Robert Dole photo

Remarks at the American Legion Convention in Indianapolis

September 04, 1995

Thank you, and thank you very much, Commander Detweiter for that introduction. Speaking to this convention is a great honor. And as I look out at all the patriots who belong to the American Legion, I can't help but recall that perhaps the first speech I made outside Kansas was at an American Legion Hall in Indiana.

I was a freshman Congressman, and the local dinner committee knew they needed to find a way to encourage people to come to the dinner. When I arrived, I was whisked off to the local radio station, where the announcer was supposed to interview me to boost attendance. He began with a less than accurate rendition of my resume.

"The guest at this evening's dinner," he said, "will be Congressman Bob Doyle. He will speak at the American Legion Hall. Tickets have been slashed from three dollars to one dollar. A color television set will be given away. You must be present to win, and we're not going to draw until Doyle gets through talking. Doyle was born in Kansas, raised in Kansas, educated in Kansas. He fought in Italy, where he suffered a serious head injury. Then he went into politics."

I don't know if they got all of you here today by promising a drawing for a television set, but I'm sure glad you're here.

You are Freedom's heroes and American patriots, and I'm proud to be among you. Each of you has answered America's call — whether it was to fight for our freedom, or to defend the peace in which we have prospered for so many years. Each of you knows what it means to wear the uniform of your country, to put your country first and to be willing to bear any sacrifice to keep her free. I assure you that we will never forget our obligation to those who have worn the uniform in service to our great nation. I know you all support our efforts to balance the federal budget — to stop the flow of red ink that threatens the future of our children and grandchildren. I also know many of you are concerned about funding for the activities of the Department of Veterans Affairs. Well, the federal budget will be balanced. And every program with the exception of Social Security will be scrutinized carefully. But the budget will not be balanced on the backs of America's Veterans.

Because of you, and those who came before you, we Americans are the freest people on earth. And you know as well as I do how we stay that way: we must remain the strongest country on earth.

That's what I want to talk with you about today. Keeping America strong — in her might and in her heart, in the face of external enemies and in the presence of threats from within. America is still the land of the free and the home of the brave, and a great century of hope and opportunity is about to unfold before us. But to claim that future, America needs your help. For some in America believe our might is no longer needed, and some think our definition of what it means to be an American is out of date.

Of course, neither is true. Can there be any doubt that the world is still a dangerous place? Yes, the Cold War is over. We won one of humanity's greatest struggles against totalitarianism and oppression. But today peace is threatened and dark forces are multiplying in almost every corner of the world. The Evil Empire may be gone, but its missiles still exist in a volatile, unstable and unpredictable region. Despite our protests, Russia is selling nuclear arms to Iran. Iraq is manufacturing gruesome biological and chemical weapons. North Korea will soon have nuclear capability. China is arming Pakistan with nuclear missiles while just across their contested border India already has them. And Central Europe is being eaten away by ethnic war and genocide.

The United Nations has been impotent and, until last week, the U.N. was calling the shots for NATO. Now should be a time of great American vigilance, and yet now Washington seems filled with people who want to dismantle our defenses.

One thing is clear: our defense budget has been cut too far, and too fast. In fact, this administration had set us on a path that would have ended with America spending about as much of our gross national product on defense as we were when Pearl Harbor was attacked, But the good news is that this year this Congress refused to go along. We rejected the policies that would lead us back to a hollow military. We kept the faith. We increased spending on defense.

For the demands of freedom require us to modernize our forces, to maintain our technological edge, and to ensure that America remains the world's one and only superpower. We will never apologize for that. Our goal is not just to be strong enough to turn back a threat. We must be so strong no one ever again is even tempted to threaten us, at all.

But if we are to return this country to greatness, we must do more than restore America's defenses. We must return as a people to the original concept of what it means to be American. This means tackling subjects the arbiters of political correctness don't even want discussed: For example, English must be recognized as America's official language. Western tradition and American greatness must be taught in our schools. And the Federal government must end its war on traditional American values.

America has always been more than just a place on a map, it has held a claim on our hearts. We are a nation dedicated to a proposition: that all men and women are created equal, endowed by our Creator with certain, inalienable rights. Our forefathers rejected race and religion as the forces to form a nation, choosing instead the ideals of freedom and democracy. t was a radical gamble, and ever since we have held it to be an article of faith that those who would be Americans must first abandon lesser allegiances. As Franklin Roosevelt once said, "Americanism ... is not, and never was, a matter of race and ancestry."

