Remarks at a Democratic National Committee Fundraiser
Thank you very much, Chairman Fowler, for your introduction. Thank you, Congressman Clyburn, for being here tonight and for your leadership. I thank our friend Truman Arnold for his leadership of our finance efforts. I thank particularly Dan Dutko and Peter Knight and all others who raised funds for this important evening. This was the most successful DNC finance dinner ever, thanks to you. And we thank you for that.
I don't keep up with this too much, you know, because I have to spend most of my time being President, but I keep reading these stories that those of you who give to our party are threatened with your lives. If that's true, we appreciate the risk you took in being here. We'll try to make it worth your while for the future. You are living proof that there are a lot of Americans who want to do well themselves and to do good for themselves and for others, and we appreciate that.
I want to thank Senator Dodd. If he'd gotten any hotter tonight, he'd have set off the fire alarm. [Laughter] I hope America is listening.
I also want to thank you all for the response you gave when the mention of our agreement with Japan on autos and auto parts was mentioned. I thank you for that. It occurred in typically dramatic circumstances, going up to the 11th hour. Last night I got home and sort of semi woke Hillary up about a quarter to 3 in the morning. I flew in from Portland, Oregon, where we had a wonderful economic conference yesterday on the five States of the Pacific Rim and their future in the 21st century. And I was being kind of kept up with a blow-by-blow description all the way on the airplane, going all the way across the country, about how we were doing with the Japanese and was it going to come apart or was it going to be put back together. And when I got off the plane in what was for us the middle of the night, I was told that it appeared that we were going to be able to do this, but I would still have to go to sleep, and they would wake me up at some point in the future if it all worked out. So this morning they woke me up, and I got to make the announcement that the agreement had been reached.
I start with that because I want to make a point. There are some people who say that our message is not clear or they don't know the difference between Republicans and Democrats. I can tell you one thing—there are two differences: One is, they may talk better, but we do more; we do more. The other is, we try to do what we do in a way that benefits everybody, not just those who are going to do all right if we don't lift a finger anyway. And that makes a big difference.
This is not class warfare. I am proud of the fact that under our administration we've had more new businesses started and more new millionaires than at any previous point in American history. We want more and more people to do very well. But we want everyone to do well because the country is being lifted up, because we're growing the middle class, because we're shrinking the under class. So we do things that are sometimes more difficult, because otherwise it won't work out that way.
And I want to talk to you about that tonight because when you leave here, if somebody asks you, what does it mean to be a Democrat in 1995, I want you to be able to give an answer.
That's really important. It's really important. And if you look at this Japanese trade agreement, you will see one of the answers.
Now today, both parties say they're for free trade; but in 2 1/2 years, we have negotiated 80 trade agreements, 15 with Japan. We're selling apples and rice and cellular telephones and now automobiles and auto parts to Japan. I'm proud of that.
There is no time in our history when we have had so much expansion of trade in such a short time. Why? Because we're living in a global economy. We have open markets. If we don't expand trade, we still get the downside, those countries that import into our country where their people are struggling to lift their own living standards and still working for wages our people can't live on. But when we open markets and we can sell high-quality, low-cost American products around the world, then we create jobs here that pay, on average, 15 percent above average wages in America. We give our people a way to promote the ideals of freedom and democracy and to do well while doing good.
But in order to do that, trade has to become increasingly more free and increasingly more fair. Therefore, when we negotiated the NAFTA agreement, we also wanted a commitment that we would make a long-term effort working together with Mexico and with Canada to protect the environment and to lift labor standards so that ordinary people in Mexico, as well as ordinary people in the United States, would do well if we expanded trade. That is the kind of thing that we try to do.
