Bill Clinton photo

Remarks at a Democratic Dinner in San Francisco, California

July 23, 1996

Thank you. Thank you very much. Well, the mayor can lay it on, can't he? [Laughter] When Willie Brown was elected mayor of San Francisco, Hillary and I were sitting at home waiting for the returns to come in. She said, "Well, exactly what do you think it means?" And I said, "Well, if there were any doubt, San Francisco will never be bored again." [Laughter]

You know, the mayor talked about how I had to go around the country and meet with all different kinds of groups. I remember once going into the back room where the members of the Democratic caucus and the California general assembly would meet with the speaker, and a lot of its members didn't even interrupt their card games to say hello. [Laughter] But most of them couldn't have found Arkansas on a map probably, anyway.

But Willie humored me along. He thought I might amount to something some day. [Laughter] And I remember after I talked to Willie Brown about politics I felt the way the late, great actor Richard Burton felt. You know, he— in the early sixties, some of you may remember a movie called "A Man for All Seasons" which won the Academy Award. You remember that, where Paul Scofield played Sir Thomas More in one of the great performances ever in the history of film. Richard Burton said, "When I saw Paul Scofield I knew I'd never be that good, so I decided to go for the money." [Laughter] And when I met Willie Brown I knew I'd never be that good, so I decided I might as well run for President and get out of politics.

I want to thank Shirley Nelson and Brooke and Sean Byers and George Chu and Jim Hormel and all the people at the head table and all the rest of you that helped to make this dinner a success tonight. I'd like to thank my friend Lieutenant Governor Gray Davis for being here tonight, the council members, the supervisors that are here. Senator Bill Lockyer is here, the leader of the Democrats in the California State Senate.

I'd like to introduce a friend of mine who's come a long way, who is right now supervising the celebrations for my 50th birthday—something I'd just as soon ignore, but this being an election year, I don't suppose I can—the former Ambassador to Saudi Arabia and former Governor of the State of Mississippi, my longtime friend and colleague Ray Mabus from Mississippi, who is somewhere. I thank him for being here.

I want to thank Peter, Paul, and Mary. They are always wonderful. They never lose the light in their eyes, the lilt in their voice. And they remind us that all those terrible things that our adversaries say about the sixties are not entirely true. [Laughter] Thank you very much, and God bless you.

I thank you for coming here tonight. I thank you for your contributions and for your support. I ask you to leave here and do more, to go out and use your voice, your energy, your spirit, and try to reach others and engage them in a serious conversation about this election. In 3 months and 2 weeks from this day, the American people will make a decision about the future of our country and what path we will walk into the 21st century. It is partly about who gets to be President. It's partly about whether Chairman Fowler, the chairman of the Democratic Committee, who's here with me tonight, and our finance chairman, Marvin Rosen, feel like they've been victorious, or the Republicans feel that they have won again. But that's not mostly what it's about.

Mostly what it's about is what this country will look like when we set foot into a new millennium and what our country will be like when our children and grandchildren are our age. I believe elections are determined fundamentally by what questions people ask and answer. First of all, is it worth my voting? And if I vote, for whom shall I vote? Those questions will be determined by what people think the election is about.

When I ran for President in 1992, I did it because I was afraid our country was going to go into the 21st century just drifting along, increasingly divided; weakened instead of strengthened by the changes going on in the world. And I believed, and I believe more strongly today after nearly 4 years as President, that we can charge into the 21st century if we are more united and if we are focused on what we have in common instead of what divides us, if we are looking to the future instead of being chained to the past, and if we are committed to doing the things that have to be done to lift everyone in this country. That's what I believe.

When I became President, I had a simple vision. I wanted to serve for 8 years so that when I left and the country went on into a new century, the American dream would be alive for every single man and woman, boy and girl in this country without regard to their station in life; this country would still be the world's strongest force for peace and freedom and prosperity and security; and we would be coming together in our community, celebrating our diversity instead of being divided and weakened and torn apart by it as are so many around the world today. Those are the three things I wanted. And those are the three things that I want tonight.

I believe to do it we have to create more opportunity for people, we have to expect more responsibility from people, but we also have to challenge all Americans to take responsibility not simply for themselves and their families but for their communities and for our country. We have a responsibility to go forward together.

And tonight, just before I came down, I saw the women's gymnastics team for America take the lead in the contest for the first time in the history of the Olympics. Never has an American gymnastics team ever been in first place after the first of the final four events. And I was looking at that team, and there was an Asian-American girl there, there was an African-American girl there. I don't know what the ethnic backgrounds of the other young women on the team were, but it occurred to me that there they were, working together, representing the best of our country.

