A VISION FOR AMERICA: A NEW COVENANT
GOVERNOR BILL CLINTON
DEMOCRATIC NATIONAL CONVENTION
NEW YORK CITY
Governor Richards, Chairman Brown, Mayor Dinkins, our great host,
and my fellow Americans.
I am so proud of Al Gore. He said he came here tonight because he
always wanted to do the warmup for Elvis. Well, I ran for
President this year for one reason and one reason only: I wanted
to come back to this convention center and finish that speech I
started four years ago.
Well, last night Mario Cuomo taught us how a real nominating speech
should be given. 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 trail:
Tom Harkin, Bob Kerrey, Doug Wilder, Jerry Brown and Paul Tsongas.
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-skill jobs."
And so, in the name of all the people who do the work, pay the
taxes, raise the kids and play by the rules, in the name of the
hard-working Americans who make up our forgotten middle class, I
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.
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 and 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. 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. It's time for a change in
Tonight ten million of our fellow Americans are out of work. Tens
of millions more work harder for lower pay. The incumbent
President says 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. And, Mr. President, you
are that man.
This election is about putting power back in your hands and putting
government back on your side. It's about putting people first.
You know, I've said that all across the country, and someone always
comes back at me, as a young man did just this week 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
Tonight, as plainly as I can, I want to tell you who I am, what I
believe, and where I want to lead America.
I never met my father. He was killed in a car wreck on a rainy road
three months before I was born, driving home 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
her 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 to work each day at a time when it
wasn't always easy to be a working mother.
As an adult, I've watched her fight off breast cancer. And again
she has taught me a lesson in courage. And 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 making sure every American gets the health care that
saved my mother's life, and that women's health care gets the same
attention as men's. 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. You want to know where I get
my fighting spirit? It all started with my mother.
Thank you, Mother. I love you.
When I think about opportunity for all Americans, I think about my
He ran a country store in our little town of Hope. There were 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 --just made a note
of it. So did I. Before I was big enough to see over the counter,
I learned from him to look up to people other folks looked down on.
My grandfather just had 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 than all the philosophers at Oxford; and
he taught me more about the need for equal justice 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.
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.
Frankly, I'm fed up with politicians in Washington lecturing the
rest of us about "family values." Our families have values. But
our government doesn't.
I want an America where "family values" live in our actions, not
just in our speeches--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
I do want to say something to the fathers in this country who have
chosen to abandon their children by neglecting to pay their child
support: take responsibility for your children or we will force
you to do so. Because governments don't raise children; parents
do. And you should.
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're special, too. You matter to America.
And don't ever let anybody tell you you can't become whatever you
want to be. And if other politicians make you feel like you're not
a part of their family, come on and be part of ours.
The thing that makes me angriest about what's 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 its that the American Dream was built on
rewarding hard work. But we have seen the folks in 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 rewarded. People are working
harder than ever, spending less time with their children, working
nights and weekends at their jobs instead of gong to PTA and Little
League or Scouts, and their incomes are still going down. Their
taxes are going up, and the costs of health care, housing and
education are going through the roof. Meanwhile, more and more of
our best people are falling into poverty -- even when they work
forty hours a week.
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 -- it's taking more
of your money and giving 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.
A President -- 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?" And so
I say, George Bush, if you won't use your power to help America,
step aside. I will.
Our country is falling behind. The President is caught in the grip
of a failed economic theory. We have gone from first to thirteenth
in the world in wages since Reagan and Bush have been in office.
Four years ago, candidate Bush said America is a special place, not
just "another pleasant country on the U.N roll call, between
Albania and Zimbabwe." Now, under President Bush, America has an
unpleasant economy stuck somewhere between Germany and Sri Lanka.
And for most Americans, Mr. President, life's a lot less kind and
a lot less gentle than it was before your Administration took
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, the rest
of the world will not look down on us with pity, but up to us with
What is George Bush doing about our economic problems? Now, four
years ago he promised us fifteen million new jobs by this time.
And he's over fourteen million short. Al Gore and I can do better.
He has raised taxes on the people driving pick-up trucks, and
lowered taxes on 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 have nearly doubled the debt.
Even worse, he wasted billions and reduced our investment in
education and jobs. We can do better.
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 -- then join us, work with us, win
with us. And we can make our country the country it was meant to
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.
He won't even implement the recommendations of his own Commission
on AIDS. But I will.
He won't streamline the federal government, and change the way it
works; cut a hundred thousand bureaucrats, and put a hundred
thousand new police officers on the streets of American cities.
But I will.
