Christopher Reeve

1996 Democratic National Convention Address

delivered 26 August 1996, Chicago, IL

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[AUTHENTICITY CERTIFIED: Text version below transcribed directly from audio]

Thank you very, very much.

Well, I just have to start with a challenge to the President: Sir, I have seen your train go by, and I think I can beat it.

I'll even give you a head start.

And over the last few years we have heard a lot about something called "family values". And like many of you, I have struggled to figure out what that means. And since my accident, I've found a definition that seems to make sense. I think it means that we're all family. And that we all have value.

Now, if that's true, if America really is a family, then we have to recognize that many members of our family are hurting. And just to take one aspect of it, one in five of us has some kind of disability. You may have an aunt with Parkinson's disease, a neighbor with a spinal chord injury, or a brother with AIDS, and if we're really committed to this idea of family, we've got to do something about it.

Now first of all, our nation cannot tolerate discrimination of any kind.

And that's why the Americans with Disabilities Act is so important.

It must be honored everywhere. It is a Civil Rights Law that is tearing down barriers, both in architecture and in attitude.

Its purpose -- its purpose is to give the disabled access not only to buildings but to every opportunity in society.

Now, I strongly believe our nation must give its full support to the caregivers who are helping people with disabilities live independent lives.

Now, of course we have to balance the budget -- and we will. We have to be extremely careful with every dollar we spend. But we've also got to take care of our family -- and not slash programs that people need. We should be enabling and healing and curing.

Now, one of the smartest things we can do about disability is to invest in research that will protect us from diseases and lead to cures.

This country already has a long history of doing it. When we put our minds to a problem, we find solutions. Our scientists can do more. But we've got to give them the chance. And that means more funding for research.

Right now, for example, about a quarter million Americans have a spinal cord injury, and our government spends about 8.7 billion a year just maintaining these members of our family. But we only spend 40 million a year on research, that would actually improve the quality of their lives, and get them off public assistance, or even cure them. We have got to be smarter and do better.

The money we invest in research today is going to determine the quality of life of members of our family tomorrow.

Now, during my rehabilitation, I met a young man named Gregory Patterson. He was innocently driving through Newark, New Jersey, and a stray bullet, from a gang shooting, went through a car window, right into his neck and severed his spinal chord. Five years ago, he might have died. Today, because of research, he's alive.

But merely being alive -- merely being alive is not enough. We have a moral and an economic responsibility to ease his suffering and to prevent others from experiencing such pain.

And to do that, we don't need to raise taxes. We just need to raise our expectations.

Now, America has a tradition that many nations probably envy. We frequently achieve the impossible. That's part of our national character. That's what got us from one coast to another. That's what got us -- that's what got us the largest economy in the world. That's what got us to the moon.

Now, on the wall of my room when I was at rehab, there was a picture of the Space Shuttle blasting off, and it was autographed by every astronaut now at NASA, and on the top of that picture, it says, "We found nothing is impossible."

Now that -- that should be our motto. It's not a Democratic motto, not a Republican motto, it's an American motto. It's not something one Party can do alone. It's something we as a nation have to do together.

So many of our dreams -- so many dreams at first seem impossible. And then they seem improbable. And then when we summon the will, they soon become inevitable.

So if we can conquer outer space, we should be able to conquer inner space, too.

And that's the frontier of the brain, the central nervous system, and all the afflictions of the body that destroy so many lives, and rob our country of so much potential.

Research can provide hope for people who suffer from Alzheimer's. We've already discovered the gene that causes it. Research can provide hope for people like Muhammad Ali and the Reverend Billy Graham, who suffer from Parkinson's. Research can provide hope for the millions of Americans like Kirk Douglas, who suffer from stroke. We can ease the pain of people like Barbara Jordan, who battled multiple sclerosis. We can find treatments for people like Elizabeth Glaser, whom we lost to AIDS. And now that we know that nerves in the spinal cord can regenerate, we are on the way to getting millions of people around the world, millions of people around the world like me, up and out of these wheelchairs.

Now, 56 years ago, F.D.R. dedicated new buildings for the National Institutes of Health. He said that (quote), "The defense this nation seeks involves a great deal more than building airplanes, ships, guns, and bombs. We cannot be a strong nation unless we are a healthy nation."

He could have said that today.

President Roosevelt showed us that a man who could barely lift himself out of a wheelchair could still lift this nation out of despair.

And I believe, and so does this Administration, in the most important principle -- the most important principle that F.D.R. taught us: America does not let its needy citizens fend for themselves.

America -- America is stronger when all of us take care of all of us. Giving new life to that ideal is the challenge before us tonight.

Thank you very much.


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