"Together, let's make America first again."
On February 23, 1987, Democrat Dick Gephardt announced his candidacy for President of the United States. This is the text of his speech.
Today, surrounded by my family and friends, and not far from where I grew up and on the site where Harry Truman accepted victory-I am announcing my candidacy for President of the United States. I am the first Democrat to declare And one year, eight months, and eight days from now, when America elects the next President, I Intend, with your help, to finish first.
We will do it by being the first to work each day and the last to quit each night.
We will succeed most of all because of the message we will carry from Missouri and Iowa to places all across this broad land: As we enter the new world of the twenty-first century, we are determined to make America first again- First in economic leadership, First in national strength, First in its commitment to the indication of human rights and the survival of the human race.
We see the problems, for they are all around us. At home, our wages are falling; the middle class is shrinking; the number of people in poverty is increasing. In foreign policy, we are adrift and things seem increasingly out of control. Our leaders say one thing, and do another They talk tough, and then make bad deals for Americans behind closed doors. In foreign policy, we have no policy.
Yet our aim-now and in the months ahead-is more than to complain, to blame, and to say what is wrong.
In facing issues honestly, some see only difficulties; I see challenges as great and engaging as any in our history.
Some campaigns focus primarily on problems; in this campaign and in the Presidency itself you and I will speak for the vast untapped potential and possibilities of America.
For a while, and at a high price, Ronald Reagan made us feel good. Now America must ask. What will it take for us to be good? How can we do better? How can we be the best?
Our people haven't failed; our government has failed the people. Instead of asking something of us, they have given us a call to selfishness. They have not summoned us to think about the future, but only to think about ourselves.
Government cannot deal with every problem; but if a President will lead, there is no problem too great for the American people to solve.
And the first task of national leadership is to narrow the barriers that limit what the people themselves can do.
The clearest case is international trade. In the last six years, our trade deficit has soared from nearly nothing to a hundred and seventy billion dollars. The world's greatest economic power has become the world's greatest debtor nation. A society so recently on the frontiers of high technology is now falling into the high tech rearguard.
We are exporting our industries and our jobs; we are selling our children's future for a fistful of Marks and Yen to finance a federal budget far out of balance-and federal spending out of control.
Not long ago we were invited to accept all this on the grounds that while some of our people were suffering, more of them were prospering. The snow belt might decline, but the sun belt was advancing. Now the economic shadows have fallen across the sun belt a well-and we are learning again that this nation has an indivisible economy and a common destiny.
So let us at long last address the question that is central to our generation: How do we resume the true capacity and competitiveness of the American economy?
The real answer is not to drive the dollar down endlessly. I don't want to see the American dollar reduced to the status of a Third World currency.
And the answer is not to rely on the untender mercies of our trading partners in the international marketplace. We can't afford more trade negotiations in which American workers and American farmers are always the losers.
The next President must be as tough in negotiating the terms of trade as this President has been in negotiating with the Russians.
Today we are supporting a military dictatorship in South Korea that deprives its own people of basic rights-and by its predatory trade practices deprives our people of jobs. We do have a security interest in that nation, but this does not mean that we can neglect our wider national interest. We must use our influence to make South Korea truly free, not fixed by government subsidies.
We can no longer accept a situation in which they can invade our market with Hyundais sold cheap because we are paying dearly for the tanks that defend their borders.
I know this position will not be popular with everyone. But people sitting in cushy offices, in secure jobs, have no right to tell workers on assembly line, that their hopes and livelihood have to be sacrificed on the altar of a false and rigid free trade ideology.
I know that we live in a global marketplace. But we cannot live with a global marketplace where Americans are free to buy, but not to sell.
The same mentality which now sacrifices our industry also abandons agriculture. Today we have a farm policy which is a pitchfork in the back of farmers, driving them off the land. We must learn to control what we grow because in the long term that productivity is an irreplaceable national resource. We must restructure the debt burden on agriculture instead of letting it break the banks and the backs of our family farmers. We can no longer accept a situation in which we have lost one third of the family farmers in the grain belt in less than a year and a half. We must not let the grain belt become the Dust Bowl of the 1990's.
