Remarks at a Democratic National Committee Dinner
Thank you very much. I will be brief, but let me begin by thanking John Kerry for having us in his beautiful, beautiful home. He and Teresa have been very good for our country and very good for our party, and I am delighted to be here. And I want to thank all of you for coming.
Let me ask you to think about what I hope we'll be discussing in the following way. When I became President, I was trying to make sure that America would begin to function again at an acceptable level of performance so that the American people, who are basically out there getting up every day, working hard, doing a good job, would find some way to be better rewarded, and so that we could maximize these sweeping changes going through the world in how we work and how we live and how we relate to one another, both within this country and beyond our borders.
And so we set about trying to do that, and the results, I think, have been quite satisfactory in a lot of ways. And I'm grateful for that. If I could just make one point about it, the President does not do these things alone. John Kerry's leadership in the areas that he mentioned has been nothing short of brilliant. And without the support of the people in Congress who are our allies, none of it could have happened. So I'm grateful for that.
Now, I have a year and a half left on my term, and yet, I'm thinking more about the long term than I did even when I got here, for the simple reason that we are now in a position to think about the long term and about how we can do more than just make the country work but how we can secure a framework for opportunity for America, for a greater social justice, for a greater good at home and around the world than ever before. That's why I think it's important that we not blow this surplus we waited 30 years to produce until we have fundamentally secured the challenge of the aging of America by doing something about Social Security and Medicare. It's why I think it's important that we not, while the economy is rocking along very well, pass a tax cut that would undermine our ability to meet our commitments in education, the environment, biomedical research, and other areas. I think that's very important.
But I also think we need to be thinking about those fundamental things in society that have not fully incorporated what most of you have done very well doing, which is riding the wave of the information revolution. We have, thanks to the Vice President, done our best to have good policies, whether it was in the Telecommunications Act or a lot of other specific issues, some of which Senator Kerry mentioned, or just doing no harm. And we've been able to, far more than ever before, maximize the use of information technology and Government, which is why we now have the smallest Government we've had since 1963. But if you really think about it, we should not be satisfied with where we are. And I'll just give you a few examples.
In education, we finally have test scores turned around, not only in mathematics and science but also in reading, which is really quite an important achievement, since so many of our children do not have English as their first language. But no one seriously believes we have the best system of elementary and secondary education in the world. And we have all this diversity in our country. How can we use technology to lift the level of all education?
I'll give you another example. We have now, as you all probably have seen, I think we have reached the benefit, the limit of the benefits that traditional management can bring in moderating inflation and health care costs. When I became President, health care was rising at 3 times the rate of inflation and people were dropping coverage dramatically. Now, unfortunately, that's continued to happen. But one of the reasons that there's this intense debate in Washington over the Patients' Bill of Rights is that so many people, including a lot of health care professionals, believe that we have reached the limit which you can get management-related— traditional, management-related savings out of health care without eroding the quality of care.
What can we do to maximize the impact of all the things that we do to make the health care system work better and extend coverage to more people? I'll give you a third example. Someone told me in Silicon Valley one day that people in high tech businesses work 3 to 9 times faster than people in normal businesses do, and Government worked 3 to 9 times slower, and therefore, the marriage was impossible, which I thought is an interesting observation and painfully accurate from time to time.
What can we do, what still is out there that we should be doing that makes Government more responsive, more accessible to people? And then the two that I'm particularly interested in: How can we use technology to bring economic opportunity to people in places that are not part of this recovery in the United States; and how can we use-it—or can we use it to help people bridge a whole generation of economic development around the world?
Ron Dozoretz and I have talked a lot about what could be done, for example, for the Indian reservations. We were in Appalachia; we were in the Mississippi Delta—a lot of the places that are still poor are not in inner-city neighborhoods; a lot of places are literally, physically— [inaudible]—from mainstream American economic life. And I'm convinced that if we can't figure out ways to bring opportunity to these places now, we will never get around to it because of the high performance of our economy generally and because it's really an opportunity for investors to go into places where there's a lot of labor, a lot of willing labor, and the cost of doing business is modest.
