Bill Clinton photo

Remarks at a Democratic National Committee Dinner in St. Louis

September 10, 1996

Thank you so very much. Thank you, Jeff, for that wonderful statement and for the way that you have handled this terribly difficult and painful situation and for the way that you have led your very great company.

Thank you, Mr. Mayor, for giving me a great time in St. Louis, for getting those 18,000 people there today at that absolutely wonderful educational complex that I think would be the envy of any community in the entire Nation. St. Louis can be very, very proud of that. It was extremely beautiful and, obviously, extremely effective. [Applause] Thank you.

Thank you, Mr. Gephardt. I want to say a little more about him later. Thank you, Governor, for your friendship. We were sitting at the table tonight reminiscing about how Mel Carnahan, when he was trying to become Governor of Missouri in 1992 and should have been paying attention to his own business and the primary, endorsed me for President at a time when only my mother thought I could win. [Laughter] I was worried about his political health. But he seems to have weathered that burden quite nicely, and I thank him for it.

Mel and Jean and their children have been a real credit to the people of Missouri. And we were over in Kansas City earlier today with Mayor Cleaver and with Alan Wheat, who used to represent them in Congress but is now my deputy campaign manager, and Congresswoman McCarthy, and we had a wonderful meeting there at a welfare reform center which I think will prove to be the model for the entire country as we come to grips with our new responsibilities to move people from welfare to work and not leave people behind. And on that account alone, I think he has earned the confidence and the support of the people of Missouri for a second term. And I thank you for everything you've done.

I'd like to thank Joan Kelly Horn for being here and for presenting herself as a candidate for Congress again. And I hope she's successful. Thank you, Joan. I thank Becky Cook and Bob Holden for being here and for being with me all day today. And I'd like to thank a man who's here who I believe is responsible for the first speech I ever gave in the State of Missouri as a public official about 10 years ago, Senator Tom Eagleton, who's here. Thank you, Tom, for being here. Thank you very much.

Ladies and gentlemen, I appreciate what all the previous speakers have said, and I very much appreciate your support here at this fundraiser for the Democratic Party and for what we are trying to do in the next 8 weeks.

I'd like to go back to something that Mr. Gephardt said. It is true that, I think probably more than any other single action, his courageous leadership as the majority leader for the economic program that we put through the House and the Senate in 1993 by only one vote in each House made him the minority leader of the House.

We also passed the crime bill that was intensely controversial because it came on the heels of passing the Brady bill, and it contained a ban on 19 kinds of assault weapons. And a lot of our rural members were defeated by people telling them that—telling their voters they had gone to Congress and voted to take their weapons away. The truth was something far different. In fact, that bill contained the first legislative protection ever for 650 different kinds of hunting and sporting weapons, but it did ban assault weapons. And in the moment of '94, for those and for other reasons, the Democrats became the minority in the Congress. And we are attempting not only to win a Presidential election but to change that.

I'd just like to point out something. When you make a judgment about that, sometimes people say, "Oh, well, maybe we should have a divided Government," and we did get a few things done here at the end of this last session; we certainly did. I'll say more about that in a minute. But you think about where this country would be if those Members of Congress who gave up their seats had not voted on those two bills that cost them their seats.

In 1993 when we voted to bring the deficit down, it was projected to go over $300 billion. The latest projections are that it will be $117 billion. That economic plan brought the deficit down 4 years in a row for the first time in a President's administration since the 1840's; that's how long it had been since that's happened.

The crime bill, putting 100,000 police on the street, banning assault weapons, stiffening penalties, giving communities things for the young people to say yes to, to keep them out of trouble in the first place, played a major role in the fact that we have also had 4 years of declining crime rates in America, including big drops in the murder rates in many major American cities, including St. Louis.

And so I would say to you that if the purpose of politics is—in the 21st century will be, as I believe it—is to create the conditions and to give people the tools to make the most of their own lives—because governments can't deliver guarantees anymore in a global society—then those two bills showed that the leadership of Dick Gephardt and those who followed him and our friends in the Senate did an enormous amount to create the conditions and to give people the tools to improve their own lives in the State of Missouri, in St. Louis, in the neighborhoods of this community. And I just think that that ought to be taken into account in 1996 because there was bitter, bitter partisan opposition to both of those things.

The leaders who now want to stay in the majority and capture the White House claim that our economic plan would lead to a recession. They claimed it would increase the deficit. They claimed the crime bill would be ineffective. They told people they were going to take their weapons away from them.

