|Acceptance Speech to the
Democratic National Convention by Governor Bill Clinton from
New York, NY
July 16, 1992
Governor Richards, Chairman Brown, Mayor Dinkins, our great host,
my fellow delegates and my fellow Americans, I am so proud of Al
He said he came here tonight because he always wanted to do the
warm-up for Elvis. Well, I ran for President this year for one
reason and one reason only: I wanted to come back to this convention
and finish that speech I started four years ago. (Applause)
Last night Mario Cuomo taught us how a real nominating speech
should be given. (Applause) He also made it clear why we have to
steer our ship of state on a new course. Tonight I want to talk with
you about my hope for the future, my faith in the American people,
and my vision of the kind of country we can build together.
I salute the good men who were my companions on the campaign
trial: Tom Harkin (Applause), Bob Kerrey (Applause), Doug Wilder
(Applause), Jerry Brown (Applause), and Paul Tsongas (Applause).
One sentence in the Platform we built says it all. The most
important family policy, urban policy, labor policy, minority
policy, and foreign policy America can have is an expanding
entrepreneurial economy of high-wage, high-skilled jobs. (Applause)
And so, in the name of all those who do the work and pay the
taxes, raise the kids, and play by the rules, in the name of the
hardworking Americans who make up our forgotten middle class, I
proudly accept your nomination for President of the United States.
I am a product of that middle class, and when I am President, you
will be forgotten no more. (Applause)
We meet at a special moment in history, you and I. The Cold War
is over. Soviet communism has collapsed and our values -- freedom,
democracy, individual rights, free enterprise- they have triumphed
all around the world. And yet, just as we have won the Cold War
abroad, we are losing the battles for economic opportunity and
social justice here at home. (Applause)
Now that we have changed the world, it’s time to change America.
I have news for the forces of greed and the defenders of the
status quo: Your time has come and gone. Its time for a change in
Tonight 10 million of our fellow Americans are out of work, tens
of millions more work harder for lower pay. The incumbent President
says that unemployment always goes up a little before a recovery
begins, but unemployment only has to go up by one more person before
a real recovery can begin. (Applause) And Mr. President, you are
This election is about putting power back in your hands and
putting government back on your side. It’s about putting people
You know, I’ve said that all across the country, and when I do,
someone always comes back to me, as a young man did just this week
at a town meeting at the Henry Street Settlement on the Lower East
side of Manhattan.
He said, “That sounds good, Bill, but you’re a politician. Why
should I trust you?”
Tonight, as plainly as I can, I want to tell you who I am, what I
believe, and where I want to lead America. (Applause)
I never met my father. He was killed in a car wreck on a rainy
road three months before I was born, driving from Chicago to
Arkansas to see my mother.
After that, my mother had to support us, so we lived with my
grandparents while she went back to Louisiana to study nursing. I
can still see her clearly tonight through the eyes of a
three-year-old, kneeling at the railroad station and weeping as she
put me back on the train to Arkansas with my grandmother.
She endured that pain because she knew her sacrifice was the only
way she could support me and give me a better life. My mother taught
me. She taught me about family and hard work and sacrifice. She held
steady through tragedy after tragedy, and she held our family- my
brother and I- together through tough times.
As a child, I watched her go off work each day at a time when it
wasn’t always easy to be a working mother.
As an adult, I watched her fight off breast cancer, and again she
has taught me a lesson in courage. And always, always, always she
taught me to fight.
That’s why I’ll fight to create high-paying jobs so that parents
can afford to raise their children today.
That’s why I’m so committed to make sure every American gets the
health care that saved my mother’s life (Applause) and that women’s
health care gets the same attention as men’s. (Applause)
That’s why I’ll fight to make sure women in this country receive
respect and dignity, whether they work in the home, out of the home,
or both. (Applause)
You want to know where I get my fighting spirit? It all started
with my mother. Thank you, Mother. I love you. (Applause)
When I think about opportunity for all Americans, I think about
my grandfather. He ran a country store in our little town of Hope.
