March 10, 1999
I know your life is busy: so many things you need to do and not enough time for what you want to do, so, thanks for choosing to spend a few minutes with me. I promise to be brief. But I have some thoughts I'm eager to share with you about the future of our country. And I'd like to talk a little about my own sense of obligation as a citizen of the freest land on earth.
As you know, I have been thinking about running for President.
Since I left the American Red Cross, January 15th, I've been traveling around the country, and I've been humbled by the response. It's been inspiring to appear before overflow crowds in such places as New Hampshire, Iowa, Colorado, Florida, and Texas. It's been that way everywhere, but I don't think I'm the cause. I think the crowds and the enthusiasm are evidence of a great American yearning to make our nation a better place.
Yes, I've seen many Presidential campaigns up close. I know what they entail. And I know a run for the Presidency should be undertaken only if you believe in something so strongly that its accomplishment makes everything worthwhile.
And if I run, this will be why: I believe our people are looking for leaders who will call America to her better nature. Yes, we've been let down -- and by people we should have been able to look up to. But it's not just that. Politics and the politics of governing have become so negative, so paralyzed by special interests, that as a people we're beginning to lose faith in our own institutions. It's only a short step to losing faith in ourselves, and then we would be lost.
When I entered public service as a young woman, it was considered a noble thing to do. Today, too many of our young men and women can't see the wondrous possibilities of public life for the ugliness of politics. And they turn away from public service.
We must rekindle a spirit in our hearts -- something very American, something still alive but buried beneath a thickening layer of skepticism and doubt. We must renew faith in the goodness of our nation, and a sense in ourselves that each one of us can make a difference -- no matter how large the challenge. For both are true.
Restoring a national belief in the power of the individual and the need for acceptance of personal responsibility is, I believe, at the center of our challenge today as a nation.
Now, what would I as a woman offer our country? I'm not a politician, and frankly, I think that's a plus today. . But I have spent a lifetime in public service, and let me tell you a bit about that.
First of all, I have had the opportunity to serve five presidents, served as a federal trade commissioner, and of course I've just recently been serving as president of the American Red Cross, which is a $2.2 billion corporation.
Now at the Department of Transportation, my mission was really to oversee the management of material resources. At the Labor Department, it was human resources, and at the Red Cross, inner resources. So let me describe that for a moment.
First of all, at the Department of Transportation, we were responsible for highway construction, shipbuilding, air traffic control, and indeed we had the flagship of privatization and that was the sale of Conrail, our government freight railroad. Now in order to do that, you had to be an anti-trust lawyer, a rail expert and an investment banker. I learned a lot in selling that railroad. That's experience, that's experience and that's what counts, you know. You've got to have the experience in governing, and indeed I've had a lot of that.
So we sold the freight railroad; we got $2 billion to help reduce the deficit. We also sold the Alaska railroad. We also transferred two airports out of the federal government where they were on the dole, excuse me for the pun. they were on the federal dole and getting only a few million dollars, and they happened to be gateways to the nation's capital, Dulles and National, which should be first class facilities. And if you fly into National Airport, I hope you'll enjoy that new airport. There have been eight efforts to do this since 1949.
We were able to get it done. Why? Because I had a team of people, who were the best and the brightest, and I believe that's what you need in every job that you're in. You get the best people working with you. Volunteers, staff, people who really understand how to get the job done. You find those areas that really need to be fixed. I'm not a seat warmer, you know. I want to get in there and make a difference, a positive difference for people. So you find the areas where you can you really make a difference and you go for it. So we got those airports transferred out of the government and they were able to get the revenue bonds as a regional authority to build magnificent airports, and that's what you'll see when you fly into Washington..
We also took safety on as a major initiative, because what could be more important if you want to make a difference than the safety of the airways, the railways, the waterways, the highways. And we had to date at that time the safest in all those modes of transportation. We did things like overhauling the inspection system on the airlines. Why? Because we'd been through deregulation of the airlines, and they were still using the same inspector's handbook for 28 years. So it was time to refurbish the inspection system for the airlines. We also put those lights in, you know when you get on airplanes you see the low level lights, you recognize that, the smoke detectors in the lavatories, the less flammable seat covering, all of that to try and make cabin safety better.
And we were the first civilian department to undergo random drug testing, which was not exactly popular at the time. But you have to take the risks, you have to do those important things to make that difference. . Okay.
Now, Department of Labor. Okay, here we're dealing with human resources. What could be more important than trying to turn young lives around from the most negative behavior, gang leaders, et cetera, to help them to prepare for a good job, and many of them for college. That became our top priority. And that was a wonderful mission field again for me.