Succeeding waves of immigrants have been drawn to America by this idea. Lacking the centuries-old, primal bonds of other nations, we have used our language, our history and our code of values to make the American experiment work. We have used them to forge millions of diverse individuals into one people with a common purpose. Language, history and values: these are the strings that bind our hearts to America. These are the forces that have held us together - allowing us to be diverse and yet united, to absorb untold millions of immigrants while coming the closest any country ever has to the classless, upwardly mobile society of our ideals.

But these keys to unity are under attack from our government and from intellectual elites who seem embarrassed by America. What we see as opportunity they see as oppression. Where we see a proud past, they see a legacy of shame. What we hold as moral truth, they call intolerance. They have false theories, long dissertations and endless studies to back them up. But they know so much they have somehow missed the fact that the United States of America is the greatest force for good the world has ever known.

Yes, we have our faults. But part of what makes me so proud to be an American is the constant effort of our people to do better — to make our country right and good and just. Unfortunately some policies and programs born out of that desire have gone awry. Begun for the best of reasons and then hijacked by the embarrassed-to-be-American crowd, certain Federal programs are untying the strings of citizenship.

Affirmative action is one of those programs. Instead of making things better, it has made things worse. No amount of tinkering can rescue it. It was never supposed to be permanent. We know it has failed. Let's stop dividing Americans by race and get back to the simple principle of equal treatment for all.

That's why I have introduced legislation which would prohibit the Federal Government from ever using quotas, set-asides, or other race-based preferences in any form. Whether in employment, contracting or any other Federal program, our government must be in the business of bringing our citizens closer together, not tearing us apart.

But nowhere is the focus on what divides us more alarming than what is happening in our schools. The debate about what we teach our children is really a debate about who we are as a people, and whether we are one people any more at all. Do we embrace ideas that unite us, regardless of our sex or color or religion? Or are we just a jostling crowd of competing groups thrown by fate between two oceans?

If one of the most important missions of our schools is to make citizens of our children, and I believe that it is, fluency in English should be a central educational goal of every state in our Nation. English is the language in which we still speak to each other across the frontiers of culture and race. It is the language of the Constitution. It is the language in which we conduct our great national debates — an essential ingredient of democracy. Insisting that all our citizens are fluent in English is a welcoming act of inclusion, and insist on it we must.

Yes, schools should provide the language classes our immigrants and their families need, as long as their purpose is the teaching of English. We have done this since our founding to speed the melting of our melting pot. But we must stop the practice of multi-lingual education as a means of instilling ethnic pride, or as a therapy for low self-esteem or out of elitist guilt over a culture built on the traditions of the West. With all the divisive forces tearing at our country, we need the glue of language to help hold us together. If we want to ensure that all our children have the same opportunities in life, alternative language education should stop and English should be acknowledged once and for all as the official language of the United States.

And speaking of elitist guilt, yes, there have been dark moments in our past. There are still cruel elements in our culture. We should not sanitize them when we teach our children the history of America and Western civilization. But we should not politicize them, either, as too many educators and professors in our schools and universities today are attempting to do. There is a shocking campaign afoot among educators at all levels — most evident in the National History Standards already distributed to more than 20,000 teachers, administrators, and professors — to disparage America and disown the ideas and traditions of the West.

Let me give you some examples of what I mean. The History Standards, prepared with over $2 million in grants from the U.S. Department of Education and the National Endowment for the Humanities, suggest we teach our students about America by concentrating on some of our worst moments: the scourge of McCarthyism and the rise of the Ku Klux Klan. George Washington is never even described as our first President in this approach. Alexander Graham Bell, Thomas Edison, and Paul Revere disappear from the story of America. And the first time the Constitution is mentioned it is blamed for sidetracking the movement to end slavery. After years of that, would you love America?

The purpose of the National History Standards seems not to be to teach our children certain essential facts about our history, but to denigrate America's story while sanitizing and glorifying other cultures. This is wrong and it threatens us as surely as any foreign power ever has. We must use the bully pulpit to make it clear that we will not stand still and allow this campaign to be inflicted on our children.

