The former U.S. Secretary of State addressed the RNC on Wednesday.
Thank you so much. Good evening. Good evening. Good evening, distinguished delegates. Good evening, fellow Republicans.
Good evening, my fellow Americans.
We gather here at a time of significance and challenge. This young century has been a difficult one. I can remember as if it were yesterday when my young assistant came into my office at the White House to say that a plane had hit the World Trade Center, and then a second plane, and then a third plane, the Pentagon. And later we would learn that a plane had crashed into a field in Pennsylvania, driven into the ground by brave souls who died so that others might live. From that day on, our sense of vulnerability and our concepts of security were never the same again.
Then in 2008 the global financial and economic crisis would stun us. And it still reverberates as we deal with unemployment and economic uncertainty and bad policies that cast a pall over an American economy and a recovery that is desperately needed at home and abroad.
And we have seen -- we have seen that the desire for liberty and freedom is indeed universal, as men and women in the Middle East rise up to seize it. Yet the promise of the Arab Spring is engulfed in uncertainty. Internal strife and hostile neighbors are challenging the young, fragile democracy of Iraq. Dictators in Iran and Syria butcher their people and threaten regional security. Russia and China prevent a response. And everyone asks: Where does America stand?
Indeed, that is the question of the hour. Where does America stand? You see, when friends or foes alike don't know the answer to that question unambiguously and clearly, the world is likely to be a more dangerous and chaotic place.
Since World War II, the United States has had an answer to that question. We stand for free people and free markets. We will defend and support them. We will sustain a balance of power that favors freedom.
Now to be sure, the burdens of leadership have been heavy. I know, as you do, the sacrifice of Americans, especially the sacrifice of many of our bravest in the ultimate sacrifice. But our armed forces are the sure shield and foundation of liberty, and we are so fortunate that we have men and women in uniform who volunteer. They volunteer to defend us at the front lines of freedom, and we owe them our eternal gratitude.
I know too that it has not always been easy, though it has been rewarding, to speak for those who would otherwise not have a voice: the religious dissident in China, the democracy advocate in Venezuela, the political prisoner in Iran.
It has been hard to muster the resources to support fledgling democracies and to intervene on behalf of the most desperate: the AIDS orphan in Uganda, the refugee fleeing Zimbabwe, the young woman who has been trafficked into the sex trade in Southeast Asia. It has been hard. Yet this assistance, together with the compassionate work of private charities, people of conscience and people of faith, have shown the soul of our country.
And I know, too, that there is a weariness. I know that it feels as if we have carried these burdens long enough. But we can only know that there is no choice, because one of two things will happen if we don't lead. Either no one will lead and there will be chaos, or someone will fill the vacuum who does not share our values. My fellow Americans, we do not have a choice. We cannot be reluctant to lead, and you cannot lead from behind.
Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan understand this reality. Our well- being at home and our leadership abroad are inextricably linked. They know what to do. They know that our friends and allies must again be able to trust us. From Israel to Colombia, from Poland to the Philippines, our allies and friends have to know that we will be reliable and consistent and determined. And our foes -- our foes can have no reason to doubt our resolve because peace really does come through strength.
Our military capability and our technological advantage will be safe in Mitt Romney's hands. We must work for an open global economy and pursue free and fair trade to grow our exports and our influence abroad.
If you are worried about the rise of China, just consider this. The United States has negotiated -- the United States has ratified only three trade agreements in the last few years, and those were negotiated in the Bush administration. China has signed 15 free trade agreements and is in the progress of negotiating as many as 18 more. Sadly, we are abandoning the field of free and fair trade, and it will come back to haunt us.
We must not allow the chance to attain energy independence to slip from our grasp. We are blessed with a gift of oil and gas resources here in North America, and we must develop them. We can develop them sensitively, we can develop them, securing our environment, but we must develop them. And we have the ingenuity to develop alternative sources of energy, too.
But most importantly, Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan will rebuild the foundation of our strength, the American economy, stimulating private sector growth and stimulating small-business entrepreneurship.
When the world looks at us today, they see an American government that cannot live within its means. They see an American government that continues to borrow money that will mortgage the future of generations to come. The world knows that when a nation loses control of its finances, it eventually loses control of its destiny. That is not the America that has inspired people to follow our lead.
