Address at the Democratic National Convention
July 19, 1998 – Democratic National Convention, The Omni, Atlanta GA
Thank you, very much.
Good evening, ladies and gentlemen. Buenas noches, mis amigos.
I’m delighted to be here with you this evening, because after listening to George Bush all these years, I figured you needed to know what a real Texas accent sounds like.
Twelve years ago Barbara Jordan, another Texas woman, Barbara made the keynote address to this convention, and two women in a hundred and sixty years is about par for the course.
But if you give us a chance, we can perform. After all, Ginger Rogers did everything that Fred Astaire did. She just did it backwards and in high heels.
I want to announce to this Nation that in a little more than 100 days, the Reagan -Meese – Deaver – Nofziger – Poindexter – North – Weinberger – Watt – Gorsuch -Lavelle – Stockman – Haig – Bork – Noriega – George Bush [era] will be over!
You know, tonight I feel a little like I did when I played basketball in the 8th grade. I thought I looked real cute in my uniform. And then I heard a boy yell from the bleachers, “Make that basket, bird legs.” And my greatest fear is that same guy is somewhere out there in the audience tonight, and he’s going to cut me down to size, because where I grew up there really wasn’t much tolerance for self-importance, people who put on airs.
I was born during the Depression in a little community just outside Waco, and I grew up listening to Franklin Roosevelt on the radio. Well, it was back then that I came to understand the small truths and the hardships that bind neighbors together. Those were real people with real problems and they had real dreams about getting out of the Depression. I can remember summer nights when we’d put down what we called the Baptist pallet, and we listened to the grown-ups talk. I can still hear the sound of the dominoes clicking on the marble slab my daddy had found for a tabletop. I can still hear the laughter of the men telling jokes you weren’t supposed to hear — talkin’ about how big that old buck deer was, laughin’ about mama puttin’ Clorox in the well when the frog fell in.
They talked about war and Washington and what this country needed. They talked straight talk. And it came from people who were living their lives as best they could. And that’s what we’re gonna do tonight. We’re gonna tell how the cow ate the cabbage.
I got a letter last week from a young mother in Lorena, Texas, and I wanna read part of it to you. She writes,
Our worries go from pay day to pay day, just like millions of others. And we have two fairly decent incomes, but I worry how I’m going to pay the rising car insurance and food. I pray my kids don’t have a growth spurt from August to December, so I don’t have to buy new jeans. We buy clothes at the budget stores and we have them fray and fade and stretch in the first wash. We ponder and try to figure out how we’re gonna pay for college and braces and tennis shoes. We don’t take vacations and we don’t go out to eat. Please don’t think me ungrateful. We have jobs and a nice place to live, and we’re healthy. We’re the people you see every day in the grocery stores, and we obey the laws. We pay our taxes. We fly our flags on holidays and we plod along trying to make it better for ourselves and our children and our parents. We aren’t vocal any more. I think maybe we’re too tired. I believe that people like us are forgotten in America.
Well of course you believe you’re forgotten, because you have been.
This Republican Administration treats us as if we were pieces of a puzzle that can’t fit together. They’ve tried to put us into compartments and separate us from each other. Their political theory is “divide and conquer.” They’ve suggested time and time again that what is of interest to one group of Americans is not of interest to any one else. We’ve been isolated. We’ve been lumped into that sad phraseology called “special interests.” They’ve told farmers that they were selfish, that they would drive up food prices if they asked the government to intervene on behalf of the family farm, and we watched farms go on the auction block while we bought food from foreign countries. Well, that’s wrong!
They told working mothers it’s all their fault — their families are falling apart because they had to go to work to keep their kids in jeans and tennis shoes and college. And they’re wrong!! They told American labor they were trying to ruin free enterprise by asking for 60 days’ notice of plant closings, and that’s wrong. And they told the auto industry and the steel industry and the timber industry and the oil industry, companies being threatened by foreign products flooding this country, that you’re “protectionist” if you think the government should enforce our trade laws. And that is wrong. When they belittle us for demanding clean air and clean water for trying to save the oceans and the ozone layer, that’s wrong.
