EMBARGOED UNTIL FEBRUARY 28, 1995, 10:00 A.M., E.S.T
The Maryville Address
When I was appointed education secretary, one newspaper had this to say about where I had come from: "Lamar Alexander grew up in a lower middle class family in a small town in the mountains of Tennessee." That was all right with me but not -- I discovered when I called home the next week -- all right with my mother. She was literally reading Thessalonians to gather strength for how to deal with this slur on the family. "We never thought of ourselves that way, " she said. "You had a library card from the day you were three, and music lessons from the day you were four. You had everything you needed that was important."
Standing on the steps of our family home this morning, I was reminded that I grew up in this town of Maryville in such a privileged way. I had everything I needed that was important.
A few doors away was my grandfather's home. He was one of eighteen brothers and sisters. He ran away from these mountains when he was 11 years old, eventually became a railroad engineer out west, but got back home in time to sit on the porch and instruct me and the other children on Ruth Street, "Aim for the Top. There's more room there." So we grew up believing we could be the railroad engineer, or the principal like my father, or a concert pianist or the Governor -- or even the President of the United States. That was our picture of our future in this country.
This morning I walked from Ruth Street to Maryville High School, as I used to do. In those days, those four blocks were so filled with neighbors interested in my well being that I couldn't have gotten in much trouble even if there had been much trouble to get into.
My teachers taught me more than Algebra and music. I learned the importance of the pledge of allegiance, of telling the truth, of the greatness of this country and of our civilization, of the value of working and being on time, and of the difference between right and wrong.
Across from the school is the Presbyterian Church. If the church doors were open, we were there. Sunday morning, Sunday night fellowship, Monday night scouts, Wednesday prayer meeting, Thursday choir practice. Sometimes I even played the piano at revival meetings while my father led the singing.
And, of course, we were Republicans. One of my ancestors, when someone asked his politics, said, "I am a Presbyterian and a Republican. I fought to save the Union and I vote like I shot." So when I was ten years old my father brought me to this courthouse one Saturday morning to meet our Congressman. His name was Howard Baker, Sr. He gave me a dime. I will never forget it. And when I left I was sure I had met the most respected man I was ever likely to meet, other than my father, my grandfather and the preacher. I was taught to look up to Mr. Baker and what he did.
During the last five decades, I have had the opportunity to see my hometown and this country from almost every angle. I have walked across Tennessee and driven across America, even lived outside it in Australia for six months with my family. As education Secretary I was in classrooms in 101 cities. I know very well that this is the place -- America is still the country of opportunity.
I also know that not everyone today can imagine these opportunities for themselves in the same way I always have. Not everyone grew up with the privileges I had. And I believe those two things --- opportunity and privileges -- go hand in hand.
In 1991 I stood on a street corner in East Los Angeles with a principal who does that every day after school to discourage gangs from forming. The children were walking home through streets in which none of us would feel safe. They gave me a book of their poems entitled, "Farewell to the Morning." That was their view of their lives.
Some friends of our own children, now in their twenties, don't believe there is an American Dream anymore. This past summer, when I drove across America for two months, spending the night in homes, staying up late talking, I would ask, "Do you believe your children and your grandchildren will have more opportunities growing up in this country than you have had? Most people were afraid to say yes.
When Americans do not have an almost irrational belief in our unlimited future --and that each one of us has the opportunity to have a part of that future -- then we are losing what is unique about our country. We are losing the promise of American life.
I was also reminded on that drive across our country, that Americans know exactly why some of us are losing faith in our future. It is first, because of the arrogance of Washington, D.C. and, second, because of a collapse those institutions --the family, the neighborhood, the church and the schools -- that gave to me and to most of you -- the privileges that made us believe in my grandfather's advice, "Aim for the Top."
This anger at the arrogance of Washington, D.C., and this deep worry about what has been happening to our most basic institutions, produced a Republican Congress in November and gave birth to the opportunity for a new American revolution -- and the opportunity to turn that anger into hope.