And we went to the brink with Japan because I know that the United States alone in the 21st century cannot lift the global economy. It will take a cooperation between the United States and Europe and Japan and all of those growing economies. We have to all work together. And I know that a trading system in Japan, which has made the nation fabulously wealthy but also, today, has brought it to the brink of financial trouble because their currency is so overvalued, because no one is investing in the country, their interest rates are almost negative now. And most important, ordinary people there are paying 40 percent more, 40 percent more than they ought to be paying, for consumer products. Those luxury cars we almost had to put tariffs on, made in Japan, cost 9,000 bucks more in Japan than in the United States. We cannot continue to work toward a global economy unless our great partner in Japan is also doing its part. And everything I sought to do in opening their markets, I believe with all my heart, is not only good for our workers but for theirs.
But it's harder than just saying you're for free trade. You also have to be for fair arrangements that create jobs and grow incomes. That's what it means to be a Democrat in 1995. You've got to be for jobs and incomes and a fair global system.
You know, the Secretary of the Treasury and I and the Vice President—who is, by the way, in Russia tonight; and he's sorry that he and Tipper can't be here with Hillary and me, but he's doing very important work—we were in the Treasury Department the other day to announce one of our reinventing Government initiatives. And this initiative was about how businesses and individuals in 32 States next year are going to be able to file their taxes, State and Federal, at the same time electronically. And in the course of that, billions of dollars will be saved in compliance costs with the tax systems. And eventually, of course, we'll get to 50 States. But we're going to 32 next year.
And to illustrate this, we invited what I would call a real American, who happened to be in Washington for the White House Small Business Conference, to come and talk about how his circumstance would be changed. And the fellow we invited was a man named Paul Condit from west Texas, a John Deere dealer from west Texas. And old Paul Condit showed up with all of his papers that he was going to get to throw in the trashcan now that he could file electronically. And he looked at me—and this is why we're all here tonight—and he said, "Mr. President," he said, "you and the Vice President here have done a great job of reinventing Government. What you need to do now is reinvent communications because it ain't getting out in the heartland." And I think that's true.
Sometimes I feel like that old country song when I watch the evening news. Remember that country song that said, "They changed everything about me but my name"? [Laughter]
So tonight I want you to think about this: Why are you here? What will you do tomorrow? How do you intend to spend the next year to fulfill the mission that Senator Dodd and Chairman Fowler put before us tonight?
First, let's face facts. One of the reasons that our friends in the other party tend to do well is that they are great at giving simple answers to complicated questions. And this is a confusing time to people. Why shouldn't people be confused about public issues? They're confused about the way their own lives are working out in this world. It seems to be the best of times and the worst of times.
The good news: 6.7 million new jobs. I'm proud of that. The good news: record numbers of new businesses, record numbers of new millionaires. That's great. But how do you explain that fact that we drove down unemployment, drove up jobs, have the lowest combined rates of unemployment and inflation in 30 years, have the lowest African-American unemployment in 20 years, and the median income in America has dropped by one percent in the last 2 years? And more and more people feel insecure in their own jobs with all the downsizing that's coming along.
So there is this ambivalence about the global economy. They say, "Hey, this is great, America creates jobs, but I may not get a raise." And more than half of the workers in this country are working for about the same wage they were making 10 years ago, and they're working a longer work week. And they're feeling more insecure.
And our Nation is the only one—they may criticize me until the cows come home for trying to do something about health care, Hillary and me, but I'll tell you one thing, we are the only country, the only one, where there are a smaller percentage of people today under the age of 65 with health insurance than there were 10 years ago. You'd be insecure, too, if that happened to you.
So, the good news and the bad news: crime. Look at crime. The crime rate is going down in almost every city in the country. And our crime bill will help it to go down further. But the crime rate is going up among very young teenagers; and random violence among our future citizens, going up.
I'll give you another example: technology. Technology is a blessing beyond all belief. I just was home, Hillary and I went home for 2 or 3 days, and I got to thinking about it. A kid in a rural school district in the Ozark Mountains with only five or six people in the senior class can get on the Internet now and hook into a library in Australia and do a research paper on volcanoes, thanks to technology. Incredible, utterly incredible!