There was no food stamps back then, so when his customers, whether
they were White or Black who worked hard and did the best they
could, came in with no money, well, he gave them food anyway. He
just made a note of it. So did I. (Applause)
Before I was big enough to see over the counter, I learned from
him to look up to people other folks looked down on. (Applause)
My grandfather just had a high school education- a grade school
education- but in that country store he taught me more about
equality in the eyes of the Lord than all my professors at
Georgetown, more about the intrinsic worth of every individual that
all the philosophers at Oxford, more about the need for equal
justice under the law than all the jurists at Yale Law School.
If you want to know where I come by the passionate commitment I
have to bringing people together without regard to race, it all
started with my grandfather. (Applause)
I learned a lot from another person too: a person who for more
than 20 years has worked hard to help our children, paying the price
of time to make sure our schools don’t fail them. Someone who
traveled our state for a year, studying, learning, listening, going
to PTA meetings, school board meetings, town hall meetings, putting
together a package of school reforms recognized around the Nation,
and doing it all while building a distinguished legal career and
being a wonderful, loving mother.
That person is my wife.
Hillary taught me. She taught me that all children can learn and
that each of us has a duty to help them do it.
So if you want to know why I care so much about our children, and
our future, it all started with Hillary. I love you. (Applause)
Frankly, I am fed up with politicians in Washington lecturing the
rest of us about family values. Our families have values. But our
government doesn’t. (Applause)
I want an America where family values live in our actions, not
just in our speeches. (Applause) An America that includes every
family. Every traditional family and every extended family. Every
two parent family. Every single-parent family. And every foster
family. Every family. (Applause)
I do want to say something to the fathers in this country who
have chosen to abandon their children by neglecting their child
support: Take responsibility for your children or we will force you
to do so. (Applause) Because governments don’t raise children;
parents do. And you should. (Applause)
And I want to say something to every child in America tonight who
is out there trying to grow up without a father or a mother: I know
how you feel. You are special too.
You matter to America. And don’t you ever let anybody tell you
can’t become whatever you want to be. (Applause) And if other
politicians make you feel like you are not part of their family,
come on and be part of ours. (Applause)
(Chants of “We Want Bill!”)
The thing that makes me angriest about what has gone wrong in the
last 12 years is that our government has lost touch with our values,
while our politicians continue to shout about them. I’m tired of it!
I was raised to believe the American Dream was built on rewarding
hard work. But we have seen the folks of Washington turn the
American ethic on its head.
For too long those who play by the rules and keep the faith have
gotten the shaft, and those who cut corners and cut deals have been
People are working harder than ever, spending less time with
their children, working nights and weekends at their jobs instead of
going to PTA and Little League or Scouts. And their incomes are
still going down. (Applause) Their taxes are still going up. And the
costs of health care, housing and education are going through the
Meanwhile, more and more of our best people are falling into
poverty even though they work 40 hours a week. (Applause)
Our people are pleading for change, but government is in the way.
It has been hijacked by privileged private interests. It has
forgotten who really pays the bills around here. (Applause) It has
taken more of your money and given you less in return. We have got
to go beyond the brain-dead politics in Washington and give our
people the kind of government they deserve, a government that works
for them. (Applause)
A President ought to be a powerful force for progress. But right
now I know how President Lincoln felt when General McClellan
wouldn’t attack in the Civil War. He asked him, “If you’re not going
to use your army, may I borrow it?” (Laughter)
And so I say: George Bush, if you won’t use our power to help
America, step aside. I will. (Applause)
(Chants of “We Want Bill!”)
Our country is falling behind. The President is caught in the
grip of a failed economic theory. We have gone from first to 13th in
the world in wages since Ronald Reagan and Bush have been in office.
Four years ago, candidate Bush said, “America is a special place,
not just another pleasant country somewhere on the UN Roll Call
between Albania and Zimbabwe.” Now under President Bush, America has
an unpleasant economy struck somewhere between Germany and Sri
And for most Americans, Mr. President, life’s a lot less kind and
a lot less gentle than it was before your administration took
(Chants of “Bush Must Go!”)
Listen, do it some more.
(Chants of “Bush Must Go!)
