Transcript of Chairman David Wilhelm's Speech as the Distinguished Speaker for the Kennedy

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Transcript of Chairman David Wilhelm's Speech as the Distinguished Speaker for the Kennedy Lectures at Ohio University. Athens, Ohio. April 4, 1994 Thank you. Thank you, very much Dr. Dinos, for that generous introduction. There are probably a few people in this audience who are shaking their heads in complete disbelief. After all, this is my home town, and no one is a prophet in their home town. My father, though, I know he appreciates it. And my mother even believes parts of it. I also want to thank Dr. Ping for being with us this evening. You know, he took on the job of being the President of Ohio University just as I was graduating from it. And the combination of his leadership and my departure has led to a resurgence in Ohio University. It is a great honor to participate in the Kennedy Lecture series that Edwin J. Kennedy, the university's good friend and benefactor made possible and I join with all of you here tonight in wishing that he were here with us. Now there have been many, many distinguished speakers as part of the Kennedy Lecture Series. But I guarantee you this-- you have never had a Kennedy Lecture Series speaker at Memorial Auditorium before that worked in the ticket office of Memorial Auditorium as part of his college work study program. Now my parents are here tonight, and they are two people who are pretty well known about these parts. When I ran for Congress, I lost, it was a primary, it was a humiliation. I got killed in the northern parts of the district, but I did well in Athens County. And there is only one reason I did well in Athens County--people thought they were voting for my father and that is a real testament to you dad...I don't know where you are. You know, I took my father's classes twice; which is a real statement of faith or foolishness or whatever. And he is tough. He is tough. One time I got an A minus in a class that one of my friends called Geography 2000. Because I failed to type a paper and there was no requirement that you type the paper. And I said, "Dad, what's the deal here?" And he said, "You should have typed the paper." He is tough. I picked up The Ohio University Post, the Friday edition, and my father is quoted on page one, and this is one of the great political statements that I've ever seen in my life. He says, "We continue to be proud of David." It could be taken away at any minute. Well, I continue to be proud of him. The year I graduated from Ohio University, he was named Outstanding Professor for the first of, I don't know, three, four, five times. And Dad, where ever you are, thank you. The lessons my mother taught me were not in the classroom, but they were part of everyday life. She taught me very early that the ultimate test of personal character is kindness in interpersonal relationships. They don't always understand that in Washington, D.C. She has always been my instant public opinion poll or focus group -- she has an intuitive grasp of how regular folks feel (my father's a professor, so he lost that grasp a long time ago). My mother is very opinionated, -- for being a nice person. Let me tell you about last night's dinner conversation. My mother said, " Are you eating right? Are you getting enough sleep? Are you taking your vitamins? Can I buy you some slippers? And, oh yeah, listen, with this Whitewater thing, no matter how low your opponents go, don't get down in the mud with them." Jeez. The only problem with that advice is that she's never had to go on CNN and debate Pat Buchanan. Both of my sisters are here. Both are graduates of Athens High School. Diana is an alumnus of Ohio University. Only Suzanne, the youngest sister, fell off the wagon. The youngest always, always, always has all the freedom. But it's, of course, freedom that I would have never taken advantage of. My high school social studies teacher is here, and he is the reigning Democratic chair of Athens County. So now he reports to me. Pete Lalich is here, and he has taught me and literally hundreds of others that public service can and should be an honorable profession. I would also like to recognize the faculty of the Ohio University Political Science Department. They nurtured and challenged my interest in the theory of politics. But they did something more than that; they cleared the way for my actual participation in real world campaigns. This faculty has always understood that political theory and political action go hand-in-hand. And I would not be where I am today without people like Professors Elsbree and Molineu and Prisley, Huntley and Hunt and Henderson, Richard, Gustavson and Tucker and all the rest that taught me during my years at Ohio University. Finally, I would like to introduce my wife, Degee. Degee and I are proof that even the worst campaigns can have incredible benefits. We met on the famous and short lived Joe Biden presidential campaign. There are a couple of things you need to know about Degee. She is a graduate, she is a Baptist and the only known graduate of Baylor University to declare herself a Democrat over twenty years. And secondly, she is the world's greatest political advance person. She served as Bill Clinton's travelling aide during the 1992 campaign. And neither he nor I would be in our respective positions without her help. Look, I know tonight is the NCAA championship game. I've already fired my