Presidential Campaign and Candidates


Bruce Babbitt 1988 Announcement Speech







Manchester/Des Moines/Atlanta/Phoenix

March 10-12, 1987


Every four years, our democracy affords us a season of national reckoning.  It’s a time to take stock.  To think about where we are, and where we’ve been, and where we’re going.  A time to ask as Americans what we want to make of our country. 


My own answer is what brings me here today and what drives me to embark upon the most challenging journey in American public life. 


I began where we all began: with the town where I grew up, and the values I learned there, and the people and places I’ve known across the years.  My roots are in the canyon country of northern Arizona, a land staked out and settled by my grandparents when they pushed west from Ohio a hundred years ago. 


I come from a family of ranchers and frontier merchants.  They helped build schools and towns in the wilderness and they lived by simple truths.  You work hard.  You do what’s right.  You stand up for the things you believe in. 


That is what I take from the Arizona.


In the sixties I took it down south – to Selma, Alabama, in the fight for civil rights, and from Mississippi to Texas in the war on poverty. And like the rest of my generation, which came of age in the sixties, I learned firsthand the power of ordinary people to take charge of their lives and transform society in the process.


In the seventies and eighties I took that lesson back to Arizona – first as a prosecutor and then as governor. And I found again that the hardest things to do were the things most worth doing. Like winning a liberal health care plan from the most conservative legislature in the country. Like taking on organized crime, and getting convictions on men who had a contract on my life. Like stepping in to negotiate labor disputes, but calling the National Guard when that’s what it took to keep the peace.


The America we grew up with was an America in charge. Confident of its purpose. Proud of its history. Certain of its future.


That’s America was proud and solid and real. It was an America of men and women who knew that they can do anything they set their minds on doing.


Today we have leaders who don’t set their minds on much of anything. We have a government by Teleprompter in which words and deeds have lost all logical connection.


For years we’ve heard fine words about balancing the federal budget … from the White House that never once submitted a budget within $100 billion dollars of balance.


And that’s not leadership.


For years we’ve heard courageous words about terrorists … from a President who sends them missiles for ransom and then plays and needs your when he’s called into account.


And that’s not courage.


For years we’ve heard patriotic words … from an administration that compares the Nicaraguan contras to our own founding fathers – and then sets up sultans and Saudis and Swiss bankers to fund them behind our backs.


And if that is a mockery.


In America in charge again is going to need leadership with its hands on the wheel.


Leadership that’s says what it means … does what it says … and holds itself accountable for the consequences.


The next President of the United States must dare to be different – willing to cast aside the tired orthodoxies that hold back our leaders.


The next President must chart a course that lets America take charge of its future.


He must say and do what other politicians dare not even think.  He must risk offending some potential supporters. He must risk breaching the etiquette of Washington.  He must lead.


The next President must show us the different ways to achieve an explosion of American productivity. He must do so even when change is not embraced by each and every interest group.


That is the only way to put America in charge of its economy – in charge of its future again.


In Arizona and we worked an economic miracle – creating more new jobs and more new investment than any other state in the union.


That’s what all American used to be like – dynamic, resilient, the wonder of the world economy.


Yet today our productivity is growing at half the rate of Germany, one third the rate of France, one fourth the rate of Japan.


Real family income – the bottom line value of our pay – isn’t a growing at all.


And on America’s farms, the thing that’s growing fastest is the suffering of families crushed between massive debt and lowered land values.


For the last six years, we haven’t been standing tall.  We’ve been standing still.


I want to see an America in charge of its own economic future. And that is going to take nothing less than a transformation of our economy.


Where would I start? Where the economy starts. With the backbone of our economic strength: the individual American worker.


After six years of trickle down, it’s time to build an economy from the bottom up. And a bottom-up economy is an economy that shares its gains and losses among all the people who create them.