Well, 4 years later, we've got 10 1/2 million jobs; we have seen an enormous recovery because of lower interest rates; we've got 4 years of declining crime rates. Dick Gephardt was right, and they were wrong. And I think that ought to be part of everybody's calculation when they go to the polls and vote 8 weeks from today.

Now, let me say in a more positive sense, we did those things hoping that we wouldn't be punished for them politically, but basically because we thought we were in a tight—we had a terrible crime problem, we had a terrible economic problem; we had to do something about it.

I'd like to talk tonight a little bit about the economy and about the economic strategy we have followed and the one we propose to follow. It is true that Dick and Tom Foley, who was then the Speaker, George Mitchell, who was then the Democratic majority leader in the Senate, came to me and said, "This deficit has just been revised upward again, and unless we do something about it, we're never going to be able to grow the economy." It was absolutely clear.

So I went to Washington with a simple, straightforward economic strategy, as I said, to create the conditions and give people the tools to succeed in the global economy that we have today and the one we're certainly going to have in the 21st century. I wanted to, first of all, get the deficit down to decrease interest rates and increase investment in the private sector.

Secondly, I wanted to increase investment in education and technology and research in the areas that would grow the economy, which meant that if we're going to do that while reducing the size of the Government, we had to rather dramatically reform the way the Federal Government works and the way it delivered services.

The third thing I wanted to do was to expand the ability of the United States to sell our products and services around the world on terms that were not just free in the traditional sense but also fair in the global trading system. And that's what Governor Carnahan, among other things, was referring to when he talked about the airline route, which is one of the areas where we are consistently shut out because American airline companies are by far the most productive and efficient in the world and the airline routes are one of the few areas that are still protected and not covered by a lot of our trade agreements. So it's a continuing battle for us to open those routes.

But if you look at where we are now, bringing the deficit down has paid big dividends. But the investments are also paying dividends, and they make an enormous difference. When we invest more money in education, from Head Start to smaller classes to experimental schools like these charter schools which teachers can form within public school systems to meet the special needs of special groups of people, when we make college loans more available at lower costs, these investments are well-made. When we refined our space mission, these investments are well-made. When we invested in technology to help companies that were reducing their defense expenditures diversify into nondefense areas, this is very, very important.

Let me just give you a couple of examples of what our investment has produced. A lot of you, I'm sure, watched the Democratic Convention when Christopher Reeve made his very emotional speech about investment in medical research. And you know, just in the last few weeks that kind of investment has produced, for the first time ever, lower leg movement in laboratory animals that had been paralyzed, through nerve transplants.

In the last 4 years, because of our investments in medical research and because of our reforms of the drug approval process at the FDA, we have more than doubled the life expectancy of people with HIV and AIDS, in only 4 years— way more than doubled.

We are about to build a supercomputer in partnership with IBM that will in one second do more calculations than you can go home and do on a hand-held calculator in 30,000 years. Our space program is about to have two unmanned missions to Mars at the end of this year, coincidentally, right after we had this stunning apparent discovery of a microorganism coming from the planet of Mars millions of years ago. It's ironic that the second of these unmanned space missions will land on Mars on July 4, 1997, Independence Day. That was not planned in coordination with the producers of the movie, but it may give them a sequel after all. [Laughter]

So these things matter. There are some areas where public investment is important to the health of the private sector. We reduced the size of the Government. Our friends in the Republican Party often attack Government, but I found they hadn't done much to reform it in the last several years. So we did.

The Government is now smaller by about 250,000 than it was the day I took office. It will be down by about 270,000 by the end of this year. The last time it was this size was when John Kennedy was President. As a percentage of our workforce, your Federal Government is now the same size it was in 1933 when Franklin Roosevelt took the oath of office before the New Deal. We are spending less on—in other words—transfers and mechanisms and bureaucracies and more on investing in the American people and their future. And it's good policy.

We've negotiated 200 and something trade agreements, 21 with Japan. And the areas where we've negotiated trade agreements with Japan, our exports are up 85 percent. The United States auto industry, a big deal in the State of Missouri, is now number one in the world again for the first time since the 1970's. And we can be very proud of that. That's what our people did.

But I also believe an important part of the right kind of economic strategy for the 21st century is recognizing that more and more businesses will have to be constantly changing— more and more entrepreneurial. And we have to find ways for people to compose their lives so that they can work hard, keep up with the changes, and raise their kids.

