&quotCharacter does count"

National | Excerpts from J.C. Watts's address to the GOP convention

Issue: "Armey’s flight of faith," Aug. 31, 1996

In my wildest imagination, I'd never have thought that the fifth of six children born to Helen and Buddy Watts, in a poor black neighborhood, in the poor rural community of Eufaula, Okla., would someday be called congressman. But then, this is America, where dreams come true. I never thought I would have the privilege of addressing the American people, but this America where dreams still come true.

Tom Lewis had a dream--as a police officer walking the streets of D.C.'s toughest neighborhoods. Time after time, kids would come up to him, fatherless children, and ask, "Will you be my daddy?"

So, when Tom retired from the D.C. police force, he took his life savings, bought a house, and turned it into a center where kids could go for tutoring and nurturing and a warm meal. He calls this the Fishing School. Tom understands that what we build, nourish, and encourage the youth of America to be today is what our country will be 20 years from now. Tom is joined by countless other unsung heroes. This past year I had the opportunity to travel the country and meet the people who are changing lives, one heart at a time.

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In my own home state of Oklahoma, there's the Resurrection House in Chickasha that takes care of the homeless in a rural community. There's an organization called TEEM, the education and employment ministry, where Doc Benson restores people with a job and a future. I celebrated with Freddy Garcia at Victory Fellowship in San Antonio who not only met the challenge of his own drug addiction but has a ministry serving others with success rates that the social scientists can only dream about.

These people working in the trenches, and suffering with those who suffer, understand compassion. They understand compassion can't be dispensed from a safe distance by a faceless bureaucrat sitting in an air-conditioned office in Washington, D.C.

And while we are on the subject of compassion, it was just about four years ago that I was privileged to address the GOP convention. It was at that time I talked to you about the Republican definition of compassion. We don't define compassion by how many people are on welfare, or AFDC, or living in public housing. We define compassion by how few people are on welfare, AFDC, and public housing because we have given them the means to climb the ladder of success.

At that time, welfare reform was a distant hope, but I am pleased to tell you that just two weeks ago, the historic Republican Congress passed over the objections of Bill Clinton welfare reform that will restore compassion and dignity to those less fortunate.

Compassion can't be measured in dollars and cents. It does come with a price tag, but that price tag isn't the amount of money spent. The price tag is love being able to see people as they can be and not as they are. The measure of a man is not how great his faith is, but how great his love is. We must not let government programs disconnect our souls from each other.

Bob Dole understands. Bob Dole knows that it's people like Tom Lewis, the folks at the Resurrection House, Freddy Garcia, and Doc Benson. It's these people, not the government that can provide folks with tools they need to become productive citizens with dignity. Bob Dole understands Washington can't teach people right from wrong, dry their tears, or help a child with his homework. In fact, I have a special message for the kids in your house tonight. I'd ask you to get them, and while you do, let me tell you that the years I spent as a youth minister were glorious years that made an investment in eternity.

In addition, there is one title I cherish a great deal more than congressman and that is the title of Dad. So, indulge me while I say a word to the kids in the audience tonight. Young people, America needs you. If our country is going to continue to be great, if it is going to continue to be strong, you are going to have to do your part. You are going to have to fight for America. Fight against skipping school and cheating on your papers. Fight against driving too fast and disobeying your parents. Fight against cursing and smoking. And fight, fight with every fiber of your being against drugs and alcohol.

I know, I know. You've heard all this before and you probably think that J.C. Watts is just another old-fashioned grown-up, and if you're thinking that, you're right. Just ask my five kids, Keisha, Jerrelle, Jennifer, Trey, and Julie.


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