scheduler over this. Actually we shot for Super Bowl Sunday, but Dr. Dinos wouldn't hear of it. But, this game is important to me as I know it is to you. Partly because the outcome will have a lot to do with the mood my boss is in tomorrow. A few moments ago, I spoke about the conversation I had with my mother over dinner. She was very focused on the things that affect my life. And she was right to bring up the issue of Whitewater. It has dominated the newspapers and the television shows. It is an issue that has become the topic of Washington gossip. It has become the centerpiece of the Republicans' 1994 strategy as they try to figure out some way to reverse the President's string of legislative victories. While it has affected me in some obvious ways--like the Sperling Breakfast that I went to the other day, which is a traditional media breakfast in Washington D.C., where I was drilled over an hour by twenty-five of the leading political reporters in this country. And only one question was on a topic other than Whitewater. The whole Whitewater affair has prompted me to reflect on the true motivation of why I do what I do, and that's why I've changed the topic of tonight's speech. What prompts somebody like me, and I hope some of the people in this audience, to a life of campaigns and public policy advocacy? Why do we do these things? Why do we demand such sacrifices not only of ourselves, but of our families? Is it just the thrill of political victory? Is it the challenge of putting together an electoral strategy? Or is there something more? So It is appropriate for me to come back to Athens to ask that question. Because, the answer to that is right before me -- in this hall, on this campus and in this community. I look into the faces of my family, my teachers and my neighbors and it is obvious how I came to do this sort of work, and it is obvious why I feel so strongly about it. Everything that I am, everything that I do, I owe to the values and experience I learned here in Athens, first as the child of a faculty member and then as a student. My parents raised me to believe that values were to be lived, and not just discussed. And while they provided me with security and comfort, they also helped open my eyes to the world around me. It was here in Athens County that I came to realize that not everyone shared the security and comfort that I enjoyed--that not far from the walls of this great university, people were struggling to simply survive, to house and feed their families, to obtain the medical care that they need. I remember riding the bus every day to the Athens Middle School. And I also remember the fact that, a couple of the kids that got picked up every day lived in an abandoned school bus not far from Beachwood Estates where we lived. As I got older, I came to realize that this area called Appalachia was one of the poorest in the nation. Many of the counties in this region, while I was growing up, didn't have a doctor. And, during the 1980's, there were many counties in this part of the state of Ohio where a third of the children lived in families with incomes below the poverty level. I learned early on that coal played a big role in the development of this region. I knew that because there were creeks the color of rust. I knew that because there were roads that were hot, even in the dead of winter, from fires that have been lit by the forerunners of the United Mineworkers nearly a century ago. And I knew it because of all the abandoned coal tipples around this area like the one in Millfield where over a hundred miners were buried in the largest mining disaster in the history of this state. I also remember the ferment of the Vietnam War era here in Athens. I remember one day coming home from baseball practice to find every single parking meter on Court Street covered by a National Guardsman. I remember my parents leaving home to stay at dorms to help keep the peace. And what was a very trying and difficult period for this town and for this nation. And I also remember the accounts of so many local kids from places like Shade and Glouster and Albany. Kids that didn't have student deferments and who died in Vietnam. Somewhere along the line, I learned with pride that one of the first academies, perhaps the first, ever instituted by black Americans for black Americans was begun in Albany right by the Ohio University Airport. It was attended by the future wife of Booker T. Washington. I remember standing on the side of the road with my second grade classmates in 1964, waving to a parade of cars speeding past me--one of which contained President Lyndon Johnson, who came to Memorial Auditorium here in Athens to help kick off his Great Society initiative. Now no one would call LBJ a naive politician, but what he had to say that day in Athens almost exactly thirty years ago today, sounds very naive to today's cynical ears. Here's what he said to the crowd of students and town's people in Athens, "With your courage and with your compassion and your desire, we will build the Great Society. It is a society where no child will go unfed, and no youngster will go unschooled. Where no man who wants work will fail to find it. And Where no citizen will be barred from any door because of his birthplace or his color or his church." Now it may have been right then that I realized that the world was a lot larger than just the Wilhelms, and that we all have responsibilities to each other and to the future. That is the philosophy