Presidential Campaign and Candidates

 

Tom Harkin 1992 Announcement Speech

Remarks Prepared for Delivery

Senator Tom Harkin

Harkin Steak Fry

September 15, 1991

Are you ready?

Are you ready for a new direction in this country?

Are you ready for a president who will declare a peace dividend and turn Star Wars into Star Schools?

Are you ready for a president who will give the middle class a break instead of tax breaks to the rich?

Are you ready for a president who will make America our most favored nation and educated children our most important product?

If that's the kind of leader you want, let me introduce myself: I'm Tom Harkin. And I'm running for President.

There are those who say that we're a long shot, that we can't win, that George Herbert Walker Bush is too powerful, and can't be beat. Well I'm here to tell you that George Herbert Walker Bush has feet of clay and I intend to take a hammer to them.

I'm running for president because I believe the American people are hungry for a New Vision of America. A New Vision of America based on strong, fundamental, enduring values.

The values that my parents gave to me and your parents gave to you.

You know, the older I get, and the more I learn, the more I realize that all I ever needed to know I learned growing up in the small town of Cumming, Iowa -- population 151, up the dusty road about 20 miles north of here.

In Cumming, being a neighbor meant more than sharing the same street. We could count on each other. We looked out for each other. And when one of us did well, all of us were proud.

We could walk the streets at night and feel safe. We used to leave the milk money on the porch when we went to bed at night and we know that it would be there in the morning.

And in Cumming, we worked hard, because we knew if we worked hard, and we saved, and we studied, that we'd be rewarded, that we'd find a good job and live a better life than our parents.

In Cumming, we lived by those fundamental values of hard work . . . and being frugal . . . family . . . taking responsibility for your actions . . . faith in God . . . love of country . . . and having a care and concern for those less fortunate than yourselves.

Those are my values, and they're yours, too. They're the values of ordinary, hardworking people all over America. They unite us as a people.

But for the last four years, we've been led by a different vision of America and we've seen a different set of values coming out of the White House.

For the last four years, their message has been that you should "get as much as you can in the shortest amount of time, take what you can, and to hell with everybody else."

Their vision is to pit race against race, class against class, sex against sex, and old against young.

Their values say that those on the top are privileged and deserve special treatment and favors.

And for the last four years, the hardworking men and women, the farmers, the small business owners, the people who pull the load and pay the taxes in this country have been getting hit below the belt by Bush/Quayle economic policies.

And that's why I say that what's wrong in this country today is that there are too many people making money on money and not enough people making money in agriculture and mining and manufacturing and transportation and doing the things that create real wealth in our society.

It's time to go to the American people with a new message. And like Franklin Roosevelt said in the 30s, after taking over from the gluttons of privilege who used the 20s for their own gain at the expense of the rest of the country, "We've always known that greed was bad morals. Now we know it's bad economics."

I believe there's a hunger in America. A hunger to turn away from the greed and selfishness of George Herbert Walker Bush and J. Danforth Quayle.

I think the American people want to believe that we're more than a nation of 250 million greedy individuals each out for ourselves. That instead we're a nation, as FDR said, where the interests of one are bound by the welfare of all.

We don't want divisions in America. We don't want race against race and class against class. We want to work together.

We need to challenge our young people to something else. To ask, not what can you get out of it in the shortest amount of time, but what can you put into this country? What can you do for this country to build a better life for your children and your grandchildren?

That's the kind of challenge that John Kennedy gave to me. What can you do for your country? And that's the kind of challenge I intend to offer the American people. Because I have a New Vision of America.

I see an America challenged to be better, to work together, an America where those fundamental values serve as a bridge between the America we are and the promise of the America we can be.

I see an America where people are working well-paying, secure jobs where they can raise their families, educate their kids, buy a home, buy a car, take a nice vacation, and retire in dignity with good health care.

I see an America where our schools are second to none.

I see an America where health care is available and affordable to all.

I see an America where our streets are safe, our water is clean, and our nation is strong.

I see an America that has the physical infrastructure that will allow private business to be more effective, more efficient, and more competitive.

And I see an America where people of different races and creeds can live together in peace and harmony and have an equal chance to achieve the American Dream.

But we're not going to get there if we have a president who thinks that the real threats to our national security are half way around the world, when they're really half way down our streets.

That's the America I see. That's my New Vision of America.

And don't tell me we can't get there. Don't tell me that if we work together, it can't be done. We're Americans. We can do anything we set our minds to. We the People have never backed down from a challenge before.

We the People created the bravest, freest country on the face of the earth.

We the People built the strongest economy in the world.

We the People worked out of the Great Depression.

We the People turned back Nazism and Fascism and Communism.

We the People put a man on the moon.

And I say it's time for We the People to take back government from the privileged few and the special interests and make it work for us for a change.

Twelve years ago, the Republicans went to the American people and asked if you were better off then than you were four years before. Well, it's time we turned the tables on them.

It's time for Republicans to be measured by their own yardstick.

It's time we go to the American people and say: Okay, you've had four years of George Herbert Walker Bush.

Are you better off today than you were four years ago?

Are your roads better? Are your streets safer? How about your kids schools, are they better? How about your jobs, are your jobs paying you a little more, is it easier for you to make ends meet? How about your health care, is your health care more affordable?

And if your answer is no, then like Harry Truman asked my farmers back in 1948, "How many times do you have to get hit on the head before you figure out what's hitting you on the head?

