Remarks by Sen. Bill Bradley, August 15, 2000

July 7, 2008 - 7:26 PM

(Editor's Note: The following is the prepared text of a speech delivered Tuesday evening by former presidential hopeful Senator Bill Bradley (D-NJ) at the Democratic National Convention in Los Angeles.)

Let me get right to the point - we're all here to elect the next president of the United States, Al Gore.

For 15 months I ran for President. It was a joyous journey, and I have the scars to prove it. Ernestine and I have met so many wonderful people along the way who gave so much to the effort. We'll never forget you, or the hopes we shared and I promise we'll stay true to the causes that bound us together. Thank you all.

But now we're in the general election and it's absolutely essential that we get behind Al Gore. I support him. I endorse him. I'll work hard for his victory. Our country needs a Democratic President, a Democratic Congress and most important a Democratic conscience. Electing Al Gore and Joe Lieberman is the right thing to do for our country.

When you run against someone you get to know him very well. I learned that Al Gore is a man of wide ranging intellect, with a deep desire to serve, profound preparation for the job, a strong sense of loyalty, and a life view infused with tolerance and rooted in religious faith. What strikes me is that what we share is so much more than what we disagree on. We fight for the same Democratic values, and we will fight for them together in the fall.

With the Supreme Court at stake, Social Security at a crossroads, and the use of our budget surpluses up for grabs, we all know the importance of this election. It will not be easy. So join the fight with me tonight my fellow Democrats, with all of our resources and energy, so that we can elect a man whose leadership will make America a better place.

But this election is not merely a choice between two individuals. It's a choice between two philosophies of leadership. It's a choice between a Republican Party that is determined to give the fruits of our hard-won prosperity to those who don't need the help, and a Democratic Party that promises to use this great opportunity to provide care for the ill, to lift up millions from poverty, to heal the wounds of racial divide and to ensure that every child has a decent public school.

It's a choice: Are we going to go back to the politics of haves and have-nots? Or are we going to invest in the future of America? Democrats can do great things because we are the party of hope. We are the party of change. Democrats don't shy away from the opportunities and difficulties of our new age -- we respond to them with new ideas and new actions.

We don't window dress diversity -- we're the party of diversity. We don't declare ourselves to be compassionate -- we've been acting compassionately for decades. We don't just talk about prosperity -- we make it happen. Don't read our lips -- watch what we do. Watch what we have always done, what our party values have always been -- The convictions that Franklin Roosevelt, Harry Truman and Lyndon Johnson stood for -- that Jimmy Carter is living for even now -- that Bill Clinton still works for -- the ideals that Jack and Bobby and Martin died for.

As Democrats we look to where there's triumph and progress but also where there's suffering and neglect. We know in our hearts that compassion is the necessary ingredient for a just society. But as Democrats, we're not conservative with our compassion. At our best, we give it generously.

We give it in civil rights. We give it when we raise the minimum wage or protect the beauty and purity of our mountain streams and great wilderness. We give it when we open ourselves to the dreams of new immigrants who are expanding the dimensions of our American identity once again. My grandfather was an immigrant, and he never got tired of telling me what America meant to him. He said America was great because it was free and people cared about each other. That's also why the Democratic Party is great. We push forward the boundaries of freedom and turn caring into action.

I believe initiative deserves its reward. Wealth is an appropriate reward for effort. We should always have our eyes on our dreams. But I also believe that the task of leadership is to make sure all Americans have a chance to fulfill their dreams.

Tonight, there are 44 million Americans who don't have health insurance which means 44 million Americans who can't take their sick baby to a doctor, who don't have anyone to attend to their dying parents, who can't get the medical help they need to stay on the job.

So let's think again. 44 million people. That equals more than all the people living in 12 of our states between the Mississippi River and the Rocky Mountains. Whether we're Democrat, Republican or Independent, can we be so insensitive as to say that their plight is of no concern to us? Would we write off the health of all the people living in 12 of our 50 states? Unlikely. Yet because the uninsured are not concentrated in any one area, they seem invisible to us. But a Democratic dream must include them and fulfill the promise of healthcare for all.

