Ann Richards

Remarks at the 1988 Democratic National Convention - July 18, 1988

Ann Richards
July 18, 1988— Atlanta, Georgia
1988 Democratic National Convention
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Good evening, ladies and gentlemen.

Buenas noches, mis amigos!

I am delighted to be here with you this evening because after listening to George Bush all these years, I figured you needed to know what a real Texas accent sounds like.

Twelve years ago, (former Rep.) Barbara (C.) Jordan, another Texas woman, made the keynote address to this convention - and two women in 160 years is about par for the course.

But, if you give us a chance, we can perform.

After all, Ginger Rogers did everything that Fred Astaire did. She just did it backwards and in high heels.

I want to announce to this nation that in a little more than 100 days, the Reagan-Meese-Deaver-Nofziger-Poindexter-North- Weinberger-Watt-Gorsuch-Lavelle-Stockman-Haig-Bork-Noriega- George Bush era will be over.

You know, tonight I feel a little like I did when I played basketball in the eighth grade. I thought I looked real cute in my uniform and then I heard a boy yell from the bleachers, "Make that basket, bird legs."

My greatest fear is that same guy is somewhere in the audience tonight and he's going to cut me down to size.

Where I grew up there really wasn't much tolerance for self- importance, people who put on airs.

I was born during the Depression in a little community just outside Waco and I grew up listening to Franklin Roosevelt on the radio.

Well, it was back then that I came to understand the small truths and hardships that bind neighbors together.

Those were real people with real problems.

And they had real dreams about getting out of the Depression.

I can remember summer nights when we'd put down what we called a Baptist pallet and we listened to the grown-ups talk.

I can still hear the sound of the dominoes clicking on the marble slab my daddy found for a tabletop.

I can still hear the laughter of the men telling jokes you weren't supposed to hear - telling about how big that old buck deer was, laughing about mama putting Clorox in the well when the frog fell in.

They talked about war and Washington and what this country needed.

They talked straight talk.

And it came from people living their lives as best they could.

We're going to tell how the cow ate the cabbage.

A Letter From Forgotten People

I got a letter last week from a young mother in Lorena, Texas, and I want to read a part of it to you.

She writes, "Our worries go from pay day to pay day . . . just like millions of others, and we have two fairly decent incomes. But I worry about how I'm going to pay the rising car insurance and food.

"I pray my kids don't have a growth spurt from August to December so I don't have to buy new jeans. We buy clothes at the budget stores and we have them fray, and fade, and stretch in the first wash.

"We ponder and try to figure out how we're going to pay for college, and braces, and tennis shoes. We don't take vacations and we don't go out to eat.

"Please don't think me ungrateful. We have jobs, and a nice place to live, and we're healthy.

"We're the people you see every day in the grocery store. We obey the laws, we pay our taxes, we fly our flags on holidays.

"And we plod along, trying to make it better for ourselves and our children and our parents. We aren't vocal anymore. I think maybe we're too tired.

"I believe that people like us are forgotten in America."

Well, of course you believe you're forgotten. Because you have been.

'Divide and Conquer' Republicans

This Republican administration treats us as if we were pieces of a puzzle that can't fit together.

They've tried to put us into compartments and separate us from each other.

Their political theory is, "divide and conquer."

They've suggested time and time again that what is of interest to one group of Americans is not of interest to anyone else. We've been isolated. We've been lumped into that sad phraseology called "special interests."

They've told farmers that they were selfish, that they would drive up food prices if they asked the government to intervene on behalf of the family farm, and we watched farms go on the auction block while we bought food from foreign countries. Well, that's wrong.

They told working mothers it's all their fault that families are falling apart - because they had to go to work to keep their kids in jeans, tennis shoes and college. And they're wrong.

They told American labor they were trying to ruin free enterprise by asking for 60 days' notice of plant closings, and they're wrong.

And they told the auto industry, and the steel industry, and the timber industry, and the oil industry, companies being threatened by foreign products flooding this country, that you're protectionist if you think the government should enforce our trade laws. And they're wrong.

