The Greatest Forgotten Speech in American History
August 15, 1996:
Bob Dole accepts his nomination at the Republican National Convention
I distinctly recall, after hearing his speech, all I could think was, "YES! This is the man we need for president," for I had not heard such inspiring speech since Ronald Reagan used to say, "I'm Ronald Reagan, and I believe with all my heart that..." I believe that when America side-stepped the opportunity to elect this man (unless he was lying), she gave up her last chance for recovery. Ironically (or perhaps not), I have never once heard any part of this speech quoted—not once in the seventeen years hence. If America has let this speech fall upon such deaf ears, then it is no wonder her days are now numbered. And I fear the number is a small one.
Thank you. Thank you very much, thank you. Thank you very much, what a night.
The folks in Hollywood would be happy to know that I've found a movie I like, the one I just saw.
This is a big night for me and I'm ready. We're ready to go.
Thank you California. And thank you San Diego for hosting the greatest Republican convention of them all, the greatest of them all.
Thank you President Ford and President Bush and God bless you Nancy Reagan for your moving tribute to President Reagan.
By the way, I spoke to President Reagan this afternoon and I made him a promise that we would win one more for the Gipper. Are you ready? And he appreciated it very much.
Ladies and gentlemen, delegates to the convention, and fellow citizens: I cannot say it more clearly than in plain speaking. I accept your nomination to lead our party once again to the presidency of the United States. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. I will. And I am profoundly moved by your confidence and trust, and I look forward to leading America into the next century.
But this moment, but this is not my moment, it is yours. It is yours, Elizabeth. It is yours, Robin. It is yours, Jack and Joanne Kemp.
And do not think that I have forgotten whose moment this is above all. It is for the people of America that I stand here tonight, and by their generous leave. And as my voice echoes across darkness and desert, as it is heard over car radios on coastal roads, and as it travels above farmland and suburb, deep into the heart of cities that, from space look tonight like strings of sparkling diamonds, I can tell you that I know whose moment this is: It is yours. It is yours entirely.
And who am I, and who am I, that stands before you tonight?
I was born in Russell, Kansas, a small town in the middle of the prairie surrounded by wheat and oil wells. As my neighbors and friends from Russell, who tonight sit in the front of this hall, know well, Russell, though not the West, looks out upon the West. And like most small towns on the plains, it is a place where no one grows up without an intimate knowledge of distance.
And the first thing you learn on the prairie is the relative size of a man compared to the lay of the land. And under the immense sky where I was born and raised, a man is very small, and if he thinks otherwise, he's wrong.
I come from good people, very good people, and I'm proud of it. My father's name was Doran, my mother's name was Bina. I loved them, and there is no moment when my memory of them and my love for them does not overshadow anything I do, even this, even here.
And there is no height to which I have risen that is high enough to allow me to forget them, to allow me to forget where I came from and where I stand, and how I stand, with my feet on the ground, just a man, at the mercy of God.
And this perspective has been strengthened and solidified by a certain wisdom that I owe not to any achievement of my own, but to the gracious compensations of age. And I know that in some quarters I may not, I may be expected to run from the truth of this. But I was born in 1923, facts are better than dreams, and good presidents and good candidates don't run from the truth.
I do not need the presidency to make or refresh my soul. That false hope I will gladly leave to others, for greatness lies not in what office you hold, but in how honest you are, in how you face adversity, and in your willingness to stand fast in hard places.
Age has its advantages. Let me be the bridge to an America that only the unknowing call myth. Let me be the bridge to a time of tranquillity, faith, and confidence in action. And to those who say it was never so, that America has not been better, I say, you're wrong, and I know, because I was there. And I have seen it. And I remember.
And our nation, though wounded and scathed, has outlasted revolution, civil war, world war, racial oppression and economic catastrophe. We have fought and prevailed on almost every continent and in almost every sea. We have even lost, but we have lasted, and we have always come through.
What enabled us to accomplish this has little to do with the values of the present. After decades of assault upon what made America great, upon supposedly obsolete values. What have we reaped? What have we created? What do we have? What we have in the opinion of millions of Americans is crime and drugs, illegitimacy, abortion, the abdication of duty, and the abandonment of children.