No wonder we feel isolated and confused. We want answers and their answer is that “something is wrong with you.” Well nothing’s wrong with you. Nothing’s wrong with you that you can’t fix in November!
We’ve been told — We’ve been told that the interests of the South and the Southwest are not the same interests as the North and the Northeast. They pit one group against the other. They’ve divided this country and in our isolation we think government isn’t gonna help us, and we’re alone in our feelings. We feel forgotten. Well, the fact is that we are not an isolated piece of their puzzle. We are one nation. We are the United States of America.
Now we Democrats believe that America is still the county of fair play, that we can come out of a small town or a poor neighborhood and have the same chance as anyone else; and it doesn’t matter whether we are black or Hispanic or disabled or a women [sic]. We believe that America is a country where small business owners must succeed, because they are the bedrock, backbone of our economy.
We believe that our kids deserve good daycare and public schools. We believe our kids deserve public schools where students can learn and teachers can teach. And we wanna believe that our parents will have a good retirement and that we will too. We Democrats believe that social security is a pact that can not be broken.
We wanna believe that we can live out our lives without the terrible fear that an illness is going to bankrupt us and our children. We Democrats believe that America can overcome any problem, including the dreaded disease called AIDS. We believe that America is still a country where there is more to life than just a constant struggle for money. And we believe that America must have leaders who show us that our struggles amount to something and contribute to something larger — leaders who want us to be all that we can be.
We want leaders like Jesse Jackson. Jesse Jackson is a leader and a teacher who can open our hearts and open our minds and stir our very souls. And he has taught us that we are as good as our capacity for caring, caring about the drug problem, caring about crime, caring about education, and caring about each other.
Now, in contrast, the greatest nation of the free world has had a leader for eight straight years that has pretended that he can not hear our questions over the noise of the helicopters. And we know he doesn’t wanna answer. But we have a lot of questions. And when we get our questions asked, or there is a leak, or an investigation the only answer we get is, “I don’t know,” or “I forgot.”
But you wouldn’t accept that answer from your children. I wouldn’t. “Don’t tell me you ‘don’t know’ or you ‘forgot.'” We’re not going to have the America that we want until we elect leaders who are gonna tell the truth; not most days but every day; leaders who don’t forget what they don’t want to remember. And for eight straight years George Bush hasn’t displayed the slightest interest in anything we care about. And now that he’s after a job that he can’t get appointed to, he’s like Columbus discovering America. He’s found child care. He’s found education. Poor George. He can’t help it. He was born with a silver foot in his mouth.
Well, no wonder. No wonder we can’t figure it out. Because the leadership of this nation is telling us one thing on TV and doing something entirely different. They tell us — They tell us that they’re fighting a war against terrorists. And then we find out that the White House is selling arms to the Ayatollah. They — They tell us that they’re fighting a war on drugs and then people come on TV and testify that the CIA and the DEA and the FBI knew they were flying drugs into America all along. And they’re negotiating with a dictator who is shoveling cocaine into this country like crazy. I guess that’s their Central American strategy.
Now they tell us that employment rates are great, and that they’re for equal opportunity. But we know it takes two paychecks to make ends meet today, when it used to take one. And the opportunity they’re so proud of is low-wage, dead-end jobs. And there is no major city in America where you cannot see homeless men sitting in parking lots holding signs that say, “I will work for food.”
Now my friends, we really are at a crucial point in American history. Under this Administration we have devoted our resources into making this country a military colossus. But we’ve let our economic lines of defense fall into disrepair. The debt of this nation is greater than it has ever been in our history. We fought a world war on less debt than the Republicans have built up in the last eight years. You know, it’s kind of like that brother-in-law who drives a flashy new car, but he’s always borrowing money from you to make the payments.