And I thought to myself, why is it that we get such a kick out of the Olympics? Part of it is that people really do win by working together and by just being their best. You don't win by bad-mouthing your opponent. You can't win a medal if you win a race because you break the other person's legs. Nobody gets interviewed on television because they say, "These people from another country are simply no good." In other words, the thing we hate about our politics and the thing we really dislike about what goes on in other parts of the world that are destructive are totally purged in the Olympics.

And that's really the way we ought to approach this election. When Hillary and I got to go down there and meet with the team, it struck me that if that Olympic team of ours were to walk out into the Olympic Village and then separate and sort of start wandering around, you couldn't possibly know where they were from. You could see one of our athletes and say, well, there's someone from Africa; there's someone on a Caribbean team; there's someone on one of the Asian teams; there's someone on a Latin American team or a Middle Eastern team; there's someone from India or Pakistan; there's someone from the Nordic countries. They could be from anywhere because they're from everywhere, because America is not about a particular race or creed. America is about the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, the Declaration of Independence, and believing everybody is equal under God and should have the same chance to be treated with dignity and pull together and work together.

I ran for President because I did not think we were running our country in that way, and I didn't think we were running our communities in that way. And I could see people struggling all over the country to come back together at the grassroots level, to do things that made sense, to reach across the lines that divide us, and struggling against having wedges driven into the heart of our society. And I knew that there were changes we need to make, but we needed to make them together.

Now my contract is just about expired, and I'm trying to get a renewal. And what I would like to do tonight is to tell you the three things I'd like you to tell anybody who is willing to listen between now and November. Many of you can afford to be here tonight; you have the ability to influence other people, and I want you to use that ability.

I want you to say first, we came in with the idea of changing the course of America based on opportunity, responsibility, and community. We had a strategy, we implemented it, and the country is better off than it was 4 years ago. And our opponents fought us on every— not everything but nearly everything we tried to do. I'll just give you a few examples.

When we presented a plan to reduce the deficit but continue to invest in education and the environment and technology and research, to spend more money in the treatment of people with AIDS, for example, and cut other things, every person in the other party opposed it and said it would bring on a recession. We said it won't bring on a recession, it will lower interest rates, cut the deficit in half, and produce 8 million jobs.

Well, they were wrong, but to be fair, so were we. We cut the deficit by more than half, and the economy produced over 10 million jobs. We were right, and they were wrong.

And when we presented an anticrime strategy that, yes, had some tougher penalties like "three strikes and you're out" but also said what we really need to do is put 100,000 more police on the street, concentrate on community relationships, getting citizens involved, preventing crime, banning assault weapons, and passing the Brady bill, they said, no, that's a terrible idea. Well, 4 years later we've had some experiments in that—we've had some experience; we're in a position to make a judgment.

As I say every time I go to one of the rural areas of our country where people value their hunting, not a single hunter has lost his rifle in the last 2 years in spite of what people were told in the '94 election. But 60,000 felons, fugitives, and stalkers have not gotten handguns because of the Brady bill. It was the right thing to do. And for 4 years in a row, the crime rate has come down.

I've heard a lot of talk about welfare, a lot of talk in Washington today about welfare reform. I'll say a little more about that in a minute. But under a law passed in 1988, that as Governor I had the privilege to help write, the President can give States permission to move people from welfare to work as long as they take care of the children in the process.

Forty of the fifty States have gotten permission to experiment in moving people from welfare to work. Seventy-five percent of the people in this country are already under welfare reform experiments. And today, without hurting the children of America, there are 1.3 million fewer people on welfare than there were the day I took the oath of office. It is the right sort of welfare reform. And I might add, child support collections are up 40 percent to $11 billion a year.

Now, do we need national legislation? You bet we do. The reason we do is we still don't have the power we need to really collect all the child support that is legally owed and could be paid across State lines. And if everybody paid what they owe and could pay, we could reduce the welfare rolls by another 800,000 women and children tomorrow morning. So we need that.

And there needs to be some more flexibility in the law. But the key is not to hurt innocent children. What we want for poor families and for immigrant families as well as citizen families—[applause]—what we want is the same thing we want for middle class families and rich families. What we want is for people to be able to succeed at home and at work.

Ann Richards, the irrepressible former Governor of Texas, gave a very funny speech in Washington the other night that said she disagreed with the folks in the other party. They seem to have a curious position. They say that the country's in trouble because people on welfare want to stay—women on welfare want to stay home with their children instead of going to work, and then they say the country's in trouble because middle class women want to go to work instead of staying home with their kids. [Laughter] And she said she was having a hard time figuring that out.

