Bill Clinton photo

Remarks in Cedar Rapids, Iowa

November 04, 1996

The President. Thank you very much. Thank you. Thank you. Iowa, are you ready to build that bridge to the 21st century tomorrow? [Applause]

Let me begin by thanking those who have joined us to entertain us tonight and to keep our spirits high: the Iowa City High School Marching Band, the All-City Flag and Drum Corps, the Coe College Concert Band. Thank you all very much. Thank you.

I want to thank those people who are here, too numerous to name, who have been so important to me, to Hillary, to our administration and our efforts. I want to commend to you our candidates for Congress back here. I've gotten to know them. I was together with them in Indianola not very long ago. I believe that Leonard Boswell and Donna Smith and Bob Rush will do a good job for you, and I hope you will help them to win tomorrow as well.

You know, I have had two incredibly memorable experiences in Cedar Rapids, and they reflect a lot of what I have tried to do as President. Not very long ago I was here to dedicate the National Czech and Slovak Museum. And I brought with me, as you remember, the President of the Czech Republic and the President of Slovakia. And we had a wonderful day here— a little cold, but we had a great day. [Laughter] And we celebrated this mystery that is America, that we can meld together people from different ethnic groups and different religions and different races and different tribes and different views and still hold our country together and grow stronger.

And as we look around the world at the heartbreak of Bosnia; at the continuing heartbreak in Northern Ireland, where my people are still fighting over what happened 300 or 600 years ago; at the heartbreak of the Holy Land in the Middle East, the home of the world's three great monotheistic religions; as we look on our television news now at the heartbreak of these hundreds of thousands of refugees driven out of their refugee camps because people are still fighting tribal wars, even though no one has enough to get along on and if they'd work together it would be so much better—I thought to myself that cold day in Cedar Rapids, how fortunate we are that we live under a Constitution and a system where all of us are created equal, accorded equal status, and given the chance to live up to our God-given abilities. And I will always remember Cedar Rapids for that.

The other thing I remember is a rally I had here in 1992 at the Quaker Oats factory. I met a remarkable woman in that factory who had led the work of the people there in recycling paper and promoting a clean environment while growing the economy. I met a child with an unusual physical problem, abnormality from birth, who was otherwise a beautiful child. And it was before I became President. I looked at that child, and I saw how much that child's mother loved him. And I picked him and held him, and I said to myself, if I win this race for President, I will never rest until we have done everything we can in medical research to make as many people in America whole as possible. It is a part of our common obligation.

And then I remember seeing a woman, whom I later got to know quite well—she may be here tonight—a white woman holding an African-American baby. And it was interesting because we were being demonstrated against, kind of like you're being treated to at the last of this campaign. There were people holding signs on both sides of the abortion issue, and they were shouting at one another. And this woman was just standing there quietly in the crowd, holding this child of another race. And I said, "Where did you get this baby?" And she said, "This is my baby. This baby was born HIVpositive, and no one would take this child in Florida, so I adopted this child. I'm doing the very best I can." She was already raising another couple of kids on her own. And she said, "I don't mind those people having that debate back there, but if we're really going to be pro-life and pro-child, I wish they'd all come along with me and adopt some of these kids. We need to build a better life."

And not very long ago I had the honor of signing the minimum wage bill, which Senator Harkin talked about, which also did some wonderful things for small business—made it easier for small-business people to take out pensions on themselves and their employees and for the employees to take the pension from job to job, and made it easier for self-employed people to buy their own health insurance and gave them more tax relief for doing it. But that bill had another little-known provision which I'm particularly proud of. And on the day I signed that bill I thought of that woman holding that child, because that bill gives a $5,000 tax credit to Americans who will adopt children who need a home.

Now, I say that to make this point: To me that is what our public service is all about. To me that is what our public life is all about. And I think it is amazing that in so many elections in the 11th hour, with an avalanche of funds and emotions, people can be asked to suspend their convictions about issue after issue after issue after issue, based on a concerted attempt to convince the voters that somehow their opponent is some sort of an alien to their values.

