Albert Gore, Jr. photo

Remarks at the Democratic Leadership Conference National Conversation

July 15, 2000

Less than four months from today, Americans will go to the polls to choose a new President.

Some would have us believe that this election is about little more than personalities and photo opportunities.

You and I know that nothing could be farther from the truth.

For fifteen years now, the DLC has been dedicated to the idea that the people's best interests have to come before any special interest. That the party of the people has to constantly search for new ways to puts its enduring values into action for rapidly changing times. That people deserve a government that's on their side.

I believe that fundamental cause is at stake in this election. In fact, I believe that everything the DLC and the Democratic Party stand for is at stake.

Remember what things were like fifteen years ago, when we started the DLC?

It was a cold winter for the Democratic Party. America was in the midst of a supply-side spending spree. Our country was mired in deficits, wracked with debt, and unable -- or unwilling -- to meet the cares and concerns of hard-working families.

Meanwhile, in a small room on Capitol Hill, I sat with Al From — scribbling out the press release that announced the formation of the DLC.

This is a movement that has been given a lot of names over the years. But at its heart, it was simple common sense:

We were sick and tired of a government that was frozen in the ice of old assumptions — while people worked longer for less, and the American dream seemed further and further out of reach.

We'd had enough of a government that lavished new loopholes on every powerful interest you can name — but somehow couldn't make the most basic investments in its own people, to give them a chance to make their own lives better.

Needless to say, things got worse before they got better. By the time President Clinton and I took office, all that ice of old assumptions had become a frozen tundra. We had the highest deficits in history. A quadrupled national debt. A deep recession. Crime and welfare rising out of control.

Let's not forget, when the other party meets in Philadelphia in a few weeks: that is the true Republican legacy.

And by 1992, all Americans were ready to ring the Liberty Bell.

With the help and intellectual firepower from so many in this room, we brought change to this nation.

Today, we celebrate the single longest economic expansion in all of American history. We have 22 million new jobs. The welfare rolls have been cut in half. Crime is the lowest it's been in a generation. And the federal government is smaller than it has been since John Kennedy sat in the Oval Office.

Needless to say, our opponents are a little put out by this record. They try to minimize it — and when they find that's impossible, they labor to explain it all away. They say the credit for all our success goes to the hard work of the American people.

Of course it does. But let's remind our opponents that when they were in power, people worked just as hard -- but their hard work was undone by a government that didn't work; a government that got it wrong, and kept getting in the way.

We succeeded because we put government on the side of hard-working Americans again. And I think we know the basic ingredients of today's prosperity and progress: fiscal discipline as the foundation, but also smart, targeted investments in the best enterprise of all — Americans themselves.

Without the right fiscal policies, we could never have freed ourselves from the bad choices of the past. And without the right investments — in education, in training, in research and technology -- we could never have given people the tools to thrive on their own initiative.

I'm running for President because I love this country — and I'm not going to see us dragged back to the tired old thinking that nearly destroyed the American dream.

I'm running for President because I want to serve the people — all the people — and not the narrow needs of the special interests.

I'm running for President because I want to empower each and every American — to give them the tools to build their own futures, make their own choices, and make our economy and our country even better.

I believe very deeply in the power of the American people — and that's why empowerment is the heart of my approach. We need a President who's willing to stand up and take on the special interests. But we also have to give every family the tools and skills to stand up and fight for themselves.

So let's consider the basic choice in this election — and how we can put that philosophy into action.

We have to start with fiscal discipline. As President, I will never — not ever — be profligate with the people's money. I'll balance the budget every year — and put America on the path to completely eliminating our national debt by 2012.

If we use our surpluses wisely, we can afford a series of targeted tax cuts, the kind that let families live out their own values, and take more control over their own lives: tax cuts to buy health care, to pay for child care, to save for college and lifelong learning.

And I would a whole lot rather have targeted tax cuts to help working families than a massive tax cut that helps the wealthy. That kind of policy would drive us right back into deficit and fiscal nightmare.

You and I would have to start all over again -- and Al and I would have to sit down again and write a brand new press release.

What I'm proposing is the next stage of fiscal discipline: not just living within our means, but lifting the burdens left by those who came before.

Then, we need the next generation of investments to empower our people.

Empowerment means that every child, in every school district — urban or suburban, rich or poor — can count on a high-quality public education. We need greater investment, greater accountability, and more public school choice and competition.

In the new economy, we know that opportunity means education. But too many of our people never get the skills they need. I meet business leaders across this country who can't even fill the good new jobs that are opening up. No wonder so many of them are pushing to bring in more skilled workers from abroad, to fill those jobs.

Let's bring new Americans in — but let's give our own people the chance to move up. Right here, right now, let's vow to make our schools the best in the world.

Empowerment means that critical health decisions are made on the basis of the best medicine for you and your family, not the cheapest or quickest procedure.

