TOPICS > Politics

Congressman J.C. Watts Speaks at the GOP National Convention

August 13, 1996 at 12:00 AM EDT

J.C. WATTS:  Let me start by saying, I’m thrilled Bob Dole has chosen the second best quarterback in the Republican party, Jack Kemp as his running mate.

When it comes to the American dream, no one has a corner on the market. All of us have an equal chance to share in that dream. In my wildest imagination, I never thought that the fifth of six children born to Helen and Buddy Watts– in a poor black neighborhood, in the poor rural community of Eufaula, Oklahoma– would someday be called Congressman. But then, this is America…. where dreams come true. I never thought I would have the privelege of addressing the American people but this America where dreams still come true. One of the Republicans major products is dream making. People are dying to get into this country…. not out of it.

It is still the greatest, most propserous, most powerful nation on the face of the earth and it produces hundreds of thousands of dreams come true every day.

Tom Lewis had a dream. As a police officer walking the streets of D.C. toughest neighborhoods. Time after time, kids would come up to him father-less children… and ask, Will you be my daddy? So, when Tom retired from the D.C. police force, he took his life savings, bought a house and turned it into a center where kids could go for tutoring and nurturing and a warm meal, he calls this the Fishing School. Tom understands that what we build, nourish, and encourage the youth of America to be today, is what our country will be 20 years from now. Tom is joined by countless other unsung heroes.

This past year I had the opportunity to travel the country and meet the people who are changing lives, one heart at a time. In my own home state of Oklahoma, theres the Resurrection House in Chickasha that takes care of the homeless in a rural community. There’s an organization called TEEM…. the education and employment ministry where Doc Benson restores people with a job and a future. I celebrated with Freddy Garcia at Victory Fellowship in San Antonio who not only met the challenge of his own drug addiction but has a ministry serving others with success rates that the social scientists can only dream about.

These people working in the trenches and suffering with those who suffer, understand compassion. They understand compassion can’t be dispensed from a safe distance by a faceless bureaucrat sitting in an air conditioned office in Washington D.C. And while we are on the subject of compassion, it was just about four years ago that I as priveleged to address the GOP convention.

It was at that time I talked to you about the Republican definition of compassion. We don’t define compassion by how many people are on welfare, or AFDC, or living in public housing. We define compassioin by how FEW people are on welfare, AFDC, and public housing because we have given them the means to climb the ladder of success. At that time, welfare reform was a distant hope, but I am pleased to tell you that just two weeks ago, the histroic Republican Congress passed over the objections of Bill Clinton– welfare reform that will restore compassion and dignity to those less fortunate. Compassion can’t be measured in dollars and cents. It does come with a price tag, but that price tag isn’t the amount of money spent. The price tag is love — being able to see people as they can be and not as they are. The measure of a man is not how great his faith is, but how great his love is. We must not let government programs disconnect our souls from each other. Bob Dole understands. Bob Dole knows that its people like Tom Lewis, the folks at the Resurrection House, Freddy Garcia, and Doc Benson…. it’s these people, not the government that can provide folks with tools they need to become productive citizens with dignity.

Bob Dole understands Washington can’t teach people right from wrong, dry their tears, or help a child with his homework. Bob Dole understands it’s people helping people, neighbor helping neighbor. In fact, I have a special message for the kids in your house tonight. I’d ask you to get them, and while you do, let me tell you that the years I spent as a youth minister were glorious years that made an investment in eternity.

In addition, there is one title I cherish a great deal more than Congressman and that is the title of…. Dad. So, indulge me while I say a word to the kids in the audience tonight.

Young people, America needs you. If our country is going to continue to be great if it is going to continue to be strong you are going to have to do your part. You are going to have to fight for America. Fight against skipping school and cheating on your papers. Fight against driving too fast and disobeying your parents. Fight against cursing and smoking . And fight, fight with every fiber of your being against drugs and alcohol. I know, I know You’ve heard all this before and you probably think that J.C. Watts is just another old fashioned grown-up and if you’re thinking that, you’re right just ask my five kids, Keisha, Jerrelle, Jennifer, Trey, and Julie.

I know its tough. Thats why I’m asking you to fight and be counted as a leader. You can help your friends find the courage to say no to the things that make them weak. And yes to the things that make them strong. You see character does count. For too long we have gotten by in a society that says the only thing right is to get by and the only thing wrong is to get caught. Character is doing whats right when nobody is looking. And I want to make a promise to you. We will do our best to leave this country in better shape financially, environmentally, and most of all…. spirituality.

Parents and adults I don’t just challenge the youth tonight. I challenge you. For what we build and nourish and encourage in our youth today, is what our country will look like 20 years from now.

The American Dream is about becoming the best you can be. It’s not about your bank account, the kind of car you drive, or the brand of clothes you wear. It’s about using your gifts and abilities to be all that God meant for you to be. Whether your dream is to be a doctor, teacher, engineer, or Congressman. If you can dream it, you can do it. The American Dream is the promise that if you study hard, work hard and dedicate yourself you can be whatever you want to be.

Make America proud by Keeping the American Dream alive. You can do it. You are America’s greatest resource. And… one more thing…. if a poor black kid from rural Oklahoma can be here tonight, this great country will allow you to dream your dreams…. too!

God bless you all.