And I wanted to be in Iowa on the last night of my last campaign in my entire life—I wanted to be in Iowa because, first of all, because it's a tight race and I want to carry the State— I mean, let's be honest—[laughter]—but also because this State is a place where I always feel at home, and I always have from the very first day I crossed the border and came here, and because I always felt that a people who had brought in enough crops and seen enough droughts and seen enough floods—you know, after that flood you all had before, you had everything but a plague of locusts visited on you there—[laughter]—that had seen all of life's ups and downs, all the rational and irrational things that can happen to you, and still were bound together and working together and producing the kind of schools Iowa is producing, producing the kind of economy Iowa was producing—I always felt that here you could talk sense to people and people could look at you in the eye and tell whether you were worth supporting and worth believing in. And I always love coming here.

And I want to say to you tonight, I would not presume to tell anyone in Iowa for whom to vote in any other race. I went home to Arkansas to campaign with some of my friends on Saturday, and there was a big article in the paper. It said, "President's visit mixed blessing," and then it had every single time a President had come to Arkansas to try to get people to vote for somebody, and they had always voted for the other person. So I told the people, I said, "This is no surprise to me. You didn't let me tell you who to vote for when I was just a Governor." [Laughter]

So I wouldn't say that. But I want you to know three things I know about Tom Harkin and about Ruth and their family. And you make up your own mind about what you're going to do with that information between now and tomorrow, in terms of whether you could go home tonight and still call somebody and change a vote. You know, when you leave tonight, most people won't be in bed, even in Iowa. [Laughter] Most people are not going to be in bed. You could still do some good tonight, and I want you to think about it.

The first thing I want you to know is this, I spent a lot of time with Tom and Ruth Harkin when nobody else was looking, when there were no cameras around, no reporters around, no speech to give, no one to impress, no gain from anything. They are good people. They love their children, they love their country, and they love this State.

And I want to say, I understand—I don't normally get involved in local advertising campaigns, but I understand that Senator Harkin's opponent has actually run an ad against Ruth. They got that—you know, they started on Hillary, and now they're down to the Senate spouses. [Laughter] I wish they'd just pick on us. But anyway, saying that Ruth Harkin really wasn't qualified for the job I gave her; she only got it because she was Tom's wife. If you believe that, I've got some land way out in the ocean I'd like to sell you. [Laughter]

Let me tell you something, folks, one thing I knew I had to do for you is to deliver on the economy. I knew that. And I made up my mind I was going to do some things that had never been done before. I was not going to appoint just someone who was a politician who had supported me at the Department of Commerce, I was going to appoint somebody I though would be good. I was not going to appoint someone that I thought would be a good political appointment but someone who could really produce in the trade office. I was going to appoint somebody who was not just a political appointment but someone who had actually created small businesses at the Small Business Administration. And at Ruth Harkin's job, the Overseas Private Investment Corporation, I was going to appoint somebody I thought could help create jobs in America by getting opportunities for us overseas.

Now, I know what that ad says, but let me tell you, like so many of their ads against us, they have a huge problem with something called the evidence—the evidence—the evidence. [Laughter] She, Ruth Harkin, in spite of the fact that she's married to Tom, has the finest record of achievement of any person who has ever held that position in the Federal Government of the United States of America. And there are more Americans working, more businesses profiting and our economy is stronger because I appointed her. And I'm glad I did, and I'd do it again tomorrow.

Now, I'll tell you something else. I'm for Tom Harkin because he'll fight. I know; I've been on the other side of a fight with him, you know, once before. [Laughter] He'll fight. And if he's for you and he believes it's right and he thinks that Iowa needs something, if he has to stand all by himself in a whirlwind, he will stand right there until he is blown away. He will not walk away from you and from our country.

