Remarks in New York City
Two decades ago, in the days before his election, Ronald Reagan asked a justly-famous question that deserves to be asked again today:
Are you better off than you were four years ago?
Let me go even further: are you better off than you were eight years ago?
For most Americans, I believe the answer is obvious.
Together as a nation, we turned the biggest deficits in our history into the biggest surpluses in our history.
We set our hands to a time of recession and doubt, and built it into a time of pride and plenty: the longest period of economic growth in the entire American record.
For example, together, we turned this great state around: instead of losing 130,000 jobs a year, New York's families have gained almost 120,000 jobs each and every year. You will find the same success story in almost every part of our country.
Instead of asking, as Americans did eight years ago, "how did we get into this mess?" -- people are asking now: what is the real cause of this economic boom?
The winning formula began with this: the hard work of the American people. But the American people have always been hard-working. Certainly they were hard-working in 1991.
The difference? We gave them the tools to build this economy better, so now it's able to blaze on the fuel of their ideas and skill.
Some want to challenge the record of the Clinton administration. In my view, that record is clear and undeniable.
None of this boom happened by accident. It happened because, together with the American people, we put in place a brand new economic strategy, one that unlocked the full potential of our people: balancing the budget, paying down the debt, and investing in the best enterprise of all people. Americans themselves.
It was a winning formula with three elements: fiscal discipline gave us lower interest rates. Lower interest rates sparked more investment, more jobs, and more growth. And all that has in turn fueled even greater investment in our people and our future.
No serious person can question the achievements of the 1990's. Now we must ask:
Will we be better off still -- in terms of our affluence and in terms of our spirit -- four years from this day?
I intend to win this election on behalf of the American people to see to it that the answer is yes.
I intend to build even higher on the foundation of the Clinton years. Because this is a turning point for America.
The 1990's were about more than getting rid of America's debt. They were also about getting rid of America's doubt.
Remember how helpless people felt eight years ago, faced with deficits that were growing so fast, we could barely count them? It seemed as if there were no good choices -- no way to free ourselves - no way to break the shackles of recession and debt.
But together, we have. We're America. We've proven that we're not afraid of big choices, big decisions, and big dreams.
To those who said our economic plan would fail, that it would destroy jobs and choke off recovery - I say: look around you. You underestimated what we, the American people, are capable of doing.
To those who say prosperity has achieved its full reach, I say: just watch us.
We will deepen prosperity, and extend it to the homes and hearts of every family - from struggling immigrants who seek a better life for their children; to farmers and factory workers who need more money to pay the bills and more time with their families; to the young Internet geniuses from every background, hungering to transform our world.
To those who say we can't make our public schools the best in the world, I say: just watch us. We'll give all our kids a chance to learn more and lift themselves higher.
To those who say we can't cure cancer, ease the pain of disease, and give new health and hope to America's children, I say: just watch us. We'll harness all the wonders of science and discovery. We'll build an America where health is never again decided by wealth.
And to those who say that as America becomes more diverse, discrimination will only get worse, I say: lift your eyes. See how wide the American horizon has become.
All of us as Americans have had different experiences in the past. But we all share a common future. Now is the time for decision about what that future will be.
And that is why I want to make this election about the big choices we have to make to secure prosperity and progress for a new American century.
Imagine an America that closes out not just its material debts, but its moral debts as well: where working parents have the help they need to care for their children, and the chance to stay home with their babies if they wish to.
Imagine how we will transform education when all schools become thriving schools; when we give our children the best, and demand the best in return.
Imagine how we will improve human health when all our children can breathe clean air, drink pure water, and grow up with a stable climate in a healthy world.
To achieve this future, we have to make the right choices - in ethics no less than in economics. Right now, our economy is doing better than anyone expected. Believe it or not, I am here to give you still more good news: we're all learning that the estimates of America's budget surpluses, already the highest ever, are expected to rise yet again -- dramatically -- in the coming weeks. When the time is right and those numbers are firm, I'll lay out a detailed budget plan. And for the next three weeks, I'll be talking about the specifics of my plans and proposals.
Today, as the size of that surplus begins to come into view, I want to give you an outline of exactly what my plan is, and talk about the principles - moral and material - that will be my guide.
First and foremost, discipline. We have to do the right thing - because we can never go back to the days when we spent money we just didn't have.
Having the discipline not to run deficits isn't just materially wise, it is also morally wise. Living debt-free is an expression of our guiding American ideals of independence, self-reliance, being as good as our word.
If you stand with me, we will have a balanced budget every single year, and targeted tax cuts that we can afford.
Every proposal I have made in this campaign - every proposal I will make -- fits within a balanced budget that lets us save Social Security and Medicare, and also pays down our national debt every single year.
If we do things right, then we can give middle class families the tax cuts they need to put their own values into action. I am calling for the right kind of tax relief - tax cuts that are specially targeted to help those who need them the most. Tax cuts to let families live their values -- to help you save for college, pay for health insurance, and build additional security for your retirement. And an elimination of the current marriage penalty for working couples, which penalizes commitment to spouse and family, by forcing these couples to pay more in taxes just because they're married.
Here is what I will not do: I won't be profligate with your money. I won't spend money that we don't yet have on a huge tax cut our economy can't afford, in ways that could end our prosperity and progress.
Remember the children's tale of the goose that laid golden eggs? The moral was one every child can understand: when something works well, don't destroy it.
That same moral applies to our economy. Bad choices in a single year or a single budget could put prosperity beyond our reach again for a decade or more.