Our country has fallen so far so fast that just a few months ago
the Japanese prime minister actually said he felt sympathy for the
United States. Sympathy. When I am your President (Applause), the
rest of the world will not look down on us with pity but up to us
with respect again. (Applause)
What is George Bush doing about our economic problems?
Now, four years ago he promised 15 million new jobs by this time,
and he’s over 14 million short. Al Gore and I can do better.
He has raised taxes on the people driving pickup trucks and
lowered taxes on the people riding in limousines. We can do better.
He promised to balance the budget, but he hasn’t even tried. In
fact, the budgets he has submitted to Congress nearly doubled the
debt. Even worse, he wasted billions and reduced our investments in
education and jobs. We can do better. (Applause)
So if you are sick and tired of a government that doesn’t work to
create jobs, if you’re sick and tired of a tax system that’s stacked
against you, if you’re sick and tired of exploding debt and reduced
investments in our future, or if, like the great civil rights
pioneer Fannie Lou Hamer, you’re just plain old sick and tired of
being sick and tired (Applause), then join us, work with us, win
with us, and we can make our country the country it was meant to be.
Now, George Bush talks a good game, but he has no game plan to
rebuild America, from the cities to the suburbs to the countryside,
so that we can compete and win again in the global economy. I do.
He won’t take on the big insurance companies and the
bureaucracies to control health costs and give us affordable health
care for all Americans, but I will. (Applause)
He won’t even implement the recommendations of his own commission
on AIDS, but I will. (Applause)
He won’t streamline the federal government and change the way it
works, cut 100,000 bureaucrats and put 100,000 new police officers
on the streets of American cities, but I will. (Applause)
He’s never balanced a government budget, but I have 11 times.
He won’t break the stranglehold the special interests have on our
elections and the lobbyists have on our government, but I will.
He won’t give mothers and fathers the simple chance to take some
time off from work when a baby is born or a parent it sick, but I
We’re losing our farms at a rapid rate, and he has no commitment
to keep family farms in the family, but I do. (Applause)
He’s talked a lot about drugs, but he hasn’t helped people on the
front line to wage that war on drugs and crime. But I will.
He won’t take the lead in protecting the environment and creating
new jobs in environmental technologies for the 21st century, but I
will. (Applause) And you what else? He doesn’t have Al Gore, and I
do. (Laughter and Applause)
Just in case you didn’t notice, that’s Gore with an E on the end.
(Laughter and Applause)
And George Bush- George Bush won’t guarantee a women’s right to
choose; I will.
Listen. Here me now. I am not pro-abortion; I am pro-choice,
strongly. (Applause) I believe this difficult and painful decision
should be left to the women of America. (Applause)
I hope the right to privacy can be protected and we will never
again have to discuss this issue on political platforms. (Applause)
But I am old enough to remember what it was like before Roe v. Wade,
and I do not want to return to the time when we made criminals of
women and their doctors. (Applause)
Jobs, education, health care- these are not just commitments from
my lips; they are the work of my life. (Applause)
Our priorities must be clear; we will put our people first again.
(Applause) But priorities without a clear plan of action are just
empty words. To turn our rhetoric into reality we’ve got to change
the way government does business, fundamentally. Until we do, we’ll
continue to pour billions of dollars down the drain.
The Republicans have campaigned against big government for a
generation, but have you noticed? They’ve run this big government
for a generation (Applause) and they haven’t changed a thing. They
don’t want to fix government; they still want to campaign against
it, and that’s all. (Applause)
But, my fellow Democrats, its time for us to realize we’ve got
some changing to do too. There is not a program in government for
every problem, and if we want to use government to help people, we
have got to make it work again. (Applause)
Because we are committed in this Convention and in this Platform
to making these changes, we are, as Democrats, in the words that
Ross Perot himself spoke today, “a revitalized Democratic Party.”
I am well aware that all those millions of people who rallied to
Ross Perot’s cause wanted to be in an army of patriots for change.
Tonight I say to them, join us, and together we will revitalize
Now, I don’t have all the answers, but I do know the old ways
don’t work. Trickledown economics has sure failed. And big
bureaucracies, both private and public, they’ve failed too.