that I learned each and every step of the way here at Athens Middle School, Athens High School, East Elementary, Ohio University and I feel it more strongly today than ever in part because of Whitewater. It is recognizing the moral imperative of action. It is the reason I am so committed to a President who is more interested in posterity than in polls, more concerned with building a better future for this country than building political capital for himself. But I must tell you that between the 1960s, when an inspiring young President named John Kennedy asked us what we could do for our country and President Johnson urged us "to go out of here with great resolve, because we have great works to achieve," and the 1990's when another young President named Bill Clinton rekindled that flame, we went through a horrible time in the political history of our country. And we are still fighting to shake off its effects. Disheartened by an unpopular war, unethical government and hard economic times, the American people lost heart, and John Kennedy's challenge to service gave way to the politics of greed and indifference. Selfishness was raised to the level of high principle, and those who wanted to focus on America's real problems were dismissed and ridiculed as relics of the discredited past. Junk bond dealers replaced working people as celebrated heroes, and the nation turned its back on itself--ignoring poverty, crime, joblessness, failing schools, decaying communities and declining values. We bought into a big lie as a country--that all of our problems would work themselves out in a go-go economy. They didn't tell us that the economy was built on credit cards. They didn't tell us that the party would have to end someday, leaving an enormous debt to be paid, not by the politicians of today, but by you and by future generations. They didn't tell us about the incalculable cost of ignoring education and training, the explosion of drugs and teen pregnancies, and other problems that are now coming home to roost. All they said was take what you can--while you can--and don't worry about your neighbor and your community or the future of our nation. The greatest menace that we face today is a lack of faith. Lack of faith in government, the media, the church, the business world, even lack of faith in academia. All of these institutions of society have something in the eyes of Americans in this cynical era, and it is no wonder why. Take the case of one Congressman who was recently the attack of a pretty tough attack from the Christian Coalition. He is your congressman, and he is here tonight--Congressman Ted Strickland. Congressman Ted Strickland voted for the President's budget package last year. And for that Pat Robertson's folks at the Christian Coalition took sharp exception to it and ran any number of radio ads in Athens, Marietta, Chillicothe and all across this district denouncing Congressman Ted Strickland. Well let me tell you this because he probably won't. Congressman Strickland is a person of great faith, a person of unquestioned devotion to his community, the families he represents and his church. He attended a Christian College in Kentucky--Asbury College--and then earned a Masters of Divinity there. He served as an ordained United Methodist Minister. He worked for seven years at a Methodist youth home. This is the man being attacked by the Christian Coalition. No one in the Congress, I guarantee you, no one in the Congress, cast a more carefully considered vote for what he believes are the best interests of his constituents than did Ted Strickland on the President's budget. He cast his vote according to the dictates of his conscience. And he doesn't deserve to be targeted with mean spirited ads by the Christian Coalition, or any other group purporting to speak for religious Americans. Attacks on our faith only serve to encourage the political cynicism that we are experiencing today in this country. And that's why I did one of the crazier things that I've done since I've been the chair of this party. I went and spoke to the Christian Coalition. If there had been tomato vendors outside they would have done real well. But here is what I said. Here is what I said. I had a pretty simple message that I wanted to impart to them that I want to impart to you: Like most Americans, I believe strongly that God and faith are not and can not be the province of one political party or movement. No political party has a corner on the allegiance of the community of believers. However inconvenient it might be, God is an Independent. No single entity can claim to speak for all persons who believe in Christ and consider themselves to be Christian. The Democratic Party is and always has been a party of values. [That line was booed--lustfully. The Christian Coalition can be lusty about anything.] Those values are at least as richly informed by religious beliefs and moral principles as is the Republican Party. Separation of church and state means that we, as Americans, are free to practice our faith without government coercion or interference. Our forefathers and foremothers fled to these shores, in large part, to escape religious persecution. No American can be kept out of the political process because of their religion. And no American can be kept out of the political process because he or she does not practice religion. But, as the President has said, freedom of religion doesn't mean that we must be, or should be, free from religion. And