Discipline has been essential to the prosperity we have today. The wealth of the American spirit, embodied in a dynamic new economy, is what I call real wealth. That's what works. And that is how a Gore administration will work from January of 2001 on.
The second principle -- conscience. We have to respect the dreams of the next generation. We have to do more than pay down our debt. We have to seize this chance to completely eliminate it for our children.
Paying down the debt is plain, good capitalism. It frees businesses to invest and innovate. It creates good jobs. It is the foundation of future growth.
But putting an end to debt for the first time in seven generations will give our children the chance to reach for their own dreams instead of dealing with the nightmares that others' irresponsibility can cause.
A conscientious nation owes this to its children. I believe this is how we reach real maturity and take real responsibility - as parents and as a great nation. No generation should put its own expectations ahead of its children's needs.
To win that moral victory for Americans, we will win this fight. And in the four years of my term, I will pay off all the debt America accumulated in our first 200 years. Then I will put us on the path to completely eliminating our national debt by the year 2012.
Let us live up to the responsibility of being true parents to our nation's children - not just individually in our own homes, but as a community in our stewardship of America's finances.
The third principle is decency. A decent nation honors and protects our mothers and fathers - and safeguards their old age.
I believe we must show the same restraint and foresight as a nation that families must show in their own kitchen-table budgeting. That means not just living in the moment - and not just paying off our debts - but also seeing our link in the chain of generations.
Decency means living up to our promises. I propose that we set aside enough of the surplus to strengthen Medicare - and then do for Medicare what we have done for Social Security, by putting the Medicare trust fund off-budget and into in an iron-clad lock-box.
If we do that, then Congress can never try to raid Medicare, or take it away. We will keep Medicare strong for decades to come. And we will update Medicare to provide a prescription drug benefit for all our seniors.
We have to guarantee that Social Security is there for you when you retire. As President, I will keep that sacred trust. I will oppose any effort to make Social Security a gamble, instead of a guarantee. I am not going to let anyone take the "security" out of Social Security.
I will oppose the effort to privatize Social Security - which could take at least a trillion dollars out of the trust fund, and could drive our entire budget back into deficit.
And with Social Security as the unshakeable foundation, people should be able to save and invest more for their retirement without gambling away their Social Security. I propose a new way to help them do that: "Social Security Plus" - new, tax-free voluntary accounts that let you save, invest, and build on top of the guaranteed foundation of Social Security.
Let me be clear about what this is: this is Social Security plus, it is not Social Security minus. It doesn't come at the expense of Social Security -- it comes in addition to Social Security. It is the best of both worlds - rather than, as the opposition has proposed, the worst of both worlds. You get the freedom to save more and invest more, but it will not come out of your Social Security. Your Social Security will be there for you to rely upon, no matter how those investments perform.
The fourth principle is boldness.
With our feet planted firmly on the ground -- with discipline, conscience, and decency -- we must also have courage to take bold action, to meet three great challenges: reforming our schools, curing disease and making all of our families healthier than ever before, and protecting the environment that is essential to the fabric of life itself.
For each of these three priorities, I propose that we create a new national trust - to safeguard the investments we need for our future.
With a new education trust, we will make sure we have the new resources to go along with new accountability. We will invest more in our schools, set higher standards, and treat teachers like the professionals they are.
With a new health care trust, we will make our families stronger by making all families healthier. We'll invest in new research that will harness the breakthroughs of science for the benefit of our loved ones. We'll move step-by-step toward universal health coverage. We will bring access to fully affordable health coverage to every child in this nation by the end of the next Presidential term. And we'll make health insurance more affordable and accessible for small business.
Finally, the Environment Trust. We will summon all the ingenuity, all the innovation, all the skill and creativity of our country to protect a national asset: a clean, healthy environment. And we have to protect one of the most precious of all our treasures: the stable seasons God gave us.
- From activists to entrepreneurs, from investors to working men and women -- together we will build new, modern, and clean energy, industrial, and transportation systems.
I say to the nation's innovators: If you invest in these new technologies, America will invest in you.
There will be no new bureaucracies; no new agencies or organizations, because not only is the era of big government over, the era of old government is over, too. We'll measure performance carefully and ensure that we reach our goals with common-sense standards. And through the power of free markets, through good old-fashioned American ingenuity, we will dramatically reduce pollution and reverse the tide of global warming -- while creating more jobs, not fewer jobs, for our people.
America has done well. But I'm here today to tell you: you ain't seen nothing yet.
I know America can be anything we want to be - if we do things right.
We have the people. We have the talent. We have the plan. And best of all, we have the confidence of the American people.
On behalf of those hard-working Americans whose lives have gotten better since we took up the challenge alongside them, I tell you now: we are going to win this fight.
On behalf of our children, whose futures are more secure today than they were eight years ago, I tell you now: we are going to win this fight.
For the sake of our Earth, which does hang in the balance, I tell you now: we will win this fight.
On behalf of the elderly, the vulnerable, the frail, we will not rest; on behalf of those citizen activists who are determined to clean up this democracy and reclaim real, not rhetorical, reform -- we will not rest.
Hear me now: we will take the White House in November for these people. I will let nothing threaten their hard-won prosperity. I will let nothing threaten their dreams.
If you allow yourselves to believe, without reservation, that we can do what's right, then we will accomplish what we set our minds to do.
Come with me, and we will do the right thing - and we will do it well. Thank you.
Albert Gore, Jr., Remarks in New York City Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/285642