The other night we were on the campaign plane, you know, and you practically get silly, you're so tired, on these campaign planes. You can just imagine how it is, you know, how exhausted you get. And your conversation wanders off into all kinds of things; it's amazing. And this was before we scheduled to come here tonight. And we were having a talk about politicians and people in public office and who they were and how they were and everything. And somebody looked at me and said, "If you were in a desperate situation with enemies closing in on all sides and you were all by yourself and you had to pick one person who would stand there and fight with you to the very end, who would you pick?" And I did not miss a breath; I said, "Tom Harkin of Iowa. Tom Harkin of Iowa."

You need to think a long time in Iowa before you trade in a man that gave you the Americans with Disabilities Act, a man that has fought for medical research, a man that has fought for education, a man that has fought for farmers, a man that has fought for this country. You need to think a long time before you trade in someone like that for a person who marched to the beat of the Speaker Gingrich's army in 1995 and threatened to send this country back after all the progress we've made.

The second thing I want to say is, Tom Harkin fought for us when it counted. When the Republicans won the Congress in 1994 with their contract on America—how many times has Mr. Lightfoot talked about the contract on America in this campaign? How many times have they told you what a wonderful thing it was and how they pushed it? How many times have they bragged on cutting Head Start and cutting college loans and paralyzing our ability to implement environmental protection? How many times have they bragged on stripping a 30-year guarantee of quality medical care through the Medicaid programs to middle class families who have family members with disabilities, to elderly people in nursing homes, to getting rid of the quality standards—even the standards—of guaranteed quality in our nursing homes, to taking the quality of care, the guarantee of care away from newborn babies just because they're poor? Have they talked about that very much in this campaign?

Audience members. No-o-o!

The President. I'm telling you, I see it all over America. They're praying for amnesia on your part. [Laughter]

Vice President Gore—who incidentally is jealous that he's not here tonight and I am—he told a story today in Cleveland that we used to tell each other in Arkansas and I'd forgotten. But it's a good story, and you'll appreciate it in Iowa.

He said there was a politician out on the country road running for office, and he came upon a farmer who was sitting up on his porch. There was an old dog laying out there in the yard. He said, "Sir, I'd like to come ask you for your vote. Will your dog bite?" He said, "No." So the guy hiked over the fence, went up, shook hands with the farmer. And just as he was asking for the vote, the dog got up and ran up and bit him right in the rear. So he ran back and got in his car and rolled the window down and said, "I thought you said your dog wouldn't bite." He said, "That ain't my dog, son." [Laughter]

Now, that's what they want you to think about that budget that I vetoed. But it is their dog. It is their dog. And I thought it was a mangy old dog, and that's why I vetoed it, because I did not want to see our country divided.

And then they shut the Government down; not once but twice they shut it down and said, "You will take these $270 billion in Medicare cuts and our attempt to split Medicare apart." You know, we have—American senior citizens have the lowest poverty rate ever recorded in history now and the highest life expectancy of any group of seniors in the world in part because of Medicare. We have to reform it, but I'm not going to wreck it. That's a high class problem, having people living longer and well. I'm proud of that achievement. Every American should be proud of it.

And they said, "We're going to make you take it, or we'll shut the Government down." And I looked around and I counted how many people were going to be on that field with me, because the President's veto is no good unless somebody will stand with him. And Tom Harkin was first in line. And what we told them was, "Go on and shut the Government down. We'd rather see the American people hurt for 30 days than 30 years, and we will not go along. We will not go along. We will not go along."

But the third thing I want to say to you is, notwithstanding their attempts to sort of distract and divert the American people and divide us here, this country is in better shape than it was 4 years ago, and we need to keep going until we build that bridge to the 21st century. This is a happy time. This is a great time for America.

Of all the countries in the world, we've had the best growth for the last 4 years. We have the lowest deficit. If you take the big seven economies, we have created by far more jobs in America than all the other countries put together, 10.7 million more than we had 4 years ago. We're moving in the right direction. We need to bear down and go on. Farm exports at an all-time high; we've opened new markets for all kinds of things. And I'm telling you, we are moving in the right direction. And the most important thing is when you vote for President tomorrow, when you vote for Senator tomorrow, when you vote for Congress tomorrow, you have to ask yourself, "We're going into this new century; things are changing. What do I want my country to look like, and what do those guys or those women have to do about it?"