as Thomas Jefferson understood so well, the separation of church and state was designed not to promote the state, but to strengthen the practice of our faith. Now Congressmen like Ted Strickland first under attack because of his vote on the budget, is now under attack from the Christian Coalition for support for health care reform. Now look, I believe with all my heart and all my mind that the correct "Christian" position on health care reform, is to be for it. But something as complex as health care reform is a good example of the limits of religious faith in politics. Faith can tell us what we should be concerned about, but faith does not tell us whether or not the consumer purchasing alliance should be mandatory or voluntary. It doesn't do it. And nobody should be thought of as a bad Christian because of his or her position on health care. No matter what the position. Now, I do believe that there is a moral imperative to act--and to act now--on the issue of health care reform. As I mentioned earlier, in the counties of surrounding Athens County, Vinton County, right next door there wasn't a doctor for years and years and years. And only today there is a part-time doctor that serves Vinton County. Many children in this part of the state go without immunizations. People who work in this area, tend to work at low wage jobs. I don't have any statistics in front of my nose, but I think that it's a safe bet that there a lot of full-time workers here in Southeastern Ohio who work without the benefits of health care coverage. So, here's the dilemma facing a lot of households right here, right now in Southeastern Ohio: Stay on welfare; keep your health care, go to work and lose it. It is the ultimate welfare trap. And if you go to work, the income you earn gets taxed to pay in part for the health care that the folks on welfare will get if they just stay there. If we are going to have welfare reform in this country, its got to start by reforming the health care system in this country. I think of the many times that I've travelled up and down Route 33 between Columbus and Athens and I am struck by the explosion of strip malls (you see them in Lancaster), the convenient stores, the strip malls. And you know that the people that work in those convenient stores work for the minimum wage, generally work part time, don't have health care coverage, and a lot of them are women--single women who are raising families on their own. I think of the woman that I met along the campaign trail-- from Cleveland, who was originally a supporter of Ross Perot -- who became politically active because of her own encounter with this nations health care system. She was forced to quit her $50,000 a year job, sell off all her assets because her seriously ill child needed long term care. She sold off her assets, she quit her job, cared for her child and then the child died. I'm reminded of James Day, a young man who worked for our 1992 presidential campaign. It was his job to keep all the advance people for Al Gore organized and on schedule. And like many campaign staffers, including me, he went without insurance for a short while after the campaign. Just a short period of transition, you understand -- until he got a job in the Administration. But James Day wasn't so lucky. He came down with pneumonia, which led to kidney failure, which led to hospital bills in excess of $25,000. Each of us has a story to tell like this. I'm young and healthy, my wife is young and healthy, my parents are relatively young and healthy -- so we have fewer stories to tell than most families. But the politics of health care reform -- the impetus for health care reform in this country-- begins with stories like these repeated in families all across the country. If we are going to make a change, we need a plan. There are a lot of competing plans out there, so to get started, let's take a look at one. I want you to think about whether this is the kind of plan you'd like to see congress adopt. The plan would create a big bureaucracy processing more than 1,500 different claim forms. This plan won't provide patients with information about their outcomes to compare hospitals and physicians. The plan minimizes competition among health care providers. The plan lets your employer choose health care plans and your doctors. The plan rations care, favoring the young, the healthy and the wealthy. The plan puts a lifetime limit on the amount of insurance you can collect so that if you do need long term care, you do have to pay off your assets. The plan puts an emphasis on unneeded medical procedures. The plan refuses to guarantee coverage if you have a pre-existing condition, and even a skin rash is enough to be called a pre-existing condition. This plan is structured so that people don't get care until they are seriously sick, in a real crisis and show up at the emergency room. I think you'll agree that any politician introducing such a plan today would be voted out of office at the next election, if not recalled immediately. But Congress doesn't need to do anything to enact this plan. It is the plan we are living with. Fifty-eight million Americans are forced to play health insurance roulette every year, going a month or more without any coverage. Eighty-one million Americans can be denied insurance or charged excessive rates because they have a pre-existing condition. One hundred thirty three million Americans today have a health care plan with lifetime limits. Now, no one actually