And after the virtual devastation of the American family, the rock upon this country - on which this country was founded, we are told that it takes a village, that is, the collective, and thus, the state, to raise a child.
The state is now more involved than it has ever been in the raising of children, and children are now more neglected, abused, and more mistreated than they have been in our time. This is not a coincidence. This is not a coincidence, and, with all due respect, I am here to tell you, it does not take a village to raise a child. It takes a family to raise a child.
If I could by magic restore to every child who lacks a father or a mother, that father or that mother, I would. And though I cannot, I would never turn my back on them, and I shall as president, promote measures that keep families whole.
I am here to tell you that permissive and destructive behavior must be opposed, that honor and liberty must be restored, and that individual accountability must replace collective excuse. And I am here to say to America, do not abandon the great traditions that stretch to the dawn of our history, do not topple the pillars of those beliefs - God, family, honor, duty, country - that have brought us through time and time and time and time again.
To those who believe that I am too combative, I say, if I am combative, it is for love of country. It is to uphold a standard that I was born and bred to defend. And to those who believe that I live and breathe compromise, I say that in politics, honorable compromise is no sin. It's what protects us from absolutism and intolerance. But one must never compromise in regard to God, and family, and honor, and duty and country.
I am here to set a marker, so that all may know that it is possible to rise in politics with these things firmly in mind, not compromised, and never abandoned, never abandoned. For the old values endure. And though they may sleep and though they may falter, they endure. I know this is true. And to anyone who believes that restraint, honor, and trust in the people cannot be returned to the government, I say, follow me.
Only right conduct distinguished a great nation from one that cannot rise above itself. It has never been otherwise. Right conduct every day at every level in all facets of life - the decision of a child not to use drugs, of a student not to cheat, of a young woman or young man to serve when called, of a screenwriter to refuse to add the mountains of trash, of a businessman not to bribe, of a politician to cast the vote or take action that will put his office or his chances of victory at risk but which is right.
And why have so many of us - and I do not exclude myself, for I am not the model of perfection - why have so many of us been failing these tests for so long? The answer is not a mystery. It is, to the contrary, quite simple and can be given quite simply. It is because, for too long, we have had a leadership that has been unwilling to risk the truth, to speak without calculation, to sacrifice itself.
An administration in its very existence communicates this day by day until it flows down like rain and the rain becomes a river and the river becomes a flood.
Now, which is more important? Wealth or honor?
It is not, as was said by the victors four years ago, "the economy, stupid." It's the kind of nation we are. It's whether we still possess the wit and determination to deal with many questions, including economic questions, but certainly not limited to them.
All things do not flow from wealth or poverty. I know this first hand, and so do you. All things flow from doing what is right. The triumph of this nation, the triumph of this nation lies not in its material wealth but in courage, sacrifice and honor. We tend to forget this when our leaders forget it, and we tend to remember it when they remember it.
The high office of the presidency requires not a continuous four-year campaign for re-election, but, rather, broad oversight and attention to three essential areas - the material, the moral, and the nation's survival, in that ascending order of importance.
And in the last presidential election, in the last presidential election, you, the people, were gravely insulted. You were told that the material was not only the most important of these three but, in fact, really the only one that really mattered. I don't hold to that for a moment. No one can deny the importance of material well being. And in this regard it is time to recognize that we have surrendered too much of our economic liberty.
I do not appreciate the value of economic liberty nearly as much for what it has done in keeping us fed as to what it's done in keeping us free. The freedom of the marketplace is not merely the best guarantor of our prosperity, it is the chief guarantor of our rights. And a government that seizes control of the economy for the good of the people, ends up seizing control of the people for the good of the economy.
And our opponents portray the right to enjoy the fruits of one's own time and labor as a kind of selfishness against which they must fight for the good of the nation. But they are deeply mistaken, for when they gather to themselves the authority to take the earnings and direct the activities of the people, they are fighting not for our sake, but for the power to tell us what to do.