Well, what I want our party to do, instead of getting into that fight, is to say that's the wrong way to ask it. What we really want is to face the fact that most parents are at work. And if this country's going to be what it ought to be, we have to create conditions in which people can go to work and then succeed at work without having to lose out as parents. We want to succeed in both ways, and I think that's what we need to do.

I will tell you this, there were two very, very important positive amendments adopted by the United States Senate today, and we're moving to try to make that bill better. But the test should be, will it help people succeed at work and at home, will it promote independence and good parenting? That is the test.

Let me give you one or two other issues. When it came to families, a lot of people talk about being pro-family. I've never heard a candidate stand up and say, "I am anti-family and proud of it." [Laughter] The question is, what are we going to do about it? I believe the role of Government is to create conditions in which people have a chance to be good parents while providing for their children. That's why, for example, I can't understand why anybody would oppose the minimum wage, when if we don't raise it, it's going to go to a 40-year low. We ought to do that.

We passed the family and medical leave law, and the leadership of the other party opposed us. They said, "This will be a job killer; this is going to be a terrible thing; oh, it's worse, it's awful." Well, we now know who was right and who was wrong. After 3 years, 12 million Americans have taken advantage of the family and medical leave law. Because there was a baby born or a sick parent, a family emergency, they got up to 12 weeks off without losing their job. And a recent survey said that 90 percent of the employers said it imposed no problems on them whatever. [Applause] Thank you. You can clap for that if you'd like—12 million people.

The 7 largest economies in the world have created 10.3 million jobs in the last 3 1/2 years, 300,000 in the other 6 countries, 10 million in America. They were wrong. The family and medical leave law was good for America because it strengthened families, and in the process it made the workplace more productive, happier, and more profitable for the employers of America. It was the right thing to do.

We said we think that there ought to be a V-chip in the new televisions, and we challenged the entertainment industry to set up a rating system for TV programs like they do for movies. Most kids spend more time in front of the TV's than they do at movies. And we said this will help parents to control things their young children see. We had another survey last year, the 300th, I think—literally, there have been 300, that documented the cumulative impacts of excessive violence on young children when they see it for hours and hours and hours and hours from early childhood—and almost every single study says that it deadens children to the impact, the horror, and the moral wrongness of violent behavior. And a lot of them thought that was a lousy idea. But I think we were right.

So I could go through issue after issue after issue like this. We reduced the size of Government, but we said, let's don't reduce the size of Government in a way that undermines our values. Let's reduce the size of Government to make it less bureaucratic, but let's keep a strong Government where we need it to be strong. When you had all these natural disasters in California, you didn't want a weak emergency management agency. When you had these problems with businesses going broke, it's a good thing that we've had a Small Business Administration that increased loans to women by 90 percent, that almost doubled the total loan volume, even though we cut the budget. That was a good thing.

It's a good thing that the Food and Drug Administration is approving drugs more rapidly than ever before, particularly for life-threatening illnesses like HIV and AIDS. It's a good thing that we cut back on the deficit, but it's also a good thing that we're continuing to spend money on things that make a difference. We have dramatically improved research and medical programs, for example, breast cancer research, tests on women for all kinds of health care problems, a big increase in research into HIV and many other critical areas.

Just today, because of the recent evidence that putting certain drugs together really helps to deal with the problems of HIV and AIDS and to dramatically prolong life, I've asked the Office of Management and Budget and the Department of Health and Human Services to increase my 1997 budget request for State AIDS drug assistance programs by another $65 million.

Think about this when people tell you how bad the Government is. These programs alone are helping almost 70,000 low-income people who are HIV-positive to buy drugs that were recently discovered and that can extend their lives. The budget will more than double the amount we are now seeking for these life-saving drugs. Now, is this an area where we want a weak or nonexistent Government? Is this an area where the Government is a problem? I don't think so. This is an area where we're furthering our common objectives.

So the first argument I want you to make is, they had a plan, they implemented it, we're better off than we were 4 years ago. And the other folks didn't think it was a very good idea. The record is in.

The second argument I want you to make is, this is a very good election for the voters because there's no guesswork. [Laughter] You heard the rhapsodic introduction of Mayor Brown. But the truth is, you folks were taking a chance on me 4 years ago. I mean, you didn't know me, and you were taking a chance. And if you remember the campaign of 1992, the other side went to a lot of trouble to make you scared about the chance you took, to make you afraid to take the chance of change.

Now you don't have to worry about that. You know what I'm going to do, and you know what they're going to do. You know. I'm sure there will be attempts in the next few weeks to blur that knowledge you have, to make it seem warm and fuzzy. But you know what they're going to do because they've already done it, it's just the first time when they did it, I vetoed it and stopped it.