sat down and intentionally designed such a perverse plan. No one said, hey, let's have a plan whereby health care costs will grow from six percent of our gross domestic product 25 years ago to 14 percent today. No one said, hey, let's have a health care system in this country where companies have strong incentives to hire part-time workers. No one said, hey, let's have a health care system where employees are afraid to leave their jobs for fear that they'll lose their health care coverage. No one said, hey, let's have a plan where people on welfare are guaranteed coverage, but people who go to work are not. No one said, hey, let's have a health care system where cars made in this country have $1,100 of the sticker value representing the cost of covering the health care automobile workers in this country while Japanese cars have $550 of their sticker price representing the very same thing. Passing health care reform will be difficult. It will be hard. There will be ups and downs. People will get mad at each other. Big change is always hard. It is hard because the contest gets played out between those who have a stake in the status quo and those who are arguing on behalf of future beneficiaries. And if there is one thing I have learned in the fourteen months since I have been the chairman of the Democratic National Committee, it is that it is tough to organize future beneficiaries. It is the toughest thing to do. The political landscape almost by definition is oriented towards the status quo. People who benefit from the status quo--they know who they are, they're benefiting. And because they're benefiting they're profiting. They have the money to make their case known to the American people. They are the most politically articulate people in American society. So they've got the money to make their point of view known. Now, now, there are the people who are the future beneficiaries. Who are they? And how easy is it to organize them? The woman who works at the check-out counter at a Wal-Mart or a K-Mart who doesn't have health care coverage--that is a tough person to organize. Try it sometime, it is tough. The person that wants to make the jump from welfare to work--that is a tough person to organize. The college student who is healthy today but might not be tomorrow but doesn't know it-- tough person to organize. The entrepreneur who's trying to start up a business in his or her home--you know we're not talking about Ford or GM here, this is a tough person to organize. The small business which pays for the health care of their employees and pays twice not only for the health care for their employees, but for the health care for those businesses who don't cover their employees when they show up at the emergency room--a tough entity to organize. But make no mistake about it, that's why we're here. That's why there's a Democratic Party. That's why we do the things we do. To give voice to the people who are future beneficiaries. So in this time of such focus on Whitewater. I think it's important to ask what differentiates the run-of-the-mill politician in this country from the ethical politician. What differentiates the hack from the statesman? What things should we look for as voters in judging whether an individual has the political courage to do the tough thing, do the right thing, do the moral thing? I think there are three, maybe four qualities to focus on. The first question to ask, the first key is this: Does the person have an eye to the future or is the person almost wholly grounded in the demands of the present? Is there an orientation to the future in the things that a politician does -- a willingness to consider the future impact of decisions made today, and even a willingness to sacrifice on behalf of that future? Or, is the politician overly concerned with the polls of the moment, willing to avoid difficult trade-offs today and let the bills be paid later? That's the first key. For years in this country, we've had politicians in the driver's seat who were willing to defer just about every tough political decision to future generations. Skyrocketing deficits were perhaps the clearest symbol of this failure of ethical leadership. The second key question, the second key to ethical political behavior is this: Does the political figure try to appeal to what the last great Republican President, Abraham Lincoln, called "the better angels of our nature," or does the politician appeal to our worst instincts? You can win in politics both ways. You can do it by appealing to people's better instincts, you can do it by appealing to their worst instincts. And in my view, after all my years in politics, there is no clearer delineation between the good guys and the bad guys. Do you try to win by appealing to the best in us--our optimism, our hopes, our solidarity, our sense of community, our sense of compassion? Or do you try to do it the other way--with an appeal to our pessimism, our fears, our hatreds, our prejudices our selfishness? I've talked tonight about how faith can and should inform the values we hold, and the positions that we take in public debates. Well, my reading of the Gospels says that Jesus puts perhaps the most central emphasis on other- centeredness--on caring for others, on sacrificing for others --and decried selfishness. Robert F. Kennedy said in a commencement address twenty-five years ago that, "your education..." Speaking to students--it was a commencement. "your education has taught you that