Text Of Speech By Harold Ford Jr.

Following is the text of the keynote speech by Rep. Harold Ford Jr., D-Tenn., to the Democratic National Convention on Tuesday night:

Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

I am - I am honored to speak tonight before a convention that will nominate the favorite son of my home state to be the next president of these United States.

I recognize that I stand here this evening because of the brave men and women, many of whom were no older than I am today, who fought and stood and often times sat down to help create that more perfect union.

On that note, let me pay a special tribute and thanks to the Kennedy family and Rev. Jesse Jackson for your enduring commitment to our party and to our nation. You have made our party better and our nation stronger. We say thank you.

But I also stand here this evening representing a new generation, a generation committed to the ideals of the past but inspired by an unshakable confidence in our future. In every neighborhood in my home town of Memphis and all across this nation, I see young people tutoring and mentoring, building homes and caring for seniors, feeding the hungry. I also see them using their entrepreneurial spirit to start companies, to start nonprofits and to drive this new economy that has produced this record growth.

America, we stand at a magnificent moment, with the ability to unleash an amazing amount of imagination. I say to all of those in my generation and I say to all Americans who share our spirit - if you want a future that belongs to you, if you want a future that is for everyone, then join with us to make Al Gore our next president and Joe Lieberman our next vice president.

We know - we know that there are some who understand the future. But too often as they gaze into the distance, they fail to know how to make sure that it serves all of the people. Then there are others who fight tirelessly for the people, but they don't see beyond the horizon.

Well, ladies and gentlemen, Al Gore is that rare leader, who both has the vision for the future and understands that we can only realize its full promise when all of our people share in it.

I remember meeting Al Gore for the very first time. It was across my kitchen table at my family's home in Memphis. My mom and dad, and Jake and Isaac, whom are here this evening.

As often was the case, my brothers, Jake and Isaac, and I were right where we wanted to be - next to my daddy, as he and my mom and Al Gore discussed the issues of the day.

It was a time when on the heels of Vietnam and Watergate, that most young leaders and young people turned away from public service, but Al Gore didn't turn away. He jumped feet first into public life and was elected one of Tennessee's youngest congressmen ever. That's when he became my role model, I might add.

As a young congressman, he wasted very little time. He held some of the first hearings investigatin the effect of global warming on our health, our environment and our economy.

At the height of the Cold War, when both sides of the aisle and both sides of the Atlantic were stuck on how best to bring peace and security to America and to the world, while keeping us safe and strong at home, Al Gore, at the tender age of 34, offered a comprehensive strategy to reduce the threat of nuclear arms while keeping America safe and strong at home.

Both superpowers took notice, and Al Gore helped change the debate.

More than 20 years ago, Al Gore called for serious campaign finance reform. You know, I was only 4 years old when my dad first ran for Congress and won. He didn't have very much money when he was running the first time. So I cut his very first radio ad. I said to the people of the 9th District of Tennessee that if you want a congressman that believes in better jobs, better housing and lower cookie prices, go to the polls and vote for my daddy for Congress. He won that election.

But what I learned then, as I know now, that political advertising costs then as it does now. While I recognize the importance of political adverting, I feel passionately that the people of this great nation and certainly my generation, in order to get us more engaged, we have to reform our campaign finance laws.

Some ... some may pose for reform in photo ops, but Al Gore will sign a campaign finance reform bill his first day in office, when this Democratic Congress sends it to him.

America and Democratic delegates, the choice before us - a choice that in many ways weighs heavier on my generation than any other - is not what kind of America will we have in the next four years, but what kind of America will we have in the next 40? Will the amazing advances in science and medicine of tomorrow be fenced off for the few, or will there be tools for all of us to build better lives with?

At this critical time, America needs a leader with the intellect to understand the complexities we face, a leader with experience who can grasp the challenges of our world. At this critical time, Democrats, Republicans and Independents alike, America needs Al Gore and Joe Lieberman.

Thank you.

I remember the fear many of my college classmates in Pennsylvania faced, some eight years ago, when we graduated from college and were searching for jobs. For many of us, finding a good job was a tough task. Well, eight years later and 22 million jobs later, the future of America is back where it ought to be - on the up for young people in Pennsylvania, in Tennessee and all across this great nation.

But you know, some in the other party would have us go back: back to a past where prosperity only touches the well-off and well-connected; back to a past where children learn from outdated text books and parents can't scrape together enough money to send them to college; back to a past where polluters write our environmentl laws; back to a past where politicians run up enormous deficits, run factories out of business and run the economy into the ground.

Well, America, our vision is far different than theirs. Al Gore and Joe Lieberman believe the future is for everyone.

Imagine if you will for a moment, a debt-free economy strong enough that every American can share in the American dream. Imagine a health care system where every American receives the medicine he or she needs, and where no senior is forced to stay up late at night deciding whether to buy food or fill a subscription.

Imagine a society ... Imagine a society that treats seniors with the respect and dignity they deserve, and where Social Security and Medicare are strengthened not only for our parents and grandparents, but for our children and grandchildren.

Imagine a nation of clean coastlines and safe drinking water, pristine parks and air that our kids can breathe as they play in the back yard and even those parks.

We all recognize, as Democrats and as Americans, that no issue is more critical to our nation's continued success than how and where we educate our children. If we can find the will and resources to build prison after prison after prison, then surely we can find the will and resources to build new schools ... to hire new teachers, to connect every classroom to the Internet. Surely ... surely, we can pay teachers what they're worth and hold schools just as accountable for results. America, surely we can do better by our children.

Imagine a world where we give all children a first-class education. Well, America, it is time to stop imagining. Tonight, I call on all of my reform-minded Republican and independent friends to join us in our crusade, to join us in making this bold imagination a reality.

You know, when I first decided to run for Congress four years ago in 1996, I, like most candidates - and I've met so many since being here over the past few days - was hoping and excited about all of the invitations that I might receive to speak at various events. I was so excited that I was waiting by the phone for those invitations.

But as you young candidates and new candidates certainly find, that isn't always the case. But there was one forum and one place where I was often welcome, where I was welcomed with great smiles, where I was able to gain my footing as a candidate and develop my momentum as a candidate, and that was at kindergarten graduations.

I spoke at more kindergarten graduations than anyone in my district ever knew existed.

As a matter of fact, the very first school I visited, Ms. Velma Lois Jones, who's here from our great state, the head of our teacher's association, she invited me.

But as I spoke at those graduations - and I continue to do so - I was struck by the pride in the eyes of those 5-year-olds and the eyes of their families. In may ways it was magical. I couldn't help bu think about the horrors we hear about kids when they grow up joining gangs and bringing guns to school. For when they're 5 and 6, they're still ours.

For those children and their families, America, we must continue working for a better life and a better world. As we turn our attention to the choice at hand, let us remember those children in kindergartens in Memphis and all across this nation, and remember in the end what this election is really all about: them.

Yes, there will be talk throughout this campaign about budget surpluses, tax cuts, reform on a whole array of fronts, but in the end it's really just all about them.

And so with those 5-year-olds in mind, our first step in encouraging their dreams and unleashing their imaginations is by electing Al Gore the next president of these United States.

For their sake we can't go back. For their sake we must go forward. For their sake we must build a future for everyone.

Thank you, God bless you, and good night.