The place to start is Washington, D.C. This is where I am different than most of the other candidates who will be seeking the nomination for President this year.
I have been a governor, a university president, and have helped to start a business that today has more than 1200 employees. I have worked for short terms for two Presidents, but unlike the other candidates -- I came home. I have spent about half the last 25 years in public service and half in the private sector. I live in Nashville, not Washington, D.C.
Where I come from has everything to do with where I stand.
Because I believe that parents and teachers know more about their children than anyone in Washington, I would abolish the U.S. Department of Education and move the responsibility back home. We know what to do.
I would not just fix welfare in Washington, I would end it and move the dollars back to you. We know what to do.
I would move most job training and law enforcement and Medicaid out of Washington, D.C. I have a short list of more than $200 billion worth of such policies and programs and decisions to send home. That would be a good start.
And I would fight for term limits and encourage the Congress to go home, too -- to spend six months at home with the people they represent -- because you know what they should do.
Someone asked me yesterday if the new Republican Congress is going too far. Just the reverse. I am afraid it will be too timid. The greatest danger Republicans have is this: now that we have captured Washington, we must not let Washington capture us.
For example, the Congress is considering legislation that would cut off welfare benefits after two years. I favor cutting off welfare benefits after two years, or perhaps sooner. But it is none of the business of Washington what Tennessee does about that. I trust Governor Sundquist and the people of this state to make that decision. We know what to do.
There is a federal crime bill that would require the state to adopt certain prison sentences in order to receive federal money. This sounds like Democrats giving orders from Washington, D.C.! If they want to set state prison sentences, they should resign and come home and run for governor or for the legislature or for sheriff. We are not too stupid to know what to do.
The worst thing we could do is to replace the arrogant empire we defeated with an arrogant empire of our own.
Because of where I come from, I believe we should spend less time trying to reinvent America in Washington, D.C. and more time trying to remember the principles that have made it such a remarkable country in the first place.
Equal opportunity is one of those first principles. That means scholarships and jobs should be for everybody and not based upon the color of your skin or where you came from. That is why as a student and governor I fought for civil rights, and as education secretary I said race-based scholarships were wrong.
The first Congress felt comfortable passing the First Amendment on one day and a national day of prayer called Thanksgiving on the next. That is why in 1981 I felt comfortable signing a law permitting a moment of silence including voluntary prayer in our schools.
My grandfather sold his farm to move his family into town so my father could attend Maryville High School. That is why I know that all families, especially poor families, should have the broadest possible choices of all schools. Parents, better than the government, know what that school should be.
I learned long time ago that it makes no sense for the government in Washington to spend $600 million more each day than it takes in. I am the only Republican candidate for President who has ever balanced a government budget. In eight years I balanced eight budgets, lowered the state debt and reduced the number of state employees.
Because I helped to start a business, I would cut the capital gains tax in a minute. That taught me that nothing else would better provide dollars to help growing companies create new jobs.
You and I know that it is dangerous for our country to reduce defense spending as a percentage of our wealth to its lowest level since 1940 when, in many ways, the world has never been more uncertain.
We know that for the last two years a "focus group Presidency" guided by overnight polling has been especially damaging to our foreign policy. The President's zigging and zagging has perplexed our allies and encouraged our enemies. When the United States is not strong and certain, the rest of the world becomes more unsettled and more dangerous.
We are proud that for the last ten years family incomes have grown more rapidly in Tennessee than in any other state. And we know how it happened. It is because we knew that Saturn and Nissan and thousands of small businesses -- not the government --created jobs, that it made sense to pay more for teaching well, that we didn't have to wait on Washington to build our own interstate highways, that the right to work law and stronger universities and the fifth lowest state taxes meant better jobs.
I believe that we know what to do -- that in Maryville and Concord and Des Moines and Austin and Tampa we are not too stupid to make decisions for ourselves about how to educate our children, to help the unfortunate, to build roads, to fight crime, to create jobs, to plan our own lives.
