Bill Clinton photo

Remarks at a Democratic National Committee Reception in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

September 25, 1996

Thank you very much. Thank you, Don Fowler, for your remarks. I was standing outside and I heard them. I thank you for what you said, and I thank you for your extraordinary hard work, your devotion, and your incredible energy. He is probably traveling considerably more than I am. He's worked hard to bring our party back and I thank him.

Thank you, Tom Leonard, for always, always being there for me, for our administration, and for our country. And thank you, Mayor Rendell. You know, when you started that, I didn't quite know where you were going. [Laughter] He said, "If I had told you in the fall of 1991 that all this would happen," and he went through all these—I thought he said, "And then I got elected mayor." [Laughter] And that's what brought it on. And Philadelphia sparked a firestorm of reform and investment—[Laughter]—all over America, in every State.

Well, I shook hands with one of your police officers today when we were down getting our cheesesteak at Pat's—[laughter]—and the police officer said, "Mr. President, the first time I met you, you were Governor, and you and the mayor were shooting baskets not very far from here." You remember that? And so I looked at the police officer, and I said, "Now, who won that?" [Laughter] He knew what he was supposed to answer. And I assured him that in 1992 and again in 1996, I could take it; there was only one contest I was interested in winning. And Mayor Rendell won the other one. [Laughter]

I am delighted to be back in Philadelphia. I've had a wonderful day already. I started the day in western Pennsylvania, outside Pittsburgh. I went to Robert Morris College and announced the issuance of our first inflation-free bonds to let people save first in denominations of $1,000 and up, in bonds that will be adjusted in their principal as inflation grows so that you will get a real rate of return on investments in savings and Government securities from now on. I'm very excited about it. It's a way to give families a real protection.

And I can tell you that if there is a good market—and I think there will be—next year we're going to have those bonds come out in denominations as low as $50, so that working people can take them in their paychecks if they want, and students can buy them in savings bonds. And I am very, very hopeful that this will make it easier for people of modest means to save more and to know that their savings will actually count for them even if we hit another patch of inflation, and there's always some inflation in the economy. Now these savings are going to be guaranteed with the backing of the United States Treasury. So I had a good day there, and I was glad to be there.

And it was interesting, you know, Robert Morris of Pennsylvania was really one of the major financial backers of the Revolutionary War, of our side. [Laughter] And he was also the first budget balancer. He resigned from the Continental Congress in 1778 because he thought they were printing too much money. My kind of Democrat. [Laughter] So, anyway, it was a great day.

Then I came over to Philadelphia and the mayor and I and some other folks, we did go down and get a little cheesesteak at Pat's and I reminded myself—we had that wonderful rally there, you may remember—some of you may have been down there 4 years ago. We had a great rally. I was giving Pat's equal time; I went to Gino's 4 years ago. [Laughter] And I had a picture up there, and I just couldn't stand going to a place and not seeing the picture on the other store, so I—[laughter]—it was wonderful, we had a great time.

And I saw a little piece of America there. I shook hands with a woman who had just come to live in the United States and her child and she said, "This could only happen in your country." She said, "I've only been here 3 months. I've just moved here from Hong Kong." I thought, what an amazing thing, you know. We sometimes forget what a remarkable place the United States is and how real the Statue of Liberty is in the lives of so many millions of our people and how the President is essentially the Nation's hired hand and is and should be accessible to all kinds of people from all walks of life and all stations. So we had a nice little visit, and she likes Philadelphia. [Laughter]

Let me also say that I want to compliment the mayor on pushing so many reforms and the city of Philadelphia has really been on the cutting edge of change. Philadelphia received one of our empowerment zones. We've done a lot of work here in defense conversion. We've done a lot of work in other areas. But today the city of Philadelphia did something that I think was very important. The board of education today instituted a dress code for the schools and authorized schools to adopt school uniform policies.

Let me say, I have been all over this country—the third largest school district in the State of California, in Long Beach, has a school uniform policy for elementary school students and maybe for junior high school students but not for high school. I know of no place that has one for high school students. But in a lot of these places, especially for the middle school students, it's made the children a lot safer if the schools were in dangerous neighborhoods, subject to gangs and battles. And it's made the schoolyards themselves much safer, because you can always tell who doesn't belong there because they're not dressed right. In every place, the uniforms have been simple. Most places, the kids get to choose the colors. A lot of times, the teachers dress like the students do. There's always a fund set up for the children whose parents can't afford them.

