Remarks on Arrival in Des Moines, Iowa
Thank you very much. Thank you very much, Senator Harkin, and thank you, ladies and gentlemen, for that wonderful welcome. It's great to be back in Iowa when it's dry. [Laughter] I am glad to be here.
I want to thank the State officials who came here to greet me at the plane. Standing behind me, your attorney general, Tom Miller; your secretary of state, Paul Pate; your State treasurer, Mike Fitzgerald; your State auditor, Richard Johnson; and your secretary of agriculture, Dale Cochran, I thank them all for coming. I am also glad to see some old friends here. Your former Congressman, Neal Smith, who's been a great friend of mine, I'm glad to see him.
I'm glad to see all those folks from the United Rubber Workers Union, Local 310 here. Good luck to you. And I want to say a special word of welcome and thanks to the young national service AmeriCorps volunteers for their work. Thank you. I'd like to thank the base commander here, General Don Armington, for welcoming me and for making available this facility.
And as Tom Harkin said, I'm here for the National Rural Conference. I want to say to all of you before I begin that, how much I appreciate what Senator Harkin said and the response that you had to the terrible tragedy that the people of Oklahoma City have been through and that our entire Nation has been through. You, I know, are very proud of them for the way they have responded, the work they have done, and the courage they have shown. It was a very profoundly moving day yesterday.
Today and in all the days ahead, as we help them to rebuild and as we continue to search for total justice in that case, which we will see carried out, I ask all of you to remember what I said yesterday. This is a country where we fight and where people have died to preserve everyone's right to free speech, indeed, to all the freedoms of the Bill of Rights, the freedom of speech, the freedom to associate with whomever we please, the right to keep and bear arms, the right to be treated fairly and without arbitrary action by your Government, all those freedoms.
But we're around here after 200 years because of people like the people in Iowa, because we know that with all freedom comes responsibility. And the freer you are, the more responsible you have to be. We are the freest Nation on Earth after over 200 years because over time we have always been the most responsible Nation on Earth.
So when you hear people say things that they are legally entitled to say, if you think they're outrageous, if you think they either explicitly or implicitly encourage violence and division and things that would undermine our freedoms in America, then your free speech and your responsibility requires you to speak up against it and say, "That's not the America I'm trying to build for my children and my grandchildren. That's not what we want."
You know, the America we're trying to build is an old-fashioned America of common sense where hard work is rewarded, where families can be strong, where people can live in the way they want to live if they work hard and play by the rules.
I got tickled when Tom Harkin said, reminded me—I'd forgotten this—that Harry Truman said no one ought to be President who doesn't know anything about hogs. [Laughter] And I thought, now, how many hogs jokes do I know that I can actually tell in front of this crowd? [Laughter] One of the things that you have to know is how far you can go if you live on the farm and when you're going too far. I'll tell you one hog story about that.
When the famous, or infamous, Huey Long was Governor of Louisiana and the country was in a depression, Huey was trying to convince everybody that the answer was to just take the wealth away from everybody who had it and give it to people who didn't. And President Roosevelt was following a much more moderate but commonsense course to try to put the people back to work again.
So Huey Long was out on a country crossroads saying—he was giving his speech about how we ought to share the wealth, and he saw this fellow out in the crowd he recognized, and he said, "Brother Jones, if you had three Cadillacs, wouldn't you give up one of them so we could go 'round to all these places and gather up the little children and take them to school during the week and to church on Sunday?" And the guy said, "Well, of course I would." And he said, "Brother Jones, if you had $3 million, wouldn't you give up a million dollars just so all these people around here could have a decent roof over their head and good food to eat?" He said, "Well, of course I would." And he said, "And Brother Jones, if you had three hogs—" And he said, "Now, wait a minute, Governor. I've got three hogs." [Laughter] So one of the things that you learn in a sensible rural environment is when not to go too far.
I wanted to have this rural conference here, and we'd indeed planned to have it a few months earlier, but as Senator Harkin knows, along toward the end of last year we had a very important vote on the GATT trade treaty and whether we would be able to open more markets to American farm products and whether we'd be able to require our trading partners and competitors in Europe to reduce their farm subsidies to levels that are fair with us. And so because we were fighting that battle, a battle important to you, we had to put off the rural conference.
But we're back here, and we're back here for a very clear reason. We know that in spite of the fact that the overall statistics for the American economy look good, there are still profound challenges in the American economy. And I'll just give you a few.
We have the lowest combined rates of unemployment and inflation we've had in 25 years. That's the good news, and it's something we can be proud of.
