Remarks at a Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Dinner in New York City
Thank you very much. Congressman Fazio, thank you, first of all, for the absolutely wonderful job you have done in the leadership of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. That is very often a thankless task. It requires a Member of Congress to travel a long way from home, even when he or she may need to be home. And Vic has done it; Judy has worked hard; they have been brilliant. And I am very, very grateful for what they have done. I'd also like to thank Sumner Redstone and Phyllis and all the rest of you who have done your part to make this night a success. And I thank all the Members of the Congress who are here who are my partners in this effort to change our country and move it forward.
I want to talk a little tonight about why this election is important and why we need not simply your contributions but your commitment to work and to talk and to reach your friends in the next several weeks.
Two years ago, I was involved in a campaign for President that started almost 3 years ago now. Up until that time, I was living at home, doing my job as Governor of my State, serving my fifth term. Our economy was finally beginning to grow much more rapidly than the Nation's, after a decade of working to turn it around. I was as happy as I had ever been, personally and professionally, and I felt immensely committed to the work I was doing.
I left that job and embarked on what a lot of people thought was a fool's errand. The incumbent President was then at 70 percent in the polls or more. I did it because I did not believe our country was facing up to the challenges of the post-cold-war world. I did not believe we were doing what we needed to do to move into the 21st century the strongest and greatest country in the world, keeping the American dream alive for our children. I thought the leadership of the other party was taking us in the wrong direction.
I watched for 12 years while we talked about how terrible Government spending was and quadrupled the national debt. I watched people talk about how they wanted term limits and then be willing to say anything in the wide world to get elected so they could keep drawing a Government check. I watched people talk about the idea of America and then try to divide Americans by race, by region, by religion. I watched people say they represented the interests of ordinary Americans and then raise taxes on the middle class, lower them on the wealthiest Americans, and still not invest in our country, in fact, reduced investment in education and training and the things that will enable ordinary Americans to compete and win in the global economy.
And I also believed there needed to be some change in the way both parties worked in Washington. I would, like most Americans do, get a lot of my news by sitting at home at night and looking at the television news or reading the newspaper. And I would often think that the sound bites, the clips that came across the airwaves, didn't bear much relationship to the world I live in and the people I lived around and the concerns that the people I represented had.
Politics in Washington seemed to me to be unduly negative, unduly partisan, and frankly, unduly abstract and divorced from the way people are. I thought that we needed a conception of the role of our National Government in our lives that was somewhat different than the debate often seemed to be. I didn't think that Government could answer all the problems or be a savior, but neither did I think Government could sit on the sidelines or just sort of enter the game when there were particular interests that needed to be protected.
It seems to me that we ought to learn to believe in our Government again as an extension of ourselves, as our partner, that in a world that is properly and thankfully dominated by private sector and free markets, the Government ought not to do things that others can do as well or better. But there are some things the Government has to do to ensure opportunity for Americans, to enable Americans to assume personal responsibility for their own welfare and that of their families, and to rebuild this almost mystical thing we know as the American community.
We're going into a period of profound change, and the dimensions of the future are not fully clear to anybody. But it is obvious to me that the success of this country will depend as much as anything else on our spirit, on our attitude, on whether we believe we can make change our friend and not our enemy, on whether we believe that our diversity is a source of strength and unity and not weakness and division, and on whether we are willing to have the discipline as well as the courage and vision to pay the price of time, because many of the conditions with which we must deal did not arise overnight and cannot be erased overnight.
After 12 years in which I thought this country was not led very well, because we were divided instead of united and because we weren't going forward, we were going backward economically, I thought we could change all that. So I ran for President. And I got elected. And I have to tell you that if you ask me to evaluate how well we've done in the last 20 months, I think we have done an excellent job of moving the country forward. But I still haven't figured out how to bring the country together given the obstacles to honest, open, clear debate and the obstacles of people even getting the information about what is going on.
