Good morning. Today I want to talk about something I believe is particularly important to our Nation as we prepare to vote on Tuesday. Many people treat elections as opportunities to divide us. But I believe this election can unite us to go forward together. When we come together to find common ground, we are stronger as a nation and there is no challenge we can't meet.
Just over 5 years ago, I announced my candidacy for President. It was a time of deep and widespread frustration in America. Unemployment was high. The deficit was out of control. New jobs were scarce. Our values seemed under assault from every direction. And to many it seemed our problems were unsolvable: Rising crime would overwhelm us; broken families trapped on welfare would never break free from the cycle of dependence; fear and hatred would force a permanent wedge between Americans of different backgrounds and beliefs. Washington, caught up in blame games and tangled in politics, was unable or unwilling to act. I believed it was time to stop asking who's to blame and start asking, what are we going to do about it?
I had a simple strategy: Reject old labels, false debates, and divisive politics. Instead, strengthen America's basic bargain: opportunity for all Americans, responsibility from all Americans, and a stronger community of all Americans. That's how Vice President Gore and I have tried to approach everything we've done for the last 4 years.
When it came to the budget, the old politics of division demanded a choice between balancing the budget and living up to the obligations we owe to one another and to our future. We said, that's no choice; we have to do both. We have to balance the budget to keep our economy growing strong, and we have to protect Medicare, Medicaid, education, and the environment.
We've cut the deficit for 4 years in a row by 63 percent, to its lowest level in 15 years. But we protected the health of our parents and grandparents, we invested in the education of our children, and we protected our environment for future generations. Together America has created 10.7 million new jobs and 4 1/2 million new homeowners. Unemployment is at 5.2 percent, and the average family income has risen $1,600 in just 2 years.
Now we have to finish the job and balance the budget while we continue to protect our values. My balanced budget plan eliminates the deficit by 2002, while protecting our values by strengthening Medicare and Medicaid, expanding our investments in education, protecting our environment.
When it came to fighting crime, the old politics of division demanded a choice between more police and tough penalties, or effective prevention and fewer guns on the street. We said we need more police and tougher penalties, but we also need effective prevention and fewer guns on the street. So we're putting 100,000 new police officers on the street. We passed "three strikes and you're out" and the death penalty for drug kingpins and cop killers. We banned assault weapons, passed the Brady bill, and fought for safe and drug-free schools.
Two weeks ago, the FBI reported that crime had dropped 4 years in a row to a 10-year low. Now we have more to do to keep crime dropping for 4 more years. We have to finish putting 100,000 police on the street, target violent gangs, ban bullets whose only purpose is to pierce the bulletproof vests of police officers.
When it came to welfare reform, the old politics of division demanded a choice between strict time limits and work requirements, on the one hand, and child care and creating jobs for people to move, on the other hand. We said, we need time limits and work requirements because welfare is supposed to be a second chance, not a way of life. But we also need to work together to create jobs, because if we expect work we have to make sure people have a chance to work.
Well, today there are nearly 2 million fewer people on welfare than there were the day I took office. In August, I signed historic welfare reform legislation that would change the welfare system forever. Now we have a responsibility to make the most of this opportunity to lift millions of families from welfare to work. And I have a plan to move a million more people from welfare to work over the next 4 years.
When it came to our American community, the old politics of division was at its worst. Instead of bringing people together around common values, the old politics of division tried to drive wedges between us, to take advantage of our fears. We must never let that happen again.
Unfortunately, here at the end of the election, some people are tempted to take advantage of these issues for political advantage. I say to them, we've seen the results of this before. The politics of division yields only division and gridlock. The search for common ground yields solutions and progress and a future worthy of our past.
So whether you belong to the party of Lincoln, the party of Jefferson, whether you're independent or unaffiliated, remember that most of all you belong to the community of America. We are all in this together. We will rise or fall together. So let us build a bridge together, wide enough and strong enough to carry all of us into the bright future that is America in the 21st century.