That’s why we need a new approach to government, a government
that offers more empowerment and less entitlement. More choices for
young people in the schools they attend- in the public schools they
attend. (Applause) And more choices for the elderly and for people
with disabilities and the long-term care they receive. (Applause) A
government that is leaner, not meaner; a government that expands
opportunity, not bureaucracy; a government that understands that
jobs must come from growth in a vibrant and vital system of free
I call this approach the New Covenant, a solemn agreement between
the people and their government based not simply on what each of us
can take but what all of us must give to our Nation. (Applause)
We offer our people a new choice based on old values. We offer
opportunity. We demand responsibility. We will build an American
community again. The choice we offer is not conservative or liberal.
In many ways, it is not even Republican or Democratic. It is
different. It is new. And it will work. (Applause) It will work
because it is rooted in the vision and the values of the American
Of all the things that George Bush has ever said that I disagree
with, perhaps the thing that bothers me most is how he derides and
degrades the American tradition of seeing and seeking a better
future. He mocks it as the “vision thing.” (Applause)
But just remember what the Scripture says: “Where there is no
vision, the people perish.” (Applause)
I hope nobody in this great hall tonight, or in our beloved
country has to go through tomorrow without a vision. I hope no one
ever tries to raise a child without a vision. I hope nobody ever
starts a business or plants a crop in the ground without a vision.
For where there is no vision, the people perish. (Applause)
One of the reasons we have so many children in so much trouble in
so many places in this nation is because they have seen so little
opportunity, so little responsibility, so little loving, caring
community, that they literally cannot imagine the life we are
calling them to lead. (Applause)
And so I say again: Where there is no vision, America will
perish. What is the vision of our New Covenant?
An America with millions of new jobs and dozens of new
industries, moving confidently toward the 21st century.
An America that says to entrepreneurs and businesspeople: We will
give you more incentives and more opportunity than ever before to
develop the skills of your workers and to create American jobs and
American wealth in the new global economy. (Applause) But you must
do your part, you must be responsible. American companies must act
like American companies again, exporting products, not jobs.
That’s what this New Covenant is all about.
An America in which the doors of colleges are thrown open once
again to the sons and daughters of stenographers and steelworkers.
(Applause) We will say: Everybody can borrow money to go to college.
But you must do your part. You must pay it back, (Applause) from
your paychecks or, better yet, by going back home and serving your
Just think of it. Think of it. Millions of energetic young men
and women serving their country by policing the streets or teaching
the children or caring for the sick. (Applause) Or working with the
elderly and people with disabilities. Or helping young people to
stay off drugs and out of gangs, giving us all a sense of new hope
and limitless possibilities.
That’s what this New Covenant is all about. (Applause)
An America in which health care is a right, not a privilege
(Applause), in which we say to all of our people: Your government
has the courage finally to take on the health care profiteers and
make health care affordable for every family. (Applause) But you
must do your part. Preventive care, prenatal care, childhood
immunization- saving lives, saving money, saving families from
That’s what the New Covenant is all about.
An America in which middle-class incomes, not middle-class taxes,
are going up.
An America, yes, in which the wealthiest few, those making over
$200,000 a year, are asked to pay their fair share. (Applause)
An America in which the rich are not soaked, but the middle class
is not drowned, either. (Applause)
Responsibility starts at the top.
That’s what the New Covenant is all about.
An America where we end welfare as we know it. We will say to
those on welfare: You will have, and you deserve, the opportunity,
through training and education, through child care and medical
coverage, to liberate yourself. (Applause) But then, when you can,
you must work, because welfare should be a second chance, not a way
of life. (Applause)
That’s what the New Covenant is all about.
An America with the world’s strongest defense, ready and willing
to use force when necessary.
An America at the forefront of the global effort to preserve and
protect our common environment- and promoting global growth.
An America that will not coddle tyrants, from Baghdad to Beijing.
An America that champions the cause of freedom and democracy from
Eastern Europe to Southern Africa- and in our own hemispheres, in
Haiti and Cuba.
The end of the Cold War permits us to reduce defense spending
while still maintaining the strongest defense in the world, but we
must plow back every dollar of defense cuts into building American
jobs right here at home. (Applause) I know well that the world needs
a strong America, but we have learned that strength begins at home.
