Remarks by President Clinton at the National Italian American Foundation Dinner (10/28/00)
                              THE WHITE HOUSE

                       Office of the Press Secretary

Immediate Release                          October 28, 2000

                         REMARKS BY THE PRESIDENT

                          Washington Hilton Hotel
                             Washington, D.C.

10:06 P.M. EDT

     THE PRESIDENT:  Thank you very much.  Thank you to the die-hard in the
back there.  (Laughter.)  Thank you very much, I'm delighted to be here.  I
was told on the way in that since I came here as a governor in 1992, I have
made seven of nine possible NIAF dinners, and I am delighted to be here
again for the last time as President.  (Applause.)

     I want to thank Chairman Gaurini; your dinner chair, Dick Grasso. I
thank the Representatives of Congress who are here, Representatives Morella
and Pelosi and my good friend, Geri Ferraro, Ambassador Browner, Ambassador
Tufo -- Administrator Browner -- Ambassador Rosapepe.  And the President of
NIAF, Joe Cerrell.

     I also want to say, as all of you know, I have had a penchant for
Italian American Chiefs of Staff -- they have been over-represented.
(Laughter.)  So far, we have staved off any affirmative action suits.
(Laughter.)  When Leon Panetta was my Chief of Staff, he used to say that
it was such a hard job he thought Panetta was Italian for pinata.

     Now, John Podesta is here.  We were doing a little research the other
day -- this is true, this is not an after dinner joke -- and we discovered
that in Renaissance Italy the rulers of the city states were often quite
apprehensive that they wouldn't be able to maintain authority.  So they
from time to time hired an enforcer to come in from outside the city state,
and the enforcer was called a "podesta."  (Laughter.)  So he is well-named.
And since then, we have a disproportionate number of Italians throughout
the White House.  Two of them -- Karen Tramontano and Loretta Ucelli are
here tonight; I thank them for their work.  (Applause.)

     I also want to congratulate Tommy LaSorda on the fabulous job he did
with our baseball team at the Olympics.  (Applause.)  And congratulations
to you, Mr. Barry, your spirit was alive and well at the World Series.

     I want to congratulate the honorees tonight, my good friend, Muhammed
Ali and Angelo Dundee -- (applause) -- Andrea Bocelli, John Paul DeJoria,
Joseph Nacchio, Miuccia Prada, Dick Vermeil and my friend of many, many
years, Millard Fuller.  Thank you for honoring them and thank you for all
the work you do.

     The legacy of Italian Americans has been celebrated by this
organization for 25 years now.  This is an important milestone for you.  I
know that you have just begun.  One of the things I particularly appreciate
is your interest in one America, trying to reach across the cultural
divide.  Just a couple of nights ago we had a birthday party for Hillary up
in New York.  And Robert De Niro was trying to teach me how to "speak New
York."  (Laughter.)  And I don't know if you saw it, but I was really
appreciative that he was so generous and understanding of my culturally
challenged accent.  (Laughter.)
     So he tried to teach me how to say "fuhgeddabowdit."   (Laughter.)
And I finally learned, see?  (Laughter.)

     At the turn of the last century, an Italian American said, I came to
America because I heard the streets were paved with gold.  When I got here
I found three things:  first, the streets weren't paved with gold; second,
they weren't paved at all; third, I was expected to pave them.  (Laughter
and applause.)

     In the century that has elapsed, our streets aren't paved with gold
yet, but our nation has entered a golden era, thanks in no small part to
the efforts of Italian Americans -- (applause) -- to your intellect, your
industry, your goodwill and, above all, your contagious love of life.  I
must say, I am especially grateful for all the opportunities that I have
had these last eight years to work with not only the Italian American
community, but also to work with Italy.