If on the day I was inaugurated President I had given an Inaugural Address that said, 20 months from now, folks, consistent with my campaign commitments, we will put our economic house in order; we will have cut the deficit by a record amount, over $500 billion, much more than it was going to be cut under the previous administration in their plans; we would have way over $250 billion in spending cuts; we would abolish scores of Government programs outright; we would raise taxes on the wealthiest 1.2 percent of Americans, including virtually everybody in this room—thanks for sticking with us—[laughter]—but we would lower taxes on more than 10 times as many Americans, 15 million of them living in families where people are working and raising children just above the poverty line, and we don't want them to give up on work and go on welfare, we want them to succeed as workers and parents; that we would make 90 percent of the small businesses in this country eligible for a tax cut; that we would reduce the Federal bureaucracy to its smallest size since John Kennedy was President—the other guys always talked about hating the Government, but it got bigger under them—we made it smaller; and that we would have 3 years of deficit reduction in a row for the first time since President Truman was in office, if I had told you that 20 months ago, you'd say, "There's another one of those politicians making promises that he can't keep." But that is exactly what we have done. That is the record of this administration and this Congress.
If I had said, in 20 months we will have more expansion of world trade than at any time in the last 35 years; the Federal Government will get back on the side of American business and American workers in trying to compete and win in the global marketplace; we'll have a strategy for aerospace, a strategy for shipbuilding, a strategy for automobiles, a strategy for high tech; we will take $30 billion off the list of things we can't sell overseas and start selling them; we will sell in California everything from rice to apples in Japan for the very first time; we will pass NAFTA and trade will increase to Mexico 17 percent in one year alone, we'll actually be adding autoworkers in America because of our expansion of trade with our neighbor to the south; if I had told you all that, you'd say, "Well, that sounds good, but you can't do it." But that is in fact the record of this administration, and that is what has been done.
And the result has been—if I had told you this, you'd have really thought I was nuts: 4.3 million new jobs in 20 months, over 90 percent of them in the private sector in contrast with the record of the previous decade; 8 months of manufacturing job growth in a row for the first time in 10 years; and for the first time in 9 years America was voted in the Annual Review of International Economists as the most productive economy in the world, the number one economy in the world, for the first time in 9 years. That is the record of the last 20 months that this Congress has helped this administration to make, working with the American people.
If I had said that in 20 months we will pass more education and training reform legislation than in any comparable period in the last 20 years—200,000 more young people in Head Start; the Goals 2000 bill which establishes national standards for the performance of our schools and promotes grassroots reforms to achieve them; a national program to help every State have a system for moving the kids who don't go to college into high-wage jobs with extra training and apprenticeships; a dramatic reform of the student loan program which has made 20 million Americans eligible to refinance their college loans at lower fees, lower interest rates, and longer repayment terms; 100,000 young Americans over 3 years in national service solving the problems of America at home and earning money against their college education— if I had told you that, you might not have believed it, but that is the record of this Congress. That's exactly what they've done in just 20 months, and the American people need to know it. And when they do, they will reward them for having done it.
Now, if I had said, while we weren't doing those other things, we broke 7 years of gridlock and passed the family and medical leave law so people can have a little time off from work when their kids are born or when their parents are sick without losing their jobs; 7 years of gridlock and passed the Brady bill; 6 years of gridlock and passed a crime bill that had, almost to the specifics, everything I recommended in the campaign of 1992: 100,000 more police on the street—there are only 550,000 of them there today—100,000 more police on the street, 100,000 more prison cells for violent criminals, prevention programs to give kids something to say yes to, drug treatment, drug education programs, alternative punishments for first offenders like drug courts and boot camps; if I had told you all that, and I said, "Oh, by the way, we're going to ban juvenile ownership of handguns, and nobody thinks that anybody can ever beat the NRA in the Congress, but we will actually pass an assault weapons ban," if I had said that, you would have said, "Nice try, but it's another bunch of political promises." That is exactly the record of this Congress and this administration in the last 20 months.
And let me say again, we did this by making the Government smaller. Our White House is the most active in a generation. We cut the White House staff when I came in office to set an example. We are cutting the Federal bureaucracy over 6 years by 272,000 people and giving every last red cent of the money back to communities to pay for the crime bill. We have really reinvented the Government. The other guys always talked about the terrible Federal bureaucracy.
When I became President, the most unpopular agency in the Federal Government was the Emergency Management Agency because every time there was a disaster, they made it worse. [Laughter] It is now the most popular agency in Federal Government because I appointed somebody to run it who'd actually dealt with disasters before. And you can talk to the people in California, the people in the Middle West, the people in the Southeast, everybody who's dealt with it.
They're supposed to be the party of small business. Now, because I've put somebody in the Small Business Administration who had actually spent 20 years starting small businesses instead of losing elections, which is how it's usually filled, you can now go to the SBA and fill out—if you want a loan, you fill out a onepage form, and you get an answer, yes or no, in 3 days. That is stuff they talked about, but we did.
