Rule #8: A New Covenant with North Carolina Voters Modeled on an Old 1991 Speech by Bill Clinton on Accountability and Responsibility

by johndavis, September 7, 2013

Top 10 Keys for NC Democratic Political Recovery   Rule #8: A New Covenant with North Carolina Voters Modeled on an Old 1991 Speech by Bill Clinton on Accountability and Responsibility  August 30, 2013        Vol. VI, No. 18            8:13 am  Borrowed money spent on yesterday’s mistakes The North Carolina Democratic Party needs a new covenant
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Top 10 Keys for NC Democratic Political Recovery

 

Rule #8: A New Covenant with North Carolina Voters Modeled on an Old 1991 Speech by Bill Clinton on Accountability and Responsibility 


August 30, 2013        Vol. VI, No. 18            8:13 am

 Borrowed money spent on yesterday's mistakes

The North Carolina Democratic Party needs a new covenant with the people of the state, one that values governmental accountability and personal responsibility.  That’s what helped national Democrats restore their standing with American voters in the 1990s.  It can help state Democrats today.

I got the idea for a “new covenant” from a political speech I overheard in the fall of 1991; a speech to Georgetown University students.  Notice I “overheard” the speech.

I had walked into the den at home when I heard a political speaker on the TV in the kitchen. After listening for a couple of minutes, I drew two conclusions: the speaker was a Southerner; the speaker was a Republican.  He had to be a Republican because he used the word “responsibility” time and again.

The next day I read a news story saying that Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton, candidate for the Democratic nomination for president, had used the word "responsibility" 32 times in remarks to students at Georgetown University.  The speech, delivered on October 23, 1991, was titled, The New Covenant: Responsibility and Rebuilding the American Community.

Throughout the fall of 1991, Bill Clinton delivered a series of policy speeches to students at Georgetown University, his alma mater, reflecting his centrist “New Democrat” views of governance.

“We’ve got to move away from the old Democratic theory that says we can just tax and spend our way out of any problem we face,” said Clinton, adding, “Expanding government doesn’t expand opportunity. And big deficits don’t produce sustained economic growth, especially when the borrowed money is spent on yesterday’s mistakes, not tomorrow’s investments.”

President Clinton, who prescribed centrist remedies to economic problems throughout his two terms from 1993 – 2001, presided over the longest period of economic expansion in US history and left office with the highest end-of-office approval rating of any president since World War II.

“Stale theories produce nothing but stalemate,” Clinton added for emphasis to his conclusion that Democrats were bogged down in old solutions to the more complex problems of the day.

That’s where North Carolina Democrats are today.  Stale theories.  How do they break the stalemate? By drafting a new covenant founded on government accountability and personal responsibility.

This report is the eighth in a 10-part series on the keys to political recovery for North Carolina Democrats.  As with the previous series on the keys to Republican political longevity, no state legislator or legislative staff member was interviewed.  All interviews were conducted with the promise of anonymity.  The rules thus far are:

  • Rule #1: If You want to Lead a Purple, Business-Friendly State, You have to Recruit a Purple, Business-Friendly Slate.
  • Rule #2: It's All About Who Does the Asking; Get the Right Person to Ask the Right Person to do the Right Task.
  • Rule #3 Moral Mondays - A Therapeutic Dose of Political Energy Restoring Rhythm to the Heart of the Democratic Party.
  • Rule #4:  Investors will Return to the Party of Bold, Visionary Leaders and Ideas when it has Bold, Visionary Leaders and Ideas.
  • Rule #5:  There is Gold to be Mined among Professional Women for the Next Generation of Candidates and Campaign Leaders.
  • Rule #6:  Stale Bread and Butter Social Issues won’t Nourish Moderate Voters Hungry for a Meat and Potatoes Economy.
  • Rule #7: Where are the others? The Next Generation of Young Democratic Candidates and Party Leaders

Today, I am adding Rule #8: A New Covenant with North Carolina Voters Modeled on an Old 1991 Speech by Bill Clinton on Accountability and Responsibility

Clinton’s 1991 Speech a Model New Covenant for NC Democrats

In preparation for this report, I determined to find the 1991 Clinton speech at Georgetown.  Well, one Google search click and a millisecond later there it was, The New Covenant: Responsibility and Rebuilding the American Community, by Governor Bill Clinton.

I did a search of the speech text for the word “responsibility,” and sure enough, Clinton mentioned it 32 times.  After reading the context of the use of the word “responsibility” over and over, 32 times, I decided that the value of Clinton’s words could not be improved upon as a source for drafting a new covenant by the North Carolina Democratic Party with the people of the state.  It is a perfect model.

Clinton begins his speech by lamenting that America should be celebrating the spread of the American dream around the world but it is not.

Clinton: “Why? Because all of us fear down deep inside that even as the American dream reigns supreme abroad, it’s dying here at home. We’re losing jobs and wasting opportunities. 

The very fiber of our nation is breaking down: Families are coming apart, kids are dropping out of school, drugs and crime dominate our streets.”

Clinton then begins building the case that Presidents Ronald Reagan and G.H.W. Bush were responsible for a 12-year “gilded age of greed and selfishness, of irresponsibility and excess, and of neglect.”

Clinton: “Middle-class families worked longer hours for less money and spent more on health care and housing, and education and taxes.

Poverty rose. Many inner-city streets were taken over by crime and drugs, welfare and despair. Family responsibility became an oxymoron for many deadbeat fathers who were more likely to make their car payments than to pay their child support.”

Clinton continued making the case that Presidents Reagan and Bush contributed to the nation’s economic crisis by tripling the nation debt, lowering taxes on the wealthiest Americans and neglecting the middle class.

