THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
For Immediate Release October 30, 2000
REMARKS BY THE PRESIDENT
AT RECEPTION FOR AFRICAN AMERICAN RELIGIOUS LEADERS
The East Room
7:13 P.M. EST
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you. Well, that was a monumental
introduction. (Laughter.) I asked Billy if he thought there was another
church anywhere in America named Monumental. But it was a monumental
introduction. He was reminding me when we were standing up here that we
met the first time at the Civil Rights Museum at the Lorraine Motel in
Memphis. I was there looking at the exhibit where the statue of Daisy
Bates faces the statue of Governor Faubus. The country has come a long way
since then -- thanks in no small measure to people like all of you. And I
welcome you here.
I want to thank Rodney Slater. We've worked together almost 20
years -- and my friend, Carol Willis -- they came to work for me when I was
running for governor in 1982. And I was trying to do something that had
never been done before -- I had been elected, then I had been defeated, and
I was trying to get elected again. And since you can't tell the voters
they made a mistake, that's a pretty hard deal to sell. But we figured it
I want to thank Ben Johnson, who runs our One America office
here; Alvin Brown, who runs the Community Empowerment program that Vice
President Gore has led so well; Reverend Zina Pierre, who works for us here
in Intergovernmental Affairs; and all the other people at the White House.
Later this week we're going to start a month-long celebration of
the 200th anniversary of the White House. George Washington is the only
President who never lived here, even though he commissioned this house and
had the competition for the architectural plans. We've got downstairs a
copy of the drawings that Thomas Jefferson presented anonymously, and he
got beat in the competition by an Irish architect named James Hoban.
And the first of November 1800, John and Abigail Adams moved in
here, and there was no furniture here. And Mrs. Adams hung up the wash in
this room. So the room has kind of come a long way in the last 200 years,
too. (Laughter.) I think this is a pretty good way to begin the
observance of the 200th anniversary of this grand old house, by having all
of you here.
I also would like to especially note the presence in the audience
of the two pastors who hosted me yesterday. I was out making visits, and
Reverend Wallace Charles Smith of the Shiloh Baptist Church here in
Washington, and Reverend John Peterson of the Alfred Street Baptist Church
of Alexandria, Virginia, thank you for having me yesterday. I had a great
time. And I appreciate that. (Applause.)
I asked you to come here for two reasons today. First and
foremost, to say thank you. Thank you for giving me the chance to serve.
Thank you for urging me along the way to try to get me to serve better.
Thank you for watching my back and always pushing me ahead at the same
time. Thank you. It's been a great eight years, and I've got 11 weeks
more and I'm going to milk everything I can out of it for the American
people. (Laughter.) Do every good thing I can possibly get done.
And the Republicans -- we've actually made a bunch of agreements
with them here that have been good for the American people. I thought we
had one on schools last night -- it's the best one that we've ever had in
eight years. And then today they decided it wasn't such a good agreement
after all; they're kind of drawing back. But maybe I can -- if you all
pray over them tonight, maybe I can get them to come on back here and do
this agreement we made last night.
So I thank you for that. The second thing, obviously, is that I
wanted to say a few words about today and tomorrow. In America, our public
life is always about tomorrow. And that's the thing that I appreciate so
much -- I look out here in this room and I see people I've known here for
over 20 years. And you still come because you don't get tired doing good.
You know that that's the admonition of the Scripture and you're still doing
And I thank you for that. But we have to look ahead here. And
I'm going to -- when the Congress goes home, I'm going to go out and make a
few visits around the country and try to do what I can to persuade the
people that they ought to go and vote, and they need to understand what the
issues are. But just let me ask you this. If I had told you eight years
ago that by now, we'd all come here and gather, and we'd have 22 million
new jobs, and the lowest unemployment rate in 30 years, and the longest
economic expansion in history, and the lowest African American unemployment
rate ever recorded, and the biggest drop in child poverty in 35 years, the
lowest poverty rate in 20 years, the highest home ownership in history;
that we would have the lowest crime rate in 26 years, the lowest welfare
rolls in 32 years; that we'd have people without health insurance, the
number of those folks going down for the first time in a dozen years; that
the dropout rate would be down, the test scores would be up, the African
American high school graduation rate would equal the white rate for the
first time in history; there would be a 500 percent increase in the number
of African American kids taking advance placement courses, with the highest
college-going rate in history; and that, oh, by the way, we'd have a
decline in teen pregnancy to historic lows, a big drop in teenage drug use,
and cleaner air, cleaner water, safer drinking water, safer food, more land
set aside for the future of all generations than at any time since Theodore
Roosevelt was President, almost 100 years ago -- if I told you that eight
years ago, would you have believed these were eight years well-spent that
we did together? I think it's pretty good. (Applause.)
