Democratic National Convention

Thank you very much. Thank you. Thank you very much. Thank you very much ladies and gentlemen. Thank you very much.

Four years ago, four years ago, you gave me your nomination to be vice president. And tonight I want to say, from the bottom of my heart: Thank you for the opportunity to serve our country, and for the privilege of working beside a president who has done so much to lift the lives of America’s families.

Tradition holds that this speech be delivered tomorrow night. But President Clinton asked me to speak tonight. And you can probably guess the reason why.

My reputation for excitement.

I’d – this is some crowd. I’ve been watching you doing that macarena on television. And if I could have your silence, I would like to demonstrate for you the Al Gore version of the macarena.

Would you like to see it again?

Four years ago, America faced a set of problems our leaders had lost the courage to confront. Our nation was not creating jobs. Our jobs were not increasing pay. Our people were running in place. Our nation was falling behind.

Four years later, we meet in this great city of Chicago, the place Carl Sandburg called «the city of the big shoulders … with lifted head so proud to be alive … and strong.» Four years later, Democrats are proud. Our hopes are alive. And America is strong.

Bill Clinton’s leadership is paying off. How can you tell? By what the American people have achieved themselves. Just look at what all of us have created together these last four years:

Ten million new jobs; a deficit cut in half; a smaller, leaner re-invented government working better and costing less; unemployment and inflation both down; record exports; wages on the rise; an economy moving forward; empowerment zones bringing neighborhoods back to life; classrooms connected to the information superhighway; communities given the right to know about environmental dangers; toxic wastes being cleaned up; rivers and lakes reclaimed and thriving; an America not just better off, but better.

And our strength at home has led to renewed respect abroad, nuclear missiles no longer targeted at our cities, democracy replacing tyranny in Haiti, peace replacing war in Bosnia, leadership toward reconciliation in Northern Ireland and the Middle East. While our nation has made great progress, we have much more to do, and we are here to declare that the man who can help us fashion this better future is President Bill Clinton.

The president’s opponent, Sen. Bob Dole, is a good and decent man. We honor his service to America, and his personal courage in fighting back from injuries sustained in battle. Though we disagree with his ideas, only the unknowing would deny him the respect he deserves.

But make no mistake: there is a profound difference in outlook between the president and the man who seeks his office. In his speech from San Diego, Sen. Dole offered himself as a bridge to the past. Tonight, Bill Clinton and I offer ourselves as a bridge to the future.

Ralph Waldo Emerson once said, «Humanity is divided between the past and the future … between memory and hope.» It is easy to understand the nostalgic appeal of the party of memory and the men who lead it. But let there be no doubt: the future lies with the party of hope and the man from Hope who leads it.

We Americans write our own history. And the chapters of which we’re proudest are the ones where we had the courage to change. Time and again, Americans have seen the need for change, and have taken the initiative to bring that change to life. But always with a struggle. Always with opponents. Sen. Dole was there. We remember. We remember that he voted against the creation of Medicare, against the creation of Medicaid, against the Clean Air Act, against Head Start, against the Peace Corps in the ’60s and AmeriCorps in the ’90s. He even voted against the funds to send a man to the moon.

If he’s the most optimistic man in America, I’d hate to see the pessimists.

That pessimistic view of America is very different from ours. And we saw it in the budget that Sen. Dole and Speaker Gingrich tried to slip past the American people last fall. Their budget doubled Medicare premiums while slashing benefits, wiped out nursing home care for seniors, ended the guarantee of decent medical care for disabled children, rolled back protections for our air and water, increased the cost of college while making student loans harder to get, terminated anti-drug programs for our schools, and raised taxes on the hardest-hit working families.

They passed their reckless plan, and then demanded that President Clinton sign it. They shut the government down. Twice. Because they thought Bill Clinton would buckle under the pressure, wither in the face of their attacks, cave in to their demands.

But they did not know the true measure of this man. He never flinched or wavered. He never stooped to their level. And, of course, he never attacked his opponent’s wife.

Let me tell you what Bill Clinton did do. Bill Clinton took Speaker Newt Gingrich and Sen. Bob Dole into the Oval Office. I was there. I remember. And he said, President Clinton said: «As long as I occupy this office, you will never enact this plan. Because as long as I am president, I won’t let you.»

That’s why they want to replace Bill Clinton. But we won’t let them.

They want someone in that Oval Office who will rubber-stamp their plan. That’s why they want to replace Bill Clinton. But we won’t let them.

They want a president who will appoint the next three justices of the Supreme Court so they can control all three branches of government and take away a woman’s right to choose. That’s why they want to replace Bill Clinton. But we won’t let them.

They want to give health insurance ripoff artists a license to change Medicare, to let this program for our seniors wither on the vine. That’s why they want to replace Bill Clinton. But we won’t let them.

They want to outlaw all affirmative action and many other measures to reach out to those who want to reach up. That’s why they want to replace Bill Clinton. But we won’t let them. They want to cut education and undermine our schools – put down teachers instead of lifting up students. That’s why they want to replace Bill Clinton. But we won’t let them.

They want to give free reign to lobbyists for the biggest polluters in America to rewrite our environmental laws allowing more poison in our air and water, and then auction off our natural wonders piece by piece. That’s why they want to replace Bill Clinton. But we won’t let them.

We will not; we cannot; we must not let them.

And you know what? We can make Bill Clinton’s job a lot easier by making Dick Gephardt speaker of the House and Tom Daschle Senate majority leader.

You can judge a president by the enemies he is willing to make. You know that someone who’s been attacked as much as Bill Clinton is doing something right. America has never changed without a president willing to confront the status quo and take on the forces of greed and indifference. It has changed only when we have had a president with the vision to tackle the real problems that really matter to our families. That’s what this president has done.