That means rewarding productivity. I’d say to every American worker:


If you make first-rate efforts – if you pay attention to detail, if you improve the quality of the product, if you find a better way to do the job – if you make those first-rate efforts, you’ll have first-rate rewards.


That’s not what we’re saying today. How many times that you heard executives push for wage cuts – and then rewarded themselves with bonuses for their frugality?  America’s workers are not mindless commodities and they shouldn’t be treated that way.


So long as American labor and American management see themselves only as adversaries – so long as they fail to understand that they must pull together, and that one cannot succeed without the other – so long as these things are true, we will never return to our rightful place as the number one economy in the world.


The next President must set this national goal:


That by 1996 – after eight years of the next administration – the American workplace will reflect the common pursuit of labor and management: the pursuit of competitive success.


That by 1996 two-thirds of American workers will directly share in the profits and losses of their own business.


That they’ll earn new forms of compensation that give them a greater stake in the products they produce and the companies they work for.


That 1996 will signal the end of trickle down economics, and the arrival of an economy built from the bottom up.


The next president must say that no American company will be permitted to deduct an executive bonus as a business expense unless it offers productivity pay for all its employees. Productivity is a shared effort and must have shared rewards.


And those rewards must not be taxed into oblivion. If you perform well and if you earn a bonus for that performance, you should have the right to deposit that bonus in a tax-exempt account.

When American workers have a greater stake in the wealth of this nation – and when the American President has greater courage to stand up for our national economic interests – then we will be ready to take charge of the trade deficit.


Forty years ago we laid down the trading laws of nations. Things have changed since then. Those laws are obsolete, and it’s time for a new agreement.


I’m not talking about protectionism.


I’m not talking about spitting and bickering with the Europeans about the price of wine and cheese. Our whole trading position is under assault, and it’s no time to be fighting over hors d’oeuvres.


The next President must summon the leaders of the world’s industrial powers, and together they should tear up all the complicated agreements over who can sell how much of what to whom and at what price.


All we need is a new and simple international agreement for balanced trade. If you export, you import, and you do it in equal measure. The overall value of what you sell to the world must match the overall value of what you buy.


And if that is not the case, and if you won’t balance your accounts, then you’re victims will balance them for you – with across-the-board tariffs that increase every year. And your accounts will come to balance, like it our not.


The concept of balance is no less important for our domestic American budget.


This white house has run up the first, second, third, fourth, fifth and sixth biggest deficits in American history. That’s unbelievable. 


As governor of Arizona, I balanced nine budgets in a row.


Our next president must be aimed to match that. But we must be honest about it: Our leaders in Washington have spent so recklessly into deficit that it may take years to repair the damage.


There’s just one way to begin those repairs.


By making choices.  By setting priorities. By deciding that some things really are more important than others.


And I say that if you don’t set priorities, and you can’t make choices, and you won’t stand by them – then you don’t belong in government and you should get out!


Being serious about choices means being honest and direct about both the additions and the difficult subtractions of federal budgeting.

Through the course of this campaign I mean to hold myself to that standard, and I challenge every candidate for president to do the same.


Government can’t do everything for everybody.


Do we really need to get a mortgage interest deduction to mansions and vacation homes?  Do we really need to pay subsidies to corporate mega farms?  Do you really need grants to subsidize projects that no mayor or governor would raise taxes to finance?  Do we really need three new generations of nuclear missiles – all at once?  Do the Vanderbilts and the Mellons really need just the same tax-exempt Social Security benefit as the widow in a cold water flat?


I say we don’t need those things. And in America in charge of its budget would put its money where really matters.


What does really matter?  What are my priorities?


First: children.


In the greatest nation on earth, one in four American children lives in poverty. Literally – below the poverty line.


They go hungry.  They have no doctors.


We must put an end to this.


What kind of economic future can we expect if our children are too hungry to learn and too sick to dream of a better life?  And what kind of society have we become if we fail to extend them a hand?


