Remarks at a Democratic National Committee Luncheon in Boston, Massachusetts
Thank you very much. Up to this point, I've had a great time here today. I could have listened to this go on forever. I want to say to all those here, to Elaine and to Alan and everyone who worked on this event; to Governor Romer and Len Barrack and all of those—to Joe Andrew and others who will carry on with the Democratic Party; to Joan Menard and Mayor Menino; and especially to Senator Kennedy, Senator Kerry, Congressmen Moakley and Meehan and McGovern and Tierney, Capuano, and the other members of the delegation, how profoundly grateful I am to be here; how grateful I am for every occasion in which I have come to Boston or the State of Massachusetts since 1991; for the kindness and support that you have given to me, to Hillary, to the Vice President, to all of us; for being the State which has consistently given the Clinton-Gore team the highest percentage of the popular vote; for sticking with the agenda that we have set forth for America and sending a magnificent congressional delegation. I am very grateful.
This morning, Hillary asked me what I was going to do in Boston, and I said, "Oh, I'm going up there to canonize Steve Grossman." [Laughter] And she said, "Bill, don't say that.
That's the wrong religion." [Laughter] But that's basically what we've done. [Laughter] And every word deserved.
When I met Steve many years ago, and he was running APEC and I was a young Governor trying to learn about the complexities of the Middle East, I never could have dreamed that I would become so heavily involved in the peace process there, that I would have the opportunity to do what we have been able to do, to move it forward.
You know, when you think about the condition of the Democratic Party when Steve became chairman and you think about some of the difficulties we've faced in the Middle East— if you sort of assume that he helped give me the Presidency and I helped give him the Democratic Party, it's hard to imagine who got the better deal on some days. [Laughter] I think neither of us would trade the opportunity and the challenge for anything. And so, again, I just want to say thank you.
Let me also say that there is another reason that we did as well as we did in 1998, and that is that we stood for something, for all the American people, and for all kinds of Americans. I just want to mention one other person who is here; I can't resist. Her presence here, I understand, is a birthday present. And tomorrow Rosina Grattaroti will celebrate her 90th birthday. I'd like to ask her to stand up. Where are you? There she is. [Applause] Happy birthday. I asked Mayor Menino if he knew her; he said, "Yes, she comes from an old Irish family in town." [Laughter]
But let me say to all of you, in 1992 you gave me a chance to try to lead this country in a new direction, based on old values. I said over and over again—sometimes to suspicious audiences—that I wanted the Democratic Party to go back to its old values with new ideas; that our mission would always be to provide opportunity to all Americans, to call forth all citizens to a sense of responsibility, and to give us a real sense of community.
I still think if there is one idea that sort of often divides us from our friends in the Republican Party, it is our passionate belief in community, the idea that we are interdependent, that none of us is better than any other, that we can never fulfill our complete destiny as individuals and families unless we live in a country which is giving everybody the chance to do it, and we're all working together. And increasingly, we know that to be true about the larger world beyond our borders.
In 1996, because the country had done well, I asked the American people to give us a chance to finish the job and build our bridge to the 21st century. And with Massachusetts leading the way, they did. In 1998, what did we say to the American people? What was the difference historically? This is not rocket science. Steve Grossman and all of our team, people like him all across America who followed his lead, went out and said, "You cannot let this party be destroyed. We must rebuild it financially, and we must remember what we stand for."
And then we went to the American people in 1998, and we never did say, until after the election was over, "Hey, did you know it's been since 1822 that the party of the President actually picked up seats in the House of Representatives in a 6th-year election? And wouldn't you like to make history?"
That's not what we said. What did we say? "Elect us. We will save Social Security first. We will pass the Patients' Bill of Rights. We'll be for world-class education. We'll keep our economy going. We'll keep pulling the American people together. We have an agenda that will build America for all the citizens who live here." That's what this is about.
There is a lot of energy in our party today, because we have a mission for the American people; because we believe in opportunity and responsibility; because we believe, at root, in the idea of an American community; because we have never sought political power except to advance those ideals, not for ourselves but for others. And that is the secret that Steve Grossman brought to the United States, with all the other Democrats, that resulted in the election victories in '98.
And it is now our obligation to fulfill the mandate we were given by the people. That's what the State of the Union Address was all about. So when you leave here today, grateful to Steve Grossman, what you should really be grateful for is that because of his labors, we have made it more likely that we will save Social Security and Medicare and that in the process of doing it we will lift from the children—the grandchildren of the baby boomers—an enormous financial burden, which will free them to pursue their own destinies; that we will do it by saving most of the surplus, and that will enable us to pay down the national debt.
If anybody had come before you in 1992 and said, "Vote for me for President; in a few years we'll be paying down the national debt," you would have given them a quick exit home. You'd have thought, that guy's been, you know, chewing on funny reeds or something. [Laughter] But we will—if this proposal is adopted—listen to this: In 1981 our national debt was 26 percent of our annual income. In 1992, when I took office, our national debt was 50 percent of our national income. It's now down to 44 and dropping fast.