But it's one thing that has served to lower crime, violence, and increase attendance and increase learning at a lot of schools. And I think a dress code is itself an important statement, because we want our young children, whether they're poor or rich or middle class, when they're in school to define themselves primarily in terms of what's going on on the inside, not what they're wearing on the outside. And I think it's a very, very good thing.

So this reflects the sort of thing I think we should be doing in America, trying to figure out how to meet our challenges. And one of them is to increase learning levels among all of our people and at the same time preserve our basic values. And that is really what this election is all about.

The city of Philadelphia had a lot to do with my becoming President. We won a bigger victory here in terms of votes than President Kennedy did in 1960, even though the population was smaller. And I was very grateful to all of you.

The normally Republican suburban areas near here were unusually good to the Clinton/Gore ticket in 1992, and I hope they will be in 1996. The mayor told you that the platform we ran on in 1992, "Putting People First," with a strategy of opportunity, responsibility, and a stronger American community, has brought good results, and I feel very good about them. But I can't say that we've done what we need to do to realize what my vision is for this country at the dawn of the 21st century. And I've been going all across this country, saying to people, "I want you to think about this election in a different way, not even if you're an ardent Democrat or Republican or independent. I think you should think primarily in terms of the Nation. What do you want America to be like when we toll the dawn of a new century and a new millennium? What do you want America to be like when our children are our age? What are our responsibilities to bring about that vision?"

We are going through a period of enormous change, as all of you know, and most of you have experienced in your own lives, in the nature of work, the nature of work and family, how we relate to each other, and how we relate to people around the world in commercial, political, and other ways. A change of this magnitude only occurs rarely, certainly no more than a couple of times every 100 years.

And very often, such disruptive and cataclysmic changes are accompanied by wars. Indeed, even though the cold war is over and we have succeeded in getting the nuclear threat to recede—I was so proud yesterday to sign the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty. [Applause] Thank you. Even though that threat is receding, not gone but receding, we see new threats that we have lived with painfully in the World Trade Center bombing or the destruction of the Federal building and all of the loss of life in Oklahoma City or the capture and conviction of the terrorists who planned to blow up as many as 12 of our airplanes flying over the Pacific. And thank God we were able to truncate that plan. They saw it in Japan in the sarin gas attack, chemical weapons in the Tokyo subway that took the lives of innocent people. And of course, you see it all over the world.

The new security threats we face are different. Terrorism has been around a long time, and it's been quite prominent from time to time in the last 20 years. But now we see it crossing national boundaries at a rapid rate, because the world we're living in has to be more open. We can share information and ideas, technology. We can move money around in no time at all, and we have more open borders. More people are getting on airplanes and moving around. All this is a good thing. But it makes us more vulnerable to the forces of destruction that cross national lines, the ethnic hatreds, the terrorism, the proliferation of dangerous weapons, organized crime, drug trafficking, all these things.

So we're going through this period of change. What I want to do is I want us to be able to say when we start the new century that we are confident that the American dream is available for every person, without regard to their station in life, who is willing to work for it. I want us to be able to say with confidence that even though ethnic, religious, racial, tribal divisions are tearing the heart out of lives all over the world, in America we relish our diversity, we're proud of it, and we're going stronger because of that diversity, because of our shared values and our commitment to work together. That's what I want us to be able to say. And finally, I want us to be able to say, mean, and believe that our country is going to continue to be the strongest force in the world for peace and freedom and prosperity, not just for ourselves but for others. We have to understand that we are living in a highly interdependent world.

I was in Seattle, Washington, the other day; 35,000 people showed up in the rain and waited 4 hours in the rain. I wasn't 4 hours late, but they just started gathering. [Laughter] Thirtyfive thousand in the rain. But no place is probably so attuned to how tied we are to the rest of the world. In Washington State already, one in five jobs is directly dependent on the global economy, already—in one of our States in the United States.