When they belittle us for demanding clean air and clean water, for trying to save the oceans or the ozone layer, that's wrong.

No wonder we feel isolated. And confused. We want answers and their answer is that something is wrong with you.

Well, nothing's wrong with you. Nothing's wrong with you that you can't fix in November.

We've been told - we've been told that the interests of the South and the Southwest are not the same interests as the North and the Northeast.

They pit one group against the other. They've divided this country. And in our isolation we think government isn't going to help us, and that we're alone in our feelings. We feel forgotten.

Well, the fact is that we are not an isolated piece of their puzzle.

We are one nation. We are the United States of America!

'To Be All That We Can Be'

Now, we Democrats believe that America is still the country of fair play, that we can come out of a small town or a poor neighborhood and have the same chance as anyone else and it doesn't matter whether we are black or Hispanic or disabled or a woman.

We believe that America is a country where small business owners must succeed because they are the bedrock, backbone of our economy.

We believe that our kids deserve good day care and public schools. We believe our kids deserve public schools where students can learn, and teachers can teach.

We want to believe that our parents will have a good retirement - and that we will, too.

We Democrats believe that Social Security is a pact that cannot be broken. We want to believe that we can live out our lives without the terrible fear that an illness is going to bankrupt us and our children.

We Democrats believe that America can overcome any problem, including the dreaded disease called AIDS.

We believe that America is still a country where there is more to life than just a constant struggle for money.

And we believe that America must have leaders who show us that our struggles amount to something and contribute to something larger, leaders who want us to be all that we can be.

We want leaders like Jesse Jackson.

Jesse Jackson is a leader and a teacher who can open our hearts and open our minds and stir our very souls.

And he has taught us that we are as good as our capacity for caring. Caring about the drug problem, caring about crime, caring about education and caring about each other.

What They Do/What They Say

Now, in contrast, the greatest nation of the free world has had a leader for eight straight years that has pretended that he cannot hear our questions over the noise of the helicopter.

And we know he doesn't want to answer. But we have a lot of questions. And when we get our questions asked, or there's a leak, or an investigation, the only answer we get is, "I don't know," or "I forgot."

But you wouldn't accept that answer from your children. I wouldn't. Don't tell me "you don't know" or "you forgot."

We're not going to have the America that we want until we elect leaders who are going to tell the truth. Not most days - but every day. Leaders who don't forget what they don't want to remember.

And, for eight straight years George Bush hasn't displayed the slightest interest in anything we care about.

And now that he's after a job that he can't get appointed to, he's like Columbus discovering America. He's found child care. He's found education.

Poor George. He can't help it - he was born with a silver foot in his mouth.

Well no wonder, no wonder he can't figure it out. Because the leadership of this nation is telling us one thing on TV and doing something entirely different.

They tell us, they tell us that they're fighting a war against terrorists. And then we find that the White House is selling arms to the ayatollah (Ruhallah Khomeini, of Iran).

They tell us that they're fighting a war on drugs, then people come on TV and testify that the CIA, and the DEA (Drug Enforcement Administration), and the FBI knew they were flying drugs into America all along. And they're negotiating with a dictator (Panamanian strongman Manuel Antonio Noriega) who is shoveling cocaine into this country like crazy. I guess that's their Central America strategy.

Now, they tell us that employment rates are great and that they're for equal opportunity, but we know it takes two paychecks to make ends meet today, when it used to take one. And the opportunity they're so proud of is low-wage, dead-end jobs.

And there is no major city in America where you cannot see homeless men sitting in parking lots holding signs that say, "I will work for food."

Debt and Defense: 'A Bum Deal'

Now, my friends, we really are at a crucial point in American history. Under this administration, we have devoted our resources to making this country a military colossus, but we've let our economic lines of defense fall into disrepair.

The debt of this nation is greater than it has ever been in our history. We fought a world war on less debt than the Republicans have built up in the last eight years.

