Elizabeth Dole for President Exploratory Committee, Inc.

15 min. ad run in Iowa and NH March 10, 1999. 

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Male Announcer: Elizabeth Dole.

Elizabeth Dole: Hello.  Thank you for tuning in.  I know your life is busy; so many things you need to do and not enough time for what you want to do.  So thanks for choosing to spend a few minutes with me.

I promise to be brief, but I have some thoughts I'm eager to share with you about the future of our country, and I'd like to talk a little about my own sense of obligation as a citizen of the freest land on earth.

As you know, I've been thinking about running for president.  Since I left the American Red Cross January 15th I've been traveling around the country and I've been humbled by the response.  It's been inspiring to appear before overflow crowds in such places as New Hampshire, Iowa, Colorado, Florida and Texas.  It's been that way everywhere.

But I don't think I'm the cause.  I think the crowds and the enthusiasm are evidence of a great American yearning to make our nation a better place.

Yes I've seen many presidential campaigns up close.  I know a run for the presidency should be undertaken only if you believe in something so strongly that its accomplishment makes everything worthwhile.  And if I run this will be why.

I believe our people are looking for leaders who will call America to her better nature.  Yes we've been let down, and by people we should have been able to look up to.  But it's not just that.  Politics and the politics of governing have become so negative, so paralyzed by special interests that as a people we're beginning to lose faith in our institutions.  It's only a short step to losing faith in ourselves and then we would be lost.

When I entered public service as a young woman it was considered a noble thing to do.  Today too many of our young men and women can't see the wondrous possibilities of public life for the ugliness of politics, and they turn away from public service.  We must rekindle a spirit in our hearts, something very American, something still alive, but buried beneath a thickening layer of skepticism and doubt.  We must renew faith in the goodness of our nation and a sense in ourselves that each one of us can make a difference no matter how large the challenge, for both are true.

Restoring a national belief in the power of the individual and the need for acceptance of personal responsibility is, I believe, at the center of our challenge today as a nation.

What does a woman like me have to offer the country?  I'm not a politician, and frankly today I think that may be a plus.  But I have spent a lifetime as a servant of the public. 

I've served in the administrations of five presidents.  Some of those jobs have included Federal Trade Commissioner, Ronald Reagan's White House staff, and the Reagan and Bush cabinets as Secretary of Transportation and Secretary of Labor. 

Working with committed teams of public servants and volunteers, I oversaw the largest privatization in government history when we sold the government freight railroad, Conrail.  I led the massive safety overhaul of our nation's airline inspection system and placed special emphasis on ensuring passenger safety in the age of deregulation.  Worked to untangle years of suspicion and mistrust in ending a crippling coal strike while at the Department of Labor.  And, as President of the American Red Cross, a $2.2 billion corporation, transformed the manner in which half our nation's blood supply is collected, tested and distributed, creating a new gold standard for safety and reliability. 

I mention all this to point out that if there is an overriding theme to my 30-plus years in public life, and I think there is, it lies in placing service over politics, consensus over confrontation and a constant recognition of the desire of my fellow countrymen to do what's right.

If today's politics seem irrelevant, it falls to us, all of us, to make them more relevant.  If public life is lacking in civility, then it is our common task to help civilize it.

But what are the issues we want our leaders to address?  I'm proud to have served as a lieutenant in Ronald Reagan's army.  He was sure of his mission and his policies revolutionized our economy.  And I can well remember when President Reagan asked the telling question, are you better off today than you were four years ago?

Perhaps the question we should be asking today is, are we better?  Are our families stronger?  Are our public schools committed first to excellence?  Are our children safe from drugs?  Do we assume responsibility for our culture and our choices?  And have we shouldered the burden incumbent on each generation of Americans to man and maintain a national defense with the wherewithal to keep us free.

Today our taxes have reached the highest percentage of gross domestic product in fifty years.  The average American family spends 40% of its income just paying the tax bill.  According to the Tax Foundation, that means the family spent more than five months in 1998 working for the government in federal, state and local taxes combined.  And today defense spending has reached its lowest percentage of gross domestic product in fifty years.

The readiness of our troops is in question, and a whole generation of outdated military equipment is waiting to be replaced.  The military has been down sized so far many of our best people are leaving, and all this at a time when North Korea is building nuclear bombs that could be ready to strike us within a year according to the secretary of defense and Iraq is manufacturing biological weapons that could terrorize the world.

Today the United States reigns as the world's only superpower but rogue nations and terrorists still threaten our people, our freedom, and our way of life.  I believe there is an urgent need to refurbish our military and resolve to develop and deploy a strategic missile defense system at the earliest possible date.

Another menace to our way of life lurks within our borders: the cancer of drug abuse.  It was recently reported that the head of the drug enforcement agency said the nation has neither the will nor the resources to win the drug war, and curbing drug use is not a high enough priority with the American people.  People tell me the polls show that drug abuse is not a priority issue.  I believe we should make it one.