If the first place to start is Washington, D.C., then the next place to start is with you and me. Getting Washington out of our neighborhoods, won't mean much if we don't turn off our TVs and get into those neighborhoods.
The first place I stopped on my drive across America last summer was Henning, Tennessee, the home of my dear late friend -- our friend -- Alex Haley. Henning, about sixty miles north of Memphis, is a little town of 1200. When I arrived they were meeting in the city hall talking about their first drive-by shooting.
No one thought a federal crime bill would help. No one wanted the governor to send in troopers. They were talking about a 9 p.m. curfew for their children. About a community code of parental responsibility. About a city ordinance making parents pay for any damage their children cause to anyone else's property. They knew what to do --and that it was up to them to do it.
We must take responsibility for the future of our country, by taking responsibility for our own neighborhoods, schools, our families and ourselves.
Nobody else will do it for us. Washington can't do it -- that's a joke. The politicians can't do it -- won't happen. Only we the people can take responsibility for our future.
Our schools will be good when we decide they will be. We can have the power to choose the right one for our own child when we demand it.
Welfare reform will happen when citizens, not the government, penalize irresponsibility, encourage independence and offer a hand to the truly needy.
Streets will be safe when we decide that no wrong deed goes unpunished.
Families will become strong when we turn off the TV and spend more time with our children.
When I attended the Maryville schools, I carried a pen knife every day. So did most boys. Now there is a federal law against it. The federal law won't do any good at all. The reason none of us ever even thought of using our pen knives on each other was because of these homes we came from, these streets we walked through, these churches we attended, the teachers who taught us. We need a president who has the courage to say clearly and forcefully for as long as it takes for everybody to hear it, we know what to do and we must do it.
Thirty years ago Ronald Reagan, before he was elected to any public office, made an address called "A Time For Choosing." He said that in America freedom is our greatest value, and that then there were two great threats: communism abroad and big government at home.
Looking back over those last 30 years, I suppose we could say, one down and one to go. Communism, the evil empire, has virtually disappeared. But big government at home has become an arrogant empire, obnoxious and increasingly irrelevant in a telecommunications age. In every neighborhood in America, the government in Washington is stepping on the promise of American Life. The New American Revolution is about lifting that yoke from the backs of American teachers, farmers, business men and women, college presidents, and homeless shelter directors and giving us the freedom to make decisions for ourselves.
Ronald Reagan put it this way in 1964: "This is the issue of the election. Whether we believe in our capacity for self government or whether we abandon the American Revolution and confess that a little intellectual elite in a far distant capital can plan our lives for us better than we can plan ourselves. "
That was also the issue of the election in 1994. It will be the issue of 1996, and for years to come. It took 30 years of unfashionable principled leadership by the last Republican Washington outsider who became President to help collapse the evil empire. Now is a good time to give another Republican Washington outsider the opportunity to help put some humility into the arrogant empire in Washington, D.C.
When I was five, that grandfather I told you about was a switch engineer on the Santa Fe railroad in Newton, Kansas. His job was to push each big engine into the roundhouse, put it on the turntable and head it in the right direction. Last year the people pushed America's engine into the roundhouse. The new Republican Congress is trying --but we need a new President to help turn it around and head it off in the right direction.
We need a President who is part of the people's revolution.
We need a President with the vision to paint a picture of America's future and lead us into the next millennium.
We don't need a President of Washington, D.C. We need a President of the entire United States of America.
Because I am absolutely committed to moving responsibility out of Washington, D.C. and giving us the freedom to make decisions for ourselves, because deep down in my heart I believe that we know what to do, and because I am determined to help renew the American spirit the old fashioned way, neighborhood by neighborhood, block by block and family by family -- I am announcing today that I am a candidate for the office of President of the United States.
If you agree that the problem is the arrogance of Washington, D.C. and the answer is the character of our people, then this campaign is for you.
My friends, I invite you to Come On Along!
Thank you. God Bless You. God Bless the United States of America.
Lamar Alexander for President Official Campaign Web Site