We know what's hitting us on the head, and that's why my first act as president will be to throw that failed economic experiment of trickle down economics out the window.

You know, we've had a drought in Iowa this year. We've had a drought in California.

But nothing compares to the drought we've seen waiting for something to trickle down to us.

I say it's time to turn away from supply side economics, and throw that failed economic experiment on the trash heap of history with that other failed economic experiment called communism.

Both experiments failed. And in both cases, the only people that benefited were the privileged few on the top.

I say it's time for a new economic agenda. We need a now economic system that is resource-based, that invests in people. Don't put it in at the top. Put it in at the bottom and let it percolate up for a while.

I say it's time to invest in the people of America, to make them the smartest, healthiest, most productive workforce in the world.

And we're going to do it with American products and American work.

Abraham Lincoln, right toward the end of the Civil War, had a meeting with his economic advisors. They were planning to finish the transcontinental railroad. And Lincoln's economic advisors advised him to buy the rails from England because we could get them cheaper than we could get them in America.

Lincoln thought about this for a minute, and he replied, "You know, it seems to me that if we buy the rails from England, then we've got the rails, and they've got our money. But if we build the rails here, we've got our rails, and we've got our money."

Now that's one Republican I like. He knew what it meant to create real wealth in this country.

And we can create real wealth if we start investing here in America. And quit sending our money and our jobs overseas.

People say, "Where are you going to get the money for this? Well, we don't need additional revenues to do this. We don't need to spend more or tax more. But we do need to make some choices.

And I intend to go the American people and say "you've got a choice. This is your choice. You know what it's called? It's called a ballot.

If you think we need to continue to spend $160 billion to subsidize Europe's defense against the Soviet Union, or whatever it's called now, put your ballot in the Bush box.

But if you believe like I do that Europe is strong enough and rich enough and powerful enough to defend itself, and that we can take that wealth and invest it in better roads and mass transit and education and better health care for our people, you take your ballot and put it in the Harkin box and come home to the Democratic Party.

Together, we'll get America going. By investing in the people in this country, giving them the opportunity to climb that ladder of success.

You know, I've always said that was the difference between George Herbert Walker Bush and me. We both say you should climb that ladder of success... to make money ... to become a success.

There's nothing wrong with that. That's the American Dream.

But his policies say once you get to the top, pull the ladder up behind you. What I'm saying is that you should go ahead and climb that ladder, but make sure you leave it down there for others to climb, too.

I don't need to read about this in any history books. And I don't need to be told about this.

You all know where I come from. And if you don't, let me tell you.

I come from the wrong side of the tracks.

My father was a coal miner who didn't even have an eighth grade education. My mother was an immigrant with no formal education.

My parents raised six kids in a small, two-bedroom house. And I was the youngest. My father was 54 years old and working on WPA when I was born.

We were poor. But my parents instilled in us those traditional values.

My mother died when I was ten. Through high school, I worked on a number of jobs on road crews, building the interstate highway.

To get through college, I continued to work on construction crews, then was fortunate to earn an ROTC scholarship.

To pay back my time, I served 8 years, 8 months, and 8 days as a jet pilot in the U.S. Navy. And I was proud to do so. Proud to serve my country.

Then Ruth and I got married 23 years ago. We both worked during the day and went to law school at night. I also got help from the GI Bill.

Then I ran for Congress in a solidly Republican district, and was in Congress for 10 years.

And today, this son of a coal miner and an immigrant mother is seeking the highest office in the land.

Now that's the American Dream. That's what it's all about.

But now I read there's a new American Dream. I read about it in the paper. And here's what it said.

It said: "Vietnamese Couple Achieve American Dream. Win New Jersey State Lottery."

Now doesn't that just about say it all. That's the American Dream of George Herbert Walker Bush.

One in a million chance. And if you don't win, so long, adios sucker.

Well, I say it's time to get back to our parent's American Dream, where if you work hard, and you save, and you study, that you get rewarded.

We can reclaim the American Dream if we start investing in America.

After 8 years of investing in America, you'll see people off welfare rolls, on payrolls and climbing that ladder of opportunity.

After 8 years of investing in America, you'll see Japanese and German newspaper articles entitled "what we can learn from the Americans."

After 8 years of investing in America, you'll see people with disabilities working next to you, or eating next to you in a restaurant, and you won't think twice about it.

After 8 years of investing in America, you'll see more women and minorities working high-paying jobs because they'll have the same opportunities as everyone else.

After 8 years of investing in America, you'll see cities and neighborhoods where the streets are so safe that your kids can have a paper route.

And after 8 years of a Harkin presidency leading that kind of investment in America, you'll see that flag flying beside the best highways and freeways and railroads in the world.

You'll see that flag -- that red, white, and blue -- flying outside the best schools anywhere in the world.

You'll see that flag flying outside houses that are owned by the people who live inside them.

You'll see that flag flying outside of hospitals and health care clinics where all people can get care and everyone can pay their medical bills.

And after 8 years of a Harkin presidency, you'll see that flag flying over a White House that is fighting to make this a better country and standing up for the ordinary people of America.

I believe there are people in every city and town who share that New Vision, who are ready to roll up their sleeves, put the axe to the grindstone, and make it happen.

If you're ready for that kind of America, then give me your support, and together, we'll put a good, common sense, progressive Democrat in the White House.

Thank you.

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

 

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