After all, when the world looks to — we are the most successful economic and political experiment in human history. That is the true basis of American exceptionalism. You see, the essence of America, what really unites us, is not nationality or ethnicity or religion. It is an idea. And what an idea it is, that you can come from humble circumstances and you can do great things, that it does not matter where you came from; it matters where you are going.
My fellow Americans, ours has never been a narrative of grievance and entitlement. We have never believed that I am doing poorly because you are doing well. We have never been jealous of one another and never envious of each other's successes.
No, ours has been a belief in opportunity, and it has been a constant struggle, long and hard, up and down, to try to extend the benefits of the American dream to all.
But that American ideal is indeed in danger today. There is no country, no, not even a rising China, that can do more harm to us than we can do to ourselves if we do not do the hard work before us here at home.
More than at any other time in history, greatness is built on mobilizing human potential and ambition. We have always done that better than any country in the world. People have come here from all over because they have believed our creed of opportunity and limitless horizons. They have come here from the world's most impoverished nations just to make a decent wage. And they have come here from advanced societies as engineers and scientists to fuel the knowledge- based revolution in the Silicon Valley of California — in the Research Triangle of North Carolina — along Route 128 in Massachusetts, in Austin, Texas, and across this great land.
We must continue to welcome the world's most ambitious people to be a part of us. In that way we stay young and optimistic and determined. We need immigration laws that protect our borders, meet our economic needs and yet show that we are a compassionate nation of immigrants.
We have been successful, too, because Americans have known that one's status of birth is not a permanent condition. Americans have believed that you might not be able to control your circumstances, but you can control your response to your circumstances. (Cheers, applause.) And your greatest ally in controlling your response to your circumstances has been a quality education. (Applause.) But today, today when I can look at your ZIP code and I can tell whether you're going to get a good education, can I honestly say it doesn't matter where you came from; it matters where you're going? The crisis in K-12 education is a threat to the very fabric of who we are.
My mom was a teacher. I respect the profession. We need great teachers, not poor ones and not mediocre ones. We have to have high standards for our kids because self-esteem comes from achievement, not from lax standards and false praise. And we need to give parents greater choice -- particularly, particularly poor parents, whose kids, very often minorities, are trapped in failing neighborhood schools.
This is the civil rights issue of our day.
If we do anything less, we condemn generations to joblessness and hopefulness and life on the government dole. If we do anything less, we will endanger our global imperative for competitiveness. And if we do anything less, we will tear apart the fabric of who we are and cement the turn toward entitlement and grievance.
Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan will rebuild us at home, and they will help us lead abroad. They will provide an answer to the question, where does America stand?
The challenge is real, and the times are hard, but America has met and overcome hard challenges before. Whenever you find yourself doubting us, just think about all those times that America made the impossible seem inevitable in retrospect: our revolutionary founding against the greatest military power of the time; a Civil War, brother against brother, hundreds of thousands dead on both sides, but we emerged a more perfect union; a second founding when impatient patriots were determined to overcome the birth defect of slavery and the scourge of segregation; a long struggle against communism, with the Soviet Union eventually in collapse and Europe whole, free and at peace; and in the aftermath of 9/11, the willingness to take really hard, hard decisions that secured us and prevented the follow-on attack that everybody thought preordained.
And on a personal note, a little girl grows up in Jim Crow Birmingham, the segregated city of the South where her parents can't take her to a movie theater or to a restaurant, but they have her absolutely convinced that even if she can't have a hamburger at the Woolworth's lunch counter, she could be president of the United States if she wanted to be, and she becomes the secretary of state.
Yes, America has a way of making the impossible seem inevitable in retrospect. But we know it was never inevitable. It took leadership, and it took courage, and it took belief in our values. Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan have the integrity and the experience and the vision to lead us. They know who we are. They know who we want to be. They know who we are in the world and what we offer.
That is why this is a moment and an election of consequence, because it just has to be that the freest and most compassionate country on the face of the earth will continue to be the most powerful and a beacon for prosperity and liberty across the world.
God bless you, and God bless this extraordinary country, this exceptional country, the United States of America.
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(Photo: AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)