THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
|For Immediate Release|| ||June 4, 1998|
REMARKS BY THE PRESIDENT
TO DLC NATIONAL CONVERSATION
Omni Shoreham Hotel
1:30 P.M. EDT
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you, Antonio, for that wonderfulintroduction. Thank you, Senator Lieberman, Governor Romer, Al From,and Will, and all the other folks here from the DLC. I thankGovernor Carper and Lt. Governor Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, and allthe other elected officials who are here. I thank Jill Docking forher work on this important project.
And let me say, I'm very glad to be here, and I wish Icould sit here for a couple of hours and listen to you, instead ofthe other way around. I find I nearly always fail to learn thingswhen I am doing the talking. But I am honored to be here. And Ijust took a little picture in the next room with the electedofficials, and I was thinking that we have come a long way since1984, a long way since the New Orleans Declaration, a long way sinceCleveland. And all of you should be very proud to be a part of agrowing national movement that at the same time is bearing faithfullyour most treasured American traditions and ideas.
I think it's worth remembering that in the early 19thcentury when the Democratic Party, when the term began to be used,very often the term was shortened from Democratic Party to justdemocracy -- people used to refer to our predecessors as "theDemocracy," because we believed we were representing all Americans.And I think that may be a better name for us now, even than it wasthen.
Our party is again a party of hope, a party of thefuture, the party that empowers individuals and gives them a chanceto be part of a larger national progress and unity. The credo ofAndrew Jackson's day that I've heard Al From say a thousand times --opportunity for all, special privileges for none -- is still a bigpart of what we believe.
Thomas Jefferson believed that we needed more freedomand more responsibility, and that's still what we believe. FranklinRoosevelt and Harry Truman believed that America had to lead in thisincreasingly interdependent world if we wanted to advance the causeof freedom and peace and prosperity and security. That's still whatwe believe.
And we have fundamentally, especially here at the DLC,been a group of Democrats committed to ideas. And in that sense, wehave embraced one of the central gems of wisdom of the greatestRepublican President, Abraham Lincoln, who, in a very eloquent seriesof statements that I'm sure many of you remember by heart, remindedus that we could never build our country up by tearing others down.I am proud to be a New Democratic with all of you. (Applause.)
We have called our approach "the third way" -- with agovernment that is more active, more effective, less expensive; one
that can bring us together and move us forward, not drive us apartand set us back.
I am profoundly grateful to the American people that intwo presidential elections we have been entrusted with the leadershipof the country into the 21st century. I believe it is not anaccident that this has happened. I do not believe it is a figment ofthe fertile imagination of me or any political expert that work forus. I think this happened because we had good ideas that were rootedin old values; that we were able to tell the American people in aconvincing way that we could transform our nation -- and in theprocess, transform our party -- in a way that would enable us to dothe eternal business of America; that in the face of new challengesand new opportunities we would find a way to change while stillanchored in our basic values, and that we could bring good results tothe American people.
That is what I think brought about those two electionvictories. And I believe that history, when people look back on it,will show that. And in that sense, every one of you who have been apart of all we have done here for more than 10 years, and especiallysince the issuance of the New Orleans Manifesto, can really take alot of pride in the good things that have happened to America. Weare, in effect, building an American example for the new millenniumright now.
Now, just think how far we've come. Think about howAmerica was in 1990, in 1991. We not only had problems, we were notonly drifting apart and stagnating economically and our socialproblems were deepening, but there was a real belief on the part ofmany people that nobody was really concerned enough to do anythingabout it. And more and more we had folks in the other party saying,well, there's a reason we're not concerned -- we can't do anythingabout it, because government is the problem and we just have to letthis stuff happen and if we don't it will just get worse -- if we tryto make it better it will just get worse.
And you remember all their speeches -- the Democratswould mess up a two-car parade and all that sort of thing. That wasthe basic prevailing conventional wisdom that they tried to hammerhome. So, yes, we have these problems, but we really can't deal withthem because government is inherently the problem; that if you trustthe Democrats, they'll just make it worse by trying to help. Andthen, to make the climate worse, there were politicians who reallytried to make these social differences in our country bigger, whenI'm trying so hard to make them smaller.
Every time they saw a point of tension in our society,they saw that as an opportunity for what the professionals call"wedge issues." And there were even people who believed, looking atall this, that our country was in some sort of long-term decline, andall the experts believe -- the political experts believe -- that itwould be a very, very long time before any Democrat could be elected,because the other party said government is inherently bad, andbesides that, the Democrats can't run the economy, manage foreignpolicy, they're weak on crime, weak on welfare, and they'll run thedeficit up -- it will be a disaster. You remember all that.
