Barbara Charline Jordan

1992 Democratic National Convention Keynote Address

delivered 13 July 1992, New York, NY


[AUTHENTICITY CERTIFIED: Text version below transcribed directly from audio]

It was at this time. It was at this place. It was at this event 16 years ago I presented a keynote address to the Democratic National Convention. With modesty, I remind you that that year, 1976, we won the presidency. Why not repeat that performance in 1992? We can do it. We can do it. We can do it.

What we need to do, Democrats, is believe that it is possible to win. It is possible. We can do it. Now, you have heard a lot about change tonight. Every speaker here has said something about change. And I want you to talk with me for a few minutes about change. But I want you to listen to the way I have entitled my remarks -- "Change: From What to What?'' From what to what? This change -- this is very rhetorically oriented -- this change acquires substance when each of us contemplates the public mind. What about the public mind?

There appears to be a general apprehension in the country about the future. That apprehension undermines our faith in each other and our faith in ourselves -- undermines that confidence. The idea that America today will be better tomorrow has become destabilized. It has become destabilized because of the recession and the sluggishness of the economy. Jobs lost have become permanent unemployment rather than cyclical unemployment. The public mind. Public policy makers are held in low regard. Mistrust abounds. In this kind of environment, it is understandable that change would become the watchword of this time.

What is the catalyst which will bring about the change we're all talking about? I say that catalyst is the Democratic Party and our nominee for President.

We are not strangers to change. Twenty years ago, we changed the whole tone of the nation at the Watergate abuses. We did that twenty years ago. We know how to change. We have been the instrument of change in the past. We know what needs to be done. We know how to do it. We know that we can impact policies which affect education.

We calmed the national unrest in the wake of the Watergate abuses and we, The Democratic Party, can seize this moment. We know what needs to be done and how to do it. We have been the instrument of change in policies which impact education, human rights, civil rights, economic and social opportunity, and the environment. These are policies which are embedded in the soul of the Democratic Party. And embedded in our soul, they will not disappear easily. We, as a Party, will do nothing to erode our essence. We will not.

But there are some things which oughta change. We need to change them. But, the fact that we are going to change things should not cause any apprehension in our minds because the Democratic Party is alive and well. It is alive and well.

We will change in order to satisfy the present, in order to satisfy the future -- but we will not die. We will change, but we will not die. From what to what? Why not change from a Party with a reputation of tax and spend to one with a reputation of investment and growth? Change. Change. A growth economy is a must. We can grow the economy and sustain an improved environment at the same time. . When the economy is growing and we are taking care of our air and soil and water, we all prosper. And we can do all of that.

When I say something like that, I certainly do not mean the thinly disguised racism and elitism which is some kind of trickle-down economics. I will tell you the kind of economy I'm talking about. I'm talking about an economy where a young black woman or a young black man, born in the 5th Ward of Houston -- my town -- or South Central Los Angeles. I mean an economy where a young black woman or man from the Fifth Ward in Houston or South Central Los Angeles, or a young person in the colonias of the lower Rio Grande valley -- I'm talking about an economy where those persons can go to a public school, learn the skills that will enable her or him to prosper.

We must have an economy that does not force that migrant worker's child to miss school for a full day so that she can work at less than the minimum wage -- and doing that the family can still only afford one meal a day.  That is the moral bankruptcy of trickle-down economics. Change. Change. Change. We can change the direction of America's economic engine and become competitive again. We can make that change and become proud of the country that we are.

Friends of the Democratic Party, the American dream is not dead. It is not dead! It is gasping for breath, but it is not dead. We can applaud that statement and know that there is no time to waste because the American Dream is slipping away from too many people. It is slipping away from too many black and brown mothers and their children. The American Dream is slipping away from the homeless -- of every color of every sex. It's slipping away from those immigrants living in communities without water and sewage systems. The American Dream is slipping away from those persons who have jobs, job which no longer will pay the benefits which will enable them to live and thrive because America seems to be better at building war equipment to sit in warehouses and rot than in building decent housing. It's slipping away. It's slipping away.

The American Dream is slipping away from those workers who are on indefinite layoffs while their chief executive officers are taking home bonuses which equal more than the worker will ever make in 10 or 20 or 30 years.

We need to change the decaying inner cities from decay [in]to places where hope lives. As we undergo that change, we must be prepared to answer Rodney King's haunting question, ''Can we all get along?'' ''Can we all get along?'' I say, I say we answer that question with a resounding ''Yes!'' Yes. Yes.

We must change that deleterious environment of the 80's, that environment which was characterized by greed, and hatred, and selfishness, and mega-mergers, and debt overhang. Change it to what? Change that environment of the 80's to an environment which is characterized by a devotion to the public interest, public service, tolerance, and love. Love. Love. Love.