We also wanted to try to make a difference in a very, very bitter eleven-month coal strike. Families were torn apart; communities were torn apart. I went down to the coal fields; I couldn't believe what a really incredible situation for so many months existed. So I called in the president of the Pittston coal company and the president of the United Mine Workers, who I don't think were speaking to each other at the time. And we had some talks and we worked together to appoint a super-mediator who would help us to resolve this strike. It took a long time, right through the holiday season, but on New Year's Eve we were successful in settling that coal strike. Again, that's experience, that's hands on experience that I think makes the difference. And there were many other issues at the Department of Labor, but let me move quickly to the Red Cross.
Because here I was trying to inspire people to give of themselves as volunteers, to give of their financial resources and to give of their blood, because the Red Cross provides half of America's blood supply. So, inner resources, right? And I'll give you one example, maybe two, of many.
One would be that we laid out a new state-of-the-art system for delivering disaster relief. And I think you know how important, with the Midwest floods I was here many times back at that time. You have got to have material out in the field ready to be utilized. We trained 21,000 people for the catastrophic events, so that they'd be ready in a moment's notice to go out, and it never shuts down, it's going 24 hours a day, seven days a week, monitoring disasters, current threats, impending threats, and helping to move our people move our equipment wherever needed. You notice I still speak in the present tense about the Red Cross; I guess it'll always be a part of me and very much in my heart.
Then I want to share with you blood transformation. This was the most wrenching cultural change I have ever been involved with, but I think it was crucial for America, because it involved one half of America's blood supply. At the time that I arrived at the Red Cross, we had 53 testing labs for infectious disease that were non-standardized across the country. We had 28 computer systems trying to interface all of that and we needed a quality assurance program that would really tie our organization together and meet FDA standards.
So what we did was invest a great deal of money in this state-of-the-art system that's now the best in the world. We built eight brand-new, best-in-the-world testing labs, absolutely standardized. We have one computer system now that gives us the largest blood information database in the world for transfusion medicine research and a quality assurance program that is second to none. Training that's centralized instead of each region doing it a different way. Why is this so important? Because it does set the standard, the gold standard now, for our blood supply. And it gives us a humanitarian gift to share with other countries that have problems with their blood. And that's a wonderful result of this, because we do have others that need that help, and I hope that Red Cross will continue down that path of providing assistance.
So why do I say this? There is one overarching theme, to my 30 plus years in public service, and I believe there; it's that I placed service over politics, consensus over confrontation. And I think it's important that you know that. Now I was very pleased to be a lieutenant in Ronald Reagan's army. I served in his cabinet. I served as assistant to President Reagan at the White House and also as his secretary of transportation. And I'm sure many of you will remember that famous comment of his, are you better off than were you four years ago.
I would suggest that perhaps the relevant question now is, are you better? Are your families stronger? Are your children safe from drugs? Are our schools in America first in excellence? Are you proud of the decisions you're making and the choices that those decisions are producing in terms of our country and where our country is going?
I want to talk a bit about drugs and about education, but first let me say, for all us taxpayers in this room, can you believe that taxes are the highest percentage of the grows domestic product in this country in 50 years, the highest, so an average family is paying 40 percent of their income in taxes today. In other words, an average family has got to work five months for the government. Five months to pay the local, state and federal taxes. I think something is wrong, don't you? It's time for tax relief. Yes.
And at the same time, the amount that is being spent on defense, the percent of our gross domestic product on defense is the lowest in 50 years. We know there are problems with regards to the readiness of our military, spare parts are needed, equipment that needs to be to be replaced and talented people in the military are leaving and I think our defense budget is too low. Yes. Let's get it up. The president recommended in his budget $12 billion, but only $4 billion of that is new money. The rest, the 8 billion is moving money around the the Joint Chiefs, top military advisors recommended 17 billion. I say let's go with the Joint Chiefs, right? Need more money. And, you know, at a time when the Secretary of Defense is saying that north can Korea within a year may have nuclear bombs that could reach the United States and we know Iraq is manufacturing biological weapons, we need to do everything to develop and deploy a strategic missile defense system immediately. Immediately. This is important.
Now, let me talk about drugs. You have a real problem here in Iowa with methamphetamine. In fact you've been labeled as a high intensity drug area. This is a very serious problem, very toxic drug.
I'm told by pollsters that drugs is not very high on the priority list for Americans today. My passion does not come from polling. My passion comes from yes, leadership. We need leadership. Let's move it up on the priority list. Let's get every American concerned about this cancer on our society. This is a terrible problem not just here in Iowa but all across our country. And first of all, you must use the bully pulpit to preach constantly that drugs are not cool, they kill. They kill. .
