The New American Security
An Announcement of Candidacy
for the 1992 Democratic Presidential Nomination
by Larry Agran
Irvine, California
August 22, 1991

    It is only natural that my remarks today would be delivered before a gathering of friends and supporters here in Irvine, California.  This is where I was privileged to serve for 12 years as a local elected official, including 6 years as Mayor of Irvine.  This is where, joined by thousands of dedicated citizens, we defied the odds in conservative Republican Orange County; we built a remarkable record of progressive governance in the 1980s that caused the nation and even the world to take note of our achievements.

    It was here, in our own city, that we adopted innovative policies and programs to safeguard our local environment; to permanently set aside thousands of acres of open space; to eliminate ozone-depleting compounds.  It was here that we built thousands of units of affordable housing for deserving families.  It was here that we provided transportation and other supportive services for the elderly, the disabled, and children with special needs.

    As we worked to achieve these important goals, we had no illusions.  We knew that our national government in Washington was working against our interests, just as they were working against the interests of most Americans.  The Reagan and Bush Administrations -- with the complicity of a go-along Congress -- didn't care at all about our local priorities.  To the powerful players in Washington, health care and housing and human needs meant nothing.  When mayors and councilmembers and school board officials across America pleaded for help on behalf of their citizens, Washington's arrogant answer was to spend $25 billion on a useless B-1 bomber program.  This was followed by plans to spend $70 billion on B-2 bombers.  And all of this was on top of billions of dollars for MX missiles, Star Wars, and countless other weapons of mass destruction.

    The Washington insiders always justified these extravagant expenditures in the name of "national security."  But in fact, for 10 years and more, Washington has been shamelessly throwing taxpayer dollars at the Pentagon while starving America's cities and towns.  As a result, they've made the lives of ordinary Americans more difficult, more dangerous, and less secure.  They've betrayed the trust of the American people.  And it's time for the American people to send them packing.

    While I was Mayor of Irvine, some people thought it curious -- even objectionable -- when I spoke out on matters of national security.  But I felt I had an obligation to speak the truth as I knew it.  And the inescapable truth is that American national security cannot be purchased by spending one-third of our entire national treasury -- more than $300 billion per year -- for military purposes.

    In Irvine, in Los Angeles, in Denver and Des Moines, in Philadelphia and Atlanta -- in every American city -- national security comes not from weapons alone but from strong families and strong neighborhoods in economically vibrant communities.  It comes from rewarding jobs in modern industries that are competitive in the global marketplace.  It comes from public investment in health care, education, child care, and transportation.  It comes from safe streets in all parts of town so that people can walk at night without fear.  It comes from clean air and clean water and land free from poisons.  In short, genuine national security means a quality of life worthy of human dignity -- and not just for the privileged few but for each and every American.

    In cities and towns across our land, citizens yearn for a new American security that puts human need at home ahead of military overkill abroad.  I want to be a voice for America's cities and towns and for the people who live there.  That's why, today, I come here to announce that I am a candidate for the Democratic Party's 1992 Presidential nomination.

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    Throughout this campaign, I intend to repeat one message that is as true today as it was one week ago, one year ago, and one decade ago: America can no longer afford the Cold War priorities of the 1980s.  The $300 billion per year Cold War military budgets that were supposed to protect us have turned out to be our undoing.  They have brought to America's cities and towns everything that full-scale battles might bring: Ruin to our neighborhoods and our businesses, the destruction of our financial institutions, unemployment and hunger, violence and despair, rampant disease and a failing education system.

    In recent days, when friends and reporters have asked me if the dramatic events in the Soviet Union would cause me to delay or to modify my message, I've told them of course not.  Just as the fortune of democracy within the Soviet Union will ultimately depend upon the bravery and determination of the pro-democracy forces there, so it is here too.  If we are to build a stronger, more prosperous American democracy -- with freedom and justice for all -- then we, the people, have to begin right here and right now.  We have to elect a new President and a new national government in 1992.

    I am convinced that Americans today are more ready than ever to embrace entirely new national priorities reflected in a new national budget.  The chief obstacle to these new priorities is a President who has been unwilling to take three immediate steps that will cut our annual military outlays by half -- that is, by at least $150 billion -- and return those resources to the American people for the urgent tasks of nation-building here at home.

·    First, we need a President -- I have one in mind -- who will set a date -- I propose December 31, 1994 -- by which time all permanent U.S. forces would be removed from Europe and Japan.  These 350,000 troops, and most of the nearly $200 billion per year associated with their deployment, should be homeward bound without delay and without excuse.

    I believe Americans understand that regardless of the twists and turns of internal Soviet politics, a bankrupt Soviet Union poses no military threat to the remarkably prosperous democracies of Europe and Japan.  Why, then, must the average American family be taxed $2000 per year to pick up the tab for European and Japanese security?  Isn't it time for the Europeans and the Japanese to pay all the costs -- whatever they are -- to defend their own citizens in Frankfurt and Paris and Tokyo?  Meanwhile, our government should get on with the business of defending the interests of American citizens in Seattle and Birmingham, in Manchester and New York, and in every other city and town in America.

