Bill Clinton photo

Remarks at a Democratic Business Council Luncheon in Baltimore

February 19, 1998

Thank you very much. Governor, I'll take that cuff off your hands, if you want me to. [Laughter] Thank you for the introduction. Thank you, Lieutenant Governor Kathleen Kennedy Townsend. I thank Senator Mikulski and Senator Sarbanes for being a wonderful team for Maryland, for the United States, and for our administration. Mr. Mayor, it's good to be back in Baltimore. To State Democratic Chair Peter Krauser, thank you for your leadership in our party.

I'd also like to acknowledge the presence here of our national Democratic chair, Steve Grossman, and our new national finance chair, Len Barrack, from Philadelphia—this is his first noontime event. He just came on board. Stand up. [Applause]

We had a great day today looking at these living classrooms, seeing what the young people of Baltimore are doing, announcing the administration's clean water initiative. I'd like to just talk very briefly—Michael Bronfein was talking about how he had been fooling with me now for 6 1/2 years. That's a big problem, you know, it's hard to give a new speech to a person every time you see him after 6 1/2 years. And maybe that's not necessary.

Some of you may have heard me tell this story, but I once, several years ago—I can't remember—Hillary had to go out of town, and I was Governor. And the person who ran the fairgrounds where we had all of our concerts knew that Tina Turner was coming to town when she started her, what was it, "Private Dancer," or whatever that tour was. You know, when she came out with her new music, you remember? She was out of the limelight, and she came back. I remember she had a saxophone player who was a weightlifter—I don't know why I remember that. [Laughter]

Anyway, so this guy who was my friend called me and said, "I'll give you six tickets, and I want you to come to the concert." And so I told Hillary—I said, "Can you cancel the trip?" She said, "No, no, no. Here's who I want you to take." So we got this crowd of people, and we went to this concert. And normally, he put me inconspicuously back in the middle of the crowd, but he knew that I liked Tina Turner so he put me right up on the front row, which is fairly embarrassing if you're an elected official. But I loved every minute of it.

Anyway, Tina Turner sings the whole concert, sings all her new songs. In the end, she starts singing her first hit, "Proud Mary." And the band plays the introduction, she comes up to the microphone, people scream, so she backs off. The band plays the introduction again, she comes up to the microphone, people scream. The third time she came up, and she said, "I have been singing this song for 25 years, but it gets better every time I do it." [Laughter]

So, Michael, that's what I'll try to do today.

In the beginning, for the first 5 years here, I really felt that a lot of what we were doing was trying to fix things that weren't right about the way America worked, to try to make the country work again, just to try to get the shackles off the American people. And that's what the attempt to balance the budget while increasing our investment in the future was about; the attempt to open new markets around the world to America's products—still a major issue for our country.

We only have 4 percent of the world's people, and we have over 20 percent of the world's wealth. And we want to continue to maintain our standard of living; we have to sell something to the other 96 percent. And when times are tough for them and they can't buy it, we see it back in our own balance sheets.

I wanted to try to help local communities that were dealing with crime problems. I wanted to try to help break the cycle of welfare dependence and prove that people on welfare really wanted to go to work and could go to work given the right supports for their children and for education and for training. And so we went about this work. I think one of the reasons there was such a good response to the State of the Union is that people could finally feel that life had changed in America and that things were working.

A person in this audience said one of the nicest things a man like me could ever hear. When we were shaking hands, she said that I was the only President in her lifetime that had ever done anything that affected her personally in a positive way. That meant a lot to me. But now we should be looking to the future. I think it's very important that we not be complacent.

You know, the fisherman that introduced me earlier today at the clean water event—I was so impressed—he said, "You know, when times are going pretty good, the tendency is to be complacent," and, he said, "That's the worst thing you can do." And that's what I would say to you. Times are going pretty good for America. Things are in pretty good shape for us. But this is a very dynamic time, and the worst thing we could do is to be complacent.

What I attempted to do in the State of the Union was to say, fine, I'm glad things are going good; I'm glad we're going to have a balanced budget; I'm glad we're going to be able to continue to grow; I'm glad crime is down; and I'm glad we've got the lowest welfare rolls in 30 years. I'm really grateful for all that. But this is not the time to sit around and think about this. This is the time to take advantage of this moment to try to meet the remaining challenges we have, to seize the remaining opportunities, to imagine what America is going to be like in the 21st century, and try to do the things that will maximize the chance that our dreams can come true.

And that's what we're going to spend 1998 working on. The Governor mentioned the education initiatives. If we want an economy that offers opportunity—and you'll say, well, what else do you have to do? You've got the lowest unemployment rate in a generation, the lowest inflation in a generation, consistently high growth. What else do you have to do? I would say to you that there are in my view at least three things still that we have to do.

First, we have to dramatically improve the education and skill level of the American people. Finally, we're seeing wages start to rise again and incomes start to grow together again after 20 years of increasing inequality. But the only way we can all rise together is if everybody's got a decent education.

We know we've got the best system of higher education in the world, so I spent the first 5 years trying to open the doors of college to everybody. And if you look at what's been done with the Pell grants, the work-study positions, the AmeriCorps positions, the student loan changes, and the education IRA's and then the $1,500 tax credits for the first 2 years of college and then further tax credits for junior and senior year and graduate school, I think you can really say that we've opened the doors of college education to everybody who will work for it.