And I could give you lots of other examples. Vic's from California. When they had that earthquake in southern California and the busiest highway in America was shattered, right, what did we do? We had an innovative contract out there. We said, "If you can beat the deadline and you will work around the clock 7 days a week, we'll give you a premium." And we beat the deadline by more than half of what they said it would take to finish it. We opened it months early, the highway. The American people who have to ride on that road in California know that we are delivering.
So this is a very different image, right, than you hear when our adversaries talk about this administration. And while we were doing all this, we made a remarkable partnership for democracy and economic growth with Russia. We've worked with them as the Russian troops have been withdrawn from the Baltics and Eastern Europe for the first time since World War II. We've got 21 new nations in a new security partnership with NATO, trying to unite Europe for the first time since nation states have existed there. We are working with the Irish and the British on peace in Northern Ireland. We worked to help conduct free and fair elections that produced Nelson Mandela's miraculous victory in South Africa. We have worked hard to make dramatic steps forward on peace in the Middle East and, I believe, in what we are doing tonight in Haiti.
Now, that is the record of the last 20 months. Do we have a lot of work to do? Sure, we do. We've still got a lot of things we could do back in Washington now: pass the GATT worldwide trade agreement, pass campaign finance reform, pass the lobby reform bill. There's a whole spate of environmental legislation still waiting to be passed in the Congress right now. And I will never give up until we have finally joined the ranks of other nations and found a way to provide health care to all Americans and to bring the cost in line with inflation, because if we don't do that the deficit will start to go up again, and being in Congress will be a matter of writing health care checks for the same old health care with no money to invest in America's future.
Yes, there is work to do. But the fact is, the economy is stronger, the deficit is lower, taxes are fairer, trade is greater, working families and communities have a chance to be secure and safer. That is the record of this Congress and this administration in the last 20 months. The American people don't know it, but thanks to your help, they will by election day, and the results will be there.
Now, you might ask, "Well, Mr. President, if you're so smart, why don't they know it?" First of all, many people—let's deal with the real world—many people have not felt these changes in their own lives. When they have, I can tell you who they're voting for—when a person comes up to me and says, "I have doubled my business in international trade; thank you. I never thought I'd be a Democrat, but I am now." And a man in the White House came up to me on a Sunday morning several months ago and he was going through a tour, which is very unusual on Sunday morning, with his three children, and I noticed one was in a wheelchair. This man came up and grabbed me and he said, "I want to tell you something. My little girl here is sick, and she's probably not going to live. And her wish was to see the White House. But because of that family leave law, which your predecessor vetoed twice, I can take time off from work and spend this precious time with my daughter without losing my job and hurting my other children and my wife. Don't you ever think what you do up here does not make a difference; it does." But most people haven't felt it.
And look at the problems of the country. We have social problems that we have had now developing for 30 years, the crime, the drugs, the family breakdown. We have economic problems that working people feel in the form of stagnant wages and fragile benefits that have been developing for 20 years. We had a political climate that said that the Government would mess up a one-car parade, that Democrats were aliens, and that tried to divide us and frighten us for 12 years.
We've just been here 20 months, folks, but we are going in the right direction. And the thing that we must not permit to happen is to have the American people, out of their frustration and out of our failure to tell them what we've done, vote for that which they are against. That is why your presence here is important tonight.
Also, let's face it, the guys we're running against are good at talking. And they have a simple system: rule or ruin. They've not much interest in doing. So they're not only good at talking, they've got more time to work on it than we do. We show up for work every day; they show up for talk. You think I'm kidding? Every single Member of the other party in Congress, every last one, voted against that economic program. And you say, "Well, maybe they just didn't like it." No, no, no, no, I was told the first week I was President by one of the Republican leaders that there would not be a single vote for the economic program, no matter how we changed it. He said, "We want to be in a position to blame you if it doesn't work. And if it doesn't work, we'll still blame you, and we'll convince people that you taxed them even if you didn't." That's what I was told the first week I showed up.