·    Second, as President I would cut nearly $10 billion from the foreign military aid budget.  Americans are surprised to learn that most of President Bush's foreign aid budget is military aid.  All too frequently, our government has sent foreign military aid to prop up corrupt governments in places like Panama and Iraq and El Salvador, where anti-democratic regimes have used the weapons we've sent to oppress their own people, to menace their neighbors, and even to kill Americans.  The lesson is clear: American foreign aid should consist of food and agricultural assistance, education, family planning, and basic public health measures that will be of genuine help to deserving people around the world.  These -- not weapons -- are the building blocks of democracy that should bear the label "Made in the U.S.A."

·    Third, as President I would order an immediate end to all further nuclear weapons testing and go on to complete the unfinished business of signing a comprehensive test ban treaty.  I'd also cancel the B-2 bomber, Star Wars, and other strategic weapons systems that are dangerous, unnecessary, and outrageously expensive.  Not only must we stop testing and building these weapons of mass destruction, we must quickly go far beyond the START Treaty and disassemble nearly all of the 50,000 nuclear bombs that we and the Soviets still possess, putting the remainder under the strictest possible international controls.

    Now, I understand that for Americans who have known nothing but decades of Cold War, the prospect of ending nuclear testing, cutting nuclear stockpiles, canceling expensive new weapons programs, cutting foreign military aid, and making our European and Japanese allies provide for their own defense may sound so bold as to be unrealistic.  But it's not.  Instead of a wildly excessive military budget of $300 billion per year, we'd have a full adequate defense budget costing no more that $150 billion per year.

    We'd still have the strongest and most modern armed forces on the face of the Earth.

    We'd have something else, too.  We'd have the resources --at least $150 billion per year -- that we desperately need to begin rebuilding our own society.  We'd have the means to create a New American Security that raises the standard of living and enriches the quality of life for everyone.

    Let me describe the New American Security that is possible if we cut annual military spending by $150 and bring those resources home.

·    First, we'd be able to return $25 billion per year in direct emergency assistance to rescue America's cities and towns.  A modified version of the highly successful Revenue Sharing program of the 1970s would work just fine to start the process of domestic reconstruction.  In cities and towns across this land, we'll rebuild bridges and roads and local transit systems; we'll reopen public libraries and museums of art; we'll paint and clean and rehabilitate entire neighborhoods.  We'll fund child care programs and public health programs and programs to shelter the homeless.  We'll also provide police, fire, and emergency services that can once again render our streets and communities safe.
    Believe me: If we restore the necessary resources to the American people, they'll work wonders in once again making our cities and towns international centers of culture, civilization and progress.

·    Second, we'd be able to earmark $15 billion per year in direct federal assistance that would be divided up and sent back to every school district in America.  This would be enough to hire or re-hire nearly 400,000 additional teachers, teachers' aides, and support staff.  Class sizes across America could be cut by at least 10 percent.  And both teachers and children alike would be given the fighting chance they deserve to make our education system work again.

·    Third, we'd be able to invest $40 billion per year to help complete our social security program.  We could take a giant stride toward a truly Comprehensive Social Security Act that guarantees to each and every American not just old-age security, but a growing measure of across-the-board income security, health security, housing security, and nutrition security.  Today, 33 million Americans are officially impoverished; poverty is smothering 13 million children; one in every 4 newborns is poor, two in four if they're children of color; as many as three million Americans are homeless; tens of millions have no health care coverage at all; half of all Americans are just one major illness away from economic ruin.

    It is absolutely immoral that all this pain and suffering is permitted to continue in a $5 trillion economy.

    Every American has the right to live in a peacetime economy free from hunger, homelessness, unemployment, high infant mortality, and inadequate health care.  And the American people have the right -- I say the duty -- to replace any national government that fails to deliver on these fundamentals of human dignity.

·    Fourth, with a military spending cut of $150 billion, we'd be able to invest $20 billion per year in stepped-up environmental protection -- cleaning up our toxic and nuclear waste dumps, restoring our rivers and oceans, and safeguarding the ozone layer.  We'd be able to build energy-efficient public transportation systems that improve our mobility and improve our air quality.  We'd be on our way toward a truly energy-independent America.  Never again should an American President risk the lives of our sons and daughters -- and order the killing of thousands of other people's sons and daughters -- because of our demeaning dependence on foreign oil.