And you now work from the first of January into May just to pay your taxes, so that the party of government can satisfy its priorities with the sweat of your brow, because they think that what you would do with your own money would be morally and practically less admirable than what they would do with it.
And that has simply got to stop. It's got to stop in America. It is demeaning to the nation that within the Clinton administration a corps of the elite who never grew up, never did anything real, never sacrificed, never suffered and never learned, should have the power to fund with your earnings their dubious and self-serving schemes.
Somewhere, a grandmother couldn't afford to call her granddaughter, or a child went without a book, or a family couldn't afford that first home, because there was just not enough money to make that call, buy the book or pay the mortgage or, for that matter, to do many other things that one has the right and often the obligation to do.
Why? Because some genius in the Clinton administration took the money to fund yet another theory, yet another program, and yet another bureaucracy. Are they taking care of you or are they taking care of themselves?
And I have asked myself that question and I say, let the people be free - free to keep - let the people be free to keep as much of what they earn as the government can strain with all its might not to take, not the other way around.
I trust the American people to work in the best interest of the people. And I believe that every family, wage earner and small business in America can do better - if only we have the right policies in Washington D.C.
And make no mistake about it: my economic program is the right policy for America and for the future and for the next century. And here's what it'll mean to you. Here's what it will mean to you.
It means you will have a president who will urge Congress to pass and send to the states for ratification a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution.
It means you will have a president and a Congress who will have the will to balance the budget by the year 2002.
It means you will have a president who will reduce taxes 15 percent across-the-board for every taxpayer in America. It will include a $500 per child tax credit for lower- and middle-income families. Taxes for a family of four making $35,000 would be reduced by more than half - 56 percent to be exact. And that's a big, big reduction.
It means you'll have a president who will help small businesses - the businesses that create most new jobs - by reducing the capital gains tax rate by 50 percent. Cut it in half.
It means you will have a president who will end the IRS as we know it.
It means you will have a president who will expand Individual Retirement Accounts, repeal President Clinton's Social Security tax increase, provide estate tax relief, reduce government regulation, reform our civil justice system, provide educational opportunity scholarships, and a host of other proposals that will create more opportunity, and security for all Americans and all across America.
Is the principle of unity, so hard fought and at the cost of so many lives, having been contested again and again in our history and at such a terrible price, to be casually abandoned to the urge to divide? The answer is no. Must we give in to the senseless drive to break apart that which is beautiful, and whole, and good?
And so tonight, I call on every American to rise above all that may divide us, and to defend the unity of the nation for the honor of generations past and the sake of those to come.
The Constitution of the United States mandates equal protection under the law. This is not code language for racism, it is plain speaking against it.
And the guiding light of my administration will be that in this country we have no rank order by birth, no claim to favoritism by race, no expectation of judgement other than it be evenhanded. And we cannot guarantee the outcome, but we shall guarantee the opportunity in America.
I will speak plainly, I will speak plainly, on another subject of importance. We are not educating all of our children. Too many are being forced to absorb the fads of the moment. Not for nothing are we the biggest education spenders and among the lowest education achievers among the leading industrial nations.
The teachers' unions nominated Bill Clinton in 1992, they are funding his re-election now, and they, his most reliable supporters, know he will maintain the status quo.
And I say this, I say this not to the teachers, but to their unions. I say this, if education were a war, you would be losing it. If it were a business, you would be driving it into bankruptcy. If it were a patient, it would be dying.
And to the teachers unions I say, when I am president, I will disregard your political power, for the sake of the parents, the children, the schools and the nation.
I plan to enrich your vocabulary with those words you fear - school choice and competition and opportunity scholarships - all this for low and middle income families so that you will join the rest of us in accountability, while others compete with you for the commendable privilege of giving our children a real education.
There is no reason why those who live on any street in America should not have the same right as the person who lives at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue - the right to send your child to the school of your choice. And if we want to reduce crime, if we want to reduce crime and drug use and teen pregnancies, let's start by giving all our children a first-class education.
And I also want these children to inherit a country that is far safer than it is at present. I seek for our children and grandchildren a world more open, and with more opportunity, than ever before. But in wanting these young Americans to be able to make the best of this, I want first and foremost for them to be safe.
