Former Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Colin Powell, one of the GOP's brightest stars, was the featured speaker at the opening night of the Republican National Committee. Read the full transcript of his remarks here.
Thank you, ladies and gentlemen, and good evening fellow Republicans:
President and Mrs. Bush, a special good evening.
I am honored and pleased to again have the privilege of addressing a Republican National Convention.
In San Diego in 1996, I followed former First Lady, Nancy Reagan, to the lectern after her moving tribute to President Reagan. I am delighted this time to follow Mrs. Laura Bush, a lady of passion, dedication, and grace. She will be a great First Lady. Don’t you think?
During the almost seven years since I left the army, I’ve traveled all across America.
I’ve seen people hard at work providing for their families, giving of themselves, caring for each other.
I’ve seen them creating wealth for the nation.
I’ve seen an economy transforming itself to seize the promise of the information revolution.
I’ve met so many of our fellow citizens who believe in America to the depth of their hearts and who are doing everything they can in their communities to make our nation that more perfect union spoken of in our Constitution. I’ve been moved yet again to stand in awe of the American dream which was given birth in this city over two hundred years ago. A dream I have been privileged to live.
I’ve met so many young people who believe in the dream. They are on a road to success.
They are being raised in strong families, going to good schools, filling the finest universities, graduating and going on to find their place and fortune in this land. Even the youngest of them, still in elementary school are getting ready for the future—using computers, logging onto the Internet — while still enjoying the magic of childhood by curling up with a “Harry Potter” book. There is so much that is good and right in America!
Yet, I cannot ignore that in my travels I’ve also seen poverty, failing communities, people who’ve lost hope.
Tragically, I’ve seen too many young Americans who are overwhelmed by the daily struggle just to survive.
I’ve seen kids destroying themselves with drugs. Kids who see violence and crime as the answer to their hopelessness. Kids who no longer believe in themselves and who don’t see a reason to believe in America.
I’ve seen kids in utter despair. I’ve visited kids in jail doing adult time for crimes they’ve committed.
They are part of a growing population of over two million Americans behind bars. Two million convicts, not consumers. Two million Americans who, while paying for their crimes, are not paying taxes, are not there for their children and are not raising families.
Most of them are men and the majority of those men are minorities.
The issue of race still casts a shadow over our society, despite the impressive progress we have made over the last 40 years to overcome the legacy of our troubled past.
So, with all the success we have enjoyed and with all the wealth we have created, we have much more work to do and a long way to go to bring the promise of America to every American.
And with all we have to do on our national agenda, I am convinced that to deliver on that promise, we must begin with our children.
So many of the problems we worry about go back to how we raise our children. We either build our children or we build more jails. Time to stop building jails. And listen — our children are not the problem, they are our future. They are America’s promise.
The problem is us if we fail to give them what they need to be successful in life. That mission has become the passion of my life. Because if you want to solve our drug problem, you won’t do it by trying to cut off the supply and arresting street pushers alone.
It will only be solved when we place into the heart of every child growing up in America the moral strength never to fall for the destructive lure of drugs — the strength to just say “no, not me. I won’t do it! I’ve got too much to live for.”
If you want to solve the problem of violence and crime on our streets, it begins with us teaching children to value life, their own and others, and to have respect for themselves and respect for others.
If you want young people to become contributing citizens and not convicts, then early in life we must give them the character and the competence they need to succeed in this exciting new world.
It begins in the home with caring, loving parents and family members who pass on the virtues of past generations, who live good lives which serve as models for their children.
And where the family is broken or not up to the task, the rest of us must step in to help as mentors, tutors, foster parents, friends to kids who desperately need responsible adults to show them the way. Tens of thousands of our neighbors have stepped forward.
Tens of thousands who realize that children are a gift from God not only to their parents, but to their community. They belong to us all.
We need to provide safe places for those kids to learn and to grow. More clubs and after-school programs to protect them from the dangers in our society and to surround them with more adults who will keep them in play.
We are obliged to make sure that every child gets a healthy start in life. With all our wealth and capacity, we just can’t stand by idly. We must make sure that every child has health care. As we are giving these necessities, and others, to our children, let’s ask them to also give back to the community of which they are a part.
Early in life help them to learn of the joy that comes from giving to others through community service.
Let youngsters be part of the solution.
With character in their hearts, and nurturing adults in their lives, our youngsters will be ready for the schooling that will give them the education needed to win those jobs of the future.
There’s work for all of us to do — parents, aunts, uncles, teachers, the government at all levels, the private sector, our great non-profits, our houses of worship, all joining in the crusade to point kids in the right direction in life. Tonight we focus on education. Governor Bush has rightly made children and education the centerpiece of his campaign for president. You just heard him say it — we can’t leave any child behind.
Every child deserves and must receive a quality education.
Give a quality education to a child who believes in himself or herself and even with the bleakest beginning in life that child can make it and break the cycle of poverty and failure for that family forever.