     I thank the Italian Ambassador, whom I'm sure is here tonight, along
with the other distinguished guests from Italy for all you have done to
help make the work of the United States and the world more successful.  And
I thank the Italians who have been with us from the beginning.  An Italian
discovered America, another named it.  We have two busts in the Blue Room
at the White House on the formal State Floor -- only two -- one of
Christopher Columbus, one of Amerigo Vespucci, brought here in the early
1820s by President James Monroe.

     Two Italians signed the Declaration of Independence, thousands fought
in the Civil War, millions came ashore early in this century, fought in our
wars, stood with us in the Cold War, built a great American middle class
and now are leading America into the global information age.

     Many Italian Americans from the beginning excelled in athletics -- no
small number in boxing.  I grew up watching Rocky Marciano.  There was
Carmen Basilio, Jake LaMotta, and so many others.  (Applause.)

     It is, therefore, altogether fitting that you would give your first
One America Award to Muhammed Ali.  (Applause.)  In the ring, he captured
the imagination of the world with his distinctive fighting style.  Before
and after the fights, he captured the imagination of the world with his
distinctive speaking style.  He's the first fighter ever to win the
Heavyweight Title three times.  But outside the ring and what he's done
since, in my mind, are even more impressive:  his work for children and
feeding the hungry and dedicating his life to his faith and his fellow
human beings.

     I am sure I'm not alone when I say that four years ago when Muhammed
Ali lit the Olympic Torch in Atlanta, it was one of the greatest personal
thrills I have ever had as an American citizen, and I thank you, sir.

     And, of course, he didn't do it alone.  In his corner for more than
four decades was tonight's other nominee, his trainer, the great Angelo
Dundee.  (Applause.)  Truly, this Italian American-African American team
symbolizes the one America you believe in.  They are an inspiration for the
one America we all still have to build.

     I am profoundly grateful that the National Italian American Foundation
has been a vital partner in our administration's efforts to do that, with
your programs in schools and communities all across America.   I am
especially grateful for your concern for young people.  The first thing I
was asked tonight when I was standing outside waiting to come in is whether
after my remarks I would walk over and speak to the young people who are
just a few yards down the way.  And I'll be happy to do that, because they
are your future and mine and ours.  (Applause.)

     In the struggle, in the beginning of Italian American immigrants and
in the triumphs of Italian American immigrants we are reminded that our
diversity is our greatest strength, as long as we celebrate it and
understand clearly that our common humanity is even more fundamental; that
our nation, as ever -- indeed, more than ever -- is a family of immigrants.

     For eight years now, it has been my great honor, along with Vice
President Gore, to work to strengthen America's families, to give people
the tools and create the conditions for a better life.  We've tried to do
that through things like the Family and Medical Leave law, which has now
given some 22 million Americans a chance to take the time off from work
when a baby is born or a parent is sick without losing their jobs; by
adding 2.5 million children to the ranks of those with health insurance; by
providing after-school and mentoring programs to a million kids; by ending
welfare as we knew it, but giving families the support they need to succeed
as parents, as well as workers; it has given us the lowest welfare rolls in
32 years, half the size they were in January of '93.  (Applause.)

     We did it with the HOPE Scholarships and lifetime learning tax credit
to open the doors of college to all.  Ten million American families are now
benefitting from it, and the college-going rate in America is by far the
highest it has ever been.

     We have worked hard to strengthen America's families.  And, like you,
we've worked hard to strengthen it by creating one America with the most
diverse Cabinet and administration appointments in history, with a real
commitment to empowering those who have too long been left out and left

     When I came here in 1992, it was a very different America.  We had a
troubled economy, a divided society, a paralyzed political system.  I think
it's worth pointing out -- because I watched the news tonight on the way
over, and all the news is about the continuing arguments I'm having with
the Congress.  I never thought I would see a bunch of politicians stay in
Washington so close to election.  And I know that when you see this, you
must think of one of Mr. Berra's immortal lines, that we may be lost, but
we're making good time.  (Laughter.)