Clinton: “For 12 years, these forgotten middle class Americans have watched their economic interest ignored and their values literally ground into the ground.

Responsibility went unrewarded and so did hard work.”

Clinton then turned his attention to solving the problems of the day.

Clinton: We need a new covenant, a solemn agreement between the people and their government to provide opportunity for everybody, inspire responsibility throughout our society and restore a sense of community to our great nation. A new covenant to take government back from the powerful interests and the bureaucracy and give it back to the ordinary people of our country.”

He continued the “new covenant” theme by saying that the covenant would “embed the idea that a country has a responsibility to help people get ahead but that citizens have not only the right but the responsibility to rise as far and fast as their talents and determination can take them, and most important of all, that we’re all in this together.”

Clinton then points to the Democratic Party as a part of the problem, noting that middle class Americans
are deeply troubled with the loss of values like personal responsibility.  He says, “They’re right.”

Clinton: “Make no mistake. This new covenant means change, change in my party, change in our leadership, change in our country, change in the lives of every American.

Out there you can hear the quiet, troubled voices of forgotten middle class Americans lamenting the fact that government no longer looks out for their interests or honors their values, values like individual responsibility, hard work, family and community. They believe the government takes more from them than it gives back and looks the other way when special interests only take from our country and give nothing back. And they’re right.”

Clinton talked about one of his professors at Georgetown who taught “the idea that the future can be better than the present and that each of us has a personal moral responsibility to make it so.”

Clinton: “But I can tell you, based on my long experience in public life, there will never be a government program for every problem. Much of what holds us together and moves us ahead is the daily assumption of personal responsibility by millions and millions of Americans from all walks of life. 

And today that’s what I want to talk about: the responsibilities we owe to ourselves, to each other and to our country.”

Clinton: “We need a new covenant that will challenge all of our citizens to be responsible, that will say first to the corporate leaders at the top of the ladder, we will promote economic growth and the free market but we’re not going to help you diminish the middle class and weaken our economy.

We will support your efforts to increase your profits — they’re good — and jobs through quality products and services, but we’re going to hold you responsible for being good corporate citizens, too.

In short, the new covenant must challenge all of us, especially those of us in public service, for we have a solemn responsibility to honor the values and promote the interests of the people who elected us, and if we don’t do it, we don’t belong in government any more.”

Clinton then made it abundantly clear that Democrats have an obligation to be responsible and accountable with the investment of government resources.

Clinton: “Democrats who want to change the government … have a heavy responsibility to show that we’re going to spend the taxpayers’ money wisely and with discipline, that we can spend more money on the future and control what we spend on the present and the past.

Responsibility is for everybody and it’s got to begin here in the nation’s capital.”

Clinton then turned his attention to the private sector, calling business leaders “the most irresponsible people in the 1980s.”

Clinton: “All of you who are going into business, it is a noble endeavor. It is the thing which makes this country run. The private sector creates job, not the public sector. But the people with responsibility in the private sector should know it is not enough simply to obey the letter of the law and make as much money as you can.

In the 1980s we didn’t do enough to help our companies to compete and win in the global economy. We didn’t. But we did do way too much to transfer wealth away from hardworking middle class Americans to rich people who got it without good reason and without contributing to production and wealth in this country. There should be no more deductibility for responsibility.”

Clinton really showed his Deep South conservative roots when he talked about education.

Clinton: “In my state we say, if someone drops out of school for no good reason, they lose the privilege of a driver’s license. All over America we have to re-examine this problem and say you have a responsibility to stay in school, you have a responsibility to learn, we have a responsibility to give you a good education.

But education doesn’t stop in school. Adults have a responsibility to keep learning, too — learning for a lifetime. And all of us are going to have to work smarter in the next century if America is going to compete and win.”

Clinton talked about America’s inner city youth, how many fear that because they are a minority “their future choices in life will be jail or welfare or a dead-end-job.”

Clinton: “Because I believe in them and what they can contribute, they can’t be let off the responsibility hook either. All society can ever offer them is a chance to develop their God-given capacities. They have to do the rest. Anybody who tells them anything else is lying to them, and they already know that.”

Clinton stated his position against racial quotas by saying, “You know from what I have already said today that I can’t be for quotas. I’m not for a guarantee for anybody. I’m for responsibility at every turn.”

He also emphasized his belief in every American’s responsibility to “shoulder the common load.”

Clinton: “When people assume responsibility and shoulder that load they acquire a dignity they never had before. When people go to work they rediscover a pride in themselves that they had lost.

I’ll never forget, once a welfare mother in my state was asked, when she moved from welfare to work, what was the best thing about having a job. And she said when my boy goes to school, and they say that does your mama do for a living, he can give an answer.”

President Clinton’s emphasis on government accountably and personal responsibility contributed to the strongest economy in a generation and the longest economic expansion in U.S. history.  Under the leadership of a Democratic president, taxes were lowered, the per capita growth of government spending slowed, spending as a percent of the GDP was reduced, the federal workforce was cut, criminal penalties were strengthened, more cops were put on the streets, crime rates dropped, record budget deficits were replaced by record surpluses, welfare rolls were cut to their lowest levels in decades as millions of jobs were created, leading to low levels of unemployment and the highest homeownership and college enrollment rates in history.

The North Carolina Democratic Party needs a new covenant with the people of the state, one that values governmental accountability and personal responsibility.  That’s what helped national Democrats restore their standing with American voters in the 1990s.  It can help state Democrats today. 

That’s why today I am adding Rule #8: A New Covenant with North Carolina Voters Modeled on an Old 1991 Speech by Bill Clinton on Accountability and Responsibility.

- END -

Happy Labor Day!

Thank You for Reading the John Davis Political Report!

John N. Davis, Editor

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