You know, it's kind of like that brother-in-law who drives a flashy new car but he's always borrowing money from you to make the payments.

Let's take what they are proudest of, that is their stand on defense. We Democrats are committed to a strong America. And, quite frankly, when our leaders say to us, we need a new weapons system, our inclination is to say, "Well, they must be right."

But when we pay billions for planes that won't fly, billions for tanks that won't fire, and billions for systems that won't work, that old dog won't hunt.

And you don't have to be from Waco to know that when the Pentagon makes crooks rich and doesn't make America strong, that it's a bum deal.

Straight-Talking Democrats

Now, I'm going to tell you, I'm really glad that our young people missed the Depression, and missed the great big war. But I do regret that they missed the leaders that I knew.

Leaders who told us when things were tough, and that we would have to sacrifice, and these difficulties might last awhile.

They didn't tell us things were hard for us because we were different, or isolated, or special interests. They brought us together and they gave us a sense of national purpose.

They gave us Social Security. And they told us we're setting up a system where we could pay our own money in and when the time came for our retirement, we could take the money out.

People in rural areas were told that we deserved to have electric lights, and they were going to harness the energy that was necessary to give us electricity so my grandmama didn't have to carry that old coal oil lamp around.

And they told us that they were going to guarantee that when we put our money in the bank, that the money was going to be there, and it was going to be insured.

They did not lie to us.

And I think one of the saving graces of Democrats is that we are candid. We talk straight talk. We tell people what we think.

And that tradition, and those values live today in Michael Dukakis from Massachusetts.

Michael Dukakis knows that this country is on the edge of a great new era, that we're not afraid of change, that we're for thoughtful, truthful, strong leadership.

Behind his calm there's an impatience to unify this country and get on with the future.

His instincts are deeply American, they're tough and they're generous. And personally, I have to tell you that I have never met a man who had a more remarkable sense about what is really important in life.

And then there's my friend and my teacher for many years, Sen. Lloyd Bentsen.

And I couldn't be prouder, both as a Texan and as a Democrat, because Lloyd Bentsen understands America - from the barrio to the boardroom. He knows how to bring us together, by regions - by economics - by example.

And he's already beaten George Bush once.

So, when it comes right down to it, this election is a contest between those who are satisfied with what they have - and those who know we can do better.

That's what this election is really all about.

It's about the American dream. Those who want to keep it for the few - and those of us who know it must be nurtured and passed along.

Families and the Nation

I'm a grandmother now. And I have one nearly perfect granddaughter named Lily. And when I hold that grandbaby, I feel the continuity of life that unites us, that binds generation to generation, that ties us with each other.

And sometimes I spread that Baptist pallet out on the floor and Lily and I roll a ball back and forth.

And I think of all the families like mine, like the one in Lorena, Texas, like the ones that nurture children all across America.

And as I look at Lily, I know that it is within families that we learn both the need to respect individual human dignity and to work together for our common good. Within our families, within our nation, it is the same.

As we sit there, I wonder if she'll ever grasp the changes I've seen in my life. If she'll ever believe that there was a time when blacks could not drink from public water fountains, when Hispanic children were punished for speaking Spanish in the public schools, and women couldn't vote.

I think of all the political fights I've fought, and all the compromises I've had to accept as part payment.

And I think of all the small victories that have added up to national triumphs. And all the things that never would have happened and all the people who would have been left behind if we had not reasoned, and fought, and won those battles together.

And I will tell Lily that those triumphs were Democratic Party triumphs.

I want so much to tell Lily how far we've come. You and I.

And as the ball rolls back and forth, I want to tell her how very lucky she is. That for all our difference, we're still the greatest nation on this good earth.

And our strength lies in the men and women who go to work every day, who struggle to balance their family and their jobs, and who should never, ever be forgotten.

I just hope that - like her grandparents and her great- grandparents before - that Lily goes on to raise her kids with the promise that echoes in homes all across America:

That we can do better.

And that's what this election is all about.

Thank you very much.

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