So we have to fashion a strategy to meet that vision. We're on the right track. We're better off than we were 4 years ago. There is more opportunity, there is a greater sense of citizen responsibility. And we certainly are seeing more community-based efforts to move our country forward and make the most of our own lives. That's why, when something happens like the decision that the board of education here made, I want to highlight it; I want the rest of America to see it. There are still too many kids out there raising themselves. They need help. They need support. They need to be part of something bigger than themselves. And we need to support them, we need to help them.

So if you look ahead to the future and you ask yourself, look where we've come from, the strategy is working, but what else do we need to do, that's what I want this election to be about. And I want to ask all of you—there are now 5 weeks and 6 days left—[laughter]—and what I would ask you to do is to take the time that is left, some time every day, and engage someone in a conversation about our national destiny and about what kinds of decisions we have to make and what will be reflected by the judgments we make on election day this November and what impact it will have. Talk to your friends and family members, your coworkers, people you run into here throughout the State of Pennsylvania and beyond the borders of this State; many of you have friends around the country. And every one of you has the capacity to influence others. For me, the idea of building a bridge to the 21st century is a powerful idea because it implies it's a work that we have to do together, that will span the difference between here and there in a way that is strong and good and enduring, and when we do it, then others will be able to walk across the bridge behind us. That's why I talk about it all the time. It captures the image of public work at its best. And not just something the President does, not just something the mayor does, not just something that Congress does, but something that we all do together, where everyone has a role to play, and everyone has a right to walk on the bridge.

I also say that, to me, the idea of what we're trying to do and how we're trying to do it is best captured by the title of the First Lady's book. I believe it does take a village to raise a child, to build a community, and to build a country.

So if you believe that we're at this unique moment in history as I do, and all of these things are changing, we don't have an option to recapture a past that's not there. We don't have an option to deny the changes. If you believe we can build a bridge and if you believe we have do to it together, then we are at truly a unique moment when all of our hopes and dreams have a better chance to be realized.

I believe the best days of this country are still ahead of us. I don't just believe, I know that the children of Philadelphia today, within 10 years when they're grown, will be doing jobs that have not been invented yet. Many of them will be doing work that has not even been imagined yet. When I am in my dotage, I expect my grandchildren to be making fun of me because I can't even understand half of the ways that people are communicating with each other by then. [Laughter] And what we have to do is to make sure that we do what still needs to be done.

We know that not every person in this country or every person in this city has still had an opportunity to participate in this economic revival. We know that. We know that there are neighborhoods and rural areas that have not been caught up in this remarkable recovery, even though there have been 10 1/2 million new jobs. We know that even though wages are beginning to rise again for the first time in a decade, we still haven't had enough growth to overcome two decades of stagnant wages and increasing inequality. We know that not everyone has the education and skills that they need.

We know that even though we've fought strongly for environmental protection and we have advanced the cause of the environment in many ways—the air is cleaner; we have a safe drinking water law; we've upgraded the meat inspection laws of the country for the first time in 70 years, and we've revolutionized, through the pesticide protection act, the protection of all kinds of foods from chemicals that might be cancer-causing; we've cleaned up more toxic waste dumps in 3 years than have been cleaned up in the 12 previous years—we know there is still work to be done there because 10 million kids still live within 4 miles of a toxic waste site, and that's pretty frightening when you think of it. So we know we've got work to do right across the board.

And that's what I'd like this campaign to be about. That's why, in my speech to the convention, I went through so many specific things that I'd like to do in the next 4 years. That's why I wrote that book that gentleman's holding there, because I wanted people to know exactly what I thought ought to be done, not just vague rhetoric but some clear ideas about what we ought to do.

So I want you to participate in that discussion. I want you to make a commitment as citizens that for the next 6 weeks you're going to make your investment here good by asking people to think about every election they vote in in terms of these issues, not in terms of yesterday's categories but in terms of tomorrow's dreams.

We have to keep this economic recovery going, and we have to find a way to increase our growth and productivity until everyone has a chance to be rewarded for their work. That means we have to balance the budget, but we have to do it in the right way. We have to continue to invest in education and research and technology and environmental protection. We have to reform and secure the life of the Trust Fund on Medicare. But we don't want to make it into a two-tiered system where we basically discriminate against elderly people in this country if they happen to be older, poorer, and sicker than most others.