Liberal, academic elites control more than our schools, of course. Any institution touched by government is ripe for infection, which is why we see this disdain for America turning up in government- funded television, art and now even our museums. When the Smithsonian created a display to commemorate the anniversary of Hiroshima — the day we effectively won a global war against the forces of evil — the message of the Smithsonian was that dropping the bomb was an act of American violence against Japanese culture. Somehow the Japanese were painted not as the aggressors, but as the victims of World War II. Veterans groups who complained were dismissed as "special interests" who couldn't be objective.

That's right. If you put your life on the line for America, if you love this country so much you're willing to die for it, maybe you do belong to a special interest — but that special interest used to be called the people of the United States. If you had predicted the Smithsonian debacle to the soldiers crawling up the beach in Okinawa, they would never have believed you. Today, even Japan has finally apologized for its atrocities and aggression, so maybe it's time the Embarrassed-About-America Crowd gets the message, too: We're proud of our country. And we won't put up with our tax dollars being used to drag it down or sow doubt about the nobility of America in the minds of our children.

We must remember: our children's embrace of the American idea is not automatic. We must teach them what we were taught and what we know to be true: that this country is one of history's most magnificent ideas. Our children must come to value freedom as dearly as every refugee fleeing persecution who sailed, swam or scrambled here to find it; as much as every soldier who died to preserve it. America must be in their hearts, as well as their heads. For it takes just one generation to snap the chain of freedom, one generation for a nation based on an idea to forget who we are.

One of the most powerful symbols we use to remind ourselves, of course, is Old Glory. Our flag is more than a piece of cloth, it is the embodiment of our sacred ideals. I grew up holding my hand over my heart and pledging allegiance to it. And perhaps one of our problems is that too few of us do that, anymore. We ought to teach children at an early age to respect the flag. And we certainly ought to stop its public denigration. I am proud to stand with the American Legion in supporting a Constitutional Amendment to protect our flag.

Which brings me to the subject of values — something I've spoken a lot about this summer. To put it simply, values count, not just in our lives, but in our society. The economy will never be strong enough to transform a neighborhood where 80 percent of children lack a father, and legitimate jobs are dismissed as "chump change." There will never be enough prisons or police to enforce order in our society if there is growing disorder in our souls.

The vast majority of Americans still hold fast to the values that made America great, but now we must do more than just live by them. We must speak out about our values and insist that our culture and our government reflect them.

Yes, this means braving the ridicule of the cultural elites and speaking out about our popular entertainment. Our movies and music, advertising and television are having a profound impact on our children. And it's not for the good. It's much harder to rise out of poverty when the culture derides the values that make that possible. It's much harder for society to control crime when "role models" preach impulsive violence. Those who would market evil through commerce hate the light of scrutiny, but I will continue to use my freedom to call them to account. I will name their names until they feel the shame their actions deserve. Time Warner — the producers of some of the foulest rap music — has already begun to have second thoughts, and others will, too. This is not a matter of right and left, it is a matter of right and wrong. And I hope you will join me.

Love of God and country and family. Commitment to honesty, decency and personal responsibility. Self-reliance tempered by a sense of community. Those values made us the greatest country on earth. And there is no doubt in my mind that we can get our country back on track if we reassert them again as a people and if our government returns to them as a matter of national policy.

Everywhere in the world we see examples of nations divided against themselves — the tragedy of Bosnia is the most recent, most horrifying example. Even placid Canada today is threatened by ethnic separatism. But the idea of America, if we hold on to it, is what will save us from that fate.

In 1874, a black high school principal in Ohio said, "In language, in civilization, in fears and in hopes we are Americans." We are defined not by our bloodlines, but by our beliefs. In this beautiful New World, we have created a nation out of nations, overcoming differences with freedom.

But our freedom can never be taken for granted — we must always ensure its defense. And our diversity requires us to bind ourselves to the American idea in every way we can: by speaking one language, taking pride in our true history and embracing the traditional American values which have guided us from the beginning. These are the ways we remember who we are: free individuals united by democracy into the world's newest, greatest and still evolving race: the nation of Americans.

Thank you very much.

Robert Dole, Remarks at the American Legion Convention in Indianapolis Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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