So when we gave the 15 million working people a tax break, every one of them said no. When we made 90 percent of small businesses—supposed to be their constituents— when we made 90 percent of them eligible for a tax break, every one of them said no. When we gave 20 million Americans a break on their college loans and all the middle class kids to come, not just poor kids, middle class kids, every one of them voted no, every single one of them. When we made the first big cut in the size of the Federal Government in three decades, every one of them voted no. George Mitchell, our Democratic leader, said that if you took the word no out of their vocabulary, a bunch of them would be stone mute. [Laughter]
Then, we moved to the crime bill. When we banned assault weapons, passed a dramatic bill to deal with the problems of violence against women and children in the homes, passed a bill that protected the rights of victims in the criminal justice process, put 100,000 more police on the street, put 100,000 more prison cells out there, toughened the penalties, all their leaders and most of them voted no. And the ones that didn't were absolutely excoriated for putting their country ahead of their party.
Now, these are facts. When I showed up in Washington, I really believed that we would be able to do what we did with just a few Republicans on the crime bill and more on trade. I thought we would be able to have a more nonpartisan or bipartisan spirit of governance because so many of these problems are new problems. They don't fit within the proper categories of Democrat and Republican that you could tell right off in the forties, fifties, or sixties, well, who would vote which way. These are new and different problems. So I said to myself, I will reach out to them. But I already gave you one example. On the budget bill they told me in advance.
On the crime bill, let me tell you what happened. Last year the Senate passed the crime bill with the assault weapons ban and a vote among the Republicans was 42 to 2 for the crime bill. My ratings in the polls were high at the time. It was a long way from the election at the time, and they never dreamed the House would pass the ban on assault weapons because they knew they'd have to vote on it separately. Lo and behold, the House, stunning me, passed it by two votes. I thought that the NRA would beat us like a yard dog in the House on that. Lo and behold, they passed it. So the bill goes to conference. And it comes out, and then all of a sudden they start making all these speeches about pork.
Let me tell you something, when the Senate passed the bill, it was 4 1/2 years long. When we passed it, it was 6 years long. We put more money in it for 100,000 instead of 50,000 police and a little more money in it for prisons, but the prevention programs were actually slightly higher on an annual basis in the bill the Republicans voted for 42 to 2 than they were in the bill they voted against 6 to 38. Nothing had changed except the politics. In their conference, they were told, "Our job is not to lower the crime rate and make the American people more secure. Our job is to stiff anything that the other party and that administration tries to do."
I'll give you a third example, health care. When I introduced our health care bill, I said, "Look, this may not be a perfect bill. It's the best I can do. But what we ought to do is do what other sensible countries have done. We ought to find a way to cover everybody in a way that brings cost more in line with inflation. And we ought to do it by keeping the system as private as possible, private health care providers. And I don't want to eliminate private health insurance, and this is my idea." I was so happy; there was a bill introduced in the Senate by 24 Republican Senators that did the same thing, provided coverage for everybody and controlled costs, universal coverage and cost control. It wasn't the way I would have done it, but I was elated. I thought, this is what I came to Washington to do. We're going to have a debate, and they'll say, you know, they'll characterize my plan unfairly, they'll brag on theirs, and we'll get together and work it out. We'll solve this problem for the American people and everybody will share the credit. By the time our bill got to the floor, do you know how many Republican Senators were left on that bill to provide universal coverage? Zero. Not a single solitary one. Why? Politics. One of them was quoted in your local paper here the other day saying, "Well, we killed health care. Now the trick is not to have our fingerprints on it."
I just gave you a list of all those things that are back in Washington awaiting action. In the House where all these folks work, you can't delay action. We may or may not get any of those things voted on now because for the first time in the history of the Republic—never has this happened before, ever—the Republican Senators are requiring the Democratic majority to jump through procedural hoops that take 30 hours just to get a vote on procedural things to take up bills. And then when they run through this exhausting 30 hours, half of them jump on the bandwagon and vote for it so they won't get caught doing what they did. It has never happened before, ever.
Those are just four examples. I'm telling you, I came here running, saying the Democrats had problems, too, we had to change the partisan environment. But I want the American people to know that the no-sayers in this crowd are the leaders of the Republicans in Congress.
There are a lot of good Republicans in the Congress that would like to work with us on a lot of issues, and most of the time they are threatened with their very lives. You see the Congressman from Iowa was threatened; he was told, under no circumstances could he cooperate with any of us on health care.
Now, the American people need to know that. Why? Because this is a time of change. We're moving away from the cold war into a new era. I am convinced the 21st century can be the best time this country ever had. I believe that. I believe that. But we have to be able to face our challenges in an open and honest way. We have to be able to make change our friend, and that requires a certain level of security.