Where is all that? It's all gone. What drove it away?Reality. (Laughter.) You should be proudof that. You should be proud that you have been a part of that. Wetried in this administration to be faithful to what we said inCleveland in 1991 --to stay with the themes of opportunity andresponsibility and community. We've tried to make sure that ourideas were driven by our values, and our politics was driven by ourpolicies -- not the other way around. This really has been anadministration of ideas.
Yesterday I had the pleasure to go celebrate one ofthose ideas. I went to Cleveland to the National Convention of CityYear, one of our AmeriCorps affiliates. I saw 1,000 young peoplethat are changing the future for tens of thousands of other peopleall across America. It's been a stunning success. Nearly 90,000young people have now come into national service in the last fouryears. And over half of them have earned the credits to go tocollege; that was a very essential part of the DLC idea of nationalservice and earning money for education, and it is making America abetter place.
If you didn't read about it, it's only because no onehad a fight or called anyone a name. But it actually happenedyesterday, and it was quite wonderful. And it was very, very movingto see that an idea that all of us nourished for such a long time wasactually out there alive.
One of the young men who spoke said, "the first time mymother ever said she was proud of me was when I became an AmeriCorpsvolunteer and I started working with children." A young man that Imet seven years ago in Boston when I was running for President cameup and reminded the audience that he'd given me the t-shirt off hisback -- the sweatshirt off his back -- so I'd never forget theservice project he was involved in. And I kept it, and ran in it,and still have it to this day. And he kept his service to this day;he now does it full-time.
There are young people like this all over America. Howdid this happen? It happened because the DLC developed this conceptof national service. We had an election. It was part of theelection debate, and the Congress ratified the judgment of the peoplein the election of 1992. And it changed America. There are lots ofother ideas like this.
The DLC talked a lot about reinventing government andhow we had to change the way government worked, and brought in a lotof people to actually go through the details of it. And a lot ofthat is kind of boring, you know, and it doesn't make greathigh-flowing lines in speeches. But a huge percentage of the savingsthat we will enjoy over the next five years that are helping us tobalance the budget came because of the reinventing government effortsthat the Vice President led. And we now have over 300,000 fewerpeople, and 16,000 pages of unnecessary regulations gone, and morethan 250 programs gone, and 640,000 pages of internal rules gone. We save a lot of trees -- (laughter) -- with this RIGO movement.It's worked. The efforts have saved $137 billion. Years ago,reinventing government was a New Democratic idea. Today, it's anAmerican success story. You ought to be proud of that.
If you think about community policing, we justcelebrated the fact that we're ahead of schedule. We've now funded75,000 of our 100,000 community police that we promised in thecampaign of 1992 -- a DLC idea. We're ahead of schedule and underbudget. What was a New Democrat idea is now an American successstory. The crime bill with the community policing, the Brady Bill,the assault weapons ban, the prevention efforts to do smart things inlocal communities with community leaders -- all these things werepart of the original, tough, smart crime package of the DLC. Theywere New Democratic ideas; now they're American success stories.
We promised to ease the burden of taxes for workingpeople, to reward work, to lift millions of working families out ofpoverty. When we doubled the Earned Income Tax Credit we made theAmerican Dream real for people who work full-time. We said no matterhow little you make, you shouldn't live in poverty if you're workingfull-time and you've got kids in the house. That Earned Income TaxCredit today is worth about $1,000 a year to a family of four. Itwas a New Democrat idea, now it's part of America's success stories.
There are over 2 million children who have been liftedout of poverty because of an idea that started in a meeting like thisheld by the DLC and than appeared on a piece of paper and is now apart of the life of the United States. What you do here matters.Ideas matter. Work like this matters.
Now, I could give you lots of other examples. When Ibecame President, I think there was one charter school in America.Today, there are hundreds and hundreds and hundreds. The state ofCalifornia just voted to take the cap off of the number of charterschools that they could have. It's sweeping America. For mostpeople, it started as an idea being promoted by the DLC.
You can see it in the balance of tough child supportenforcement with more support for children in welfare families. Youcan see it in the Family and Medical Leave law. You can see it inour trade policy, in the empowerment zones, in all of the otherinitiatives to bring the spark of enterprise to the inner city. Youcan see it in the HOPE scholarships, and, yes, you can see it in thebalanced budget. They were New Democrat ideas; now they are Americansuccess stories.