But no one believes, having said that, that our elementary and secondary education is the best in the world. And we can't stop until it is. Now, one of the proposals that I have put forward to the Congress and to the American people this year is a proposal that would permit us to take some of the funds that will come out of a comprehensive resolution of the tobacco issue—funds which should by rights go back to State and local government anyway, that should not be kept by the Federal Government, and spend those funds so that we can lower the class sizes in the first 3 grades to an average of 18 throughout the Nation. That will dramatically improve the learning of young children in America. And I hope we can do it.

The second thing we have to do is to continue selling more of our products around the world. That's one of the reasons we're working very hard to try to help work through this Asian financial crisis and help our friends and partners sort of get righted over there, because it's not just in their interests, it's in our interests. A third of all of our exports go to Asia now. An enormous part of our export growth goes there. We have a vested interest in doing what is also the right thing to do, which is to be a good neighbor, and try to help work that situation out for the countries that are willing to help themselves, and to do other things which will continue to open new markets.

And the third thing we have to do is to bring the opportunities of free enterprise, which have brought so many of you to this room today, to the neighborhoods and the places where it hasn't reached yet. That's why I was so glad that one of you put a corporate headquarters in Baltimore's empowerment zone. I thank you for that. I want more people to do that all across America. We want to triple the number of empowerment zones.

We want to create a development bank under Secretary Cuomo at HUD that can help to spur more business development in inner-city areas and isolated rural areas. We want to do some other things that will basically focus on the fact that the biggest untapped market for American growth now are the unemployed and the underemployed people in the isolated neighborhoods of inner-city America and some of our rural areas.

Those are the three things that have to be on the economic agenda.

What should we do with our social policy? Crime is down; welfare is down; drug use is down; out-of-wedlock births are down. What do we have to do? Well, a lot. First of all, we have to recognize that we have larger responsibilities on the health care front. I want to pass a health care bill of rights. I want to let people who are over 55 and have lost their health insurance through no fault of their own buy into Medicare if they can afford to do that on their own or with their children's help. We want a comprehensive tobacco settlement. We want to make child care more affordable and of higher quality in America, more available to more people. And perhaps most important of all, we want to do something profound and, if I could use a Government word, structural about the problem of juvenile crime by helping kids stay out of trouble in the first place. Perhaps the most important items in the budget that haven't received a lot of notice are the funds through the Justice Department and the Education Department to give to communities to set up after-school programs. Most kids get in trouble between the time school lets out and the time their parents get home at night. If you can keep kids involved in constructive activities between 3 o'clock in the afternoon and 7 at night, we're going to be in good shape in this country. So we've got a good program there.

And finally, let me say we have to have a community approach to the future. That means we have to be committed to the environment. It means we have to do our part with global warming. It means we have to reform our basic systems, like Medicare and Social Security, that are profoundly important to the future generations, of all ages.

And I will just end on that point. I think that—you know, we hadn't had a surplus in 30 years, so we don't quite know what to do. And a lot of people have good ideas for it, and they are good ideas. There is always another good tax cut. There is always another good spending program. I don't think we ought to spend any of the surplus until we have secured Social Security for the 21st century. That's a big mistake for us not to do that. So that's what we're doing.

And what I would like to ask all of you to think about—just to step back a minute—I have tried to modernize our Democratic Party in this administration and to build an alliance for the 21st century that would make people think that we could be trusted to govern and get good results. But I have also tried to be faithful to the oldest obligations of citizens in this Republic. This is a time of great change. At every time of great change in our country's history, we have come through it stronger and better than ever before because the leaders of America and the people—most importantly the people— have accomplished three things. You go back and think about it—from the founding to the Civil War to the industrial revolution to the Depression to World War II through the cold war to the present day—at every time of challenge and change, three things have been done to make America stronger.

We have at every turn always widened the circle of opportunity, give more people a chance to pursue happiness. At every turn, we have always deepened the meaning of our freedom. Freedom, you could argue, had a very narrow meaning when we started out. It only fully applied to you if you were a white, male property owner. We have deepened the meaning of our freedom. And the third thing we've done is we've strengthened our Union against all the arguments that it was a bad thing for us to draw closer together as one nation. We have rejected them all and gone forward. Over 200 years later, it looks like we did the right thing at every time.

That's what we have a chance to do now. These are good times. It is not the time to sit around and pat ourselves on the back and think about how good times are. This is a time to prepare for a 21st century that will be America's greatest time if we spend these days, when we have been given the luxury, the opportunity, and the responsibility to do so, preparing for that kind of tomorrow.

Thank you very much.

NOTE: The President spoke at 2:54 p.m. in the Harbour Court Hotel. In his remarks, he referred to Gov. Parris N. Glendening of Maryland; Mayor Kurt Schmoke of Baltimore; Leonard Barrack, national finance chair, Democratic National Committee; and Michael Bronfein, owner, Neighborcare Pharmacies.

William J. Clinton, Remarks at a Democratic Business Council Luncheon in Baltimore Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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