WHEN I accepted your invitation to speak here today at this historic (choose one) (a) grange hall (b) axle plant (c) shopping-mall parking lot, I thought of the observation that (choose one) (a) Alexis de Tocqueville (b) Bugs Bunny (c) an 11th Airborne sergeant in the Saudi Arabian desert made about America.
But my friends, let me share an observation of my own. One that the (choose one) (a) Fear Lobby (b) media pundits (c) Washington numbers-jugglers just wouldn't understand. Because today, I see (choose one) (a) storm clouds on the golden horizon (b) an alarming shortage of trained meteorologists (c) rays of gold amid the storm clouds. And I believe you do, too.
This great nation, as we approach (choose one) (a) the haying season (b) nuclear Armageddon (c) congressional debate on lumber tariffs, simply cannot afford to (choose one) (a) let down its guard for a moment (b) ignore the lessons of Gramm-Rudman (c) turn backward into sterile isolationism. Of course, much has been done. But much needs to be done.
I stand here today, asking not for (choose one) (a) stop-gap solutions (b) new foreign entanglements (c) a ban on strip mining, but for something more precious still.
So let's discard the outdated rhetoric of yesteryear with its calls for (choose one) (a) ever higher defense budgets (b) revision of the U.S.-Canada water treaty (c) ever lower defense budgets. Let's again heed the advice of (choose one) (a) Harry Truman (b) Oliver Wendell Holmes (c) Yogi Berra. Let's recognize anew that what America needs today, and for the future, is nothing more -- or less -- than (choose one) (a) hard work (b) rededication to sound moral values (c) a fair and sensible farm subsidy program.
Now, I can already hear those who will answer (choose one) (a) "We've tried that before" (b) "What about your voting record on civil rights?" (c) "It's all just pork-barrel politics." And do you know something, my friends? I agree with them. But here's a statistic that you may not be familiar with. In 1991 alone, (choose one) (a) 10 million more Americans than ever before dropped below the line (b) it would strike one in every 12 Americans before the age of 21 (c) on an adjusted basis, with inflation factored in, real earnings did not.
No, my friends. It isn't (choose one) (a) domestic spending spiraling out of control (b) the United States Postal Service (c) the state house that's out of step. Let there be no misunderstanding: In today's world, the end purpose of a mighty nation such as ours is to find a world of purpose in our nation's ends. And that demands (choose one) (a) leadership (b) repeal of the oil depletion allowance (c) an end to partisan political bickering as a first step. Because the America I see today is an America (choose one) (a) beating swords into plowshares (b) beating plowshares into swords (c) where 50 percent of our children don't even know what a plowshare is.
No, you can't put a dollar sign on morality. A stop sign on progress. A neon sign on religion. Or a Do-Not-Disturb sign on our ongoing national debate -- be it in the town hall meeting, the company boardroom or the chamber of the United States Senate. That, ladies and gentlemen, is the lesson that (choose one) (a) the Clean Air Act (b) the new can-do spirit I have felt in my travels across this country (c) a generation of drift and indecision has taught us. Because, frankly, I don't agree with the (choose one) (a) naysayers (b) so-called economic wizards (c) Bilateral Trade Commission report.
If you had been with me recently on my visit to (choose one) (a) our gallant ally, Belgium (b) our friend and trading partner, Japan (c) the slums of newly liberated Bucharest, you would know, as I know, that (choose one) (a) the torch of liberty is aflame (b) the embers of unrest are smoldering (c) current policy is pouring gasoline on the fire, today more than at any time since (choose one) (a) Smoot-Hawley was enacted (b) a sandy-haired Briton ran the first four-minute mile (c) the first Tuesday in October.
So I have come before you today, ladies and gentlemen, not with the easy answers, but with the hard questions. Ask yourselves, now: Is it an America worth preserving that (choose one) (a) robs the middle class to pay the poor (b) robs the poor to pay the middle class (c) robs the American farmer's wife of 40 percent of her preserves? I don't think so. And I don't think you think so.
And if I didn't think you didn't think I thought so, I wouldn't be standing in this (choose one) (a) grange hall (b) axle plant (c) shopping-mall parking lot today, asking for your support. Thank you.
Bruce McCall is a frequent contributor to the New Yorker.