We must have got to get at the causes. We must stop this downward spiral of children having children. We must rejuvenate the old and honorable value of individuals taking responsibility for themselves.


But we must also address the immediate crisis.


Every child in poverty should be eligible for Medicaid.  Every child. Right now eight million aren’t.


Will it cost money to include them? Sure it will. And I am here to tell you it is worth it.


Another priority is education. We need a new emphasis on performance – on measurable progress by our children. And there’s no doubt about it: that will cost money too.


I would go to every statehouse and I’d propose a fair exchange. The federal government would take on the verge of funding for Medicaid. and the states would take their savings and apply them to the schools.


What about child care?  We see more and more families now with two working parents. I ought to know: I’m part of one. And most of the time it takes two jobs to keep the family going.


I believe we need a national childcare voucher, funded cooperatively with every state. Every parent who works should have a decent choice of child care, and every family that needs it should have a voucher to help make that care affordable.


Then we have to ask ourselves, what kind of environment are we leaving for our children?


One in five American households now drinks water laced with lead. I’m tired of hearing about unscrupulous people who dump toxic waste and get away with it.  I’m even more tired of hearing about the ones who get caught and have their wrist slapped with a fine.


It’s time we told every color: if you poisoned our water you will go to jail, and your money will be spent to clean up the mess.


When we look overseas, an America in charge would take advantage of the opportunities of the 1990’s.


For the first time in history, the civilizations of the East and West are coming together across the Pacific, and America stands at the meeting point.


While Marxist economies are stagnating, free market economies are expanding. Democracy is on the march from the Orient to the tip of South America.


There are those in this land who are fearful, who find a cloud around every silver lining, who detect advances by our enemies at every step. But I must tell you that they are refusing to take “yes” for an answer.  It is time to look outward with confidence, because the world is looking toward us.


An American in charge would stamp out terrorism, and we must begin with a pledge to let our heads rule our hearts. We must never again trade anything of value for a hostage. And if we take that pledge seriously, then some of the hostages may not be coming home.


We cannot prevent every terrorist outrage, but we can deter them and we can punish them.  If a nation is killing Americans and holding Americans against their will, then that nation must pay a price.


As for the Soviets, they remain a powerful and dangerous adversary. The values of their leaders have precious little in common with ours. But we must also come to realize that the terms of our competition – a battle for the loyalties of large masses of people on this earth – are distinctly to our advantage.


We should be secure enough in our strength to come to mutual agreements. Because we undeniably share an interest – and not only an interest, a duty – to prevent a nuclear war.


The vital task of our next President will be to bring the Soviets to the bargaining table and to keep them there until we have agreement.


We need a comprehensive test ban, because you can’t deploy a new weapon if you never get to test it. We need a 50% cut in offensive weapons, because it is long past time for a treaty which reduces nuclear weapons instead of ratifying an increase. And we need a mutual moratorium on Star Wars, because you don’t stop one arms race by starting another.


America does not have to leave arms merchants in charge of our diplomacy … terrorists in charge of our security … soldiers of fortune in charge of our Central America desk … Japanese traders in charge of our markets … embezzlers in charge of Wall Street … bigots in charge of our social agenda … pollsters in charge of our politics … and amateurs in charge of the White House.


I want to see in America in charge again.


All it will take is leadership.


Leadership that speaks plainly and specifically about what it means to accomplish.


Leadership that molds a government of purpose with one central goal – an explosion of productivity that builds the most prosperous economy in the world.


Leadership that gives all American workers a stake in the success of their businesses, and leadership that brings our toppling trade posture into balance.


Leadership that is bold, and different, with no fear of the unconventional or the unorthodox.


An America in charge again. I call it the cause of a lifetime. That’s why I’m here.


And that’s why I offer myself as a candidate for President of the United States.


Source:     Babbitt for President News Release

Courtesy:  Bruce Babbitt Collection, Cline Library, Northern Arizona University


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