But in spite of that, we know that we're continuing to have problems. I'll just give you two studies that have come out in the last month, one showing that in spite of all this economic growth, in spite of over 6.3 million new jobs in the last 2 years, inequality is increasing in America among working people. Why is that? Because we've got a global economy and a technological revolution that have driven down wages for people with relatively low skills, because a smaller percentage of our work force is unionized today, because we have not let the minimum wage keep up with inflation, and because we have not invested in the continued education and training and skills of our people. The second study shows that this is more pronounced in rural America, where the population is likely to be older with a lower income because more and more young people are having a hard time making it.
I just left Senator Harkin's colleague, Senator Paul Wellstone, who told me that—he and Mrs. Wellstone told me that they have a child who is married, about to have a baby, living on a dairy farm, trying to make a living as dairy farmers. And that's the hardest work in the world, you know. It's 7 days a week, 24 hours a day; somebody's got to be there all the time. The milk doesn't quit coming just because you want to go to church or a basketball game on the weekend. But they were talking about how at a hard time they were making it. So this inequality, this wage stagnation we're seeing in America is much more severe in rural America. Part of it is a farm problem, but it goes beyond that. Most Americans, most Iowans who live in rural America do not live on the farm.
And so we have great challenges today: How can we keep the economic recovery going? How can we work together to do that, but how can we overcome this inequality by getting wages up again? And how can we overcome the difference in opportunity between rural and urban America? Because I think we all know that a lot of the problems that urban America has would be smaller if more people could make a good living in small towns and rural areas, that a lot of the aggravated problems of the urban life in the United States, and I might add, throughout the world, are as difficult as they are because it's harder and harder and harder for people to make a living and raise families and have a stable life in rural areas.
So we thought we ought to come to Iowa to talk about these things. Yes, a lot of the conversation tomorrow will be about the new farm bill, and there will be a lot of talk about— there's been a lot of talk about it. And I don't want to get into all the details today except to tell you this: I did not work for 2 years to get our competitors to lower their farm subsidies to a rate that would make it possible for us to compete with them, to turn around and one more time on our own destroy all the farm supports in this country, so once again we give our competitors the advantage. I don't think that's how we should proceed.
I believe the American farmers that I know would gladly give up all their Government support if they thought all their competitors would. But we are in a global economic environment, trying to preserve the quality of rural life, and this is very important. So we need to talk about that.
We also need to talk about education. We need to talk about technology. We need to talk about crime. We need to talk about health care. We have a lot of things we need to talk about.
And what we're going to try to do is to create an environment in which we can build a bipartisan consensus for a strategy for rural America that will be part of the farm bill, yes, but also part of everything else that unfolds in Washington over the next 2 years. That is my goal.
In times past, these issues have not necessarily been partisan issues. I am doing my best to reach out the hand of good faith, cooperation with the Congress. I hope that we can achieve it in many areas: in reducing the deficit, in giving more responsibility back to the States, while preserving the national obligation to support our children and to support education, in trying to work toward having a safer and more secure country—I know that all of you care about that—and in trying to have a balanced view toward the things that we all have to support, including the quality of life in our rural States and our rural areas.
So I'm really looking forward to tomorrow. I'm glad we're going to do it here. I think the people of Iowa know that our administration has worked hard to try to support the interests of rural America. After all, even with Senator Harkin, we needed Vice President Gore to break the tie so that we could support our ethanol position. And I'm glad he could do that.
I ask all of you to remember now that here's where we are in America. You look at these fellows with their caps on; you look at all these children out here; you look at these young people who are going to work in their communities so they can earn some money to further their own education. There is a fault line in America today, and it basically is determined by education, along with where you live and what sector of the economy you work in. We have to preserve the American dream for all of these kids who are here, going into the 21st century. All these children, we have to hand it back to them.
And we have literally been in the first economic recovery since World War II where jobs went up, the economy seemed to be growing, inflation was down, but over half of the ordinary Americans did not feel any personal improvement in either their job security or their personal income. So the challenge today is for us to figure out how to keep the deficit coming down, how to keep the economy growing and producing jobs, how to keep inflation down, but how to do those things that we know we have to do to raise incomes and to bring this country back together again.
We have to believe that we are coming together when we work hard and we play by the rules. That is my goal and that will be the heart and soul of what is at stake tomorrow in this National Rural Conference which ought to be here in Iowa.
Thank you, and God bless you all.
NOTE: The President spoke at 3:50 p.m. in the National Guard hangar at Des Moines International Airport.
William J. Clinton, Remarks on Arrival in Des Moines, Iowa Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/220916