And what are the results? Just think about it. If Ihad told you on Inauguration Day in 1993 that in five and a halfyears, I'd be able to come back here and assert to you that we havethe lowest crime rate in 25 years, the lowest welfare roles in 27years, the lowest unemployment rate in 28 years, the first balancedbudget and surplus in 29 years, the lowest inflation rate in 32years, the smallest government in 35 years, and the highest homeownership in American history -- and, oh, by the way, along the waywe opened the doors of college to every American willing to work forit and made dramatic advances for peace and freedom and security inthe world, you would have said, I don't believe it, but if ithappens, I'll be proud. You should be proud because you're a part ofit. (Applause.)
Now, that brings me to why you're here -- because we'renot nearly through. We still have to work to expand our own rankswithin our party and to win elections with our adversaries in theelection process. The American people need to understand even moreclearly than they do now what the connection is between these ideasand the early actions that were taken and the consequences that havehappened. But the most important thing to remember is this:elections are always about the future. If all you have done is agood job, you're entitled to a gold watch. (Laughter.) Electionsare always about the future.
I remember one time in 1990, I was thinking aboutrunning for governor again and I was out at Governor's Day at theState Fair and I said -- this old guy came up to me in overalls -- hesaid, are you going to run for governor again? And I said, well, ifI do, will you vote for me? He said, yeah, I always have. I said,well, I've been governor 10 years, aren't you sick of me after allthese years? He said, no, but nearly everybody else I know is.(Laughter.) And I said, well, don't they think I've done a good job?He said, oh, they think you've done a wonderful job -- but that'swhat we paid you for all those years. (Laughter.)
Very important to remember: elections are always abouttomorrow. And that's the importance of this process in which you areengaged now. And what I'd like to say to you is, if you think aboutall these things I just said, what we'd really like is if that weremore the normal condition of America. I mean, we'd really like it ifwe could sort of keep this thing going.
But what I want to say to you is that this is a momentwhere maybe the most important thing is Americans are upbeat again,they're optimistic, they have a sense of possibility, a sense ofconfidence, they even trust in government -- notwithstandingeverything else they've been told. It's begun to edge up. Why?Because reality is out there. And no matter how much people may tryto fill the atmosphere with other things, there is a reality outthere.
The point I'm trying to make is this reality has givenus a sense of collective self-confidence and security to be honestabout what still needs to be done in America and to think about whatthe long-term challenges are to build a country we want for the 21stcentury. Now, let me just mention a few of them because I thinkthere are clearly New Democrat approaches there.
The first thing I want to say is that we need tocandidly tell the American people, yes, things are going well now,but if we are complacent, short-sighted, selfish, we will fritteraway an opportunity to make sure that this country fulfills itspotential in the 21st century, because we still have some very bigchallenges.
What are they? The first thing we've got to do isfigure out how to deal with the coming retirement of the baby boomersand the increasing life expectancy of people, which is looking betterto me all along. (Laughter.) I think that's a high-class problem.(Laughter.) But we have to figure out a way to deal with thiswithout bankrupting our children and undermining our children'sability to raise our grandchildren, while still honoring the needs ofsenior populations for a certain level of predictability and securitya decent life.
So the first thing I would say is, we have to maintainfiscal discipline. We shouldn't spend the surplus before itmaterializes, and we shouldn't spend a penny of it until we havesecured Social Security for the 21st century, and we ought to passthe reform in early 1999. (Applause.)
Secondly, we also have a Medicare Commission chaired byanother DLC leader, Senator Breaux, and we have to recognize that wehave to deal with that. And we ought to deal with that also in 1999.And the Democrats should not run away from making the necessaryreforms in Social Security and Medicare. They are our programs. Webrought them to America. They are the great gift of our party in the20th century. Franklin Roosevelt and Lyndon Johnson and theirfriends in the Congress gave this gift to America.
Who can say anything other than "hallelujah" that lessthan 11 percent of our seniors live in poverty? But when we get tothe point when there are two people working for every person drawingSocial Security at present rates of retirement, life expectancy,child birth, and immigration, even if we succeed in providing qualityhealth care more in less in line with the rate of inflation, youdon't have to be a mathematical genius to know that we don't want tobe responsible for destroying that which we have created. And,therefore, if we don't want to destroy that which we have created, weshould take the lead and tell the American people they should trustus to take the lead to reform it in a way that will be consistentwith our values and that will preserve the gains of the last 50years, but drive them into the next 50 years with a 21st centurysystem that meets the challenges of this day. And the Democratsought to take the lead on that. (Applause.)