It seems to me that while what we've done with the empowerment zones, under the leadership of the Vice President, and what I propose that the Congress adopt, which is essentially to give the same set of financial incentives to people who invest in poor areas in America we give them to invest in the Caribbean or Latin America or Africa or Asia, is a good start. But I think there has got to be, at least for those people that are physically isolated, some thought to how technology can be used to trigger the infusion of economic opportunity and, therefore, the inclusion of those people into the mainstream of American economic life.
And finally, politics, which has already been mentioned by Senator Kerry—it seems to me that there is, on the one hand, this sort of exponential increase in the cost of running campaigns, because we try to—because of the cost of communication. Let's not kid—and if you look at the cost of the campaigns as compared with the size of the Federal budget, for example, it doesn't look like such a big, carrying cost. But it's an enormous burden for people who have to go out and raise the money and spend the money. And basically we're communicating with each other in traditional ways. Most of the costs of the campaign today comes from television and mail, and in some places a lot of money is spent on radio and occasionally, depending on what the communications are, on newspaper advertising. But most of it's TV and mail.
Increasingly, we see these breathtaking stories of people just opening a webpage for a given cause and all of a sudden having 200,000, 300,000, 400,000 people within a matter of weeks signing on and going forward. Is there some way to use the Internet to further democratize politics, to energize more people to participate, to energize more people to contribute at modest levels, and to lower the relative cost of reaching voters or increase the relative impact of voter reach?
Because if you think about it—like when we run TV ads, there's a reason that an ad on the Super Bowl costs so much money. And that is that more people are watching it than now watch the evening news on the networks combined because they have so many other options. As the television audiences become more dispersed, I think you will see more sophisticated use of mail to identify, at least, people you think you can reach. And that's good, but is there some way we can use this both to broaden the base of contributors at modest levels but also to increase the relative effectiveness or decrease the relative costs of reaching people, so that people feel like they're participating in the democracy and so that more people have a chance to participate in ways that will make all of us feel better about the way we conduct our democracy as we go toward the next century?
So these are things that I think about a lot. And I think, you know, meeting the challenge of the aging of America is a big deal. I think meeting the challenge of education is a big deal.
I'll give you one more example. America's got the lowest crime rate in 26 years. I think that's a very good thing. And it's easy to lose that when we have these gripping, horrible incidents like we had in Atlanta or the horrible thing in Littleton, Colorado. But why shouldn't we be the safest big country in the world? I mean, if we have the most powerful technology base in the world, we can figure out how to solve any other problem. Why can't we think of a way to organize ourselves that would make us the safest big country? Why shouldn't that be? Why shouldn't we have a big goal that is— and bring to bear all these things.
Nothing is—I agree with John; I think that 50, 60, 70 years from now, when people look back and write the history of this era, they will conclude that this was a bigger deal than the industrial revolution, that this sort of had the combined impact of the industrial revolution and the printing press, which produced the Gutenberg Bible, and that it was just breathtaking. Now, what we who are living through this ought to do—in addition to those of you who are good enough to profit from it and contribute to our economy and make our society stronger and hire people and do all the good things you're doing— we ought to say, if this is profoundly changing the way we work and the way we live and the way we relate to each other, by definition it ought to be able to be effective in helping us meet society's biggest challenges, including those I outlined tonight.
So I'm very interested in it. I thank you for your presence here. And I am all ears.
Thank you very much.
NOTE: The President spoke at 7:35 p.m. at a private residence. In his remarks, he referred to dinner hosts Senator John F. Kerry and his wife, Teresa Heinz; and Ronald I. Dozoretz, founder, FHC Health Systems.
William J. Clinton, Remarks at a Democratic National Committee Dinner Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/227527