But that same technology can expose that child's younger brother or sister to unbelievable pornography and can teach a deranged person who's smart enough to use a computer how to make a bomb, just like the one that blew up Oklahoma City. Technology means now that radical groups can develop little vials of sarin gas and walk into a subway in Japan and break it open and kill innocent people. It means other fanatic groups are now operating secret laboratories where they are searching for the ability to make biological warfare weapons, little germ warfare mechanisms that will kill people in the same sort of way.
So it's a good news/bad news story. After a while, people just get a headache and say, "Just tell me a simple answer so I can go on with my life." So if somebody says, "Well, vote for us. The Government's causing all your problems. We're for less Government, lower taxes. We'll be tough on crime, welfare, and immigration. We're your ticket." Sounds pretty good to me. "We'll balance the budget. And you don't get anything out of the Government but an occasional audit and a bad regulation anyway." [Laughter] Sounds pretty good to me. Right? I mean, that's what we're dealing with. And then the whispered message is, besides that, "Contribute enough, we'll let you write the legislation. We'll just kind of sit there in front for you." [Laughter] I think some of you are here tonight because you still want us to do some of the work. You don't want to have to do it all yourselves. [Laughter]
So it sounds good. What's wrong with it? First of all, for all the joking I'm saying, we are really—we're in a period of such profound change that we are being now asked by our people and forced by the press of events to debate fundamental questions. You heard Don Fowler stand up and say the Democratic Party rests on two principles; middle class economics and mainstream values is essentially what he said. We try to grow the middle class, help poor people work their way into the middle class. We try to offer a society in which people can come together, not be divided. You say that as if you take that for granted. That is not to be taken for granted any more.
Look what we're debating today in Washington: the first principles of what we are as a people, the first principles. And let me just give you some examples. We used to debate— from the end of the cold war until the last few years, we debated the difference between Republicans and Democrats in a range sort of like this. Now the range is about this big. All things are back on the table now. Why? The cold war is over. We don't have an organized rationale for how we relate to the rest of the world. And the global economy and the information age have all kinds of apparently conflicting impacts. It's confusing to people and all these questions are open. So let's go back to the basic questions, and when you walk out of here tonight, you'll either know why you're a Democrat or you'll be ready to switch. But at least it'll be a matter of principle, not convenience. Now, let's think about that.
Issue number one: There are now a lot of folks in this town—and Senator Dodd had a funny joke about it tonight: guns don't kill people, movies do—[laughter]—there are a lot of people here who believe that all of our problems are personal and cultural, as opposed to the old view that most of our common problems were economic and political. Now, if you think all of our problems are personal and cultural, that really lets you off the hook; you don't have to do much heavy lifting. You just say, "Look, if everybody would just go out and behave and get up tomorrow and do the right thing, we wouldn't have any problems anyway," take your tax cut, and leave town. [Laughter] Think about it. If you believe that, if you believe that, you don't have to do much. You can spend all your time exhorting people to behave as individuals and attacking the influence centers in the culture who make movies you don't agree with or music you don't agree with or whatever.
Now, let me tell you what I think, and what I think has to be the credo of the Democratic Party. At a certain level, that is self-evidently true. That is, we know that there is nothing Government can do for anybody they're not prepared to do for themselves. If people will not take responsibility for their own lives, for their children, for their education, for making the most of their own lives, there's nothing we can do. That is self-evidently true. There's not a single soul here tonight who can afford the price of a ticket to be here because somebody just gave you something. You all had to do something back. That's what the Democratic Party was founded on, hard work. And at a certain level, we all know that there are influence centers in our culture, entertainment, sports, the media, business, labor, you name it, that are beyond government and politics. That's true, too.