undue self-interest is the enemy of truth-- and politics is corrupted where selfishness takes precedence over respect for the truth." I would like to think that there is a reason why there is no functional equivalent to Floyd Brown in the Democratic Party. Do you know who Floyd Brown is? He's the guy who brought us Willie Horton in 1988 and, he's the guy today who is escorting reporters around Little Rock trying to dig up whatever sleaze he can find. We don't have a Floyd Brown in the Democratic Party, and I am proud of that. The third characteristic of ethical behaviors is this: Are you a builder or are you a destroyer? Are you a builder? Are you a destroyer? It is easy to tear things down. It is the simplest thing in the world. It is easy to be a critic. It is easy to be sarcastic. It is easy to find fault. It is easy to make fun of somebody. That is cheap. That is simple. That is the easiest thing to do in politics. Rush Limbaugh has it easy. What a life. He sits behind a microphone day after day after day and rips to shreds the hard work of others. It's cake. It is cake. But ultimately, what Rush Limbaugh does is not enough. In fact, it falls way short of what we need to do to move our country forward. We need politicians who are builders. People who are willing not just to find flaws, but people who are willing to roll up their sleeves and go to work everyday to find real solutions. The fourth characteristic that I think you need to look for is really built on the last one. We need politicians who define politics not merely or exclusively as the art of compromise, but who define what they do as helping to expand the envelop of what is possible. The art of the deal is not all there is to politics. You've got to know when to fold 'em, you've got to know when to hold 'em, but you've also got to know when to walk away. Principle requires it sometimes. Look, politicians are not and should not be saints. You are looking at somebody who has managed two Chicago mayoral campaigns. You are looking at a guy who until three years ago was a precinct captain in the 44th Ward Organization in the city of Chicago. Politics and Politics are not and should not be saints. If they were, we wouldn't need a Congress or a President. But, we do need people who have an eye to the future, who appeal to the better angels of our natures, who are builders and not just critics and who are willing to act on belief and faith. So in the midst of this brouhaha about Whitewater, I submit to this audience that since day one of his Presidency, Bill Clinton has behaved in a way perfectly consistent with the ethical characteristics I've just described. In fourteen months, he has cut the deficit by 40 percent, ending twelve years of deferring tough trade-offs. He has appealed to the better angels of our natures, fighting for health care reform so that our neighbors, our fellow citizens will never again know the insecurity of a day without health care. And throughout, he has played the role of the builder, fighting for real, constructive change whether it has been on the North American Free Trade Agreement, whether it's been in the Middle East, or it's been reforming the welfare system. I remember very well something Bill Clinton said when Degee and I just moved to Little Rock to go to work for this guy we barely knew. I think it was Lisa Myers of NBC News who looked at then Governor Bill Clinton and asked him the toughest question you can ask a politician. Why are you in politics? Why do you do what you do? And Bill Clinton looked back at Lisa Myers and said, "I do what I do because every day I want to do all that I can to allow each and every individual in our country to make the most of their God-given potential." To me, that is the essence of ethical behavior in politics. So instead we are deluged with headline after headline about Whitewater... And here is the risk that we run-- that the politics of cynicism will lead to the politics of despair and surrender. Ultimately, after losing faith in our leaders and our system, we lose faith in ourselves; that we come to believe that our problems are greater than our determination and ability to solve them. And the greatest tragedy is that this cynicism might engulf you, upon whom our success or failure in the future truly rests. For much of your lives, and I'm talking to the college students in this crowd tonight, you have been bombarded by bad news. You've seen the evidence of failed government of societal decline on hundreds of different stations, and these harsh and bitter lessons must tempt you to turn your backs on the notion that we can shape a better future. But for you, above all, this is not the time to turn away. It is the time to get involved. We're on the brink of a new century. Things that earlier generations might have taken for granted can no longer be assumed-- like the fact that a college education guarantees you a job. Or the toxic waste we discard will be safely absorbed. Or that health care will always be available or that the Social Security system will always be solvent. There was a false belief in the 1980s that you could wall yourself in--and wall out the problems; that your neighbors' problems were not yours, that your communities' problems were not yours, and that your nation's problems were not necessarily yours. Today, we know better. We know the truth. We know that if we don't do something to stop the spread of guns, a bullet will eventually find us or someone we love. We