Bill Clinton photo

Remarks at a Democratic National Committee Dinner

November 18, 1997

Thank you. Thank you very much for being here tonight. I won't take a lot of time because I want to just sit and visit. But I would like to just begin with a story.

Yesterday I was in Wichita, Kansas, coming back from California, and I visited the Cessna airplane manufacturing facility—not the plane facility but their training facility for people they're trying to move from welfare to work. And we went there for a number of reasons. One was to announce that we now have 2,500 businesses who have committed to be part of our partnership to hire people from welfare and put them into the workplace. These 2,500 businesses are small, medium, and large. Seventyfive percent of them are small businesses, but combined they have over 5 million employees.

The other reason I went there is because the way this Cessna project works is the way I'd like to see America work, not only in this issue but a lot of others. They receive support for a number of the things they've done from the Labor Department and from the Housing and Urban Development Department, and of course they have the framework of the welfare reform bill. But here's what they do: They go out and take people—many of them the hardest to place people on welfare—and they put them through a 3-month training program. And then if they go through that, they put them through a 3-month sort of pre-job program. And if they get through both, they get an automatic guaranteed job at Cessna at high wages and good benefits.

And some of these people have very, very difficult home circumstances. They're not just— they're not taking the most well-educated people who just temporarily hit a bad patch and get on welfare. A lot of these folks are high school dropouts. Many of them are women who have been abused in a domestic setting. And they actually have a housing development across the street from the training center to give temporary housing to anybody who either doesn't have a car or has been kicked out of their house because of a violent situation.

And I'm telling you, it was the most exhilarating thing. I was introduced by two women who graduated from this program, and then I met their children. And when it was all over, I looked at the man who was with me and I said, "This is why I got into public life: to be a part of things like this, to change lives in this way, to do something that works."

And of course, having a good economy has helped. They have 1,000 more employees than they had 4 or 5 years ago. But the main thing is, it's fresh evidence that we can make the country work if we do something that makes sense and we do it together and it's consistent with our values.

So for all of you who have made any contribution to the fact that we have the lowest unemployment rate and the lowest crime rate in 24 years and the biggest drop in welfare in history, and we've grown the economy while making the air and water cleaner and the food supply safer and having fewer toxic waste dumps, that we've built more jobs but tried to help families with the family and medical leave law and tax cuts to raise their kids or adopt children or send their kids to college—I hope you'll take a lot of pride in that.

We've got a lot of challenges up the road, but at least no one in America could doubt today that we can make this country work and that when we make it work for everybody, you see the kind of profoundly humbling and awesome stories I saw in Wichita yesterday.

I'd also like to remind you that elections are contests of ideas and perceptions. And I think in a rational world, where everybody had equal access to the voters, our party would be in better shape than it is today, because in '93 we had a big fight over the economic direction of the country, and I think the evidence says we were right and they were wrong. But they profited from it.

In '94 we had a big fight over our crime policy, and we stood up to the people who said I was going to take their guns away if we passed the Brady bill and the assault weapons ban. And I think the evidence is, we were right and they were wrong.

I think the evidence is our environmental policy, our education policy, our family leave policy—all these things, I think, our party has been on the right side of history and on the right side of the basic values of America. And I think the more people like you help us to get our message out and make our points, the more you'll change America and the more, parenthetically, people will know who did what, when, and why.

So there is a direct connection between what I saw in Wichita yesterday and your presence here tonight. And we have to make a lot more of those stories in the future. And I'm very grateful to you for your role in doing that.

Thank you very much.

NOTE: The President spoke at 9:44 p.m. in the Chesapeake Room at the City Club of Washington.

William J. Clinton, Remarks at a Democratic National Committee Dinner Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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