Now, so here's what I want to say. It's always about tomorrow.
Our founders were smart people. I mean, they were real smart, you know?
They knew that God didn't only create white male property owners. When
they said we're all created equal, they didn't say only white male property
owners were created equal. And they knew that they weren't exactly living
up to the ideals of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution.
And that's why they committed us to an eternal journey toward a more
perfect union -- right? They were smart. They knew there would never be a
perfect union; they never said, we're going to make a perfect union. They
said, we have joined together to make a more perfect union, which meant
that every succession of Americans down all the way to the end of time
would always know they would have something to do to measure up to these
Now, eight years ago, we had a troubled economy, a divided
society, and a paralyzed political system. Today we've got the strongest
economy in history. We're making progress in all areas of the society. We
are more united than we were before. We entered this new century and this
new millennium in very good shape. And now before the American people
looms an election, the first election of the 21st century. And people will
decide in eight days who the new President and Vice President will be, who
will be in the United States Senate, who will be in the United States
Congress, and a number of other important elections. They will decide by
how they vote and they will decide by whether they vote.
Because, make no mistake about it, not voting is a decision.
That's a decision to let somebody who disagrees with you have their way.
So I want you in the days that remain to make sure that everybody knows
what the choices are and what the consequences are.
In my lifetime we have never had an election like this -- ever,
not once have we ever had an election with so much prosperity, so much
social progress, with the absence of a domestic crisis or a threat to our
security from around the world. Are there problems at home and abroad? Of
course, there are. There always will be, down to the end of time.
Scripture says that. But we have never, ever, ever held an election in
this sort of environment before. Not in the lifetime of anybody in this
Is that right? And sometimes it's harder to make a good decision
in good times than bad times. Anybody that's over 30 has made a decision
and a mistake at some point in your life not because things were going so
badly, but because they were going so well you thought you had to -- you
could just stop concentrating. Isn't that right? So what does America
have to do in the next eight days? Concentrate.
This is a very important time. We may never have another time in
our lifetimes like this to build the future of our dreams for our children.
And I would just like to make a couple of statements about it. Number one,
in order to do what we need to do, we've got to keep this prosperity going
and expand it. And if you want to do that, we've got to keep paying down
the debt and investing in our future.
The Vice President wants to pay down the debt and take the money
that's left after you get on the schedule to pay the debt down, and use
that to invest in education, health care, the environment, national
security, and give the people a tax cut we can afford. Why is that
important? Because as long as you're paying down the debt you'll keep
interest rates lower. Interest rates lower for your parishioners, for a
decade, a percent a year a decade -- $390 billion in lower home mortgages,
$30 billion in lower monthly car payments, $15 billion in lower college
loan payments. Never mind the credit cards or the business loans, cheaper,
which means more businesses, more jobs and a better stock market.
It's really important. People ask me all the time, what great
new idea did you and Bob Rubin bring to Washington. And I always say,
arithmetic. (Laughter.) We brought -- now you laugh, but this is serious.
You've got to talk to folks about this. Everybody can understand this. We
brought arithmetic back to Washington. How many times did they tell you
the budget was going to be balance, you know -- that this money was going
to appear out of thing air? How many times did we hear that? And the
deficit was bigger and bigger and bigger, and the debt of this country
quadrupled. Now we're paying it down.
We will have paid over $340 billion of the national debt when I
leave office. Paying it down. And that's why interest rates are down, and
that's why the economy has worked.
And this is a message that I think African Americans, Hispanic
Americans, Asian Americans, and all other Americans ought to hear together.
We've got to keep arithmetic here. You know, this is a job; it's not just
a speech, it's a job. And one of the jobs is to be the monitor of the
arithmetic. (Applause.) I'm just telling you, it's arithmetic.