And all the American people here with this sort of partisan, negative stuff pounding on them day in and day out, they do not know what we have done. We haven't had time to talk; we've been busy doing. So we're going to go out now and talk. But if you think about your organization, whatever it is, we live on peoplepower today. And people-power depends on spirit as well as it does brains. You cannot get anything done in a world where people determine the course of history unless people are in a good frame of mind. You think about whatever it is you do and wherever it is you work, and how well would you do if two-thirds of the people showed up every day convinced what you were doing was in the wrong direction and nothing good could ever happen; they were in a deep funk. Wouldn't be very pleasant to go to work, would it?
That is what our political adversaries actually try to create every day in the minds of the American people. They say no; they play on their fears; they try to turn us into aliens. And frankly, they do a very good job at it. And when we can't get out there and talk to them, they do it. But the bad thing is not what happens to me or whether I get reelected or Vic gets reelected. In the big line of history, that's not as important as whether the American people face the future with confidence and hope and are willing to take on their challenges and are willing to find strength in our diversity. That is what we have to do.
And I am telling you, that's what this election is all about. It's not about seats in Congress and everything else, except as they reflect whether we are going into the future with fear or hope. If you think about this time in our history, it's most like the times at the ends of the wars. At the end of the First World War, the American people were tired, distracted, they got inward looking. They said, "We're just going to walk away from everything." What happened?
We elected three Presidents, starting with Mr. Harding who promised us normalcy, whatever that is. What was normalcy? Normalcy was the rise of the Ku Klux Klan, the Red Scare, and a global depression.
Then at the end of the Second World War, Harry Truman found himself as President. He was at 80 percent approval in the polls the day after he dropped the atomic bomb that ended the war. Two years later, when he sent national health reform to Congress for the second time, he was at 36 percent in the polls. Why? He was an instrument of change, and it was disruptive to the established order of things. But, he said, "We've got to rebuild Japan and Germany and rebuild Europe and have international mechanisms for growth." He carried through on Roosevelt's vision of the United Nations, where I will speak tomorrow. He said, "We have to stand up to the Communist threat and limit it, and we have to rebuild America at home." And it required change, and it was difficult and uncomfortable. But when he finally got out there on that train and told the American people the truth, they stuck with him. And now most people think Harry Truman ought to be on Mount Rushmore.
But I'll tell you something. I come from a family that was for him when he was living, and it wasn't so simple back then. Because when countries go through periods of change, they are just like people. You think about every period of change you've been through in your life, when you went off to college, when you got married, when you had your first child, when you took your first job, when you started your first business. Every period of change is marked by hope and fear, isn't it? And when you're going through the change as opposed to the beginning or the end of it, when you're going through it, every day you wake up and it's like there are these scales inside, and some day hope's winning and some day fear's winning. Right? In your personal life.
That is what our country is going through today. And all these dire predictions about the election and all these polls showing how sour and frustrated the American people are—let me tell you something, the people of this country are good people. And if you give them a chance, they will do the right thing 99 times out of 100. And they desperately want to believe in the future of this country, but they have been bombarded with everything that's wrong. They have not heard what is right. And there are real objective problems still out there. Our job is not always to win but to be the party of hope over fear, to be the party of big over little, to be the party of change over the status quo, to be the party of the children's future, not yesterday's vision. And I believe, since this is a time of change, that also, in the end, is the right thing to do politically. The right thing to do morally for our kids and their future is the right thing to do politically.
And I want you to look around this room. Every Member of this Congress that's here— there were bills that we won by one vote, by two votes, bills that passed by the narrowest of margins—they deserve credit for stepping up to the plate and voting for the future of this country and for our children instead of for their momentary interests, and they deserve to be rewarded in this election. And if you want the changes for this country to continue until all Americans feel them, then I ask you not to quit with your check tonight but to keep speaking for them and working for them and talking to your friends and getting them to help all the way until election day, because they are about the future of this country.
Thank you, and God bless you all.
NOTE: The President spoke at 8:45 p.m. at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel. In his remarks, he referred to Representative Vic Fazio, chairman, and his wife, Judy, finance director, Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee; and Sumner Redstone, chairman, Viacom, and his wife, Phyllis.
William J. Clinton, Remarks at a Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Dinner in New York City Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/217818