Today goverment weakens our people in many ways; now we most seek to strengthen our people in all the ways I have described-and more.
It is not enough to get tough on trade. We need an unprecedented national commitment to educate our people and prepare our companies for the new world economy of the twenty-first century.
The Japanese, with half our population, are turning out more engineers and scientists. I'm not satisfied to see America second to Japan or any nation in the skills of the future.
In the years ahead, half of all Americans could be unemployable because they won't have basic reading skills. I'm not satisfied to see America rank 49th in literacy. I want America to be first in literacy again, first in education again, and first in talent and training.
We must set a national goal of wiping out illiteracy by the year 2000-and we must call on a new Volunteer Literacy Corps from business and from our schools to enlist in that effort.
We must set a national goal that no qualified student at any level will be denied the chance to learn because of money.
We must form a new national partnership-public and private-to assure that the skills of our people keep pace with the demands of the marketplace. It is not enough to retool machines; we must also retrain workers. We must widen their role-whether that means profit-sharing or management-sharing. We know, from experiments like the joint GM/Toyota plant in Fremont, California that where worker participation is greater, worker productivity is higher.
Nineteenth century corporations will inevitably fall behind in the twenty-first century-so let's emphasize modernization, not mergers. Let's put a premium on labor/management co-operation, not separation.
Let's have more businesses and plants like Fremont-where no one has exclusive parking places and executive dining rooms. The measure of success in American industry should be productivity-and not perks.
A new American prosperity is at the heart of all our hopes.
Without it, we cannot defend freedom as strongly as we must-or extend help to our fellow citizens as generously as we should.
When I speak of America being first, I want us to be first in national spirit as well as material possessions.
I want us to be first not only in GNP, but in concern and compassion.
Today, we rank last, among industrialized nations, in infant mortality. We're not even in the top ten in life expectancy. Let's make America first again.
And let's make this a country where no child has to go hungry-and no one has to sleep in the streets. It's time to ask again what we can do for each other-and not just what we can do for ourselves.
It is clearly right to say that not all government programs are good. But it is profoundly wrong to suggest that all government programs are bad. Whether the issue is preserving the environment or protecting consumers, we need a government that is once again on the people's side.
Finally, we must make America first again in the respect for the rule of law.
Where there are civil rights laws, the duty of a President is to enforce them vigorously, not to look for ways to deprive blacks and minorities and the majority who are women of equal justice and equal opportunity.
When a treaty, which is the law of the land, says that we cannot test or deploy weapons in outer space, the duty of a President is to obey, not to send lawyers searching for loopholes.
And if Congress outlaws military aid to the Contras, the duty of the Executive Branch is to carry out the law, not to figure out how to bend and break it covertly.
From the White House to Wall Street, we must get rid of the dangerous idea that the proper standard of conduct is whatever someone can get away with. Let us insist that the government which makes the laws has no right to break the law.
Often in recent weeks, as I prepared for this day, I thought again of my years growing up here in St. Louis, where my mom was a secretary and my dad was a milktruck driver. His youthful hopes had been shattered by the Great Depression. He was raised on a farm. But be had to quit high school and move to the city when he was forced off the land.
Yet he still saw hope. He still saw opportunity. My folks worked and saved so my brother and I could get the education they never had. I remember it well-sitting with them on our front porch-a little brick bungalow on Reber Place-on those warm summer nights. They talked with us about working hard, being honest, doing good, aiming high. The air was hot and muggy but it was full of dreams. America was on the move.
I want the next generation to dream those dreams. I want to see America on the move again.
There are some who say we are aiming too high in this campaign, and for our country. But that's not the lesson I learned from my folks, from my life, from our long history as a people. I reject the view that the challenges are too hard-and that Americans have grown too soft. The pessimists do not understand the meaning and the magic of freedom-what the daughters and sons of secretaries and milkmen, farmers and machinists, businessmen and women can do for their country when they are put to the test.
Now we have a campaign to win-and a nation to lead. So let me ask all of you: Are we ready to do it? Together, let's make America first again.
Source: Dick Gephardt "Together, let's make America first again." Brochure The Library & Archives of New Hampshire's Political Tradition