     But the truth is, this has actually been quite a productive Congress
for the American people.  We've set aside more land than ever before in an
act of Congress for all time.  (Applause.)  We have passed an historic bill
that I've not yet had the opportunity to sign, but the agreement is there
to do America's part to relieve the debt for the poorest countries in the
world, as long as they put the money into education and health care and
development for their children and the future. (Applause.)

     We have provided an unprecedented outreach to Africa and our Caribbean
neighbors.  It has been a good session of Congress, and they are working on
an education bill that I think all Americans, without regard to party, will
be proud of.
     So while we fight and argue -- which is, after all, the essence of
democratic representation -- we're actually making a good deal of good
progress.  Today, the American community and the American family is
stronger than it has ever been.

     I know and you know that many of the social indicators have gotten
better in no small measure because our economy has been so strong, because
we have the lowest unemployment in 30 years and the longest expansion in
history, the lowest poverty in 20 years, the lowest minority unemployment
ever recorded and the highest homeownership in history.  A lot of you
deserve a lot of the credit for that.  I think about that every time I see
Mr. Grasso ring the bell down at the Stock Exchange.

     But tonight, what I want to say to you is, America's business is not
done.  America's business will never be done.  All of you have to decide
how to vote in the coming election, and I did not come here to discuss
this.  But I will say that I hope that whatever happens, we will make
decisions consistent with keeping this economy strong, keeping it growing.
Because that is what will enable us to give economic opportunity to people
and places left behind.  That is what will enable us to bring health care
and education at excellent levels to people who still don't have either at
the quality they should.

     We have to do the things that immigrants did when they came here.  We
have to forget about short-term gains in time to look for the long run.  I
must say, from time to time, people come up to me and they ask me, well,
what great, new economic idea did you bring to Washington?  How did the
government makes its contribution to this boom?  What new thing did you
bring?  And I always have a one-word answer:  arithmetic.  We tried to
bring arithmetic back to Washington.  And that's how we've turned a
$290-billion deficit into a $237-billion surplus.  That is yours now.
(Applause.)  That is yours now.  It belongs to all the American people.

     And what I want to say to you is that never before in my lifetime has
our nation enjoyed at once so much economic prosperity and social progress
with the absence of domestic crisis or foreign threat to our security.
Therefore, never before in our lifetime have we had a chance like this to
build the future of our dreams for our children.  There are big challenges
out there.  How are we going to handle the aging of America?  When all us
baby boomers retire, there will only be two people working for every one
person on Social Security.  That is, unless we can get even more immigrants
into the country and treat them more fairly than we treat some of our legal
immigrants today, I might add -- something I'm trying to correct in the
closing days of this Congress.  (Applause.)

     We have the largest and most diverse school population in history.
How shall we guarantee them all excellence in education?  We've just been
through a little bit of an energy scare.  But we know that the development
of new technologies on the horizon -- and, in some cases, already on the
shelf -- could dramatically alter our future in ways that would strengthen
our economy.  Will we have the will and vision to do that?

     General Motors announced just last week that their efforts, through
our Partnership For the Next Generation Vehicles, which the Vice President
and I have been working on for eight years, have given them a car that gets
80 miles to the gallon.  I signed today the research budget for the
Agriculture Department -- listen to this -- which involves funds where
they're trying to figure out how to make ethanol and other biomass fuels
from gasoline.  Today, the problem with that is, it takes seven gallons of
gas to make eight gallons of ethanol.  But the chemists are on the verge of
discovering how to make eight gallons of ethanol with one gallon of gas,
and when that happens you will be getting the equivalent of 500 miles to
the gallon.

     All of this is out there.  The young women in the audience who are
still in their child-bearing years, within five to 10 years, will be
bringing babies home from the hospital, thanks to the human genome project,
who will have a life expectancy of 90 years.  (Applause.)  We will see the
cure -- in the lifetime of virtually everybody in this audience, we will
see cures for Parkinson's and Alzheimer's.  We may even see people be able
to -- the scientists be able to reverse Alzheimer's.