I'd like you to remember, however, that some of us were raising questions about this long before the Presidential election started. Tipper Gore, 18 years ago, was talking about whether lyrics in music were good for children and how we should discuss this. I was dealing with these issues with Hillary long before I ever thought I was running for President. This should not be an issue for a political season. But that's true. But you know what? If you use that as an excuse to walk away, then you don't have to vote for the family and medical leave law. Let me tell you something, it's a lot easier to be a good person and a good parent if you don't lose your job when you have to go home when your baby is born and your parent is sick. So there are political and economic issues here, as well.
And all those people that came home from World War II, that built the greatest middle class the world had ever known, they did it because they were great patriots and good parents and good workers. And they were good citizens. They also did it because they had the GI bill.
So don't let anybody tell you—the first thing I would tell you is, I believe if you're a Democrat, you don't agree that all of our problems are exclusively personal and cultural, you think there are economic and political dimensions to the challenges we face, and you don't want to take a dive on it.
The second issue flows out of the first. What about the role of Government? What is the role of Government? If you believe that all the problems are personal and cultural, then the role of Government is fund the defense, balance the budget as quick as you can, consistent with giving a big tax cut.
But if you believe that the role of Government is to help people make the most of their own lives and that in every age and time we have common challenges that can best be met in this way, then that changes everything. Then you say, "Yes, well, we ought to balance the budget, but guess what, there's an education deficit, too. And I don't want to cut off my nose to spite my face. And I don't believe that we should give tax cuts unless it will grow the economy and raise incomes, unless people need it, unless it supports education, unless it supports the economic challenges we face. So let's balance the budget in a way that increases investment in our people so that we get both benefits, a balanced budget and helping people make the most of their own lives, because the objective is to raise incomes and bring the American people together."
I'll give you another example. Look at the crime debate. If you believe all the problems are personal and cultural, then you couldn't possibly support the Brady bill or the assault weapons ban because that represents a minor inconvenience to the law-abiding people who for whatever reason want an assault weapon or the far larger number of law-abiding people who genuinely want to buy handguns and are somehow discomforted if they have to wait a few days while there's a background check. Because if all the problems are personal and cultural, just catch the wrongdoers, throw them in jail, throw the key away, and forget about it.
But if you live in the real world instead of the world of ideological extremes, and you think that some of our problems are political and that we have an obligation to work together, then you say, well, a law-abiding person who wants to buy a handgun really won't object to this minor inconvenience to help a few more police officers and a few more innocent children stay alive. You say to yourself that law-abiding people will find other ways to satisfy their desire for sporting activities with guns, even if they have to give up these assault weapons so we can get the Uzis out of the high schools. That's the kind of thing you say to yourself.
Now, this has—I submit to you, this has nothing to do with the right to keep and bear arms— nothing, nothing. This has to do with whether you think our problems are just isolated personal things or bad culture, or whether you believe that we have to band together, to work together to find practical solutions to solve our problems.
Now, all the law enforcement people say, "We live with this problem, and it's not just as simple as locking people up and throwing away the key. Punishment is important. Please punish bad people. But meanwhile, please pass the Brady bill. Please pass the assault weapons ban. Please spend some money on prevention so our kids have something to say yes to as well as something to say no to." That's what people in law enforcement say, who live with this every day. Why? Because they know that our problems are both personal and cultural and they are political and economic and social. And if we don't pull together and try to solve them, we will never make much progress. We'll just have a lot of elections with hot air, 30-second ads, driving people's emotion through the roof but never really getting down to the business of moving America forward. So I say if you're a Democrat, you say it is both, not one.
Let me just give you one final example. Look at the environment. Look at the environment. Look what has happened. We even had a subcommittee the other day vote to lift the ban on all offshore oil drilling. "Never mind how small the proven reserves are, never mind what it would do to the retirees or the tourists in Florida or California, or never mind what might happen off the New Jersey coast. Government is bad; what is private is good. If somebody can get up enough money to sink an oilwell anywhere in this country offshore, let them do it. And even if there are unfortunate consequences, we are philosophically opposed to doing anything that would interfere with that." These are the people that want to let all the environmental law be rewritten by those who want to get rid of them. And they're doing a pretty good job of that. Now, but to be fair to them, that's the way they think. In other words, they think it's a nice enough thing if you can preserve the environment, but not if the price of preserving the environment, God forbid, is having Government pass a law.