Now for years, since I have been your President, I take a little time every day to ask and answer this question, what do I want my country to look like when we enter the 21st century? What do I want my country to look like when our daughter is our age? And for me it's pretty simple. I want the American dream to be alive and well for everybody responsible enough to work for it. I want America to lead the world indefinitely for peace and freedom and prosperity. And I want us to beat the odds when the rest of this old world is being torn apart by their differences; I want us to relish and respect our diversity and say, we share the same values and we're going forward together. That's what I want America to look like.

Now, your vote will determine whether that happens in Iowa. Your vote will determine whether we keep on going and balance the budget with a targeted tax cut we can afford for education and childrearing and buying a first-time home and dealing with medical costs and not charging people taxes when they sell their home. We can pay for that one and still protect Medicare and Medicaid, invest in education and the environment and technology and the future of these young people; or their plan, which is a big old scheme, sounds great at election time: a bigger deficit, higher interest rates, bigger cuts than the ones I vetoed when they shut the Government down. And they're still trying to raise taxes, as Tom said, on those 8 million working families making modest incomes. Your vote will decide.

I think you know which vote will build a bridge to the 21st century. Will you seize the opportunity tomorrow to help us do it? Your vote will decide. Your vote will decide——

Audience members. Four more years! Four more years! Four more years!

The President. Thank you. Let me ask you this. You heard Tom Harkin talking about the crime bill. One of the most troubling things in America has been the high rates of violence among our people, especially among our young people. Now we have 4 years of declining crime, a 10-year low in the crime rate. We're halfway through implementing that crime bill Tom Harkin voted for in 1994 to put 100,000 police on the street. They were against it. Then they killed it in the budget I vetoed. Then they tried to stop it all over again. Now, why in the wide world they would oppose something that we are doing together that is working is beyond me. But they are.

So if you want to finish the job and you want 8 years of declining crime and you want our children to be able to grow up on streets and in neighborhoods and be in schools that are truly safe, you've got to help us by helping us to build a bridge with Tom Harkin, with these candidates for Congress, with Bill Clinton and Al Gore for safer streets and a brighter tomorrow.

If you want——

Audience members. Four more years! Four more years! Four more years!

The President. Let me say, Tom Harkin talked a little about health care, and so did Hillary. I'd like to brag on them both, but you'd be here till dawn if I did that. We have made a beginning on health care reform, but here is another choice. I want you to think about it.

Their budget will do nothing to advance the cause of health reform. Our budget—balanced budget—adds another million children to the ranks of those with health insurance, children of lower income working people, gives free mammograms to Medicare women, free mammograms. Our budget says to people who are between jobs, if you lose your job and your income, we'll help your family keep health insurance for 6 months. Our budget says we'll help families with respite care, the nearly 2 million American families that are courageously caring for family members with Alzheimer's. And our budget says, we're going to spend another billion dollars on medical research over and above what they will, because we have uncovered two genes that cause breast cancer. We have determined a cure—a treatment for the first time for strokes. We have seen for the first time movement in the lower limbs of laboratory animals whose spines have been completely severed because of nerve transplants from the legs to the spine.

We are moving to break down the barriers of knowledge, and we are going to keep going until we have reformed the health care system in a way that makes it work for all Americans. And your vote will decide. Your vote will decide.

Your vote will decide. Your vote will decide, most important of all in shaping the 21st century, what we do about education. We know what their program is. Their program is fewer Head Start positions, cut student loans, and eliminate the Department of Education. That's their big deal, eliminate the Department of Education. They say it's a big bureaucracy. Two percent is bureaucracy; 98 cents is money we're pumping to your schools, your colleges, and your students. I say we don't want to eliminate the Department of Education.