If our proposal for Social Security and Medicare is adopted, to save the surplus for those purposes and to buy into publicly held debt, it will go to its lowest point since 1917, before World War II, and we will be on our way to guaranteeing our children and our grandchildren a generation of low interest rates, strong economy, investment opportunities, education opportunities, and a brighter future for America in the 21st century. We ought to do this. That is what we were elected to do.
The mayor and I and the many members of the congressional delegation, when we leave here we are going to a school, because it symbolizes the future that we fought for. And I will say again what I said to you in the State of the Union Address: We should invest more money in education, but we should spend it more wisely. We should spend it on what we know works and stop financing what we know doesn't.
We ought to say to all of our schools: We want to spend more money for better trained teachers. We want to hire 100,000 more teachers and make sure they're well trained. We want to build or modernize 5,000 schools because we're tired of our kids going to schools where they spend all day in a housetrailer because it's so overcrowded, or they go to a school that's so broken down, we can't even hook it up to the Internet because the school won't take the connection.
We want to say there ought to be certain rules in every school, no social promotion. But don't say the kids are failing when the system is failing them. That's why this budget triples funding for after-school and summer school programs that will lift student achievement and lift kids up and give them a chance to make the most of their own lives.
We ought to say even though America is doing very well, there are still neighborhoods not very far from here that aren't doing so well. There are still people who haven't been part of this economic recovery. Four of our 10 largest cities have cut their unemployment rate in half since 1992, but there are still neighborhoods in almost every large city where the unemployment rate is high. There are rural areas in my part of the country, in the Mississippi Delta or in Appalachia or in south Texas, there are Native American communities which have felt almost no positive impact from this great wave of economic recovery.
In the State of the Union Address I set forth a whole series of initiatives that could put $15 billion, not of Government money but private sector money into our inner cities and our rural areas to create businesses and jobs and hope. Now, this is the best economy we've had in a generation, maybe ever. We will never have a better time to bring the American dream to poor people who are willing to work hard. If we can't do it now, we will never do it, and we ought to do it now.
We also were elected by a large and growing number of Americans of all ages who are concerned about environmental issues but do not wish to give up the promise of economic growth. We have proved that you can make the air and water cleaner, that you can preserve more land, that you can restore more brownfields in cities and still grow this economy. A big part of our agenda is a livability and lands legacy agenda to help cities deal with traffic problems—you never have them in Boston—[laughter]—to help them clean up more brownfields, to help save more city parks, and set aside more isolated, irreplaceable places all over America. This, too, is an important part of what it means to be an American—living in harmony with our natural environment and growing our economy.
And finally, someone mentioned City Year earlier, and I noticed there was a smattering of applause. One of the proudest moments of my life was when, along with the pen that President Kennedy used to sign the bill creating the Peace Corps, we created AmeriCorps, the national service program. Senator Kennedy was there with me, other members of the delegation were. And since then there have been 100,000 young people, in only 4 years, serve in AmeriCorps.
I went home to Arkansas last week to see the tornado damage. Both the communities I visited, there were young AmeriCorps kids there from New York, New Jersey, California, Colorado—believe me, they never would have gone there before—helping people, learning things, sharing their lives. There were kids that went to Ivy League schools and kids that dropped out of high school. There were kids who came from wealthy families and kids who came from families on welfare all working together, pulling this country together, doing something to make America a better place. It is the embodiment of what we believe our public and political life ought to be all about.
So I say to you, I'm glad we won this election. I am grateful to Steve Grossman. But he would say to you—and I know he will say to you— we have to deliver. We have to deliver. We have to save Social Security and Medicare. We should pay down this debt. We should bring economic opportunity to other areas that haven't felt it. We should make world-class education the province of every American child. We can do these things. We can do it if we do it together.
Massachusetts, as much as any place, Boston, as much as any city in America, gave this administration the chance to bring that hope, that message, and that reality to the American people. I will never forget you. I will certainly never forget Steve Grossman. I am grateful. Now it's time to stand and deliver.
Thank you, and God bless you.
NOTE: The President spoke at 2:05 p.m. in the Arlington Room at the Park Plaza Hotel. In his remarks, he referred to event cochairs Elaine Schuster and Alan D. Solomont; Gov. Roy Romer of Colorado, general chair, Leonard Barrack, national finance chair, Joseph J. Andrew, national chair-designate, and Steve Grossman, national chair, Democratic National Committee; Joan M. Menard, Massachusetts State Democratic Party chair; and Mayor Thomas M. Menino of Boston.
William J. Clinton, Remarks at a Democratic National Committee Luncheon in Boston, Massachusetts Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/225880