We want to make sure that we can fund the Medicaid program and that we can afford it in the context of a balanced budget. But we shouldn't remove our national commitment to poor children and pregnant women and the elderly in nursing homes and families with members with disabilities. We shouldn't do that. And we can balance the budget and keep our common commitments, keep our village responsibilities, if you will, and keep on building that bridge. That's what we have to do.

We ought to give people a tax cut, but it ought to be a tax cut that can be afforded, and it ought to be focused on the biggest challenges people face, childrearing, education, heath care, homebuying. And when people sell their homes they shouldn't have to pay taxes on the gain, because often it's the only savings they have in their whole lives. So those are the things that we ought to do, and we can afford that. But we ought not to have a tax cut we cannot afford and claim we're going to be able to pay for it. That's wrong.

Think how hard we have worked. Do you know when the last time an administration reduced the deficit in all 4 years was? John Tyler, in the 1840's. [Laughter] Of course, thank goodness most of my predecessors didn't have to do it because we didn't have this problem. We would have a surplus today in the budget, and we could invest more in education, more in technology, more in the future, more in highspeed rail, more in all kinds of things that we need to be doing in this country, more in helping the cities to rebuild their infrastructure, their water systems, their sewer systems, their roads, their streets, their bridges. We could do all that if it weren't for the interest we're paying today just on the debt run up in the 12 years before I took office. We do not need to go back down that road. We need to keep going down the road we're on and building this economy and growing it.

And this must be seen as a mainstream, middle-class, working American's issue. It should be seen as a poor person's issue as well as an issue for investors. Bringing the deficit down keeps interest rates down. Most of us in this room are in an income group where we can make a lot of money if interest rates go up. We can figure out how to do it. But if interest rates go up, it means higher credit card rates, higher car payments, higher house payments. And for small-business people it means higher loan rates, which means a lower rate of job creation, less productivity, less income, and less ability to raise the wages of ordinary Americans. We are better off with low interest rates and high growth so that everyone can participate at every income level in the growth of the country. And we have to keep fighting for it.

We have to continue to do a lot of other things. And you've heard me outline it all, but I want to hammer home one thing in some detail: We have got to continue to work to give every single child a world-class education. And we now have the means to do it that we didn't have before.

The first computer was built right here 50 years ago. Now it's typical; you find computers in classrooms all over the country. But what I want for this country is to have every classroom and every library and every school in America, including the poorest inner-city schools, have not only computers and good educational software and trained teachers—we had 100,000 teachers training a half a million more just this past summer to make sure that the teachers could keep up with the kids on the computers, so I want that. But in addition to that, we've got to hook all these computers up to the information superhighway, to the Internet, to the World Wide Web.

Now, what does that mean? That means that we have a chance for the first time in the entire history of the United States—this has never been true before—in the history of the United States to see that the children in the most remote rural schools, in the poorest urban classrooms have access to the same information at the same level of quality in the same time and the same way as the kids in the wealthiest, best schools, public or private, in America do. That will revolutionize education if we can do that. That's why it is so important to connect our classrooms to the information superhighway to the year 2000. It is truly a democratic educational opportunity.

And it's very important that we make college available to everybody that wants to go. Now, we've done a lot on that. We've increased loans to needy students. We passed the direct loan program, which cut the cost of college loans and improved the repayment terms and said nobody could be asked to pay more than a certain percentage of their income when they borrow money. So no young person should ever be discouraged from going. We've got 50,000 young people who served in AmeriCorps and earned money for college. But we can do more.

And I propose three things: Number one, let families with incomes up to $100,000 take out more in IRA's and then take it out tax-free to pay for a college education or a first-time home or a medical emergency.

Number two, let families—try to make community college education, at least 2 years of education after high school as universal as high school is in the next 4 years by simply saying that you can take off your tax bill, dollar for dollar, the average, the typical tuition cost at a community college in the United States, just a strict tax credit for the cost of tuition for 2 years.