I want to remove the shadow that darkens opportunities for every man, woman, and child in America. We are a nation paralyzed by crime, and it is time to end that in America.
And to do so, to do so, I mean to attack the root cause of crime - criminals, criminals, violent criminals. And as our many and voracious criminals go to bed tonight, at, say six in the morning, they had better pray that I lose the election. Because if I win, the lives of violent criminals are going to be hell.
During the Reagan administration, during the Reagan administration, we abolished parole at the federal level. In the Dole administration, we will work with the nation's governors to abolish parole for violent criminals all across America. And with my national instant check initiative, we will keep all guns out of the hands of criminals.
And I have been asked if I have a litmus test for judges. I do. My litmus test for judges is that they be intolerant of outrage, that their passion is not to amend but to interpret the Constitution, that they are restrained in regard to those who live within the law and strict with those who break it.
And for those who say that I should not make President Clinton's liberal judicial appointments an issue of this campaign, I have a simple response. I have heard your argument: the motion is denied.
I save my respect for the Constitution, not for those who would ignore it, violate it, or replace it with conceptions of their own fancy. My administration will zealously protect civil and constitutional rights, while never forgetting that our own primary duty is protecting law-abiding citizens - everybody in this hall.
I have no intention of ignoring violent - I said violent - criminals, understanding them, or buying them off. A nation that cannot defend itself from outrage does not deserve to survive. And a president who cannot lead against those who prey upon it does not deserve to be president of the United States of America. I am prepared to risk more political capital in defense of domestic tranquillity than any president you have ever known. The time for such risk is long overdue.
And in defending the nation from external threats, the requirements for survival cannot merely be finessed. There is no room for margin for error. On this subject, perhaps more than any other, a president must level with the people, and be prepared to take political risks. And I would rather do what is called for in this regard and be unappreciated than fail to do so and win universal acclaim.
And it must be said: Because of misguided priorities, there have been massive cuts in funding for our national security. I believe President Clinton has failed to adequately provide for our defense. And for whatever reason his neglect, it is irresponsible.
I ask that you consider these crystal-clear differences. He believes it is acceptable to ask our military forces to do more with less. I do not. He defends giving a green light to a terrorist state, Iran, to expand its influence in Europe, and he relies on the United Nations to Libyan terrorists who murdered American citizens. I will not. And he believes that defending our people and our territory from missile attack is unnecessary. I do not.
And on my first day in office, I will put America on a course that will end our vulnerability to missile attack and rebuild our armed forces. It is a course, it is a course President Clinton has refused to take. On my first day in office, I will put terrorists on notice: If you harm one American, you harm all Americans. And America will pursue you to the ends of the earth. In short, don't mess with us if you're not prepared to suffer the consequences. Thank you.
And furthermore, the lesson has always been clear. If we are prepared to defend - if we are prepared to fight many wars, and greater wars, and any wars that come - we will have to fight fewer wars, and lesser wars, and perhaps no wars at all. It has always been so, and will ever be so.
And I am not the first to say that the long gray line has never failed us, and it never has. For those who might be sharply taken aback in thinking of Vietnam, think again, for in Vietnam the long gray line did not fail us, we failed it in Vietnam. The American solider, the American soldier was not made for the casual and arrogant treatment that he suffered there, where he was committed without clear purpose or resolve, bound by rules that prevented victory, and kept waiting in the valley of the shadow of death for 10 years while the nation debated the undebatable question of his honor.
No. The American solider was not made to be thrown into battle without clear purpose or resolve, not made to be abandoned in the field of battle, not made to give his life for indifference or lack of respect.
And I will never commit the American solider to an ordeal without the prospect of victory.
And when I am president, every man and every woman in our Armed Forces will know the president is their commander in chief - not Boutros Boutros Ghali or any other U.N. secretary general.
This I owe not only to the living but to the dead, to every patriot, to every patriot grave, to the ghosts of Valley Forge, of Flanders Field, of Bataan, of Chosin Reservoir, Khe Sanh, and the Gulf. This I owe to the men who died on the streets of Mogadishu not three years ago, to the shadows of the bluffs of Normandy, to the foot soldiers who never came home, to the airmen who fell to earth, and to the sailors who rest perpetually at sea.
