget in times of turmoil our duty to the least of these, the poorest of the world. In the Rwanda Museum of Genocide there is a memorial to the countless children who were among those murdered in the massacres in Rwanda. And there is one portrait of a child -- David. The words beneath him are brief yet they weigh on me heavily. It says: Name -- David; aged 10; favorite sport -- football; enjoyed making people laugh; dream -- to become a doctor; cause of death -- tortured to death, last words -- the United Nations will come for us.

But we never did.

That child believed the best of us. That he was wrong is to our eternal discredit. We tend to think of a day of judgment as a moment to come, but our faith tells us, as the writer said, that judgment is more than that, it is a summary court in perpetual session.

And when I visit those bare, run down, yet teeming class rooms across Africa, they are full of children, like our children, desperate to learn. But because we have been unable as a world to keep our promises to help, more and more children, I tell you, are being lured to expensively funded madrassas teaching innocent children to hate us. So for our security, and our childrenís security, and these childrenís future, you know the greatest gift of our generation, the greatest gift we could give to the world, the gift of America and Britain could be that every child in every country should have the chance that 70 million children today do not have -- the chance to go to school, to spell their names, to count their age and perhaps learn of a great generation who are striving to make their freedom real.

So let us remember that there is a common bond that across different beliefs, cultures and nationalities unites us as human beings. It is at the core of my convictions, it is the essence of Americaís spirit, it is the heart of all our faiths, and it must be at the centre of our response to this crisis too. Our values tell us that we cannot be wholly comfortable while others go without comfort, but our communities can never be fully at ease if millions feel ill at ease, that our society cannot be truly strong when millions are left so weak. And this much we know, when the strong help the weak, it makes us all stronger.

And this too is true. All of us know that in a recession the wealthiest, the most powerful and the most privileged can find a way through. So we donít value the wealthy less when we say that our first duty is to help the not so wealthy, we donít value the powerful less when we say our first responsibility is to help the powerless, and we do not value those who are secure less when we say our first priority must be to help the insecure.

These recent events have forced us all to think anew. And while I have learnt many things over these last few months, I keep returning to something I first learned in my fatherís church as a child. In these most modern of crises I am drawn to the most ancient of truths; wherever there is hardship, wherever there is suffering, we cannot, we will not, we will never pass by on the other side.

But you know working together there is no challenge to which we are not equal, there is no obstacle we cannot overcome, and there is no aspiration so high it cannot be achieved.

In the depths of the depression when Franklin Roosevelt did battle with fear itself, it was not simply by the power of his words, his personality and his example that he triumphed. Yes, all these things mattered, but what mattered more was this enduring truth; that you, the American people, at your core, were, as you remain, every bit as optimistic as your Roosevelts, your Reagans and your Obamas. And this is the faith in the future that has always been the story and promise of America.

So at this defining moment in history, let us renew our special relationship for our generation and our times, let us work together to restore prosperity and protect this planet and with faith in the future let us together build tomorrow today.

Thank you.

Book/CDs by Michael E. Eidenmuller, Published by McGraw-Hill (2008)

Text Note: Spellings of some words modified to reflect standard American English usage.

Page Updated: 1/16/24

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