I want to do three things. I want to make sure, first of all, that every 8-year-old in this country can read a book independently by the third grade; 40 percent can't now. We're going to mobilize an army of a million people to go out and work with teachers and parents to do that. A hundred thousand of them will be college students who are going to get new workstudy slots because of the work that Tom Harkin and this administration did in the Congress this year.

I want every classroom in Iowa and every classroom in America to be hooked up not only with computers but computers that are linked through the Internet, through the World Wide Web, through the information superhighway. What it means is that people in the smallest school in Iowa, people in the most remote school district in Alaska, people in the poorest inner-city school district for the first time in history will have access along with all other wealthy, middle class, and poor districts, urban, suburban, and rural districts, all of them together for the first time in the history of America will have access to the same learning in the same way at the same time. Will you help us do that? Will you go out for Tom Harkin tomorrow to do that? Will you help us? [Applause]

And finally, let me say to all these young people here, one thing we know is that education will no longer be the province of people who are 18 and under. We know now that nearly everybody needs to go much further. We know now that most people will have to learn for a lifetime. We know now that the young people in this audience today, many of them within a few years will be doing jobs that have not been invented yet, and some of you will be doing jobs that have not been imagined yet. And therefore, we must open the doors of college education to every single citizen of this country who is willing to work for it. It is time.

Let me say to all of you, I am proud that we kept our commitment in 1992 to set up a national service program, AmeriCorps, that has allowed 70,000 young people to serve their communities and go to college. I am proud that we had the biggest increase in Pell grants in 20 years. And I am proud that we have increased work-study grants by 200,000 and that we reformed the student loan program so people can now borrow money at lower cost and pay it back as a percentage of their income, so no one ever need fear going broke by borrowing the money to go to college. I'm proud of that, but we must do more. We must do more.

And if you give us a chance to serve tomorrow, we're going to do two things. Number one, we're going to say people ought to be able to take off their tax bill, dollar for dollar, the cost of a typical community college tuition so we can make 2 years of education after high school as universal as a high school diploma is today by the year 2000. Number two, more Iowa families ought to be able to save in an individual retirement account and withdraw from it without any penalty if they're using the money for a college education or health care or homebuying. And thirdly, everybody ought to be able to have a tax deduction of up to $10,000 a year for the cost of college tuition, undergraduate or graduate. Will you help us do that tomorrow? Will you help make that part of our bridge? [Applause] I can't hear you. Will you do it? [Applause]

Now, let me say I am very grateful to you for the votes that you gave to me and to Al Gore 4 years ago. I know how hotly contested this State has been. I know that the State is more or less evenly divided and that there are a lot of people who are independents who will vote either way. But I say to you, this is not an election for party; this is an election for country and for people. Remember the stories of the people from Iowa I told you at the beginning of my remarks. Every day for 4 years, I have gotten up and gone into that Oval Office and tried to do something that would help to create more opportunity, to insist upon more responsibility, and to bring us closer together in an American community.

We are better off than we were 4 years ago. We have a better plan for the future. Our best days are still ahead. And the fundamental choice that underlies all these issue differences is as crystal clear as can be. We believe that we're better off when we work together to help each other make the most of our own lives. They believe you're on your own. They believe it's okay to say, "There's a future out there. It will be pretty exciting if you get there, and I hope you do." I believe every single one of us are better off if we roll up our sleeves and join hands and build that bridge to the 21st century together. We need you tomorrow. Go call someone! Go ask someone to vote! Go do your work tonight; we'll see you tomorrow!

Thank you. God bless you, and God bless America.

NOTE: The President spoke at 8:10 p.m. at the Five Seasons Center. In his remarks, he referred to Leonard Boswell, Donna Smith, and Bob Rush, candidates for Iowa's Third, Second, and First Congressional Districts, respectively; President Vaclav Havel of the Czech Republic; and President Michal Kovac of Slovakia. A portion of these remarks could not be verified because the tape was incomplete.

William J. Clinton, Remarks in Cedar Rapids, Iowa Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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