This is not an issue of politics, but far graver than that. Like the bond of trust between a parent and a child, it is the lifeblood of the nation. It commands not only sacrifice but a grace in leadership embodying both caution and daring at the same time. And this we owe not only to ourselves. Our allies demand consistency and resolve, which they deserve from us as we deserve it from them. But even if they falter, we cannot, for history has made us the leader, and we are obliged by history to keep the highest standard possibly.
And in this regard may I remind you of the nation's debt to Presidents Nixon, Ford, Reagan and Bush. President Nixon engaged China and the Soviet Union with diplomatic genius. President Ford, who gave me my start in 1976, stood fast in a time of great difficulty, and with the greatest of dignity.
Were it not for President Reagan, the Soviet Union would still be standing today. He brought the Cold War to an end - not, as some demanded, through compromise and surrender - but by winning it. That's how he brought the Cold War to an end.
President Bush, with a mastery that words fail to convey, guided the Gulf War coalition and its military forces to victory. A war that might have lasted years and taken the lives of tens of thousands of Americans passed so swiftly and passed so smoothly that history has yet to catch its breath and give him the credit he is due. History is like that. History is like that. Whenever we forget its singular presence it gives us a lesson in grace and awe.
And when I look back upon my life, I see less and less of myself, and more and more of history of this civilization that we have made, that is called America. And I am content and always will be content to see my own story subsumed in great events, the greatest of which is the simple onward procession of the American people.
What a high privilege it is to be at the center in these times, and this I owe to you, the American people. I owe everything to you, and to make things right and to close the circle I will return to you as much as I possibly can. It is incumbent upon me to do so, it is my duty and my deepest desire.
And so tonight, I respectfully, I respectfully ask for your blessing and your support. The election will not be decided - the election will not be decided - by the polls or by the opinion-makers or by the pundits. It will be decided by you. It will be decided by you.
And I ask for your vote so that I may bring you an administration that is able, honest and trusts in you.
For the fundamental issue is not of policy, but of trust - not merely whether the people trust the president, but whether the president and his party trust the people, trust in their goodness and their genius for recovery. That's what the election is all about. For the government, the government cannot direct the people, the people must direct the government.
This is not the outlook of my opponent - and he is my opponent, not my enemy.
Though he has of late tried to be a good Republican - and I expect him here tonight - there are, there are certain distinctions that even he cannot blur. There are distinctions between the two great parties that will be debated, and must be debated, the next 82 days. He and his party who brought us the biggest tax increase in the history of America.
We are the party of lower taxes and greater opportunity.
We are the party whose resolve did not flag as the Cold War dragged on, we did not tremble before a Soviet giant that was just about to fall, and we did not have to be begged to take up arms against Saddam Hussein.
We're not the party that, as drug use has soared among the young, hears no evil, sees no evil, and just cannot say, "just say no."
We are the party that trusts in the people. I trust in the people. That is the heart of all I have tried to say tonight.
My friends, a presidential campaign is more than a contest of candidates, more than a clash of opposing philosophies. It is a mirror held up to America. It is a measurement of who we are and where we come from, and where we're going. For as much inspiration as we may draw from a glorious past, we recognize America preeminently as a country of tomorrow. For we were placed here, for a purpose, by a higher power, there's no doubt about it. Every soldier in uniform, every school child who recites the Pledge of Allegiance, every citizen who places her hand on her heart when the flag goes by, recognizes and responds to our American destiny.
Optimism is in our blood. I know this as few others can. There was once a time when I doubted the future. But I have learned as many of you have learned that obstacles can be overcome, and I have unlimited confidence in the wisdom of our people and the future of our country.
Tonight, I stand before you, tested by adversity, made sensitive by hardship, a fighter by principle and the most optimistic man in America. My life is proof that America is a land without limits.
With my feet on the ground, and my heart filled with hope, I put my faith in you and in the God who loves us all. For I am convinced that America's best days are yet to come. May God bless you. And may God bless America.
Thank you very much.