To our daughters, Barbara and Jenna, we love you, we’re proud of you, and as you head off to college this fall, don’t stay out too late, and e-mail your old dad once in a while, will you?
And mother, everyone loves you and so do I. Growing up, she gave me love and lots of advice. I gave her white hair. And I want to thank my father – the most decent man I have ever known. All my life I have been amazed that a gentle soul could be so strong. And Dad, I want you to know how proud I am to be your son.
My father was the last president of a great generation. A generation of Americans who stormed beaches, liberated concentration camps and delivered us from evil. Some never came home. Those who did put their medals in drawers, went to work, and built on a heroic scale … highways and universities, suburbs and factories, great cities and grand alliances – the strong foundations of an American Century.
Now the question comes to the sons and daughters of this achievement…What is asked of us?
This is a remarkable moment in the life of our nation. Never has the promise of prosperity been so vivid. But times of plenty, like times of crisis, are tests of American character. Prosperity can be a tool in our hands – used to build and better our country. Or it can be a drug in our system – dulling our sense of urgency, of empathy, of duty.
Our opportunities are too great, our lives too short, to waste this moment. So tonight we vow to our nation: We will seize this moment of American promise. We will use these good times for great goals. We will confront the hard issues – threats to our national security, threats to our health and retirement security – before the challenges of our time become crises for our children.
And we will extend the promise of prosperity to every forgotten corner of this country. To every man and woman, a chance to succeed. To every child, a chance to learn. To every family, a chance to live with dignity and hope. For eight years, the Clinton/Gore administration has coasted through prosperity. And the path of least resistance is always downhill. But America’s way is the rising road. This nation is daring and decent and ready for change.
Our current president embodied the potential of a generation. So many talents. So much charm. Such great skill. But, in the end, to what end? So much promise, to no great purpose. Little more than a decade ago, the Cold War thawed and, with the leadership of Presidents Reagan and Bush, that wall came down.
But instead of seizing this moment, the Clinton/Gore administration has squandered it. We have seen a steady erosion of American power and an unsteady exercise of American influence. Our military is low on parts, pay and morale. If called on by the commander-in-chief today, two entire divisions of the Army would have to report … Not ready for duty, sir.
This administration had its moment. They had their chance. They have not led. We will. This generation was given the gift of the best education in American history. Yet we do not share that gift with everyone. Seven of ten fourth-graders in our highest poverty schools cannot read a simple children’s book.
And still this administration continues on the same old path with the same old programs – while millions are trapped in schools where violence is common and learning is rare. This administration had its chance. They have not led. We will.