He has never balanced a government budget. But I have, eleven
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 is sick. But I
We're losing our family farms at a rapid rate, and he has no
commitment to keep family farms in the family. But I do.
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 technology. But I will.
You know what else? He doesn't have Al Gore and I do.
Just in case -- just in case you didn't notice, that's Gore with an
E on the end.
And George Bush -- George Bush won't guarantee a woman's right to
choose. I will. Listen, hear me now: I am not pro-abortion. I
am pro-choice strongly. I believe this difficult and painful
decision should be left to the women of America. I hope the right
to privacy can be protected, and we will never again have to
discuss this issue on political platforms. 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
Jobs. Education. Health care. These are not just commitments from
my lips. They are the work of my life.
Our priorities must be clear: we will put our people first again.
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. 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.
But, my fellow Democrats, it's time for us to realize that 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've got to make it work again.
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. Trickle down 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, and more choices for the elderly and for people with
disabilities and the long-term care they receive--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 enterprise. I call
this approach a New Covenant -- a solemn agreement between the
people and their government -- based not simply on what each of us
can take but on what all of us must give to our nation.
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's not even Republican or Democratic,
It's different. It's new. And it will work.
It will work because it is rooted in the vision and the values of
the American people. Of all the things 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."
But remember just what the Scripture says: "Where there is no
vision the people perish."
I hope -- 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.
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, and so little loving, caring
community that they literally cannot imagine the life we are
calling them to lead. 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 in dozens of new industries
moving confidently toward the 21st Century. An America that says
to entrepreneurs and business people: We will give you more
incentives and more opportunity than ever before to develop the
skills of your workers and create American jobs and American wealth
in the new global economy. 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 college are thrown open once again
to the sons and daughters of stenographers and steelworkers. We'll
say: Everybody can borrow the money to go to college. But you
must do your part. You must pay it back -- from your paychecks, or
better yet, by going back home and serving your communities. 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, or working with the elderly or
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.
An America in which health care is a right, not a privilege. 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. But you must do your part:
preventive care, prenatal care, childhood immunization; saving
lives, saving money, saving families from heartbreak. 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. An America in which the rich are not soaked -- but the
middle class is not drowned either. 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. But then, when you can, you must
work, because welfare should be a second chance, not a way of life.
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 hemisphere 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. 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
common community. Tonight every one of you knows deep in your
heart that we are too divided.
It is time to heal America. 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'd ourselves
to death. Them, and them, and them. But this is America. There
is no them; there is only us. One nation, under God, indivisible,
with liberty, and justice, for all.
That is our Pledge of Allegiance, and that's what the New Covenant
is all about.
How do I know we can come together to make change happen? Because
I have see it in my own state. In Arkansas we're working together
and we're making progress. No, there is no Arkansas miracle. But
there are a lot of miraculous people. 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
I wish -- 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. We took one of the poorest states in America and
lifted it up.
And so I say to those who would criticize Arkansas: come on down.
Especially if you're from Washington -- come to Arkansas. You'll
see us struggling against some problems 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, the 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 again that when we are united, we are unstoppable.
We can seize this moment, we can make it exciting and energizing
and heroic to be an American again. We can renew our faith in
ourselves and each other, and restore our sense of unity and
community. Scripture says, our eyes have not yet seen, nor our
ears heard, nor our minds imagined what we can build.
But I cannot do it 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 our commitment and our creativity and our
diversity and our strength. I want every person in this hall and
every citizen in this land to reach out and join us in a great new
adventure to chart a bold new future.
As a teenager I heard John Kennedy's summons to citizenship. And
then, as a student at Georgetown, I heard that call clarified by a
professor I had, named Carroll Quigley, who said America was the
greatest country in the history of the world because our people
have always believed in two great ideas: first, that tomorrow can
be better than today, and second, that each of us has a personal,
moral responsibility to make it so.
That future entered my life the night our daughter Chelsea was
born. As I stood in that 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, another child is born in America.
Let it be our cause to give that child a happy home, a healthy
family, a hopeful future. Let it be our cause to see that child
reach the fullest of her God-given abilities. Let it be our cause
that she grow up strong and secure, braced by her challenges, but
never, never struggling alone; with family and friends and a faith
that in America, no one is left out; no one is left behind.
Let it be our cause that when she is able, she gives something back
to her children, her community, and her country. And let it be our
cause to give her a country that's coming together, and moving
ahead -- a country of boundless hopes and endless dreams; a country
that once again lifts up its people, and inspires the world.
Let that be our cause and our commitment and our New Covenant.
I end tonight where it all began for me: I still believe in a
place called Hope.