Presidential Campaign and Candidates

 

Bob Kerrey 1992 Announcement Speech

U.S. SENATOR BOB KERREY

ANNOUNCEMENT SPEECH FOR THE CANDIDACY OF

PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA

SEPTEMBER 30, 1991

LINCOLN, NEBRASKA

At the center of this great country and on the edge of a new century, I am today announcing my candidacy to be the next President of the United States of America.

This announcement is to all America. But the first message is to Nebraska. You are the people who supported me each time I've asked for help. In my family, business and in politics.

I have never done anything alone; I have always needed you and you have never disappointed me.

At the beginning of this campaign I remember this community most for what you did for me during my life's most difficult time: when I came home wounded and disillusioned from the Vietnam War. Through your collective kindness, you helped a weakened, lonely and altogether unpleasant young man to renew his sense of purpose and to rediscover his spirit.

You did not ask what was in it for you. You didn't calculate the return you might receive on

your investment. You simply and powerfully extended love and friendship ... and I will never be able to thank you enough.

Ten years ago I came to you and asked for your help in a campaign to be Governor of Nebraska. I ran for Governor because it did not make any sense to me that government should avoid facing the most important issues just because they were controversial. As Governor, and as Senator, I have tried above all things to never waiver in my dedication to doing what I believed was right. In government, as in life, truth is always more valuable than approval.

Once more I come to you and ask: Will you help me now become the next President of the United States of America?

I know the greatness of America, and I know what is at stake. Too often, we take our democratic system for granted. And too often, particularly over the past two decades, we forget that all of us have the right to demand more from our leaders -- that we should expect our President to live up to the standards set by our Founding Fathers.

I want to lead a process of renewal in America in order to bring about new possibilities for us as individuals, families and businesses. Only then can we build greatness back into American life. Greatness should animate and motivate our work today.

I want to lead America's fearless, restless voyage of generational progress. We have been led off course by a Federal government whose engine has become inertia; whose direction is adrift; and whose compass is cynicism. I am running for President because America urgently needs better, bolder leadership that will build for greatness again.

I want to lead because I believe almost everyone but our present leadership knows what we must do. I believe Americans know deep in their bones that something is terribly wrong and that business as usual -- the prescription for the 80s -- cannot work for our future. What we need is a renewal ... a renewal that leads to a willingness to act upon the idea of building for greatness.

My generation is uniquely positioned to understand what must now be done. I am repeatedly drawn to the difference between the world I inherited as a young man and the world I am preparing to pass on to my children.

When I graduated from high school in 1961, I and my classmates faced a future of great promise, the direct result of our parents' determination to make our lives better than their own.

Our parents' generation had taken our nation into the forefront of world leadership. They had defeated fascism, and were in the process of implementing a network of arms and alliances that would eventually contain communism.

And my parents' generation was doing great things for us at home. In 1961 they were in the midst of building a brand new interstate highway system to be paid for with cash. The schools they provided us were respected throughout the world. They gave us a thriving economy that enabled us to double our standard of living within a single generation; to buy a house; to purchase health care; to afford higher education for our own children.

Next year, my own son will graduate from high school. What kind of legacy will he inherit?

My generation understands that the power of those earlier gifts is dwindling because our leadership simply has not renewed them.

I can feel thankful that the threat of communism has receded, and that my son does not face the likelihood of war. But the benefits of this historic victory have not been brought home to the people who deserve to claim them.

The staggering cost of that malignant neglect can be seen in the frustrated faces of the millions who cannot find work, or pay for health care, or make ends meet. And that neglect will carve even deeper scars on our next generation: the Americans of the next century.

At the end of this century, my daughter will be graduating from college. Unless we do things differently now, she will assume title to a far different inheritance than we received in 1961.

Unless we do things differently now, she and her classmates could each inherit an $84,000 I.O.U. in the year 2000 -- their share of a massively enlarged federal debt that will crimp their standard of living and that of their children.

Unless we do things differently now, these turn of the century graduates can expect family lives where stagnant incomes will force them into more hours at work and less time with their children, where home ownership and college tuition and even adequate health care will be beyond the reach of all but the wealthiest.

Unless we do things differently now, today's children will inherit a land where their daily lives are diminished by highways and communications systems that are inadequate by the standards of our international competitors; by natural resources depleted by wasteful use; and by divisions of race and income that tear at our cities filled with human lives wasted by drugs, violence and neglect.

I am running for President because the future I fear for my children is already a reality for far too many Americans. I am ready to serve because none of it has to be. It is time for leadership committed to posterity rather than popularity and focused on the next century instead of the next election.

The year 1992 offers us a chance to break from a decade in which our leaders invited a season of cynicism. They invoked morality but winked at greed. They criticized the public sector but then robbed it blind. They spoke of balanced budgets but never submitted one. They railed against taxes but raised them on the middle class. They called for civil rights but practiced racial politics. They wrapped their cause in motherhood but tried to strip motherhood of choice or meaningful opportunities.

In our hearts, we all know that the unchecked selfishness and greed that dominated the policies of the eighties has taken its toll on our nation. Our enthusiasm for the dream and our willingness to believe has been cooled by leaders who have betrayed our trust.

This campaign is grounded in the belief that we can and should trust again. As such its not so much a fight against George Bush as a fight for what America can be.