But if you want the 1995 budget, if you believe the way to balance the budget is to wreck the environmental protection fabric of the country and cut back on education at a time when education is more important than ever before or walk away from the guarantees Medicaid has given to little children and poor pregnant women and seniors and families with members with disabilities in them for 30 years, we can have that. You just need to vote for them. They'll give it to you. They gave it to you once; we just stopped them. If you give them both branches of Government, they'll give it to you again within 6 months of the new year.

This is a very—you're laughing and everything, but not everybody has thought about that. The most severe anti-environmental measures proposed in my adult lifetime were proposed in that last Congress. Basically, measures that— the takings bill would virtually strip the National Government of the ability to protect the common heritage of this country.

And so there's no guesswork here. You do not have to guess. And that's good. Neither is there a status quo option, because both of us have very dynamic ideas about how to get into the future. We will choose a path: What road are we going to walk into the 21st century? And not voting is a choice.

So if some young person says, oh, they're all the same and it doesn't matter, tell them they're not all the same for the tens of thousands of young people that won't be in Head Start, the hundreds of thousands of people that will lose access to the direct college loans, the countless millions of people that will be endangered if we end the guaranties of Medicaid, the poorest, the sickest, and the oldest seniors on Medicare that will get a two-tiered, secondclass system of care. They're not the same for those who care about the environment. They are not the same. To say that there is no choice is to ignore the lessons of the last 2 years. So I hope you'll say that to people.

But the final thing I hope you'll do is to make the most important argument of all. We do have a good record. But you might argue that that's what I got hired to do. The most important argument is that it's a record not to reverse but to build on. And there's a lot more to do before this country will really be ready to go into the 21st century.

If you look at the area of peace and freedom and security and prosperity, I'm proud of the fact that there are no nuclear missiles pointed at the United States for the first time since the dawn of the nuclear age. But I'm worried about the fact that we still need the disciplined support of our allies and a real system for dealing with the threats of the proliferation of dangerous weapons, chemical weapons, biological weapons, and the proliferation of terrorism around the world.

I want help, and I want to leave this country with a system, a regime, a disciplined way to stop the testing of nuclear weapons, to end chemical weapons production, to stop biological weapons production and sale and transfer, and to move swiftly and aggressively across national lines against terrorism, organized crime, and drug running. Those are the threats of the future, and we have to have them there.

If you look at our society, there's a lot more to do to help people succeed at home and at work. I've been going to communities all over the country celebrating the things that are driving the crime rate down. But we have more to do. I've been trying to think of things we can do to help families more. And I just would mention three or four things.

First, we ought to pass the Kassebaum-Kennedy bill that says you can't lose your health insurance if you change jobs or if someone in your family gets sick.

Second, we should make it easier for people who work for small businesses or who are selfemployed to take out and keep a pension even if they're unemployed for a period in their lives so they'll always have something else for their retirement.

The third thing we ought to do, and in many ways by far the most important, is to continue to expand the quality and the reach of educational opportunity. The Vice President and I came out here not so long ago and announced the first NetDay where we hooked up over 20 percent of the classrooms in California to the Internet. This is sweeping the country. But I want to explain the significance of this. We're determined to hook up every classroom and library in America to the Internet by the year 2000. We're also determined to make sure that in every classroom there will be a qualified teacher there who understands how to make use of that incredibly important tool.

Right now, this summer, we have 100,000 teachers teaching 500,000 others how to maximize the use of the information superhighway for their children. What this means is that when we do this in the poorest urban neighborhoods or the poorest rural communities in Appalachia or the most remote Native American reservation in America, our children will have equal access to all the knowledge in the world. This is a phenomenally important thing, and we must keep at it until the job is done for all of our children.

And I want to say, standing here so close to Silicon Valley, I will be indebted for the rest of my life to the members of the telecommunications industry who worked with us in the telecom bill to get a bill that would protect the rights of access of poor schools in urban and rural areas and hospitals in urban and rural areas and libraries all across this country to all this information so that we do not use the Internet to create a two-tier society but instead to be an instrument to bring us all together and to move forward together.

Now, the final thing I want to say about education is, my view is the most important thing we could do in the way of tax cuts now would be to give every American family a tax deduction for the cost of college tuition and to guarantee access to every American for at least 2 years of community college after high school through a tax credit that's refundable.