And we have to emphasize small business more. I'm very proud of the fact that our Small Business Administration—we cut the budget and doubled the loan volume. I'm proud of the fact that we increased by 250 percent the tax cuts small businesses can get when they invest more money in their business. These things will make a difference, and all of this is contributing. We now have had 4 years in a row where we've had more new businesses started in America than ever before, each year breaking the successive record—the previous record.

So this economic strategy is working. And the Democrats didn't try to create our jobs in the Government; 93 percent of the 10 1/2 million new jobs we have were created in the private sector. This is a partnership strategy. And I say this because one of the reasons that we want to win this election is to keep going on the right track and to build on this.

We have to continue to balance the budget as Dick Gephardt says. But it's very important that we balance the budget consistent with our values and our interests. If we balance the budget by cutting our educational investments or cutting back on our investments in technology and research or cutting back on our commitment to cleaning up the environment while we grow the economy, we would pay a terrible price for that.

One of the ways that the St. Louis economy will grow faster, and the economy of every city in this country, is if we invest more money in environmental cleanup. Our brownfields initiative, so-called—a lot of people don't know what a brownfield is; a brownfield is a place in a city that used to have jobs and now has pollution. That's what a brownfield is. And what we want to do is get rid of the pollution so the jobs can come back.

All the major economic analyses are that it'll become economically advantageous for people to reinvest in cities again for new jobs in the future if we can take away the environmental problem. So, yes, balance the budget, but be careful how we do it. Do it in a way that brings us together, doesn't drive us apart.

In the last day or two we've had another debate between Senator Dole and myself over this question of family and medical leave. He says, and I think he honestly believes, because he led the fight against it repeatedly, that it was an antibusiness initiative because it was a Government requirement on companies of 50 or more employees that you couldn't fire somebody if they had to take a little time off when a baby was born to them or their spouse, or when there was a sick parent, or when there was some other medical emergency in the family.

But we've now had 3 years of the family and medical leave law, almost 4. Twelve million people have taken advantage of it, and I believe we are stronger, not a weaker economy because of it. Surely, one of the objectives of the American enterprise system ought to be for people to succeed at work and at home. Surely, all of us ought to want to create an environment in which we have productive workers who are also effective parents. This 10 1/2 million jobs that the American economy has produced in the last 3 1/2 years represents one of the most rapid periods of job growth in the last 100 years—one of the very best periods. So it couldn't have been too damaging to the American economy to say to people, "You know, you can take care of your family and still work and do well."

So as we look ahead, I'd like to ask you just to think about these things. What do you believe the role of your Government should be? I believe we should be in the business of creating opportunity, rewarding and even demanding responsibility when we can do that, and building a stronger sense of community so we go forward together. And having the right kind of economic growth strategy is critical to that.

Yes, we need to balance the budget, but we've got to do it in the right way. Can we afford a tax cut? Yes, but we ought to only have the tax cut we can afford, even if it means that most of us in this room don't get it or don't get all of it. We ought to only have what we can afford. I believe it would be good for the economy over the long run to give people some help with their childrearing expenses and with education expenses, to let many more people, people with incomes up to $100,000 in family income take out an IRA and then withdraw without penalty for education costs or medical emergencies or buying a first home. I don't believe people should pay capital gains when they sell their homes. I think we ought to foster homebuilding by families and homeownership by families, and a lot of people are lucky enough to have appreciation in their homes, but that's the only investment they've got that amounts to anything for a lot of people. So I think we can have that, but we should only have a tax cut we can afford, consistent with our other interests.

And we need to continue to pursue aggressively—as the late Ron Brown did at the Commerce Department, as Mickey Kantor did as our trade ambassador, as now he is doing as our Commerce Secretary—a strategy that says you have got to give America a fair deal in the global economy. You have got to do it. We're entitled to do it. And we can't win all of these fights, Jeff, but we're fighting them hard, as you know. And I think it's fair to say that our administration has had the most aggressive, comprehensive strategy of any recent administration of either party in trying to break down the barriers to selling America's goods and services around the world, and I think it's important. So I ask you to think about that.

The other thing I would like to say is that the greatest market for America that's untapped is the market of Americans who haven't fulfilled their own economic potential. If we want to speed the growth rate of the American economy, we have to continue to save and invest and improve productivity, but we have to have more customers. To have more customers in America, we've got to have more people that can make a living and can be our customers. That's why I want to triple the number of our empowerment zones. I want to dramatically increase the number of these community development banks that are in the business of loaning money to people to set up small businesses in communities that the economy and its recovery have passed by.