know that if we don't do something to train our workers and improve our schools, the jobs of the future will pass us by. We know that if we don't do something to preserve our environment, the air we breathe and the water we drink will no longer be safe. We know if we don't do something to stop the growth of the national debt, the price will be too great for our children to pay. And that's why it's more important than ever that we look beyond ourselves and ask--not what is best for me--but what is best for America. It's not self-interest, but the national interest that is truly at stake. And so I would ask you to ignore those who say we can't solve the problems of America. They're the ones who said we couldn't cut the deficit and put the economy back on track--but we did it. They're the ones who said we couldn't pass common sense gun laws like the Brady Bill-- but we did it. They're the ones who said we couldn't make family medical leave a law -- but we did it. And those same forces of cynicism are telling us now that Whitewater is everything, that we can't have health care and welfare reform, we can't have a strong crime bill, we can't protect the environment and create jobs at the same time, and we can't provide for better education system in this country. We did not become the country we are today by turning away from tough challenges. We have beaten those challenges before, and we will beat them back again. In the past, we have made difficult moral choices about what was moral and what was not. We decided, for instance, that is was immoral for children to be forced to work as if they were adults, and outlawed the practice. We decided that it was wrong for people to work 12 to 14 hours a day, six days a week, and after long and bitter struggles, we instituted the 40-hour work week. We decided that it was wrong for the elderly to face retirement with no source of income, so we instituted Social Security. We decided that it was wrong that people were prevented from being allowed to register and vote because of the color of their skin, and wrote new voter registration laws--and we did so because we were shamed into doing it by one of our nation's greatest leaders--Martin Luther King, who was gunned down twenty-six years ago today. We decided that is was wrong that the elderly should be unable to afford medical care, so we passed Medicare. We decided that is was wrong to sexually harass women in the workplace, and so we outlawed sexual harassment. All of these examples involved making tough choices, changing the way we were accustomed to doing business. None of these changes took place quickly, or without resistance, and some of them were paid for in blood. But we changed, and we are a better nation in every instance. Thirty years ago, President Lyndon Johnson visited Memorial Auditorium-- and we have made progress. But we have so far to go. Thirty years from now, we will look back and be amazed by how we lived in 1994. We will be amazed that 40 million people in this country went every day without health insurance. We will be amazed that thousands of babies in Southeastern Ohio went without immunization. We will be amazed that people on welfare had health care and people who worked didn't. We will be amazed that over 100 million people had lifetime limits on their health care coverage--and had to sell off their assets if a loved one, if their spouse got really sick for a really long time. We will be amazed that cars got 20 miles to the gallon. We will be amazed that one in five children in this country are today raised in poverty. We will be amazed, astounded, shocked that fifty percent of the kids that go to school-- high schools in our inner cities drop out before they graduate. The anthropologist Margaret Mead once said, "Don't ever underestimate the power of a small, committed group of people to change the world." And she added an even more important kicker, when she said, "Indeed, it's the only thing that ever has changed the world." So whether it's befriending a lonely senior citizen, tutoring a youngster at Trimble Middle School where I visited this morning, jumping on the Osteopathic College's immunization van and providing medicine to kids who need it, housing a homeless person or feeding a hungry child, every single person in this audience has the power to change the world at least for somebody. And more important, you have a responsibility to yourselves, to your families, to your community, to your generation, and the generation of children yet unborn to join the effort to make our world better, safer and healthier for all Americans. Thank you very much. *********************************************************************** * * * American Atheists website: http://www.atheists.org * * PO Box 140195 FTP: ftp://ftp.atheists.org * * Austin, TX 78714-0195 * * Voice: (512) 458-1244 Dial-THE-ATHEIST: * * FAX: (512) 467-9525 (512) 458-5731 * * * * Atheist Viewpoint TV: avtv@atheists.org * * Info on American Atheists: info@atheists.org, * * & American Atheist Press include your name and mailing address * * AANEWS -Free subscription: aanews-request@listserv.atheists.org * * and put "info aanews" in message body * * * * This text may be freely downloaded, reprinted, and/other * * otherwise redistributed, provided appropriate point of * * origin credit is given to American Atheists. * * * ***********************************************************************

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