Right now, life-or-death decisions are made by HMO bureaucrats who have no license to practice medicine — and no right to play God. And that has to change. It's time to take the medical decisions away from the HMO's, the accountants, and the insurance companies, and give them back to the doctors, the nurses, and the health professionals.

Empowerment means that our seniors are not left powerless in their old age, forced to choose between food and prescription medicine. We need to tell the drug companies that it's time to do the right thing. We need a real prescription drug benefit for all seniors under Medicare -- not a pretend plan, that even the insurance industry doesn't think will work.

Empowerment means using the power of free markets — not big bureaucracies or onerous regulations — to free ourselves forever from the dominance of big oil and foreign oil.

I propose a new energy security and environment trust, which will speed the development of cleaner, more fuel-efficient cars and products; modernize aging power systems; and bring people more choice and more competition — from clean cars that get 80 miles per gallon, to targeted tax cuts that help people afford more energy-efficient homes and appliances. We can create a cleaner environment and a stronger economy at the same time.

Empowerment means people have the choice to save and invest for their own retirements -- on top of the unshakeable foundation of Social Security. I've proposed a new retirement savings plan that matches families' contributions, the way large employers do in their pension programs. It lets even struggling families build bigger nest eggs for the future.

My plan is Social Security plus, not Social Security minus. It's the best of both worlds, not the worst of both: you get all the advantages of private investment, but no matter how the market performs, your Social Security will always be there for you.

We need to save and strengthen Social Security, and I'm committed to doing so. But I don't believe we should privatize Social Security. That would take the "trust" right out of the trust fund, draining away a trillion dollars that is needed to pay Social Security for today's retirees.

There needs to be a Social Security and Medicare lock-box, with a sign on it that says: "hands-off, politicians." That ought to be the law -- because otherwise, they'll always be tempted to use those programs as a piggy bank. As President, I will veto the use of any money from Social Security and Medicare for anything other than Social Security and Medicare.

I've been very clear, since the day I began this campaign, about what I am proposing: an economic policy that's tried and tested, and built on our values. Fiscal discipline as the foundation. A new generation of investments, to empower our people and unleash their potential. No runaway spending; no paybacks for the powerful interests; no budget-busting tax proposals.

This is the approach that the DLC has championed since its founding: hard-nosed budgets; smart, big-hearted investments — but not bottle-necked bureaucracies.

Now, if imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, then Governor Bush must be trying to flatter the DLC every time he steps out on the campaign trail. He now invokes the vocabulary of the mainstream.

But he proposes a tax plan that would consume the entire budget surplus and then some -- despite his repeated reassurances that it will all add up in the end.

We don't need his rhetoric; we have his record. As America begins this new century with the biggest surpluses ever, Texas's budget surpluses are rolling away like tumbleweed.

One year ago, with our national economy roaring along, Texas had its biggest surplus ever. Today, with our national economy still roaring along, Texas faces a serious budget shortfall — with huge deficits in its health care and criminal justice systems. The state's surplus is as good as gone.

How did this happen? Well, last year, Governor Bush pushed through a $ 1.7 billion tax cut that served the powerful interests.

Instead of taking up legislation dealing with children's health care, Governor Bush made a tax break for the oil industry the very first bill he signed that year. Now, I don't know how many oil executives lack health insurance, but Texas is second in the nation for children without health insurance. Who here thinks he has the right priorities?

This week, as Governor Bush was travelling from photo-op to photo-op, trying to put the compassion into his conservatism, we learned that he failed to use tens of millions of dollars budgeted to feed poor and hungry children during the summer months.

Less than one in ten children who receive school lunches during the school year are receiving them this summer. Just because school is out doesn't mean that hunger takes a summer vacation -- or that leadership can go on leave.

This goes to our values. Hungry children need food, not photo-ops.

But it is also about leadership. When he was asked why Texas was suddenly facing a shortfall, Governor Bush told the Dallas Morning News: "I hope I'm not here to have to deal with it."

With all due respect to Governor Bush, America can't afford to deal with it, either. I say: let's tell him to leave the mess in Texas.

Governor Bush gave some nice-sounding speeches this week. But we can't go back to the days of deficits, debt, and economic decline. We can't simply ignore the hard-won lessons of the past eight years.

So if you want to keep our prosperity going, and fight for fiscal policies that work — then I ask you to join with me.

If you believe in an America that closes out not just its material debts, but its moral debts as well: where families get the best quality health care; where our kids can breathe free of pollution and smog; where our parents and grandparents can live out their lives in peace and plenty; where we close the racial divide and create opportunity for all — then I ask you to join with me.

Our nation has done well these past eight years. We owe a great deal of our progress to the people in this room.

But I'm here today to tell you: you ain't seen nothing yet.

Let us believe, without reservation, that we, in our day and generation, can do what's right and be the better for it.

Come with me — and we will finish the journey we started 15 years ago, and bring America to the mountaintop of our ideals. Thank you.

Albert Gore, Jr., Remarks at the Democratic Leadership Conference National Conversation Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project