Furthermore, on health care, I think we have to continueto support both the Patient's Bill of Rights and increased access tohealth insurance, especially for selected groups where they're reallyoften left out. And we have both addressed in different ways theneed to deal with people who are not old enough to be on Medicare,but are, through no fault of their own, left without healthinsurance. It's a terrible problem -- everywhere I travel in thecountry, somebody else comes up to me and talks about it.
This Patient's Bill of Rights is a big issue becauseit's a way of saying we support managed care in its benefits, but anysystem which is rooted in process only, that gets disconnected fromthe values of the purpose of the endeavor -- in this case, providinga healthier population -- will get into trouble.
There was a woman with me from Minnesota the other daywho, five weeks ago, was diagnosed with stage two breast cancer. Twoyears ago she had a lump in her breast. She went to her HMO. Theysaid well, we took a picture of it and it looks all right to us. Butit never went away. Finally, she paid for her own biopsy. So thiswas about six weeks ago -- she was here last week. They said, you'vegot stage two breast cancer. So then she goes to her HMO and theysaid, well, you can't have a breast cancer surgeon, but we'll giveyou a general surgeon to do this surgery. She said, I don't thinkso.
She made 123 phone calls trying to get them to give hera qualified doctor to do the surgery. So she said, well, I can'tafford it, but I'll pay for it myself. When she was under the knifethe HMO called her home and said they would cover it, but then theywouldn't cover her chemotherapy afterward.
Now, this may be an extreme case, but I promise yousomething like that is happening somewhere today. Now, part of it isthe extreme financial pressure these folks are under. But if you puthealth care decisions in the hands of people who don't understandhealth care, then you have taken efficiency a step too far. And Ibelieve it's a mistake. (Applause.)
I also believe, however -- it's just like SocialSecurity reform. I think we had to have some managed health care.We couldn't continue to have health care costs go up to three timesthe rate of inflation. Eventually it would have consumed the wholeeconomy. But if you don't remedy the abuses and set aside a system,then you may wind up destroying the whole concept that you can managethe health care system in an efficient way.
So we ought to be out there out front on these issues.We ought to be continuing to support education reform until thecharter school movement and public school choice is the rule inAmerica, not the exception. We ought to support my initiatives forsmaller classes and better teaches and higher standards, and accessto technology for all students. We ought to continue to supportinitiatives in juvenile crime and to rescue our inner-cityneighborhoods generally -- further public safety issues, furthersupport in community efforts that have been proven to be successfulin rescuing kids and keeping them out of trouble before they go tojail in the first place.
In the end, that's what we've got to do. We can't jailour way out of the juvenile crisis in America. We can punish peoplewho ought to be punished, but in the end, we have to be smart enoughto figure out how to save more of these kids. We need them for ourfuture and we can't let them go. And we ought to be on the forefrontof doing that. (Applause.)
And let me just make one other -- there are lots ofother issues I could mention, but I'd like to mention one. I thinkthat we need -- and the DLC and the New Democratic forces need to doa lot more to define what our stakes are in the world of the 21stcentury. I'll just give you a few.
I went to Geneva the other day for the 50th Anniversaryof the World Trade Organization and urged them to do seven things tomodernize the trading system for the 21st century. As a Democrat, Ibelieve that we ought to have more trade. America's got 20 percentof the world's wealth and four percent of the world's population andyou do not have to be a mathematical genius to figure out that wehave to sell something to the other 96 percent if we want to maintainour standard of living.
But, as a Democrat, I also want our trading relationswith other countries to lead to improvements in the conditions oflife for ordinary people in those countries, because that's the onlyway that freedom and free markets will be widelysupported and that will sustain themselves throughout the newcentury.
So I do think we have to find ways to push that. Butthe answer is not to run away from expanding trade. The answer is tobroaden our agenda in aggressive and creative ways that othercountries will have an interest in supporting. I think we ought tobe out there doing that. (Applause.)
I think we ought to recognize that there are newsecurity threats in the 21st century that include, but are notlimited to, biological and chemical weapons, the spread of disease,because people are so much more inter-connected with each other andthe sweeping implications of cross-border environmental problems --the most significant of which is climate change -- we have got tofind a way to convince our neighbors around the world that you cangrow the economy and improve the environment. (Applause.)
I just came back from Texas, where they are acutelyaware of the inter-connection of nations with the environment,because all those wild fires that are raging in Mexico are now comingacross the Texas border, with the smoke, undermining the quality ofthe air. We're working very hard on that. Whether we like it ornot, this wild fire problem is not a Mexican problem. We had thesame thing this year in South America. We had the same thing severalmonths ago in Southeast Asia. We had two boats shift on the ocean,crash into each other because they were blinded by smoke from wildfires from the Rain Forest in Southeast Asia -- all a function of thechanging climate of the world.