This is the debate that's going on. You laugh. Don't tell me you don't know the difference between our party and the other party. This is the debate that is going on in Washington. But let's be fair to them. They honestly believe that it is wrong for the Government to protect our common heritage because the Government would mess up a one-car parade; the Government might interfere with something someone wants to do to make a dollar in the short run; and the Government, being a fallible institution, will mess up now and again and do really dumb things. Now this is a first principle.
I say to you, any institution comprised of human beings will err. And Government should be restrained because it has power. And that's why we've got the Constitution we've got. But I'll say this too: Unless we preserve our fundamental natural environment and find a way to grow the economy while protecting the environment, then our grandchildren and their grandchildren will not know the America that we have grown up in and come to love.
And again—so you want to know what the difference is? I believe the purpose of Government is to help people to make the most of their own lives. I believe the purpose of Government is to grow the economy in ways that creates more entrepreneurs and more millionaires but also raises incomes for the middle class and shrinks the under class. I believe our business here is to find a way to solve our problems in practical ways that bring us together and don't drive us apart. I believe ideological extremism is the bane of America's progress. It has been for 200 years, and it still is. We cannot put political correctness ahead of advancing the lives of the American people. That's what I believe.
You know, you take every single one of the other party's themes—they say, "We want less Government." Sounds great. Our party, our administration, 2 1/2 years, has reduced the size of the Federal Government by 150,000. If we don't pass another budget, we'll still have the smallest Government we've had since President Kennedy was in office. But you know what? I also know that downsizing, while it is necessary, is threatening to real people. And so look how we did it. We didn't just throw people in the street. We gave them good early retirement incentives. We tried to take time to do this in a reasoned way, because there are people involved and there are practical realities involved.
I want to cut the size of Government. I want to cut regulation. The other day we cut 16,000 regulations at the White House Conference on Small Business. They want to get rid of the Department of Commerce. Why? Because ideologically the Government obviously can never do anything to help the private sector. Never mind the fact that Ron Brown has created more jobs in the private sector than any Secretary of Commerce in history with the partnerships and the efforts that have been made.
I could go on and on and on. But if you strip apart, take it all away, you see an honest, huge debate. They say all of our problems are personal and cultural; private is good, public is bad; balance the budget as quickly as possible; give the biggest tax cut you can; don't worry about anything but defense. We say in the postcold-war world of the global economy in the 21st century, the most important thing is whether people can make the most of their own lives, whether they can compete and win in the global economy, and whether we can do it in a way that keeps the American dream alive, where more people are moving into the middle class, where people are rewarded for their efforts, and where we find a way to make our diversity a strength, not a weakness. That is the difference. That is enough difference for me to stand on until kingdom come. I am proud to be here with the Democratic Party tonight, and I hope you are, too.
Now, let me say these two brief points in closing. First of all, I have said this so that you would know where I stand and so you could help to determine where you stand. But that does not mean that I believe we would be better off if we were more partisan. I think the American people are sick of partisanship, just for the sake of partisanship.