Well, but let’s take what they are most proudest of — that is their stand of defense. We Democrats are committed to a strong America, and, quite frankly, when our leaders say to us, “We need a new weapons system,” our inclination is to say, “Well, they must be right.” But when we pay billions for planes that won’t fly, billions for tanks that won’t fire, and billions for systems that won’t work, “that old dog won’t hunt.” And you don’t have to be from Waco to know that when the Pentagon makes crooks rich and doesn’t make America strong, that it’s a bum deal.
Now I’m going to tell you, I’m really glad that our young people missed the Depression and missed the great Big War. But I do regret that they missed the leaders that I knew, leaders who told us when things were tough, and that we’d have to sacrifice, and that these difficulties might last for a while. They didn’t tell us things were hard for us because we were different, or isolated, or special interests. They brought us together and they gave us a sense of national purpose. They gave us Social Security and they told us they were setting up a system where we could pay our own money in, and when the time came for our retirement we could take the money out. People in the rural areas were told that we deserved to have electric lights, and they were gonna harness the energy that was necessary to give us electricity so my grandmamma didn’t have to carry that old coal oil lamp around. And they told us that they were gonna guarant[ee] when we put our money in the bank, that the money was going to be there, and it was going to be insured. They did not lie to us.
And I think one of the saving graces of Democrats is that we are candid. We talk straight talk. We tell people what we think. And that tradition and those values live today in Michael Dukakis from Massachusetts.
Michael Dukakis knows that this country is on the edge of a great new era, that we’re not afraid of change, that we’re for thoughtful, truthful, strong leadership. Behind his calm there’s an impatience to unify this country and to get on with the future. His instincts are deeply American. They’re tough and they’re generous. And personally, I have to tell you that I have never met a man who had a more remarkable sense about what is really important in life.
And then there’s my friend and my teacher for many years, Senator Lloyd Bentsen. And I couldn’t be prouder, both as a Texan and as a Democrat, because Lloyd Bentsen understands America. From the barrio to the boardroom, he knows how to bring us together, by regions, by economics, and by example. And he’s already beaten George Bush once.
So, when it comes right down to it, this election is a contest between those who are satisfied with what they have and those who know we can do better. That’s what this election is really all about. It’s about the American dream — those who want to keep it for the few and those who know it must be nurtured and passed along.
I’m a grandmother now. And I have one nearly perfect granddaughter named Lily. And when I hold that grandbaby, I feel the continuity of life that unites us, that binds generation to generation, that ties us with each other. And sometimes I spread that Baptist pallet out on the floor, and Lily and I roll a ball back and forth. And I think of all the families like mine, like the one in Lorena, Texas, like the ones that nurture children all across America. And as I look at Lily, I know that it is within families that we learn both the need to respect individual human dignity and to work together for our common good. Within our families, within our nation, it is the same.
And as I sit there, I wonder if she’ll ever grasp the changes I’ve seen in my life — if she’ll ever believe that there was a time when blacks could not drink from public water fountains, when Hispanic children were punished for speaking Spanish in the public schools, and women couldn’t vote.
I think of all the political fights I’ve fought, and all the compromises I’ve had to accept as part payment. And I think of all the small victories that have added up to national triumphs and all the things that would never have happened and all the people who would’ve been left behind if we had not reasoned and fought and won those battles together. And I will tell Lily that those triumphs were Democratic Party triumphs.
I want so much to tell Lily how far we’ve come, you and I. And as the ball rolls back and forth, I want to tell her how very lucky she is that for all our difference, we are still the greatest nation on this good earth. And our strength lies in the men and women who go to work every day, who struggle to balance their family and their jobs, and who should never, ever be forgotten.
I just hope that like her grandparents and her great-grandparents before that Lily goes on to raise her kids with the promise that echoes in homes all across America: that we can do better, and that’s what this election is all about.
Thank you very much.