My friend, Senator Paul Wellstone, knows a fourth-grade teacher in a poor area of Minnesota who one day walked into his classroom and asked the children, "How many of you had a big breakfast today?" Ten of the twenty kids raised their hands. He then asked, "How many of you had any breakfast today?" Six more kids raised their hands. "What about you other four," he inquired. Silence. Finally, one little girl reluctantly raised her hand and said, "It wasn't my turn to eat today."

When the founders of our republic said that life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness were the unalienable rights of all Americans, they didn't say anything about taking turns. They didn't say that it was your turn today to have life and liberty, but not tomorrow. Or that it was your turn tomorrow to pursue happiness, but not today. The whole point of the American ideal is that opportunity is always present for all of us. Yet this chance is being denied to millions of working families who are trapped in a prison of poverty. Tonight, nearly one-fifth of the children in this country are ill fed, ill housed, and ill educated.

When there's a natural disaster, a hurricane or a flood, we don't talk about repairing a roof here and a window there, a house here and a bridge there. We make an enormous investment in restoring things to the way they were before disaster struck. Child poverty is just such a disaster. Most of us would never turn our backs on a starving child yet everyday we ignore 13 million poor children in America. If all of them were gathered in one place, they would create a city bigger than New York, and we would then see child poverty as the slow motion national disaster that it is. If we don't end child poverty in our lifetime, shame on me, shame on you, shame on all of us.

But our ability to end child poverty and provide healthcare for all depends on our will to defeat the special interests and return politics to the people. Democracy, from its very beginnings, has always been a vulnerable form of government-- vulnerable to armies from without and tyrants from within, vulnerable to the complacency of citizens and the secret maneuverings of powerful groups. And vulnerable to the influence of money. Every generation has to fight for democracy in its own way. Our fight is campaign finance reform. Let the Democratic Party take up the torch of reform once again and return politics to the people.

Is tackling these problems an unrealistic goal in these times of unprecedented prosperity? No. To those who have called our goals unrealistic, I say, No. I don't call these goals unrealistic. I call them common sense. I call them Democratic. I call them American.

I've been on the road in America for thirty years, as a basketball player, as a US Senator, as a writer, as a speaker, and as a Presidential candidate. And over those thirty years, I've come to a sense of who the American people are. Basically, we are a good people.

There's goodness in most of us. And if we'd simply see the goodness in our neighbor, it would be a form of connection that would make us feel less cynical, and less fearful, and less isolated. And all of those connections, together, are really our untapped potential as a country.

Whenever I meet somebody who can see beyond skin color or eye shape or sexual orientation to the individual, I think to myself, all of us could be that good. Martin Luther King once said the reason the civil rights movement didn't occur sooner than it did was because of the silence of good people. What we Democrats must be about is asking good people to come forward and join us so that our voices will be heard.

During the presidential primary campaign, I was thrilled by the thousands of young Americans across the country who volunteered for our effort. Since the primaries, I've heard from so many parents who've told me that the experience gave their children something to believe in that was larger than themselves. It allowed them to see that there is honor in working for a better world; that it's not naive to appeal to the better side of our nature; that it's all right to have faith in your neighbor, in the people, in humankind. To all these young people who believe that America can be just, I say never give up and never, never sell out. You don't have to give up your idealism to be successful in America.

You don't have to become complacent. To the contrary, you should be outraged over the undermining of our democracy, the poverty of so many American children, the absence of healthcare, the shame of racism. And if you get angry enough and are smart enough, and work hard enough you can change things.

I believe that America is a great country, but I also believe it can be a greater country. And so do many other Americans. There's a great wave beginning in this country, I saw it and felt it practically every day for over a year. And when it breaks, it will carry the trappings of political privilege with it. It will vanquish the insidious bond between big money and political decisions. It will break the grip of political lies on our imagination. It will put the people back in politics and usher in a new day full of hope and honesty, full of humanity and caring. A day that Americans yearn for, a day that Democratic leadership can help bring about. A day that will come, let us have the courage to make that day come... now.