·    Fifth, with the $50 billion still remaining from a cut of $150 billion in military spending, we could do two more things; We'd be able to start honestly reducing the annual federal budget deficits that are producing national insolvency and impoverishing future generations.  And we'd be able to enact a "Defense Workers' Bill of Rights" to ensure that demobilized troops and civilian defense workers get the training, education, and full employment opportunities they deserve.  We want all Americans -- including soldiers, scientists, and laborers -- to prosper as they convert their skills to the works of peace.

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    So there you have it.  The New American Security that is within our reach is more than a schedule of post-Cold War budget priorities.  It's a promise of deliverance from 45 years of Cold War thinking and Cold War politics.  It's the chance that every generation deserves to build a new America that is faithful to our dreams and our ideals.

    This chance -- our chance -- will not come easily.  Nor will it come by way of convenient political compromises.  There can be no compromise with the Cold Warriors who still hold the Republican Party in their grip.  And there can be no compromise with those Democrats in Washington who say they agree with our goals but who counsel caution in cutting the Pentagon budget for fear that the Democratic Party be perceived as "weak on defense."  The truth of the matter is that a Democratic Party that in 1991 is still endorsing Cold War military budgets renders itself weak on urban policy, weak on education, weak on health, weak on environmental protection -- and just plain weak on everything that counts in America.  If I have anything to say about it -- and I believe I will -- the days of Democratic Party complicity in Cold War priorities must be put behind us forever.

    Furthermore, as Democrats we must reject suggestions from any quarter that we be content with a "leveling off" of the military budget at $300 billion per year, settling for a $1 billion or $2 billion cut here or there.  This is what the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. called the "tranquilizing drug of gradualism."  He wouldn't stand for it, and we won't stand for it either.

    What we will do is organize and carry forward a campaign that speaks the truth to the American people.  We will tell the American people over and over that the only way to provide for the health, welfare, and safety of our citizens is to free ourselves from the tyranny of current federal priorities.

    We will tell them that a far better future is possible, but only if we're prepared to choose for ourselves what's more important.

·    What's more important to us?  Permanently maintaining hundreds of thousands of U.S. troops in foreign lands at a yearly cost of hundreds of billions of dollars?  Or is it more important to use a portion of those funds to establish a national health care system that guarantees quality health care to every American?

·    What's more important to us?  Producing more weapons-grade plutonium and building more hydrogen bombs -- at a cost of more than $10 billion per year?  Or is it more important to use those funds to help millions of working-class families buy decent, affordable housing?

·    What's more important to us?  Giving billions of dollars in weapons every year to foreign dictators?  Or is it more important to provide the full range of reproductive choice for everyone -- not just here in the United States but throughout the world?

·    What's more important to us?  Spending $5 billion every year to research and develop Star Wars so we can put weapons in the heavens?  Or is it more important to use those funds to reforest the Earth and research the means to conquer AIDS and cancer and cystic fibrosis and muscular dystrophy?

    These are not abstract choices.  These are the fundamental choices that only the people themselves can make in a democratic society.  We must trust the American people, and we must also trust ourselves to give the American people a true choice in 1992.

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    This presidential campaign, which begins today, will be a different kind of campaign in its conduct as well as its content.  Over the next several months, I intend to personally prepare and deliver a series of addresses, describing in even greater detail than I have today the key problems that our nation faces -- and the corrective measures that I believe the next President must take.

    I also plan to meet as many people as I can in this campaign, not in television studios or other contrived settings, but in living rooms and city halls and town meetings across America, where citizens in our great democracy have traditionally gathered to discuss public problems and figure out sound solutions.

    The financing of our presidential campaign will be different as well.  For more than two decades, I've worked to rid American politics of the corrupting influence of big money and to institute public financing of all federal campaigns as the only sure means to break the stranglehold that special interests now have on our democracy.  I've never depended upon donations from political action committees, and I won't be accepting such donations as a presidential candidate.  Instead, I will be asking for the support of thousands of ordinary citizens who are prepared to invest $25 or $50 or $100 to sustain our campaign and help lead our country in a new direction.

    People ask why I'm running for President.  It's a natural question.  Larry Agran isn't exactly a household name.  But look around you.  At this moment of truth for the Democratic Party and for our country, men who call themselves leaders slip meekly off stage; they choose personal political security over a chance to chart America's future.  The national stage is inhabited by shadows.  Neither Republican indifference nor Democratic handwringing is any substitute for the leadership that our country now needs.  Do I want to be President?  Absolutely.  But even more, I want to help influence the choices we, as a nation, must make.

    This campaign that we begin today is founded on the belief that the American people are ready to choose a new future.  Deep in their hearts the American people know that it's time and that it's now possible to forever end hunger, homelessness, poverty and environmental degradation.  It's time and it's possible to establish the New American Security that will brighten our lives today, tomorrow, and on into the 21st century.

    And so we invite all Americans of conscience to join us.  Join us in our campaign.  Join us in our struggle to build America anew, and together we will rediscover the power and the majesty of democratic self-government in America.

    Thank you.