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Clinton: We're on the Right Track

The following excerpts are taken from Bill Clinton's nomination acceptance speech in Chicago at the Democratic National Convention.

FOUR years ago, with high unemployment, stagnant wages, crime, welfare, and the deficit on the rise, with a host of unmet challenges and a rising tide of cynicism, I told you about a place I was born, and I told you that I still believe in a place called Hope.

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Well, for four years now, to realize our vision, we have pursued a simple but profound strategy: opportunity for all, responsibility from all, a strong, united American community.

Look at the facts. We have the lowest combined rates of unemployment, inflation, and home mortgages in 28 years. Look at what happened: 10 million new jobs, over half of them high-wage jobs. Ten million workers getting the raise they deserve with the minimum-wage law.

Today there are 1.8 million fewer people on welfare than there were the day I took the oath of office. We are moving people from welfare to work. The federal work force is the smallest it's been since John Kennedy. And the deficit has come down for four years in a row for the first time since before the Civil War, down 60 percent on the way to zero. We will do it.

We are on the right track to the 21st century. But our work is not finished. What should we do?

Ideas, not blame

First, let us consider how to proceed. Bob Dole and Jack Kemp and Ross Perot love our country, and they have worked hard to serve it. It is legitimate, even necessary, to compare our record with theirs, our proposals for the future with theirs - and I expect them to make a vigorous effort to do the same.

But I will not attack; I will not attack them personally, or permit others to do it in this party if I can prevent it. My fellow Americans - this must be - this must be a campaign of ideas, not a campaign of insults. The American people deserve it.

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I love and revere the rich and proud history of America, and I am determined to take our best traditions into the future. But with all respect, we do not need to build a bridge to the past, we need to build a bridge to the future, and that is what I commit to you to do.

Let us resolve to build that bridge to the 21st century, to meet our challenges and protect our values.

Focus on education

By the year 2000, the single most critical thing we can do is to give every American who wants it the chance to go to college. We must make two years of college just as universal in four years as a high school education is today, and we can do it. We can do it, and we should cut taxes to do it. I propose a $1,500-a-year tuition tax credit for Americans, a HOPE scholarship for the first two years of college to make the typical community college education available to every American.

Every working family ought to be able to deduct up to $10,000 in college tuition costs per year for education after that. I believe the families of this country ought to be able to save money for college in a tax-free IRA, save it year in and year out, withdraw for college education without penalty.

These tax cuts and every other one I mention tonight are all fully paid for in my balanced-budget plan, line by line, dime by dime. And they focus on education.

Tonight let us set a clear national goal: All children should be able to read on their own by the third grade. When 40 percent of our 8-year-olds cannot read as well as they should, we have to do something.

We need schools that will take our children into the next century. We need schools that are rebuilt and modernized with an unprecedented commitment from the national government to increase school construction and with every single library and classroom in America connected to the Information Superhighway by the year 2000.

A growing economy

I want to build a bridge to the 21st century in which we create a strong and growing economy to preserve the legacy of opportunity for the next generation, by balancing our budget in a way that protects our values and ensuring that every family will be able to own and protect the value of their most important asset, their home.

I could never allow cuts that devastate education for our children, that pollute our environment, that end the guarantee of health care for those who are served under Medicaid, that end our duty or violate our duty to our parents through Medicare. I just couldn't do that. As long as I'm president, I'll never let it happen.

My plan gives Americans tax cuts that will help our economy to grow. I want to expand IRAs so that young people can save tax-free to buy a first home. Tonight, I propose a new tax cut for homeownership, that says to every middle-income working family in this country, if you sell your home, you will not have to pay a capital gains tax on it ever - not ever.

Welfare reform

The welfare reform bill I signed last week gives America a chance, but not a guarantee, to have that kind of new beginning, to have a new social bargain with the poor, guaranteeing health care, child care, and nutrition for the children - but requiring able-bodied to work for the income. Whether you supported the law or opposed it, but especially to those who supported it, we have a responsibility, we have a moral obligation to make sure the people who are being required to work have the opportunity to work. We must make sure the jobs are there.

I propose also to give businesses a tax credit for every person hired off welfare and kept employed. I propose to offer private-job placement firms a bonus for every welfare recipient they place in a job who stays in it.

And more important, I want to help communities put welfare recipients to work right now, without delay, repairing schools, making their neighborhoods clean and safe, making them shine again. There's lots of work to be done out there.

Crime and drugs

I want to build a bridge to the 21st century, where our children are not killing other children anymore, where children's lives are not shattered by violence at home or in the school yard, where a generation of young people are not left to raise themselves on the streets. With more police and punishment and prevention, the crime rate has dropped for four years in a row. But we cannot rest, because we know it's still too high.

It is very, very painful to me that drug use among young people is up.

Something has happened to some of our young people. They simply don't think these drugs are dangerous anymore, or they think the risk is acceptable. So beginning with our parents, and without regard to our party, we have to renew our energy to teach this generation of young people the hard, cold truth: Drugs are deadly, drugs are wrong, drugs can cost you your life.

We should pass a flex-time law that allows employees to take their overtime pay in money or in time off, depending on what's better for their family.

Foreign policy

My fellow Americans, I want to build a bridge to the 21st century that makes sure we are still the nation with the world's strongest defense; that our foreign policy still advances the values of our American community in the community of nations. Our bridge to the future must include bridges to other nations.

Because we remain the world's indispensable nation, to advance prosperity, peace, and freedom, and to keep our own children safe from the dangers of terror and weapons of mass destruction.

We cannot become the world's policeman. But where our values and our interests are at stake and where we can make a difference, we must act and we must lead. That is our job and we are better, stronger, and safer because we are doing it.

I have spent so much of your time that you gave me these last four years to be your president worrying about the problems of Bosnia, the Middle East, Northern Ireland, Rwanda, Burundi. What do these places have in common? People are killing each other and butchering children because they are different from one another.

We have seen the terrible, terrible price that people pay when they insist on fighting and killing their neighbors over their differences. In our own country, we have seen America pay a terrible price for any form of discrimination, and we have seen us grow stronger as we have steadily let more and more of our hatreds and our fears go. As we have given more and more of our people the chance to live their dreams.

Look around here. Old or young, healthy as a horse or a person with a disability that hasn't kept you down, man or woman, Native American, native-born, immigrant, straight, or gay - whatever - the test ought to be: I believe in the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, and the Declaration of Independence. I believe in religious liberty, I believe in freedom of speech, and I believe in working hard and playing by the rules. I'm showing up for work tomorrow. I'm building that bridge to the 21st century.

My fellow Americans, 68 nights from tonight, the American people will face a critical moment of decision. We're going to choose the last president of the 20th century and the first president of the 21st century. But the real choice is not that. The real choice is whether we will build a bridge to the future or a bridge to the past, about whether we believe our best days are still out there or our best days are behind us, about whether we want a country of people all working together or one where you're on you're own.

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