And I know it's hard for folks -- it may be even hard for you,
sometimes it's hard for me, to keep up with a trillion here and a trillion
there, you know -- how many zeroes is that? But if the surplus is supposed
to be $2 trillion -- and that's high, believe me, it won't be that high
because of the money that's been spent in this Congress -- true. And our
friends in the other party, they say, we want a tax cut that plus interest
is $1.6 trillion, and we would like to privatize Social Security, a little
bit, and that's $1 trillion. Forget about the zeroes, $1.6 trillion and $1
trillion. And we want to spend some money, too, about a half a trillion --
that's $.5 trillion. Well, if you add 1.6 and 1 and .5 together, you've
got 3.1. And arithmetic says that's bigger than 2. (Laughter and
That means you're back into deficit, you've got higher interest
rates, you're spending all that Social Security money everybody has
promised not to spend. Now, this is not rocket science, this is
arithmetic. But everybody in America can understand it if they know it.
I've worked so hard -- I don't know what else I can do to turn
this economy around. We've worked hard on it, we've tried to stay on top
of it. There have been a lot of sophisticated decisions around the edges,
and we've worked to expand trade and an increase in education and training
and all that. But it all begins with arithmetic. You get the arithmetic
wrong in a country you have to pay the price just like you get the
arithmetic wrong on your check book.
So that's the first thing I hope you'll tell people. The Vice
President was part of every important budget decision we made. He cast the
tie-breaking vote for the economic plan in 1993. He understands the price
we've all paid to make the arithmetic work, and how important it is to keep
the expansion going.
The second point I want to make is there are honest differences
here. I'm so pleased that this has been basically a positive campaign and
people aren't bad-mouthing each other too much, I like that. Why do we
have to say anything bad about our opponents? They're not our enemies,
after all; they're just our opponents. This is America. So we've been
able to say, okay, all these folks are good folks. They love their
families, they love their country and they have different ideas. But they
have different ideas. (Laughter.)
And if the crime rate is lower, and the number of people without
health insurance is going down, and test scores are going up, and the
college-going rate is at an all-time high, and the environment is getting
cleaner, and the Vice President wants to build on the ideas and the
progress instead of reverse the policies, it seems to me that ought to be
So question number one, do you want to keep the prosperity going
and extend it to people who have been left behind? Question number two, do
you want to build on the social progress? Question number three, what
about one America? How are we going to go forward together?
Should we have hate crimes legislation or not? Should we have a
Medicare prescription drug program that applies to all of our seniors who
need it or just some? Should we have a patients' bill of rights that
really gives everybody the right to be protected and let their doctors make
their medical decisions? Should we have stronger enforcement of the Equal
Pay for Women Law or not? Should we keep trying to improve Affirmative
Action but not end it, or not?
What kind of people should be on the Supreme Court and the Court
of Appeals? (Applause.) And is this new trend that we've seen from the
conservative majority that now is only five, of restricting, restricting,
restricting the federal government's authority to enact legislation to
protect and promote the interests of the America people -- is that a good
trend, or not?
And what about the role of the President as not just a doer, but
the stopper? Would it be a good thing if the Republican party had the
White House and the Senate and the House, with no one there to say no if
they had another 1995 where they voted to abolish the Department of
Education and had the biggest education and environmental cuts in history
and the highest Medicare premiums? Or not? Would that be a good thing?
People need to think.
But if you ask me what counts, I think what counts is one,
keeping the prosperity going, two, building on the progress, not reversing
it, three, keep working for one America, four, have a President who's there
in case the Congress tries to go too far in one direction, and five, have
somebody there that you know you can count on in a crisis.
I'll tell you, we've been through some. When we tried to turn
back the ethnic cleansing in Bosnia and Kosovo, Al Gore was there. When we
worked for peace in the Middle East and Northern Ireland, Al Gore was
there. When we had to decide whether to give financial aid to Mexico when
a poll said 81 percent of the American people were against it, and I had to
decide in five minutes whether to do it or not, Al Gore was there.
And I could give you countless other examples. The Vice
President has demonstrated conclusively since the convention that he is an
independent person, that he will be his own President. But I can tell you
what I know from eight years. He is a good person who will be a great
And, I'm not running for anything this year. Most days I'm okay
about it. I've had so much fun working for Hillary and working for Al.
(Applause.) I've had so much fun. I must say, I used to not understand it
when Hillary used to tell me she just hated to come to my debates. Now I
can't even watch one of hers in front of somebody else. I just get nervous
as a cat, you know?