And I think the federal government needs to provide more funding for anti-drug coalitions like Senator Grassley's project, F.I.T., which is Face It Together, and what is he trying to do, and I believe strongly in this, is to bring together parents, policemen, pastors, community leaders. Let's make this a crusade. Remember Nancy Reagan's Just Say No? She made a huge difference with that program. But drug use among our teenagers has gone up, a tripling in marijuana and cocaine use in recent years. And so if we join together in a crusade to get rid of this evil on our society. My vision is a drug-free America. Let's get after it, let's go for it.
Now education. I think that is at the top of most people's lists today. Certainly it is for me. We must return our public schools to greatness, return our public schools to greatness. And you do have a wonderful system here in Iowa; I wish every state had the quality of public school system that you have here. Also your community colleges are tremendous, and this can be a big help in providing skills for people who need to change and move into new jobs. The community colleges are so important. But I believe that, first of all, we really must get parents back into the classroom. Let's have a computer in every classroom, let's have parents in every classroom, right, and discipline. .
I think my interest in education--and I do have a masters degree, I've taught in this subject--but my interest became a passion at the Department of Labor. And the reason is that many of the businessmen and women I talked to said, you know the young people coming out of high school don't have the skills that we need for the jobs that we have available, it's like this, and we've got to do something about this. They are not prepared with the right skills. And so we initiated the number of ideas which we hoped could really help to get those young people trained for the jobs that are available today. And it became a real passion with me.
And I have great respect for our teachers. I think that most of our teachers are great servants of the public. But we know that some are not up to standard, that they're teaching a course that they really are not properly qualified to teach, like a foreign language when they don't know how to speak the language.
So, recently, I spoke to the university and college presidents, and I said, you know something, I said, you really have the lion's share of the responsibility here. You should make your schools of education a more central part of your university and your college. You need to have more rigorous training for your teachers, rigorous certification and then of course a more prestigious degree. So I think that's important.
I think that much more of our federal money, your tax money, should go to the local school districts, because yes one size doesn't fit all. In one school district it may be you need new classrooms or a building to be repaired that's falling down or the computers in the classroom or it may be more teachers, maybe smaller classes. Let's give the money to the school districts--let them decide what is important.
And as we raise regard for teachers, let's hope that we raise the regard for public servants. Because I think whether you're in the classroom or in government or whether you're working at the local Red Cross, public service brings out the best in ourselves ; it brings out the best.
And let me in closing just illustrate why I think Americans are calling for leaders who really will help to call America to her better nature. At the American Red Cross, I saw things that'll haunt me the rest of my life. Praying with parents at Oklahoma City, hoping their child would still be pulled alive from that rubble. Over in Rwanda, Zaire, which is now Congo, I was stepping over dead bodies after that rush of people, million people, left the country self years ago. And this was a terrible situation where little children were held by the Red Cross there, we were trying to find some extended family. They had nothing. Their parents had been hacked to death with machetes. They had no home, no parents, no food, no clothes, no hope, no future, nothing but the humanitarian organizations to help them.
And you realize as you look at that how often we take all these advantages in our country for granted, how blessed we are to be Americans, ladies and gentlemen, how blessed we are. . And we've been blessed to be a blessing, haven't we? We've received that we might give.
And as I saw these things that would haunt me the rest of my life, I also saw the power of the human heart. People who would travel halfway around the globe or maybe all the way around the globe to help people that they've never seen and will never see again. Wonderful volunteers like licensed mental health workers, psychiatrists, psychologists, who come and take Red Cross courses for disaster relief and help the victims of plane crashes and earthquakes in Oklahoma City.
So I would just say this is what we yearn for. These are the values, it is respect for our fellow man, isn't it, civility, personal responsibility, the fact that the individual can make a difference, every individual can. And certainly honesty and integrity, this is what I think people yearn for today. And we're a great country, yes. . Yes, that's neighbor helping neighbor, isn't it? That's what it is all about.
And so let me thank you again, this wonderful band and the great music you provided, all the people willing to come out and be with us today to really help me launch this exploratory committee. I hope this has given you an idea why I would run if I ultimately throw my hat in the ring, also what qualifications I can bring to this awesome position and some of the issues that I would be concerned about. And there are many more. But let me tell you when you just left the Red Cross five and a half weeks ago, you want to talk to a lot of people, get really good ideas. This is a people to people effort on my part. I want to hear from you, I want to listen. And then we're going to be laying out positions on all of these issues. But we want to do it in a thoughtful way, right?
So I look forward to being in touch with all of you. Don't forget now that website because I want to hear from you. And many, many thanks, heartfelt thanks, for being with me today. God bless you and God bless America. Thank you very much.
Source: Elizabeth Dole for President Official 2000 Web Site
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