Because families don’t eat or breathe political slogans. They thrive or fail according to how they handle each day’s challenges.

When your alarm goes off in the morning, if your family is like mine, everybody starts rushing around, getting ready for school and work. When one of your children reaches for cereal and fruit, you shouldn’t have to worry about whether the food is safe. That’s why just this month, President Clinton brought farmers and environmentalists together and signed an historic law to keep dangerous pesticides off our fruits and vegetables.

When you pour a glass of water for each member of the family at the table, you shouldn’t have to wonder: «Should I buy bottled water? We really can’t afford it.» That’s why President Clinton signed the Safe Drinking Water Act to give families more peace of mind that their water will be pure and safe.

When you notice your child staring at a television set, and watching violent and explicit images he or she is not old enough to handle, you shouldn’t be forced to choose between throwing the TV out of the house and monitoring every second that child watches.

That is why, last month, the president persuaded the broadcasters to agree to air three hours of quality children’s educational program – programming each week. And that’s why we’re giving parents a new tool, the V-chip, to keep violent and explicit programming out of their homes and away from their children. When our children turn on the TV, let them learn how to read and add and spell and think, not how to kill.

If one of your children has an operation, or some other serious health problem, you shouldn’t have to choose between taking care of that child or keeping your job. That is why Bill Clinton fought to pass the Family and Medical Leave Act – so parents can get time off work to care for a sick child, bond with a newborn, or tend to an aging relative.

When your children do well in school and head toward graduation, they shouldn’t have to wonder about whether their family can afford to send them to college. That’s why President Clinton expanded scholarships, student loans, and Pell Grants. And that’s why he wants to give a tax credit to pay $1,500 per year for tuition to make college more affordable for every single American family.

If the business where you work is changing in ways that cause you to think about getting a different kind of job, you ought to be able to get the training and education you need to learn new skills and plan for the future. That’s why President Clinton is proposing a tax credit so if you go to a community college, you can take every single dollar you pay right off your taxes. If you take responsibility, President Clinton will give you the opportunity to learn.

And if you see an opportunity to move to a better job, you shouldn’t feel forced to stay in your old job just because that’s the only way you can keep because of your health insurance. Even if you have some pre-existing condition, you ought be able to change jobs and not loose your coverage. That is why President Clinton passed the Kennedy-Kassebaum law.

Americans shouldn’t have to feel imprisoned in their homes because of crime. We have a right to streets and neighborhoods that are safe. That is why President Clinton fought for the Brady Bill and the assault weapons ban. And that is why President Clinton is putting 100,000 new community police officers on our streets and sidewalks.

These problems are real, and they must be addressed. It’s been a long time since we’ve had a president so in tune with the issues that touch the real lives of America’s families. It’s been a long time since we’ve had a president willing to fight the powerful forces that often seem to stand in the way.

Some of the most powerful forces that do the most harm are often hard to see and even harder to understand. When I was a child, my family was attacked by an invisible force that was then considered harmless. My sister Nancy was older than me. There were only the two of us and I loved her more than life itself. She started smoking when she was 13 years old. The connection between smoking and lung cancer had not yet been established but years later the cigarettes had taken their toll.

It hurt very badly to watch her savaged by that terrible disease. Her husband, Frank, and all of us who loved her so much, tried to get her to stop smoking. Of course she should have, but she couldn’t.

When she was 45, she had a lung removed. A year later, the disease had come back and she returned to the hospital. We all took turns staying with her. One day I was called to come quickly because things had taken a turn for the worse.

By then, her pain was nearly unbearable, and as a result, they used very powerful painkillers. And eventually it got so bad they had to use such heavy doses that she could barely retain consciousness. We sometimes didn’t know if she could hear what we were saying or recognize us.

But when I responded to that call and walked into the hospital room that day, as soon as I turned the corner – someone said, «Al’s here» – she looked up, and from out of that haze her eyes focused intensely right at me. She couldn’t speak, but I felt clearly I knew she was forming a question: «Do you bring me hope?»

All of us had tried to find whatever new treatment or new approach might help, but all I could do was to say back to her with all the gentleness in my heart, «I love you.» And then I knelt by her bed and held her hand. And in a very short time her breathing became labored and then she breathed her last breath.

Tomorrow morning another 13-year-old girl will start smoking. I love her, too. Three thousand young people in America will start smoking tomorrow. One thousand of them will die a death not unlike my sister’s, and that is why, until I draw my last breath, I will pour my heart and soul into the cause of protecting our children from the dangers of smoking.

And that is also why I was intensely proud last week when President Clinton stood up for American families by standing up to tobacco advertising aimed at getting our children addicted. He proposed – he proposed the first-ever comprehensive plan to protect children from smoking; to ban tobacco advertising aimed at our children, and to ban it for good.

It took courage for Bill Clinton to take on the tobacco companies. I promise you it is no accident that no president has ever been willing to do it before.

But coming from him, that’s no surprise. I’ve seen him get up day after day and make the toughest decisions, and always by asking, «What is right for the American people?»

As a result, with Bill Clinton’s leadership, our nation is moving forward with confidence. Americans don’t believe our best days are behind us. We see better days ahead because we have the courage to meet our challenges and protect our values. And now, once again, in pursuit of the American dream, we are crossing the bridge to the future.

By shepherding, guiding and protecting our children’s souls, we build a better America. The American spirit lives within that child. The child grow up to believe in it, to add new vision to it.

It’s not a vision of a distant future, nor of a remote past, but a constant accumulation of our best instincts and our noblest aspirations. From the spirit of our Founding Fathers, to the courage of today’s families, it is one vision. It is an American vision. It is the vision of President Bill Clinton.

Thank you, God bless you, and God bless America.