That's why I want to give special tax credits to people who will move people from welfare to work and invest in communities that have been overlooked. The biggest untapped market for America are all of the Americans who aren't fulfilling their economic potential. And if they have jobs and incomes, they will be our biggest consumers. They will pay taxes. They will help us to balance the budget. They will be happier. The crime rate will go down, and we'll be better off.

So I believe it is imperative—when we look at this welfare reform bill that I signed, I believe in what I did. But let me tell you what I told them in Kansas City today. I've worked on welfare reform for 16 years. What this new bill says is, we will continue to guarantee to the poor health care, child care, and nutrition, but the income check now goes to the States and every State has to work with the community to figure out a way to move able-bodied people from welfare to work.

If we do it wrong, the present system will be better for the poor than the new system. But the problem is, the old system would never let people be liberated. If we do it right, we can liberate people who have been isolated and downtrodden and ignored and turned away from, and we could ease our conscience by saying, "Well, at least they're getting a welfare check."

And what I saw in Kansas City today is what I want to see everywhere. States can take the welfare check and give it to employers and say: Take this as an income supplement. Train these people. We'll help you pay for them. Keep it for 3 or 4 years. But every single person in the United States that ever said a bad word about the welfare system now has a personal responsibility to look at what he or she can do to hire people off welfare and put them to work and give them a chance to build a better life.

The last thing I want to say is, I hope you will help me achieve our educational objectives. That's a big part of building the right bridge to the 21st century. And let me just say, there's a thousand things I could talk about, but I want you to think about two things, because a lot of you can help this happen.

Yes, we need to get the computers in the classrooms, and we have to do that. A lot of you can help, and a lot of you are helping. Yes, we have to have the right educational software for the computers, and we have to have teachers trained to at least keep up with the kids, which is more than I can do. This summer we began a terrific program with 100,000 teacher volunteers to train another half a million teachers so they could go in the classrooms this fall prepared to work with computer technology.

But think of this. We propose in the next 4 years, if we get our contract renewed, to hook up every classroom and every library and every school in America to the Internet, to the World Wide Web, to that information superhighway. That will make it possible for the first time in the entire history of America for the kids in the poorest classrooms in America to get the same information in the same way in the same time at the same level of quality as children in the wealthiest classrooms. It has never happened before. It will revolutionize educational opportunity and performance if we do it right, and we need to make that commitment as a country to do that in the next 4 years. That will also help the American economy.

And the last thing I'd like so say is that a lot of us in this room have been saving for our children's college education a long time. We're facing that decision at home, you know, and we have this conversation three times a week. And I have my broken record answer, which is, "Go wherever you want to go. That's what I've been saving for 16 years for. I make enough decisions at work." [Laughter] "This is your decision, and I will honor it."

But not every person can do that. And we know, if you just look at the census figures, we know that one of the reasons that incomes have been splitting apart in America after coming together for so long is that you cannot continue to have a job that grows in earnings unless you have appropriate levels of skill. We ought to set as a national goal that by the year 2000, in 4 years, we will make 2 years of education after high school, at least a community college degree, as universal in 4 years as a high school degree is today. That would revolutionize the American economy and opportunity for America.

And this requires no bureaucracy, no program, no nothing. Almost every American is within a driving distance of a community college. Almost every community college performs at a very high level of effectiveness or it wouldn't be in business. All we have to do is to give a tax credit to the American people that will cover roughly the cost of tuition at community colleges in all the States of the country. That's paid for in our balanced budget bill. Then I think we ought to give a tax deduction for any kind of college education for up to $10,000 a year. This will be good investment for America's future.

Now, all these things, it seems to me, are good economics, but they'll also bring us together. And that's the last point I want to make. You look around this room tonight. We have African-Americans, Hispanic-Americans, Asian-Americans, Arab-Americans, Jewish-Americans. It looks like the Olympics team here tonight— a few years later. [Laughter]

When I saw our Olympics team, I couldn't help thinking: We had people from 197 different countries in the Olympics; our largest county in America, Los Angeles County, has people from 150 of those places, in one American county. This is an enormous opportunity for us.

The rest of the world marvels at it. You have no idea how much of your time I have to spend as President trying to get other people to behave themselves because they'd rather kill each other because of their racial, their religious, their ethnic, or their tribal differences.

We joined the French and went to Rwanda to save people from starvation because the Hutus and the Tutsis didn't have enough to get along with. In the first place, they should have been working together to put their countries together—instead chose to slaughter each other in record numbers, including their children, in Rwanda and Burundi because they were of different tribes. One day they're all living together, they're big friends; the next day, they're killing each other.

