TOPICS > Politics

Senator Tom Daschle speaks at the Democratic National Convention

August 26, 1996 at 12:00 AM EDT


SENATOR TOM DASCHLE:  It’s an honor to be co-chair of this great gathering, along with the next Speaker of the House, Dick Gephardt.

We owe a great debt of gratitude to Senator Chris Dodd, Don Fowler, Mayor Rich Daley, Debra DeLee, Don Foley and so many others who will make this convention the most successful of them all.

We come from the vast corners of this great land. From Aberdeen, South Dakota, to St. Louis, Missouri. From Bangor, Maine to Santa Fe, New Mexico.

We are native Americans. Asian-Americans. African-Americans. Hispanic-Americans. Ethnic Americans from every country in Europe. But most importantly, we are Americans. And we are Democrats.

We are as diverse as any political party can be. And tonight, we are as united.

We are a nation that prizes individuals. We are also a nation in which communities come together to help their neighbors do what they can’t do alone.

My great-grandparents homesteaded on the Great Plains. They were rugged individualists. And yet they came together with their neighbors to work the land and plant the crops and raise the barns.

Those two traditions — diversity and unity, rugged individualism and community — are alive and well in our party.

This election gives Americans a clear choice between two very different ideas about our future. And the freedom we cherish for all generations.

It’s been said that Republicans and Democrats have a fundamentally different notion of freedom. Republicans think in terms of “the freedom from.” Democrats believe in “the freedom to.”

We believe every child should have the freedom to go to a good school. And every adult should have the freedom to go to college or learn new work skills so they can get better jobs.

That’s why we fought back against this Republican Congress when it tried to make the biggest education cuts in our nation’s history … And we won.

We believe that every person should have the freedom to see a doctor when they’re sick.

That’s why we fought so hard in this Congress to make sure people don’t lose their health care if they take a different job …. And we won that, too.

In the next Congress, we’re going to build on that success. Every parent should be able to buy health care for their children. Democrats will work to make it so.

We believe every American should have the freedom to walk their streets without worrying about crime.

That’s why we fought hard when the Republican Congress tried to cut President Clinton’s commitment to put 100,000 community police on the street.

And it’s why a Democratic Congress and a Democratic President passed the Brady Bill. And banned assault weapons. America’s neighborhoods should not be battlefields. As a South Dakota sportsman, let me say: we do not need battlefield weapons.

We believe that every American who works 40 hours a week should have the freedom to earn a decent living.

That’s why we forced this Congress to raise the minimum wage.

We won that battle, too. But the real winners were America’s families.

We believe that men and women who work hard all their lives should have the freedom to retire with dignity.

That’s why, when Republicans tried to make it easier for corporations to raid your pensions, we stopped them.

That’s why we want to protect the pensions of people who have earned them, and make it easier for millions more people to get them.

And that is why we refused to allow this Republican Congress to slash Medicare and give our seniors second-rate health care. Medicare will not wither on the vine. Not as long as there is a Democratic President in the White House and Democrats in Congress to protect it.

Freedom. The freedom to make the best lives we possibly can for ourselves and our families.

That is what unites us as Democrats tonight.

So much of this, and far more, I learned from the people of my state of South Dakota.

After I was elected Senate Democratic Leader, on a cold January evening, I visited an old friend — a man who’d spent his life in politics and public service. He’d been a farmer all his life — and had some of the best corn in Lincoln County.

His name was Dick Reiners.

I asked Dick what advice he had for me in my new job.

Dick thought for a minute and said, “First, never forget where you come from. Never forget the people and the values that made you who you are.”

Then he turned to a picture of his grandchildren and said, “The second thing is, you have to give us hope. My children and grandchildren are counting on you to give them the hope and the opportunity to live as good a life as I’ve had.”

Dick Reiners was never able to give me another piece of advice. He died later that night. But then, he’d given me all the advice I’d ever need: You have to give people hope, and opportunity.

With President Clinton and a Democratic Congress, there will be more hope, and more opportunity, for all Americans. Thank you.