     Digital chips now can be implanted deep into the ear canals of
profoundly deaf people and they can hear.  And they believe, the scientists
do, that soon they will be able to implant them into the spinal cord of
profoundly injured people, and they will be able to get up and walk.  The
future is incredible out there, and I am very grateful that I have had the
chance to serve at this time.

     But what I want to say to all of you is, this country, as always,
belongs to the people.  It may not always be clear, except at election time
when everybody's vote counts exactly the same.  But every day, in every
way, the greatness of America fundamentally depends upon the people, and
our belief that everybody deserves a chance, and we all do better when we
help each other, that there should be opportunity for every responsible
citizen, but in the end, we must be one community.  That's what this
foundation has been all about.  That's what your One America Award is all

     And I have to tell you today, if someone were to give me one wish, it
would be that, somehow, America would find a way out of the thicket that so
bedevils people everywhere.  And we're still fighting in this most modern
of age over the most ancient of demons -- the fear of those who are
different from us.  (Applause.)  It is the source of anxiety in the country
from which my ancestors hail, Ireland, where we've made a lot of progress
on the peace process, but it's not completely finished yet.  It is the
heartbreaking source of this upsurge in violence in the Middle East after
over seven years of working together -- people that know each other by
their first name, know their children, know their grandchildren, all of a
sudden at each other's throats again, almost in the blink of an eye, both
sides shaking their heads, wondering how it could have happened.

     It was the source of all that awful tribal warfare in Africa and the
ethnic cleansing in Bosnia and Kosovo, which, thank God, has come to an end
because the United States, with our allies -- Italy and our other allies in
NATO stood up against it, and then the people of Serbia finally threw off
the shackles of Mr. Milosevic and decided to vote for the rule of law over
the rule of hatred.  (Applause.)

     Now, I say all this because I really believe that in the new century,
in order for America do to good around the world, we must first be good at
home.  And we must say we're not going to let the lines that divide us tear
us apart as long as we share a common commitment to a law-abiding,
cooperative future.  That's why I support the hate crimes legislation and
the employment  nondiscrimination legislation and the equal pay legislation
for women -- because I believe they symbolize those kinds of things.

     But the larger point is the one I want to make.  We're about to give
an award to Muhammed Ali and Angelo Dundee.  (Applause.)  But all across
America today, in little play yards and dusty rural roads, there are young
people with their dreams.  Some are of European descent, some are African
American, some are Hispanic, more and more are Asian.  They're from

     Just across the river here in the Alexandria school district, there
are people, children, from 180 different racial and ethnic groups.  Their
parents speak over 100 different languages.  So when we say we're a nation
of immigrants, we have to also say, but we're one nation, determined to
build one family.  Determined to make the decisions today with discipline
to preserve the future for tomorrow, and determined to give all these kids
a chance to live their dreams.

     Not every child can be a Muhammad Ali, a Yogi Berra, an Andrea
Bocelli.  But every child can serve in the way that Millard Fuller has
served, and every child can learn to respect his or her own heritage and
faith and ethnic or racial background, but also those of every other
American.  That is the genius of America.  That is the soul of the
justification for this award you give.

     It has been a profound honor for me to be able to come here
representing the people of the United States these last eight years.  I
have loved the work; I've even liked the fight.  But more importantly, I
have just loved seeing Americans pull together, move forward and believe in
each other again.  Whatever happens, no matter what comes to this country,
don't you ever let that change.  As long as it doesn't, our best days will
always still be ahead.  Thank you very much.  (Applause.)

     Thank you.  Now, I have the honor to present Muhammad Ali and Angelo
Dundee with this first-ever One America award.  And I ask Angelo and Mrs.
Ali to come up here.  Let's give them a big hand.  Thank you.  (Applause.)

                           END                10:32 P.M. EDT

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