This article is excerpted from the former vice president's commencement address at the Lyndon Johnson School of Public Affairs in Austin, Texas:
What worries me today is that, in the name of improving government, there are those who are bent on removing government from fulfilling the tasks of social justice. And if they succeed, they will not strengthen our country, but weaken it.
This administration says we must retrench, fight inflation and make our economy more productive again. And there isn't a single person here who does not hope that they succeed -- because if they succeed, America succeeds. And that's what matters.
But when you make drastic cuts in child nutrition and immunization, and when you try to repeal that landmark Adoption Assistance Act, you do not make us more healthy or productive or rich, but in the long run more poor and weak.
When you turn us into the only major Western democracy without a legal aid program, you do not toughen the faith that people have in our system, but sap it.
When it comes to education, you cannot revive our economy without the skills to power it, or secure our defenses without the people to man them.
And when it comes to our democracy itself, you cannot sustain it without the right to vote. That is the acid test -- the right that anchors authority across our land. Anyone who believes you can have government without concent, popular approval without popular participation, balance without ballots does not understand what democracy is all about. And every person who does understand that must hope, must insist, must demand that the Congress extend the provisions of the great 1965 Voting Rights Act.
When it comes to Social Security, you cannot keep your bargain with working Americans by eliminating the minimum benefit, by cancelling student benefits, by telling those who choose early retirement to get along on 55 percent of their basis benefit, by cutting more than a million disabled people. p
A House committee tells us that over the next five years this administration's proposal will cut benefits by 10 percent for 18 million people; one-third for the 7 million who choose early retirement. And 1.3 million disabled people will get nothing at all.
The point is this: when you work a lifetime, and raise a family, and the time comes to retire, that Social Security check -- and the way it is figured -- should be as sure as the sun coming up in the morning.
All Americans want this president to do well. We will support reform. We will accept sacrifice. We will welcome strong leadership. But do not ask us in the name of fiscal conservatism to accept an agenda that is selfish, wrong-headed and cruel. Because that we will never accept.
This administration badly misreads American people today if it imterprets our urge for action as a green light for a government of reaction. Across the country, there's a powerful sentiment for action -- but not for cynicism. There's a feeling that we must regain control of our destiny -- but not lose our moral compass.
It takes a long time to understand the meaning of the past. Sometimes you must look more than once. If we look back on the Johnson years -- and on the years of Roosevelt, Truman and Kennedy before, and Carter after -- we can capture a meaning that may have eluded us as we were going along. What through the haze of history stands out boldly today -- more than the programs we passed, the regulations we wrote, the measures we framed -- is a commitment we made. What we achieved as a people was to fundamentally commit ourselves to building a just society. That commitment is the transcending achievement of our progressive past. That commitment is forever. tI have never regretted it. And I'll never back off it.