But the New Covenant is about more than opportunities and
responsibilities for you and your families. It’s also about our
Tonight every one of you knows deep in your heart that we are too
divided. It is time to heal America. (Applause)
And so we must say to every American: Look beyond the stereotypes
that blind us. We need each other - all of us - we need each other.
We don’t have a person to waste, and yet for too long politicians
have told the most of us that are doing all right that what’s really
wrong with America is the rest of us- them.
Them, the minorities. Them, the liberals. Them, the poor. Them,
the homeless. Them, the people with disabilities. Them, the gays.
We’ve gotten to where we’ve nearly them'ed ourselves to death.
(Applause) Them, and them, and them. (Applause)
But this is America. There is no them. There is only us.
One nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for
That is our Pledge of Allegiance, and that’s what the New
Covenant is all about. (Applause)
How do I know we can come together and make change happen?
Because I have seen it in my own state. In Arkansas, we are working
together, and we are making progress. No, there’s no Arkansas
Miracle, but there are a lot of miraculous people. (Applause) And
because of them, our schools are better, our wages are higher, our
factories are busier, our water is cleaner and our budget is
balanced. We’re moving ahead. (Applause)
I wish I could say the same thing about America under the
incumbent President. He took the richest country in the world and
brought it down. (Applause)
We took on of the poorest states in America and lifted it up.
And so I say to all of those, in this campaign season who would
criticize Arkansas, come on down. (Applause) Especially if you’re
from Washington, come on down. (Applause)
Sure, you’ll see us struggling against some of the problems that
we haven’t solved yet, but you’ll also see a lot of great people
doing amazing things, and you might even learn a thing or two.
In the end, my fellow Americans, this New Covenant simply asks
us all to be Americans again- old-fashioned Americans for a new
time. Opportunity, responsibility, community.
When we pull together, America will pull ahead. Throughout the
whole history of this country, we have seen, time and time and time
again, that when we are united we are unstoppable. (Applause)
We can seize this moment, make it exciting and energizing and
heroic to be American again. We can renew our faith in each other
and in ourselves. We can restore our sense of unity and community.
As the Scripture says, “our eyes have not yet seen, nor our ears
heard, nor minds imagined” what we can build. (Applause)
But I can’t do this alone. No President can. We must do it
together. It won’t be easy, and it won’t be quick. We didn’t get
into this mess overnight, and we won’t get out of it overnight. But
we can do it- with commitment, creativity, diversity and drive.
We can do it. We can do it. (Applause)
We can do it. We can do it. We can do it.
(Chants of “We can do it!”)
I want every person in this hall and every person in this land to
reach out and join us in a great new adventures, to chart a bold new
As a teenager, I heard John Kennedy’s summons to citizenship. And
then, as a student at Georgetown, I head that call clarified by a
professor name Carol Quigley, who said to us that America was the
greatest Nation in history because our people had always believed in
two things- that tomorrow can be better than today and that every
one of us has a personal moral responsibility to make it so.
That kind of future entered my life the night our daughter,
Chelsea, was born. As I stood in the delivery room, I was overcome
with the thought that God had given me a blessing my own father
never knew- the chance to hold my child in my arms.
Somewhere at this very moment a child is being born in America.
Let it be our cause to give that child a happy home, a healthy
family and a hopeful future. Let it be our cause to see that that
child has a chance to live to the fullest of her God-given
Let it be our cause to see that child grow up strong and secure,
braced by her challenges but never struggling alone, with family and
friends and a faith that in America, no one is left out; no one is
left behind. (Applause)
Let it be our cause that when this child is able, she gives
something back to her children, her community and her country. Let
it be our cause that we give this child a country that is coming
together, not coming apart, a country of boundless hopes and endless
dreams, a country once again lifts its people and inspires the
world. Let that be our cause our commitment and our New Covenant.
My fellow Americans, I end tonight where it all began for me- I
still believe in a place called Hope. God bless you, and God Bless
(Standing ovation and spontaneous demonstration)
Source: Democratic National Committee