We are one, we Americans. We're one and we reject any intruder who seeks to divide us on the basis of race and color. We honor cultural identity. We always have; we always will. But separatism is not allowed. Separatism is not the American way. We must not allow ideas like political correctness to divide us and cause us to reverse hard-won achievements in human rights and civil rights. Xenophobia has no place in the Democratic Party.

We seek to unite people, not divide them. As we seek to unite people, we reject both white racism and black racism. This party will not tolerate bigotry under any guise.

Our strength in this country is rooted in our diversity. Our history bears witness to that fact: E Pluribus Unum -- "from many, one". It was a good idea when it was founded, and it's a good idea today. From many, one. That still identifies us still identifies us. We must frankly acknowledge our complicity in the creation of the unconscionable budget deficits -- acknowledge our complicity and recognize, painful though it may be, that in order to seriously address the budget deficits, we must address the question of entitlements also. That's not easy. That's not easy. But we have to do it; we have to do it; because the idea of justice between generations. That idea mandates that the baby-boomers -- that's our ticket -- the baby-boomers and their progeny are entitled to a secure future. They are.

However, if we are going to ask those who receive benefits to sacrifice their must be equity in sacrifice. Equity in sacrifice. That idea says that we will sacrifice for growth, but that everybody must join in the sacrifice, not just a few -- everybody. Equity in sacrifice means that all will sacrifice equally...equally...equally. That is, the person who is retired on a fixed income, the day laborer, the corporate executive, the college professor, the Member of Congress -- all must sacrifice for equity.

One overdue change, which you have already heard a lot about, is already underway. And that is reflected in the number of women now challenging the councils of political power. These women are challenging those councils of political power because they have been dominated by white, male policy makers and that is wrong. That horizon of gender equity is limitless for us. And what we see today is simply a dress rehearsal for the day and time we meet in convention to nominate Madame President. This country can ill afford to continue to function using less than half of its human resources, less than half its kinetic energy, less than half its brain power.

We had a 19th-century visitor from France named de Tocqueville. De Tocqueville came to America, and he was asked, ''If I were asked" -- this is de Tocqueville -- "If I were asked," he said, "to what singular substance do I mainly attribute the prosperity and growing strength of the American people, I should reply," de Tocqueville said, "I should reply: To the superiority of their women.'' I can only say the 20th century will not close without the presence of women being keenly felt.

We must leave this convention tonight with a determination to convince the American people to trust us. The American electorate must be persuaded to trust us, the Democrats, to govern again. That's not easy, but we can do it. We can do it.

Public apprehension and fears about the future have provided very fertile ground for a chorus of cynics. And these cynics go around saying that it makes no difference who is elected President of the United States. You must say to those cynics, "You are perpetuating a fraud." It does make a difference who is president. A Democratic president would appoint a Supreme Court Justice who protects liberty, rather than burden liberty. A Democratic president would promote principals, programs, policies which help us help ourselves.

Now, there is another agenda item which has arisen. Character has become an item on the political agenda of 1992. The question of character is a proper one, but if you were to exercise a well-reasoned examination -- a well-reasoned examination of the question of character, what you discover is that the whole question falls into emotionalism rather than fact. You know how dangerous it is to make decisions based on emotion, rather than reason. James Madison, the founder of the Constitution, the Father of the Constitution, warned us of the perils of relying on passion rather than reason.

There is an editor, a late editor of the Emporia, Kansas, Gazette -- William White -- who had this to say about reason, and it's very very pertinent. The quote: "Reason has never failed man Only fear and oppression have made the wrecks of the world.'' It is reason; it is reason; it is reason and not passion which should guide our decisions. The question persists: Who can best lead this country at this moment in our history?

I close my remarks by quoting from Franklin Roosevelt -- Franklin Roosevelt's inaugural address, which he made in 1933. Franklin Roosevelt made that address to a people longing for change from the darkness and despair of the great depression. And this is what Roosevelt said:

In every dark hour of our national life a leadership of frankness and vigor has met with that understanding and support of the people themselves which is essential to victory.

Given the ingredients of today's national environment, maybe, maybe, just maybe, we Americans are poised for a second ''rendezvous with destiny.''1

Book/CDs by Michael E. Eidenmuller, Published by McGraw-Hill (2008)

1 FDR's phrase delivered in his 1936 DNC acceptance address and later popularized by Ronald Reagan in his "Time for Choosing" recorded address.

Also in this database: Barbara Jordan - 1976 Democratic National Convention Keynote Address

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