So many of our public schools are doing a fine job preparing our youngsters. I have been given no greater honor than to have had four public schools named after me — an honor greater than medals. In those schools and so many others I’ve visited, you’ve never seen better facilities, more dedicated teachers and more involved parents. It makes your heart pound with pride.
But I have also seen too many schools that are failing. They are trapped in fossilized bureaucracies. Bureaucracies that have low expectations for children and consequently set low standards for them. These schools are leaving our children behind and they must be fixed.
If we believe they are all our children, then all of us must be willing to spend more to repair our schools and to pay our teachers better.
We must also be open to new ideas. Let’s not be afraid of standarized testing for students, testing of teachers, charter schools, private scholarship funding to give poor parents a choice, or home schooling.
Let’s experiment prudently with school voucher programs to see if they help. Let’s use innovation and competition to help give our children the best education possible.
We invite skilled workers to come to America from all over the world to fill the good jobs that are waiting here. I think that’s great. Immigration is our life’s blood.
I am the son of immigrants.
But I also want our kids educated and trained for those jobs. We owe it to them! Governor Bush has shown in Texas in just a few short years, what can be done for education.
As Governor, he ended social promotions. He increased state funding for education by eight billion dollars. He put new textbooks in every school. He strengthened standardized testing in all Texas public schools, he insisted on teacher competency, and he expanded the charter school movement. Seventeen thousand Texas kids are now in charter schools.
Seventy-eight percent of those kids are minorities — their parents had a choice and what they decided was best for their kids.
The results in Texas have been dramatic. The number of students passing all parts of the Texas standardized tests since 1994 has increased by 51%. Even more exciting, the number of minority students passing the tests has increased by 89%.
Also, to insure a diverse college population with the loss of affirmative action, Governor Bush has guaranteed acceptance at public universities for the top ten percent of every high school graduating class in the state.
And above all, he insisted on accountability for results.
It all comes together.
Governor Bush doesn’t just talk about reform, he reforms.
He now offers that leadership to the nation.
In pursuing educational reform, as well as in all other parts of his agenda for Texas, Governor Bush has reached out to all Texans — white, black, Latino, Asian, Native-American.
He has been successful in bringing more and more minorities into the tent by responding to their deepest needs.
Some call it compassionate conservatism. To me, it’s just about caring for people.
He can do the same thing as President. He will bring to the White House that same passion for inclusion. I know he can help bridge our racial divides. Recently, Governor Bush addressed the annual meeting of the NAACP. He spoke to the delegates about his plans for housing, health and educational programs to help all Americans. He also spoke the truth to the delegates when he said that “the party of Lincoln has not always carried the mantle of Lincoln.”
I talked with him again today and I know that, with all his heart, Governor Bush welcomes the challenge. He wants the Republican Party to wear that mantle again. But he knows it will take hard work.
He knows it will not be handed over, that it will have to be earned.
The party must follow Governor Bush’s lead and reach out to minority communities and particularly the African-American community—and not just during an election year campaign.
It must be a sustained effort. It must be every day. It must be for real.
The party must listen to and speak with all leaders of the Black community, regardless of political affiliation or philosophy.
We must understand the cynicism that exists in the black community. The kind of cynicism that is created when, for example, some in our party miss no opportunity to roundly and loudly condemn affirmative action that helped a few thousand Black kids get an education, but hardly a whimper is heard from them over affirmative action for lobbyists who load our federal tax codes with preferences for special interests.
Overcoming the cynicism and mistrust that exist and raising up that mantle of Lincoln is about more than just winning votes. It is about giving all minorities a competitive choice.
We deserve one! It will be good for our party and it will be good for America. Good for America — that must be the measure for all that we do. I believe that’s the measure that Governor Bush will use to guide his actions as president.
Whether it’s economic policy or military strategy or seeing what we can do to make our American family more inclusive, he will always try to do what is good and right for America.
Ladies and gentlemen, we stand at an historic turning point in world history. For the first time in almost a century, America does not face an enemy fueled by an ideology claiming to be superior to our beloved system of democracy, free enterprise and the rights of men and women to pursue their individual destinies. We defeated communism and fascism on the field of battle and on the field of ideas. The sick nations that still pursue the ‘fools gold’ of tyranny and weapons of mass destruction will soon find themselves left behind in the dust bin of history. They are investing in their own demise as surely as the Soviet Union did by investing in the Red Army.
Today, we are the most powerful nation on earth — militarily, economically, by any measure. We are that rarity in history — a trusted nation whose power is tempered by compassion, whose leadership is earned by example and whose foreign affairs will be guided by common interests and common sense. The world is watching to see if all this power and wealth is just for the well to do, the comfortable, the privileged.
Or are we a nation that can make our dream real for all Americans, so that all share in what we have been given by a generous God. We must show to the rest of the world the beauty and potential of democracy.
Our greatest strength is the power of our example — to be that shining city on the hill that Ronald Reagan spoke of and that the world looks up to.
To continue to be that place, we must all work together, we must reach down, back and across, all of us coming together to show the world what our American family can do.
That is the challenge. This is the time.
And in Governor George Bush we have the leader.