Thank you. Four years ago I said that under George W. Bush there are two Americas, not one. I spoke of how one America does the work, and the other reaps the rewards.
Back then, I spoke in generalities. But life is not about generalities. Life is about real people and the challenges they face, their hopes, their fears, their disappointments, and their triumphs. Tonight I'd like to tell you two stories that speak to the real truth behind the two Americas.
It was terribly cold and nearly dark on the last evening of the old year, in a small Iowa town not far from here, and the snow was falling fast. In the cold and the darkness, a poor little girl, with bare head and naked feet, roamed through the streets. It is true she had on a pair of slippers when she left home, but they were not of much use. They were very large, so large, indeed, that they had belonged to her mother, and the poor little creature had lost them in running across the street to avoid two snow plows that were rolling along at a terrible rate.
So the little girl went on with her little naked feet, which were quite red and blue with the cold. In an old apron she carried a number of matches, and had a bundle of them in her hands. No one had bought anything of her the whole day, nor had anyone given her even a penny, let alone the ten dollars that he father had sent her out to earn. Shivering with cold and hunger, she crept along; poor little child, she looked the picture of misery. The snowflakes fell on her long, fair hair, which hung in curls on her shoulders, but she regarded them not.
Lights were shining from every window, and there was a savory smell of microwaved pizza, for it was New-year's eve-yes, she remembered that. In a corner, between two houses, one of which projected beyond the other, she sank down and huddled herself together. She had drawn her little feet under her, but she could not keep off the cold; and she dared not go home, for she had sold no matches, and could not take home even a penny of money. Her father would certainly beat her; besides, it was almost as cold at home as here, for they had only the roof to cover them, through which the wind howled, although the largest holes had been stopped up with straw and rags. Her little hands were almost frozen with the cold. Ah! perhaps a burning match might be some good, if she could draw it from the bundle and strike it against the wall, just to warm her fingers. She drew one out-"scratch!" how it sputtered as it burnt! It gave a warm, bright light, like a little candle, as she held her hand over it. It was really a wonderful light. It seemed to the little girl that she was sitting by a large iron stove, with polished brass feet and a brass ornament, above which hung a portrait of George W. Bush. How the fire burned! and seemed so beautifully warm that the child stretched out her feet as if to warm them, when, lo! the flame of the match went out, the stove vanished, and she had only the remains of the half-burnt match in her hand.
She rubbed another match on the wall. It burst into a flame, and where its light fell upon the wall it became as transparent as a veil, and she could see into the room. The table was covered with a snowy white table-cloth, on which stood a splendid dinner service, and a steaming roast turkey, stuffed with apples and dried plums. Seated at the table was a man, a corporate executive, who was occupied in lighting a large cigar with a burning $100 bill. Then the match went out, and there remained nothing but the thick, damp, cold wall before her.
She lighted another match, and then she found herself sitting under a beautiful Christmas-tree. It was larger and more beautifully decorated than the one which she had seen through the glass door at the rich obstetrician's house. Thousands of lights shone upon the green branches. The little one stretched out her hand towards them, and the match went out.
The Christmas lights rose higher and higher, till they looked to her like the stars in the sky. Then she saw a star fall, leaving behind it a bright streak of fire. "Someone is dying," thought the little girl, for her old grandmother, the only one who had ever loved her, and who was now dead, had told her that when a star falls, a soul was going up to God.
Then the little one tried to light another match. But her hands were too cold and numb; here eyes grew dim, and slowly closed, forever.
In the dawn of morning a Community Organizer found the poor little one, with pale cheeks and smiling mouth, leaning against the wall; she had been frozen to death on the last evening of the year; and the New-year's sun rose and shone upon a little corpse!
Not far from there, some years before, and at a very different time of year, when the sun was high and puffy white clouds floated in a blue sky over the rolling fields of corn and alfalfa, a young boy ran with a puppy dog on the soft sweet grass under the old oak tree that stood in front of a farm house. The boy called his dog Shep, because it was a sheep, or shepherd dog.
The boy had an idyllic life on the farm, well-loved by his mother and kind father. But then his father died of hoof and mouth disease, and his mother died while waiting for a liver transplant that was delayed by their HMO.
The boy went to live with his grandfather, who survived on his meager social security benefits. The man who told me this story - it was long ago and in another part of the country, and I cannot remember his name at the moment - assured me that the grandfather was a decorated veteran who had lost the use of his legs but was denied disability payments because of a Veterans Administration technicality.
Now, the boy was saddened by the death of his parents, but he loved his grandfather, and he still had Shep. His grandfather could not afford dog food for Shep, so the boy would rummage through the offcastings from the local restaurants in the small town where his grandfather lived.
One day, in the winter, it was terribly cold and nearly dark, and the snow was falling fast. In the cold and the darkness, the boy, with bare head and naked feet, roamed through the streets. It is true he had on a pair of slippers when he left home, but they were not of much use. They were very large, so large, indeed, that they had belonged to her mother, and the poor little creature had lost them in running across the street to avoid two snow plows that were rolling along at a terrible rate.
When the boy went to the back of Santini's restaurant to find food for Shep, he found a van parked by the dumpster. A man was standing by the van, and he wore a uniform, heavy gloves, and high black boots. He was from the Animal Control office that had been established by the recently-elected Republican mayor of the town. The officer had received reports of a stray dog, and seeing that Shep did not have a dog license, took him from the boy, put him in the van, and drove away.
The boy ran after the van, but was soon outdistanced by it. He went back to Santini's restaurant and told old Mr. Santini what had happened. The old man told him that stray dogs were taken to the dog pound by the orphanage, and so, though cold and numb and faint with hunger, the boy set out for the pound, which was some miles away.
When at last he arrived at the pound, after trudging through snow that was nearly half his small boy's height, no one was there. But he could hear Shep barking inside. He huddled in the doorway, and cold though it was, he felt warmer near his beloved dog than if he had been in the house of the rich Republican mayor.
The snow had stopped and the sky had cleared, but as that happened the temperature had plunged, and it was now many degrees below zero. The poor child looked up at the dark sky, strewn with beautiful stars, and as he did so he saw a star fall, leaving behind it a bright streak of fire. "Someone is dying," thought the little boy, for his mother and father, now long dead, had told her that when a star falls, a soul was going up to God.
In the dawn of morning a Community Organizer found the poor little one, with pale cheeks and smiling mouth, leaning against the wall; he had been frozen to death on the last evening of the year; and the New-year's sun rose and shone upon a little corpse!
But when all the facts of this case became known, Shep was freed, and spent the rest of his days a free dog, supported by the proceeds of a huge lawsuit, and beloved by all the people of the town, who recalled the Republican mayor and elected the Community Organizer to his post instead.
(ENTHUSIASTIC APPLAUSE AND WAILING, DURING WHICH MR. EDWARDS RESUMED HIS SEAT.)