We're going to have the first elections in Bosnia in about a week. And we've been a year without violence. But for 4 years, after living together for decades, people set upon each other and slaughtered each other and even killed children, ravaged families. And the Muslims, the Croats, and the Serbs are biologically indistinguishable. They are Muslims, Croats, and Serbs because of accidents of history and where empires ended in Bosnia.

In Northern Ireland, they still fight over what happened 600 years ago, when the young people have forgotten what all the fighting is about and they just want to get along and have a good life and build a future.

I saw the Prime Minister of Israel yesterday, and we practically had a celebration because he spoke with Mr. Arafat. But the truth is the Palestinians and the Israelis need each other. And if they were getting along, there would be no end to the good they could do for themselves and for their children and the future in the Middle East.

Now here we have that because our Founding Fathers said, "If you believe in the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, and the Declaration of Independence, you can have a home here." We were hypocritical. We had to work through our racial bigotry, and then we had to work through the fact that women didn't even have the vote. But we had the ideal from the beginning. And if we hadn't had the ideal, we would have had nothing to measure ourselves against, and we never would have made the progress that has been made. The civil rights movement was made with reference to the American Constitution.

So I say again, look around this room at all of you. And that's the last thing I want to say. That's why I was so angry about the church burnings and every time a synagogue is defaced or an Islamic center is burned, why I am outraged, because we have to stamp that stuff out here before it gets started. We have to prove that we are happy to be a country of many different races, many different creeds, many different beliefs, because it is our meal ticket to the future. It is in our self-interest to do what is morally right. And we have to do that.

I'm a little more sober than I meant to be here—I don't mean "sober" as opposed to "drunk"—[laughter]—I mean "sober" as opposed to "upbeat"—because I got started thinking when Jeff gave me the introduction, he was talking about meeting with those victims' families.

But let me tell you, one of the great honors, even though it's sometimes a burden, of being President is to see people in their hour of greatest pain, because it has a wonderful way of crystallizing what really matters in life. And when I was there with all those TWA families, including the people from the airlines, including people who were from Italy and France and Britain and America—I could tell you a lot of stories, but I'll just tell you one, tell you why I sort of changed my tone when I was listening to him talk.

This woman came up to me, and she showed me a picture of her perfectly beautiful daughter, who was on this plane, who was one of your flight attendants—she was a beautiful woman— and her perfectly beautiful grandson, who was also on the plane. And she told me a story about how this beautiful 10-year-old boy had walked away from a big opportunity that he had because the people wanted him to say something bad about me. He was a kind of a model, and they wanted him to be in some sort of an ad, or something.

And she started telling me about her grandson. And then she said, "I want you to have this." And she gave me a picture of this blondheaded 10-year-old kid, standing by a fireplace. And I looked at that child, and I thought to myself, I can't do anything to bring him back, but what my job is, is to remember this boy and to make sure that everyone like him that's still around has a great country and a greater country to live in when we start a new century, in a new millennium, in a completely new world, changing the way we work and live, but holding fast to the things that have made this country great for over 200 years.

And that's what I want all Americans to think about for 8 weeks. Most of the stuff comes and goes in elections. It's gone like chaff in the wind. It doesn't amount to a hill of beans. But I'm telling you, we're going to make some big decisions in this election, consciously or unconsciously. I want you to be aware of them. I want you to be happy you're making them. And I want you to make the right ones. We are still where we are today because almost all the time when the chips are down, we do the right thing. And if we stay on the right track, if we really believe in opportunity for all and responsibility from all, and if we really relish the fact that we have all this diversity in this country, the best days of this country are clearly ahead of us and not behind us.

And that's what it is our obligation to do, because that little boy—I'll keep that picture with me until the day I die of that kid standing by the fireplace. And I'll remember that our obligation is to all those little boys that can still stand in front of the fireplace on holidays and have those pictures taken. And if we do that, this country is going to be just fine.

Thank you, and God bless you.

NOTE: The President spoke at 8:25 p.m. at the Hyatt Hotel. In his remarks, he referred to Jeffrey H. Erickson, president and chief executive officer of Trans World Airlines and dinner cochair; Gov. Mel Carnahan of Missouri and his wife, Jean; Mayor Emanuel Cleaver II of Kansas City, MO; Joan Kelly Horn, candidate for Missouri's Second Congressional District; Becky Cook, Missouri secretary of state; and Bob Holden, Missouri State treasurer.

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

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