These are security issues. We should see them as such,and we should be totally unwilling to say that we all have to go backto the Stone Age economics to preserve the environment when that isclearly not true. But we do have to be aware of it.
Well, there are lots of other things I could say. Iwould like to say one thing just very briefly, and I don't want to --the Secretary of State is working on this, as you know, at thismoment. But I'd like to say one thing about the problems on theIndian subcontinent because I think they're important for you tothink about in a 21st century context.
First of all, they show you that there's still acombustible mix if you have old ethnic, religious, and nationaltensions combined with access to modern technology. Secondly, itshows you -- and this may be the more important point -- that as muchwe're trying, there's still a lot of people who believe that being agreat nation in the 21st century should be defined by the same termsthat defined it in the 20th century.
An enormous part of my time as your President has beenspent trying to develop policies and then make arguments to peoplelike the President of Russia and the President of China that thedefinition of greatness should be different tomorrow than it wasyesterday; that we should want to be measured by our ideas and ourachievements and our ability to raise our children and our ability torelate to each other, and that national strength and greatness shouldbe measured in different terms.
The present tension between India and Pakistan and thetests are a sober reminder in a larger scale because of the nucleartests, of the challenges we still face in the Middle East, thechallenges we still face in the Balkans, with our unfinished businessin Bosnia, in Kosovo, the challenges we still face in Africa, intrying to get over what happened in Rwanda, throughout the world.
One of the important things about what you're doing isthat other people in other parts of the world are now interested intaking this kind of approach. And they're trying to figure outwhether they can find a politics that is both human and sensible thatworks. And so I would urge you to devote even more of your thoughtsin the months and years ahead in this forum to how we can convincethe American people, first of all, that we need to lead the world andwe need to invest the money it takes to lead the world -- and we geta lot out of it, not just on trade, but in other areas; and secondly,how we can best make alliances with people in other nations.
There must be people who think like you in India andpeople who think like you in Pakistan, just like there were in thenew Labor Party in Great Britain or in the government in theNetherlands or the government in Italy or the government in Brazil.And we need to engage people in trying to definenational greatness in a way that is inclusive and constructive, notdivisive and destructive. It is very important. (Applause.)
The last point I want to make -- we are celebrating thisweek -- celebrating is the wrong word -- we are observing this weekthe 30th anniversary of the death of Robert Kennedy. I remember itlike it was yesterday because it happened just a couple of daysbefore I graduated from college. And I remember staying up with oneof my roommates who worked in Senator Kennedy's office in Washingtonto watch the results of the California primary, and I turned thetelevision off five minutes before Robert Kennedy was shot.
In so many ways what he was trying to do then for theDemocratic Party and for our country has great parallels to what wehave been about in the last few years -- trying to get people to giveup the old dogmas, trying to bring people together, trying to gobeyond the sort of stale liberal conservative name-calling and figureout a policy that was both humane and effective. A lot of what hesaid and did pre-figured what we have tried to do in our time.
But in that springtime in 1968, when both Robert Kennedyand Martin Luther King were killed, and when our country was soprofoundly troubled and divided over issues at home and abroad, itwas after those events not possible for a very long time to try toput the pieces of an American progressive movement back togetherbecause America's mind and heart was too easily divided anddistracted and was too uncertain.
And I'd like you to think about it as you read thingsabout Senator Kennedy -- over the next couple of days there will be alot in the press. He never had a time like this in which to serve.And a lot of what Martin Luther King wanted to do in civil rights wascomplicated because of all the other problems that came into Americansociety over the Vietnam War, and we became divided in other ways.
This is a time -- I read all those statistics off to you-- 28, 29, 30 years, and you were all clapping. It's reallyexhilarating, isn't it? But what you have to think about is, thisdoesn't happen all that often, and we have space now, and confidence,and a sense of possibility. And we cannot squander it.
Robert Kennedy used to quote Tennyson, saying it is nottoo late to seek a newer world. Well, it isn't too late. But Idon't care how good things are -- believe me, I've now lived long
enough to see things change -- it's not too late, but we don't have amoment to waste. And we've only just begun.
So I want you to celebrate what you've done. I want tothank you for what you've done, but I want you to think about thenext 50 years and realize what a precious gift as citizens we havebeen given to mobilize together, to think about the large matters ofour children and grandchildren's future and to actually to dosomething about them. And keep in mind with where we are, because wehad ideas, and we had action.
Thank you very much and God bless you.