Now, let me explain what this means. It's universal now, more or less, in America for younger people to have a high school diploma. It's not good enough. Younger workers with a high school diploma have had precipitous drops in their earnings in the last 15 years. The single most significant determinant of increasing inequality in America is not the policies that the previous Republican administrations—which I don't agree with and which aggravated inequality—but the single most significant determinant of increasing inequality is the difference in levels of education and skills and what people know and what they're capable of learning. We need to make at least 2 years of education after high school as universal in America immediately as a high school education is today. And we'll begin to grow this economy in a fair way again and bring the American people together again.

The last thing I want to say about the future is—and maybe the most fundamental lesson we'll have to teach ourselves in this election, because we'll make this decision clearly, consciously, or inadvertently—is that we have got to make a decision to go forward together. I think the most touching moments in the Olympics opening for most of us was when they called all those athletes up on the stage and the Olympics let Greg Louganis stand up there as a hero and said we're not excluding people because they're HIV-positive or because somebody may not like them. They brought a 97year-old man up who was dancing a jig, and they wanted to make the point that being healthy is a good thing for older people and maybe even better than for younger people. And then they let Muhammad Ali—purging the ghost of the Vietnam war and his conversion to Islam and everything he ever did that was controversial, standing there in the courage of dealing with his disease with dignity—light the flame. And just about everybody I know had a tear in their eye when that happened. But that whole show was about how we're stronger when we're together than when we're looking for ways to be divided.

You just think about what's wrong with the whole world today. What's the matter in Bosnia? Three groups of people that are biologically indistinguishable have been taught to kill each other with reckless abandon and had to ask people to come in from the outside to stop them from killing each other even though they lived for decades in peace. It didn't take any time for them to fall into it.

Look at Northern Ireland. For a year and a half they lived in peace. Their economy was booming. They had the lowest unemployment rate in 15 years. When Hillary and I went to Northern Ireland last year, the streets were lined, the Catholic streets, the Protestant streets, all together, people cheering and yelling, happy with the peace they had won, proud that the United States had played a role in it. And then, boom, in the flash of an eye, against the wishes of over 99 percent of the people, a series of bad decisions by leaders plunged the country into violence again. It's an outrage. They're still looking down on each other because of a religious fight that's 600 years old.

You know the story in the Middle East as well as I do. We had 13 Arab countries condemn terrorism in Israel for the first time as well as in every other country in the Middle East. But there are still those who so desperately have to have the fighting continue to preserve their own position, to search for their own priorities, that terrorism is still alive and well there.

And it's not just there. That's also what was behind, apparently, the political hatred that led to the bombing in Oklahoma City. That is what is alleged to be behind the breakup of the vast weapons cache with the alleged plans to destroy Federal buildings in Arizona. That's what's behind a lot of these black church burnings and mosque burnings and synagogue defacements.

The other day at the center of our military strength at Fort Bragg, African-American Special Forces soldiers had swastikas put on their doors. What were these people thinking about? Do you know who those men are? They're people I can send anywhere in the world tomorrow on a moment's notice to undertake the most difficult imaginable task, who are willing to put their lives on the line for you and die if necessary, immediately, and somebody thinks they can put a swastika on their door? Why? Why?

Because even here there are people who believe somehow their life is elevated only when they can look down on somebody else, only when they can feel superior to somebody else, only when they can be forces of division. Those are the questions that "Blowin' in the Wind" was about—that's what the song Peter, Paul, and Mary sang about—and it's important. You may not think everything about the sixties was right, but that song asks the right questions, and we'd better not forget that.

And you know, if you look at our diversity and you imagine the world we're going to live in, where everything is closer together, there is no nation in the world as well-positioned as the United States to reap the benefits of the 21st century, of the explosions of the information age, if we can learn to deal with the security threats; if we can learn to be more responsible not only for ourselves but for our families, our communities, and our country; if we can have the ability to develop our own capacity so we can live out our dreams.

But none of that will happen unless we first decide that we're in this together and we have to go forward together. And you know, fundamentally, all these other issues can almost be submerged into that.

So I ask you to go out in the next 3 months and 2 weeks and talk about it. Tell them about the record, and tell them we were right and they were wrong. Tell them about the choice, and tell them not to forget that they've seen it once, it just got stopped. But most importantly, talk to people about what they want this country to look like when we stand on the edge of a new millennium—it only happens once every thousand years—and what they want America to be like when their children and grandchildren are their age. If those are the questions the voters ask, then they'll give the right answers, and our best days are still ahead. Thank you, and God bless you all. Thank you.

NOTE: The President spoke at 8:17 p.m. in the Continental Ballroom at the San Francisco Hilton. In his remarks, he referred to folk singers Peter Yarrow, Paul Stookey, and Mary Travers, and former U.S. Olympians Greg Louganis and Muhammad Ali.

William J. Clinton, Remarks at a Democratic Dinner in San Francisco, California Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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