This is very interesting to -- role for me, but I do feel that
the country has been so good to me, I have been so blessed. I got to serve
here, and I have learned things here that maybe you can only learn when
you've been President. But I know this -- I know we've got to keep this
prosperity going because we haven't yet embraced everybody. And we've got
a lot of work to do on that. I know if you've got a policy that's driving
down crime, and driving down welfare, and improving the environment without
hurting the economy, and giving health insurance to more people, and
improving education, and turning around failing schools, we ought to be
building on it, not walking away from it.
I know that as long as we're coming together across racial and
religious and the other lines that divide us, we're going to be okay,
because the American people are smart people -- they'll get it figured out,
whatever the problem is. And I know that this office would be well served
by someone who really knows and understands the challenges it faces, who
can be a restraining influence if the elements in the other party in
Congress try to go too far, and who desperately wants the best for this
country in the future.
Now, these are simple little arguments, starting with arithmetic,
going to sticking with what works, going to the fact that we all have got
to go forward together, going to the fact that hard work and experience and
a proven record of making good decisions counts for something. If you can
just make those arguments, and then contrast them, and let people decide
what they agree with on the consequences, then we should be happy however
this election comes out because that's what America is about. But you know
if our folks show and they know, you know what will happen. (Applause.)
If you get show and know, you know what will happen.
This election is not fundamentally about race, although there are
still racial issues to be resolved and racial outreach to be done. But if
you raise the minimum wage, that helps everybody. And if you don't, it
hurts everybody. If we have hate crimes legislation, I think it makes
everybody stronger. I don't think that -- I think the overwhelming
majority of white Americans and Americans without regard to party --
Republicans, Democrats, independents -- favor that. It's just one of --
it's the same thing with the patients' bill of rights.
But there's so much to be done, all the best stuff is still out
there -- stuff we can do on education and health care and economic
opportunity, in science and technology. But you've got to remember these
simple things -- you've got to make the economy go with arithmetic; you've
got to build on the social progress, not reverse it; you've got to build
one America; and you've got to have a strong leader who understands these
issues, not afraid to take a stand, with a proven record of achievement
that will deliver for you and deliver for you. Ask Billy Kyles. Billy
Kyles knows Al Gore as well as anybody in this room today, except me.
So this is an unusual election. We normally have some terrible
thing that we're all full of anxiety about. Now we've got to go out and
whip people up about positive things. We want everybody to be happy, but
empowered. Not threatened, but free to have a vision. Not looking down on
anybody, but trying to lift up everybody.
This is going to be an interesting exercise in civics, to see if
we can handle all this prosperity and this good news and make it through.
But, you know, most of the time the American people get it right, or we
wouldn't be around here after 224 years. And when we have these big forks
in the road, they normally make the right decision, or all of us sure
wouldn't be here. Either because of the color of our skins or because we
were the first ones in our family to get any kind of a decent education.
This is a very great country. It moves in mysterious ways. But
clarity is our friend here. You just think about that. I told the
Congress the other day what I'll tell you. When you walk out of here, I
want you to imagine yourself as America's weather corps for one more week,
and you're going to go out there and make it clear.
When I was a kid, we had a guy in my home state that tried to
make a killing off the farmers because he said he could make it rain. He
thought he could make it rain. People actually paid him to go up and get
in a little airplane and drop pellets in the crowd. And they're still
You don't want to make it rain. You want to make it clear. You
want to make the sun shine. You want to make all these issues bright and
shiny and crystal and simple and direct. This is not complicated. The
America people are fortunate they have two clear, very different choices;
two good people who love their country and will do exactly what they
intend. (Laughter and applause.) And this is good. I mean, we're
laughing. This is a good thing.
This is about keeping the prosperity going, not putting it at
risk; building on the progress, not reversing it; continuing to build one
America with everything from the court appointments to the executive
appointments to the advocacy of legislation; relating to the rest of the
world, including Africa and Latin American and places that have been left
behind before we came along. I saw the way you responded to that with
genuine seasoned judgment and wisdom and passion.
Listen, we've got a good nominee, we've got a good leader. We've
got a good story to tell. Just ask people to remember what it was like
eight years ago, what it's like now. And then ask people to imagine what
they want it to be four and eight years from now.
Just lift people up. Get everybody to take a deep breath. Blow
the clouds away, be America's weather corps. We'll have a great
celebration in eight days. Thank you and God bless you all. (Applause.)
END 7:40 P.M. EST