The other night I was out in San Francisco— I want to tell you this story. And I'll tell you— because I want you to think about this. I think these people are pretty representative of our country. And I saw a couple about my age having dinner, and they said, "Mr. President, would you come shake hands with us?" So I did. And even though they were about my age, they told me they were celebrating their first anniversary—celebrating their first anniversary—and I said, "Well, Hillary and I are about to celebrate our 20th anniversary." And it was—you know, people will sometimes tell you anything when you're President. So this man in this very touching—this man got this sort of faraway look in his eye, and he said, "You know, I'd be celebrating my 20th anniversary, too, this year, but my wife passed away, and I met this wonderful woman." And then the woman smiled, and she said, "My husband didn't pass away. He was a jerk." [Laughter] And she said—it's a true story—and she said, "And I met this wonderful man." [Laughter]
And then they—I couldn't believe this. I'm just standing here, you know, listening to this. This is America. This is not Washington, DC, now. [Laughter] This is America. So then, then they go on to tell me that he is a Republican, and she is a Democrat; that he owns a fast food restaurant chain, and she's a schoolteacher; that she voted for me, and he didn't. They tell me all this in about 5 minutes. I'm listening to this whole thing. [Laughter] But let me tell you what they said. Here's the point I want to make. Here's the point I want to make. They were just out there in San Francisco, and they didn't live in California. They were out there celebrating their first anniversary. And he said to me—he said, and she said amen—he said, "You know, we come from different parties. We look at a lot of things in different ways, but we think what happened to Dr. Foster was a crying shame." That's what they said. And they said, "We just think there's too much partisanship in Washington."
So let me tell you what I'm trying to do. That's why I went to that wonderful little town in New Hampshire, where Hillary and I fell in love with the folks in 1992, and had that conversation with the Speaker of the House. A lot of people said, "This is crazy, don't do it," whatever. I decided that it would be better to try to honestly tell the American people what the real differences are and then see if there is some honest way we can bridge those differences to move forward. That's what I decided we ought to do, because I believe that the American people will listen and think with their heads and their hearts, with their ears open instead of being all torn up and upset by their genuine confusion and uncertainty about the future. We will do fine, because most people run the rest of their lives the way we believe our country ought to be run.
And the only reason that things seem so out of whack today is that everything is changing and people are confused and uncertain, so they are vulnerable to easy answers to complex problems. And what we have to say is, when you hear all this stuff, will it raise incomes? Will it generate jobs? Will it bring people together? Will it make us a stronger country? Will it bring us into the future in better shape? So when we ask ourselves how should we balance the budget, I say if it takes a little longer and you have to have a little smaller tax cut, if you can take care of all these old folks on Medicare and you can increase education instead of cut it, let's do that, because that is the kind of America that we ought to have. That is the kind of America that we ought to have.
What I want to say to you is that I am now convinced that we have an enormous opportunity if we can be clear and unambiguous. We don't have to even attack. We just need to try to honestly explain. I have tried tonight to honestly explain to you where I believe many of them are on their issues and where we are. I have tried to be as honest as I could. But we have an opportunity here. Oklahoma City, as tragic and awful as it was, took a lot of the meanness out of this country. It made us all think again about what it is that we share as human beings across all the divides. And when Captain O'Grady survived those 6 days in Bosnia and came home, it gave a little lift back to our country, and it made us think about all the things we're proud of about America, that brings us together across all the divides.
And I leave you with this: The Democrats— the Democrats believe that we're here to help each other make the most of our own lives, that there will never be a time when Government can do anything for people they won't do for themselves, but that it is simply an evasion of our common responsibility to say our problems are only personal problems, only cultural problems. And it is self-defeating to believe we can move into the 21st century without finding a way to go there together—to go there together.
This is a very great country. And the American people are now listening and looking. And we have an opportunity to be what we are. We are not negative. We are not wreckers. We are builders. Do not run away from that because of the power of the negative forces of recent years. Instead, embrace it. Go out and tell people what you believe, why you believe it, and why we ought to be returned in 1996, not for our sake but for the future of our country.
Thank you, and God bless you all.
NOTE: The President spoke at 9:50 p.m. at the Sheraton Washington Hotel. In his remarks, he referred to Donald L. Fowler, chairman, and Truman Arnold, acting national finance chair, Democratic National Committee.
William J. Clinton, Remarks at a Democratic National Committee Fundraiser Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/221541