My passion doesn't come from polling.  I have a vision of an America free of drugs.  Like you I'm appalled that marijuana and cocaine use by teenagers tripled in recent years, and together I know we can change than.  But first we have to recognize that it's not enough to urge foreign countries to reduce the supply.  Let's be honest.  There wouldn't be a supply if there wasn't a demand. 

Can we stand by and allow the great United States of America to be consumed by an insatiable appetite for the devastating addiction?  Of course not.  America needs a president who will use the bully pulpit and from it speak out loudly and clearly and often about the dangers of drugs with the unmistakable message that drugs are not cool, they kill.  The federal government must do a better job of supporting the hundreds of local anti-drug coalitions, and, yes, we must strengthen our interdiction efforts to stop illegal drugs before they reach our borders.  At this moment when the number of Americans behind bars, most on drug-related charges, has never been greater, we must make absolutely clear that drugs are a personal and national evil that threatens us all.

But the challenges today to public education pose perhaps the greatest test of our citizenship.  I regard public education as one of the glories of American democracy, which is precisely why the number one priority of any education reform must be this: to restore our public schools to greatness. 

I count as one of the most rewarding experiences of my life teaching in a public school near Boston while I was earning a graduate degree in education.  I learned in the classroom what a noble profession teaching really is.  And ever since then I've refused to join those who often find it expedient to turn teachers into rhetorical punching bags. 

Yes we should expect the best out of our teachers.  Yes we should reward outstanding performance.  No we should not be expected to put up with incompetence, but let us never forget that the true heroes of our society are not to be found on a movie screen or football field, they are to be found in our classrooms.  I doubt any of us remember which federal official had primary responsibility for education when we graduated from high school, but I bet each and every one of us can remember the teacher who awakened in us a love of history or a fascination with words. 

It was at the Department of Labor when education truly became more than an interest for me; it became a passion.  Improving the skills of America's current and future workforce was for me a top priority.  Across the board employers were insisting and are insisting on higher skills and a better-educated workforce.  And I was hearing from employers that the preparation students were receiving in our classrooms was inadequate to meet the needs of our workplace.  From one corporate leader I learned that four out of every five job applicants in his company had recently flunked entry-level employment exams requiring 7th grade English skills and 5th grade math. 

Now we're the richest nation in the world.  We can afford safer, newer classrooms with smaller classes, places where real knowledge is transferred by better trained, more accountable teachers, where orderly disciplined students stay in class more hours during more days. If we take up this challenge across America, our public schools will become once again places where America's separating classes can melt together, because rich and poor alike will freely choose them for their children.

There are many ideas to restore to local school districts funds taken in taxes by the federal government.  We should do this.  Because local districts know best what their schools need.  Maybe it's hiring more teachers or raising their salaries or fixing up falling down buildings, but the ultimate test of our resolve is not how much control Washington gives to school districts, it's how much control Washington gives back to parents and teachers. 

By all means let's put a computer in every classroom, but let's make sure to put parents in every classroom as well.  Parents will do what the government has not: ensure a zero-tolerance for incompetence.  We should test and track and act on the results, holding teachers and principals and schools accountable for the success of the children in their care.  But if a child is trapped in an unsafe, failing school, we must provide other answers, like a voucher to help parents select another school.

And I believe we must return teaching to the heart of the educational enterprise.  Teaching needs to be supported, not only by rewarding excellence in teaching, but by placing the training of teachers at the center of our higher education system.  I'll be revealing nothing by saying that some of our schools of education have not demanded nearly enough of their students, nor have they been accorded the attention and support they would have in a properly constituted educational order.  If teaching is to become a prestigious profession, teachers must undergo rigorous training and hold prestigious degrees. 

As we raise the regard for teachers, perhaps we can also reinstate regard for public service, because service to others, be it in the classroom, in government or at the local Red Cross, can and does bring out the best in ourselves.

In my eight years at the American Red Cross, I saw things that will haunt me the rest of my life.  The dim eyes of staring children in Somalia, the paralyzing grief of parents in Oklahoma City, the despair of those family members who lost loved ones and everything they own to a tornado's 260 mile an hour terrifying violence. 

But I also saw the power of the human heart, of America's heart.  Neighbors helping neighbors after hurricanes, earthquakes and floods.  Americans willing to go to the other side of the globe to help those they didn't know and would never see again, the victims of war and natural disaster.

As I travel this country, I am buoyed by the goodness of our citizens, the clarity of your vision and the strength of your values, which is why I'm ready to take the next step.  This week I have filed papers to form an exploratory committee.  I will be reaching out to you.  I want to listen, to hear your hopes and understand you concerns, people to people, and I'd like to ask for your support and the support of people all across our country as I explore a presidential candidacy. 

I hope to see you soon on one of my next visits.  You may also contact me through my exploratory committee web site, www.edole2000.org.  Like you [music starts] I love my country, and like you I want to do whatever I can to make it better.  I believe the road ahead beckons to every American for whom the untravelled world is a place of limitless possibility, and God willing we will travel it together with courage, confidence and conviction, leaving no one behind, knowing that the future is our friend.  Thank you.  God bless you and may God bless America.

Male Announcer: The Elizabeth Dole Exploratory Committee.  P.O. Box...  Washington, DC  20036