The year 1992 offers a chance to end the feeling that our economic future is impaired.

President Bush simply has not done all he could or should be doing.

In truth he reminds me of some managers I've known in business; great person to be around; all his employees love him. But the business is losing money, and all he's offering is excuses as to why nothing can be done. It is time for America to change managers.

Still, President Bush is not the enemy. A more difficult enemy for us to defeat is our own pessimism -- particularly in the Democratic Party -- that any effort matters, that anything we do will change the dangerous direction which America is heading today.

I want the Democratic Party to become a can-do party again. We should become the party that put America back to work as we did during the Depression. We should become the party that reached out to those bent low and raised our sights up to the moon as we did in my generation. It is time again for us to do great things. If we do, we can stand at the dawn of the next century proud of what we gave the Class of 2000.

Proud that we got our economy moving again by investing in our nation, spurring its growth, and corralling the deficit.

Proud that we changed our system of financing health care so that medical care is established as a right, and no American -- young or old -- is ever priced out of the care they need.

Proud that we created an America where no child is hungry for food, but every child is hungry for learning.

Proud that we built schools that work because they had the resources and freedom to get the job done right.

Proud that we transformed our communication system into a bridge between the work of our schools and the work of our homes and a window onto new worlds of learning.

This campaign is not just about America taking care of the business at home. It is about a new role for America in the world.

The confrontational nature of the conflict between the United States and the Soviet Union will soon be a distant memory. Still present will be the perennial dangers of totalitarianism, national piracy and unchecked aggression.

It is crucial that America give new attention as well to an old conflict: the conflict between developed and undeveloped nations.

In this bipolar conflict between the haves and have-nots the United States will have a special dual role. We must compete hard with those nations that are our equals. But at the same time we must not relinquish our role as the champion of individual freedoms. We must work hard to give citizens of less developed nations the opportunity to participate in a growing international economy ... not as an act of charity but as act of enlightened self interest.

As we compete with our equals, America's President must fight the battle at home AND our President must use the authority given by Congress to fight a trade war which is endangering our economy and those of the non-developed world. In particular, and most difficult, will be our friends and allies, the Japanese whose adversarial policies undermine much more than the economic prosperity of Americans. Restrictive, purely nationalistic trade policies by developed nations will make life more miserable for the growing number of people on this planet who are unable to support themselves.

In addition to helping to settle economic conflicts America must lead the effort on population control, global warming, soil loss, deforestation and the status of the world's children. On this short list of issues we must lead not impede progress on this earth.

It is crucial for America's President to understand the power of our words. When President Reagan called the Soviet Union an evil empire he did much to bring down these totalitarian regimes. And as the wall of secrecy drops on Eastern Europe and the Soviet Republics we are seeing that the evil was worse than most imagined. Our words can cut the lies from the mouths of those who speak them and embolden people to act. And we still must be prepared to speak and act -- in China, where repressive acts have been rewarded not with condemnation, but with most-favored-nation trade status. And in Vietnam, where the cruelties of the communist takeover sixteen years ago are only now beginning to become apparent.

As we wonder whether to raise our voices to oppose the world's remaining dictators and to defend the right of all men and women to be free, we should remember this: Vaclav Havel, Lech Walesa, and Nelson Mandela came to America to thank us for saving them, not for saving ourselves. The cause of the Cold War was not just to defend America; it was to liberate four hundred million people.

In the 1990s and beyond we will need new strategies and new partnerships to lead America through the intense economic competition, ethnic strife, shifting coalitions and proliferation of weapons. What should not change is the rudder that has guided America for the past forty-five years. The essence of our success was America's willingness to pay a price to secure the freedom of others.

I am proud and grateful for the effort made by the architects and implementers of the policies of containment. Friday night America heard President Bush -- a proud man has been fighting cold war battles for most of his thirty-five years in public life -- take the first concrete step beyond containment.

It was an exciting and serious moment. Exciting because we are heading in the direction of increased freedom, stability and prosperity. Serious because we need to change our military force structure with an alert mind that focuses on our safety and security. It is also a serious moment because we are aware that the next battle will be an economic fight, and we are not yet fully prepared for the effort. Perhaps the most important change we need is that our political leaders are going to have to risk a little if we hope to gain a lot.

Nothing better symbolizes the sense of new purpose we need to demand of our leaders than the building that stands behind me -- Nebraska's State Capitol. It was built by Nebraskans at the start of the Great Depression. If ever a people had the right to give up it was the people who built this building.

But just look at what they did. They built this building with cash. They built it to last and to be enjoyed beyond their lifetimes. They were not motivated by a depreciation schedule or the desire to brag about their accomplishment on their campaign brochures. They built this building for generations yet unborn. And they did something else we should notice and emulate -- they built it to inspire.

This building turns our eyes and spirits upward. It should occur to us that if God gave the Nebraskans of our past the strength and courage to overcome pessimism and build for greatness, then we ought not doubt our capacity to do the same.

It requires us to believe. It requires us to risk. Most of all it requires us to look towards and work for the future.

The words of a martyr to the cause of freedom should guide our work today:

"It may be that the day of judgment will dawn tomorrow; in that case, we shall gladly stop working for a better future. But not before."

Let us go now ... and begin the good work of building greatness in America again.

Source: Field Guide to the 1992 Presidential Campaign Democracy in Action

 

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