And number three, give everybody a deduction of up to $10,000 for the cost of any college tuition—any kind, undergraduate, postgraduate, anything else. Now, we can pay for that. You think, in the 1980's and early nineties, college tuition was the only thing in the market basket of a family's essential costs that went up more rapidly than health care, the only thing. And if you've had more than one kid in college, you know that. Maybe if you just had one you know it. [Laughter] So this is very important.

The last one I want to make that's especially relevant to the cities is this: This city and this State has new—and all of you as private sector people, those of you in the private sector—have new and profound responsibilities under the welfare reform law. And let me just state again, because there's been a lot of talk about this and a lot of confusion: We have reduced the welfare rolls by almost 2 million, 1.8 million. We did it by basically giving States who often gave cities the flexibility to devise new systems to move people from welfare to work. We also did it by increasing child support collections by $3 billion, by 40 percent. So the new bill gives us more authority to collect more child support. Eight hundred thousand people could be moved off the rolls tomorrow if people just paid the child support they legally owed. That's staggering, isn't it? Eight hundred thousand women and children.

But the new bill says, here's the new deal, the National Government will continue to guarantee to poor people and their children health care, nutrition, and if they go to work, even more in child care than ever before. What used to be the federally guaranteed check for income, which was a combination of Federal and State money, will now go to the States, and the States have 2 years to convert the income check into a paycheck if the welfare recipient is able-bodied. Now, they can do a lot of things, but it's going to be a real challenge.

I was just in Kansas City where I gave them permission 2 years ago to try something I've been begging everybody else to try. In Kansas City they established a full employment council, the whole business community, all the churches, all the social groups, work groups, all the adult educators, everybody gets together, they're all represented. And let's say you've got 10 employees; if you will hire an 11th one, they'll give you the welfare check for 4 years. Therefore, it costs you less to hire the employee. But they understand in return for that, you're taking responsibility to train, to make sure that the employee is able to succeed at home and take care of the kids as well as come to work, and to try to end the almost physical isolation of half the welfare caseload.

Half the welfare folks, the system now works fine; they just get off as quick as they can and go back to work. But half of these folks have been physically isolated in dependence for too long. This will only work—I will say it again— this will only work if you believe it takes a village, if you think you have got a responsibility.

Because now, anybody that ever cussed out the present welfare system has nothing left to kick around. This is now everybody's problem, and everybody's opportunity, and everybody can play a role in it. So every community of any size that has any substantial group of children and parents on the welfare rolls now has the opportunity, literally, to explode the myth of poverty, break the culture of poverty, and bring huge numbers of people back into the mainstream. It will only work if people say, "You know, I could do that. I could hire one other person, especially if they can give me that, and I can train those folks. And if you subsidize the training in that way—well, if there's a few problems getting people adjusted to the work force, well, so what, I'm getting a little help to do that, so it's not the end of the world."

Every one of you needs to think about that. That's a big challenge for Philadelphia and a big challenge for America. But if we meet it, if we meet it, if we can prove that we've got a community-based, caring, work-oriented, childoriented system for poor families, we can take care of our children, liberate their parents from their difficulties, and prove that all of the myths that a lot of people have used to kick poor people around for years are wrong, by taking responsibility for developing a system that is oriented toward success at home and success at work. That's what we want for all the rest of us. That's what we should want for those folks, too. And I hope you will help us build that bridge to the 21st century.

This is a good time to be an American because we know things are going better than they were. We know things are going in the right direction. But this is no time for complacency, no time for complacency in the political campaign. Believe me, it is not over; in some ways it may be just about to begin. It is not over. But most importantly, this is no time for complacency for us as Americans. We have work to do. We have work to do to get to the 21st century with the American dream alive for all, with an America that's coming together, with an America that's still able to lead the world toward peace and freedom and prosperity. But if we do, our best days are still to come.

Thank you, and God bless you.

NOTE: The President spoke at 5:21 p.m. in the Grand Ballroom at the Warwick Hotel. In his remarks, he referred to Donald L. Fowler, national chairman, Democratic National Committee; Thomas A. Leonard, fundraiser for the Democratic National Committee; and Mayor Edward Rendell of Philadelphia.

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

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