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The Democrats’ Acceptance Speech in 2004

What will the U.S. Democratic presidential candidate have to say about the state of the nation?

October 30, 2003

What will the U.S. Democratic presidential candidate have to say about the state of the nation?

My fellow Democrats, it is with great pride and humility that I accept your nomination for President of the United States of America.

It is also with great resolve that I commit myself to meet and exceed the high hopes our nation's citizens have for the Democratic Party in the months and years to come.

My friends, let me get right to it. President Ronald Reagan once famously asked the American people: "Are you better off today than you were four years ago?" In 2004, the answer to this question is a resounding and unequivocal: "No."

Our nation's economy is struggling. Many of our fellow Americans are still out of work. The state of social justice in our country is steadily declining, as the rich get richer and the poor are left with fewer and fewer options to make ends meet.

As John F. Kennedy said in his speech accepting the nomination of the Democratic Party for President in 1960: "After Buchanan, this nation needed a Lincoln — after Taft, we needed a Wilson — after Hoover, we needed Franklin Roosevelt."

And, my fellow Democrats, after four years of George W. Bush, we need "strong, creative Democratic leadership in the White House."

Seldom in our nation's history has our leader taken such huge leaps in the wrong direction in such a short period of time. We have moved from an economy brimming with self-confidence — creating more jobs than ever in our history — to the ominous era of President George W. Bush.

He has not only failed to restore our nation's economic vibrancy to create more jobs than have been lost. No, his dismal record is unmatched all the way back to President Herbert Hoover and the Great Depression.

We moved from a fiscal house that was in good order to what must be viewed as a Bush-induced fiscal nightmare. The largest tax cuts for the rich and privileged in our nation's history have carelessly mortgaged the future of our children. We have moved from social inclusion to selective exclusion.

And to our friends abroad, we have turned our backs in thoughtless negligence — and we have marched down the dangerous and lonely road of reckless unilateralism.

Worse, those who have sworn — four years ago — to protect our constitutional rights in this haven of democracy have attempted — by deed and by insinuation — to turn legitimate dissent into the appearance of treason at home and abroad.

President Johnson once said: "Our American unity does not depend on unanimity. We have differences. But now, as in the past, we can derive from those differences strength, not weakness, wisdom, not despair."

Over the last four years, the divisiveness of words and action of the Bush Administration has robbed us of that great advantage. Make no mistake about it, my fellow Democrats, the world has changed a great deal since we last gathered to nominate our candidate for President.

But for all the grief that our nation has endured at the hands of brutal terrorists, the words of Franklin Roosevelt still hold true.

He said, "Let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself — nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance."

Ever since the horrifying events of September 11, President Bush and his team have led us through fear — but fear and anger are bad advisors. Those who lead through fear and intimidation do not govern, but they rule. They do not exercise the participatory democracy that our forefathers designed, but the imperial democracy that they abolished.

Let me briefly take you back then to look at the ingenuity of our nation's founders. Ours was the first country to include the "pursuit of happiness" as a national objective in one of our founding documents.

What's more, the Declaration of Independence goes on to say that we shall institute a government that is best equipped to provide for "Safety and Happiness."

Safety and Happiness, my fellow Democrats, next to each other, complementing each other, each dependent on the other — a family of values.

And so, I believe it is our historic responsibility to recall these words today and to fill them with life. Safety and Happiness will be the guiding principles of my presidency.

We must — and we will — assure the safety of our nation. We will do so by using all means available to us. Our firm actions will gain us the respect we deserve, respect not fear, my friends.

Temporary setbacks will never deter us from prosecuting terrorism — and I firmly promise that we will never allow our attention to be diverted by engaging in costly and unrelated military adventures.

These will bring no progress on the road to eradicating terrorism. All they do is to undermine our standing in the community of nations.

Our men and women in uniform are volunteers. They have taken on the awesome responsibility of defending our nation.

Under my leadership, we will never put them in harm's way, unless we rest assured that it is with a clearly defined and realistic mission and strictly in the interest of our national security and once we have exhausted all other options. We will be proactive, but not preemptive, in meeting our foreign policy objectives.

Safety and Happiness, ladies and gentlemen, also requires that we must look into all the faces that make up our nation. Happiness has no private ownership, but it is a common good.

Economic security through confidence-creating, competent macroeconomic policy will return our markets to do what they do best.

Innovation and creativity will be fostered in all school systems, whether private or public. We have to find new ways of tapping the abundant human resources represented by our people. Democrats are not satisfied with simply leaving no child behind.

We will strive to elevate the knowledge of all of our children to levels never reached before. A proud and knowledgeable child is a happy child.

We must not risk our economic safety by pursuing an irresponsible and short-sighted fiscal policy that only serves some special interest group. We must do more with less, but those with more should not do less.

Tax reform and tax restructuring, balanced with a thorough streamlining of our expenditures, will return us to surpluses and to a healthy fiscal position. This will keep our nation's interest rates low and it will be the true and long-term economic stimulus that our businesses crave.

Safety and Happiness. How safe or happy can we be as a nation when 45 million of our fellow citizens have no health insurance? Our political opponents will raise the ugly specter of socialized medicine to spread fear among the American people.

But, my fellow Democrats, the black-and-white world of the Bush Administration does not exist. This is a world of many colors. And this is a great nation that will not rest until we have found a workable solution to this unbearable social injustice.

Conciliation not divisiveness, happiness not fear, aspiration not conservation: Those are the principles of the American people.

We have gathered here today to offer our ideas, our enthusiasm and our hand to the American people to accompany them on the difficult path ahead.

We are here to look forward — and not to look back. We are here to take charge of our nation's destiny and to shape it. As Alan Kay, the famous computer scientist and inventor once said: "The best way to predict the future is to invent it."

Join me in this mission — and together let us get our nation back on the right track.

Thank you and may God bless America.

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