Bill Clinton photo

Remarks at a Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee Dinner

September 21, 1994

Thank you so much, Senator Graham, Senator Mitchell, Secretary and Mrs. Bentsen, Members of the Congress, my fellow Democrats and my fellow Americans.

I couldn't help thinking, as I listened to George Mitchell talk, that he is always so cool, calm, collected, and still intense and eloquent. He always seems to have such a great sense of balance. He did make one huge mistake this year: People wanted to see a resumption of baseball and a cessation of the Senate, and he got it in reverse. [Laughter]

I want to thank Senator Graham first for his leadership of the DSCC and his long friendship to me, his long personal friendship to me. We used to sit near each other in the Governors' Association, and both of us sometimes think that's the best job we ever had. And I have loved working with him. I admire him immensely. I have a lot to be grateful to him for on a very personal basis, but especially I thank him tonight for his support, steadfast and longstanding, for our attempts to end the human rights violations and restore democracy in Haiti. I thank you, Senator Graham, for that.

I'd like to say a few words about Haiti tonight, and then go back to my remarks. I think, just as Americans, you ought to know where we are and what happens next. We had a good day there. Our troops are carrying out their mission. To date, we now have 8,500 American troops in Haiti. All of them have entered peacefully. They have not shot at any Haitians. No one has shot at them. They are about the business of bringing back human rights and peace and decency and restoring democracy.

Of course, this is only the second day of the mission. The situation will not change immediately. But today was a better day than yesterday; yesterday was better than the one before. We are making steady progress.

The habits of violence which are so deeply ingrained there will not be shed overnight. But in the coming weeks we will be working to stop the violence, to begin the process of reconciliation, to say no to revenge and yes to peace, in the words of President Aristide. We will finally have accomplished a mission that began 3 years ago under the previous administration, to restore democracy and to have the de facto military leaders step down no later than October 15th.

Haiti is really evidence of the kinds of problems that are gripping the world at the aftermath of the cold war. An example of one of the challenges we face as we move from a world in which all the rules of activity as a society were clear and the one in which we have to take a new direction. I want to talk a little about that tonight, but I'd like to begin by saying a special word of thanks to George Mitchell for the leadership that he has given to the United States Senate and to our administration over the last nearly 2 years now.

Before I ran for President, I hadn't had the opportunity to spend a lot of time in Maine. And after I became President, I didn't need to spend a lot of time in Maine because George Mitchell brought one or two people from Maine to the White House every time he showed up. [Laughter] I was the most surprised person in the world when he told me he wasn't running for reelection. And when I finished crying and got up off the floor—[laughter]—I said, "Well, George, you're the only guy in the Congress that never comes to the White House without bringing somebody from your home State." I said, "You have literally brought enough people to the White House just since I've been President to secure reelection for the next 18 years." [Laughter] And he said "Well, I didn't know, but," he said, "I would have done it anyway."

I cannot imagine how we could have done what we have done—and I'll talk a little about that in a moment—if it hadn't been for George Mitchell. I cannot tell you what it means to have somebody you work with who always understands every issue, who always knows where the votes are, who always has a good sense of what can and can't be done, who will always tell you respectfully when he thinks you're all wet, and then will go out and fight like crazy to win every time against all odds. He is a good, honest, and brave man, and I will miss him terribly. But he has earned whatever future he chooses for himself.

Senator Mitchell talked about what it was like to be a Democrat. And I guess, you know, I saw that poll today that said 53 percent of the American people thought we needed another party, and most people don't identify with the parties, and young people don't identify with the parties. I guess I'm an anachronism. I'm a Democrat by heritage, instinct, and conviction. I was raised until I was four by a grandfather whose politics were forged in the Great Depression. I had to have a new outfit every Easter because I still remember my grandfather telling me about how he couldn't afford an Easter dress for my mother that cost a dollar in the 1930's, in the middle of the Depression.

But I always thought the main thing about the Democratic Party was that we had constant values and the capacity to change with the times. Our country has been astonishing because we have kept this Constitution that the Founders crafted; amended it, really, a fairly small number of times; held absolutely fast to its fundamental principles; and still proved ourselves capable of changing over more than two centuries, showing the kind of flexibility and dynamism that guarantees the existence of a society. So has our party. It is the oldest political party in all of democracy anywhere.

Our principles are pretty much what they were when they were first articulated by Thomas Jefferson, with the obligation of government to help do affirmative good, as articulated by Andrew Jackson. But we have always been able to change. Now, for a while people thought we couldn't. And for a while the American people seemed to have made a decision that they would leave the Democrats permanently in control of Congress and give the White House to the Republicans so the Republicans could tell them what they wanted to hear and the Democrats could do the work they wanted to have done and keep the Republicans from actually doing what they threatened to do. [Laughter]

The problem is, that worked fine except when we actually had to change. And in 1992, there was a sense out there among the American people that we were not making the changes we needed to adapt to the changes in the world, to take this country into the 21st century, to guarantee a future for our children that would enable all of our kids to live up to the fullest of their God-given potential and guarantee that America would be the greatest country in the world well into the next century.

I ran for this job because I could see that, sitting out in the middle of the country where I was. I also had very little illusion about how the politics at the national level in this country had been often paralyzed because it had become so abstract, so rhetorical, and so subject to distortion, so totally divorced from the real life experiences of real Americans, that change had become very difficult, indeed. And so we embarked on that great journey in which I said what I would like to do is to change the Democratic Party's direction a little bit, not its values but its direction. Why? Because in the postcold-war world, we can't have a Government that sits on the sideline and shouts at people. That's what the Republicans wanted to do. But the deficit is so big and the private sector is so important, we can't have a Government that actually solves all people's problems as we once thought it could under President Roosevelt. We have to have a new idea of partnership and empowerment, of opportunity and responsibility. And we have to rebuild this country from the grassroots up. And so we began.

In the last 12 years, our respectful opponents talked about the balanced budget amendment, bad-mouthed Government, told everybody how terrible spending was, went home and issued press releases about the money they'd gotten for their States or their districts, quadrupled the national debt, cut taxes on the wealthiest Americans, and raised payroll taxes on the middle class. We reduced our investment in the future and exploded our debt at the same time. And we were getting more and more polarized. It seemed to me simple enough to say that if we wanted to make it into the 21st century and guarantee that tomorrow for our kids, we had to move America forward, and we had to bring America back together. And somehow we had to divorce this enormous gulf between the word wars of Washington and the real-life experience of Main Street all over America.

If you look at what we've done in the last 20 months, I think we've done an amazing job of moving the country forward. And we're having a terrible time of reducing the gap between where we are here and Main Street America because the obstacles are so profound. So let's talk tonight about that, because that's what this election ought to be about. And I'm here tonight to tell you that if we have the courage of our conviction, if we will listen to people, and if we will explain to them the difference between what is said here and what is done, these elections can be our friends, not theirs.

If I had told you 20 months ago that by Labor Day we would have passed an economic plan that cut spending by now over $300 billion, eliminated 100 Government programs, increased investment in education and training from Head Start to apprenticeship programs to college loans, that we would reduce the deficit 3 years in a row for the first time since Truman was President, reduce the size of the Federal Government to its lowest level since Kennedy was President, provoke an economic regrowth that would generate now almost 4.5 million new jobs, make 20 million young people eligible to refinance their college loans at lower interest rates at longer repayment terms, pass a national service program that in its first year would have more kids in a domestic Peace Corps than the Peace Corps did in its biggest year, break the gridlock on the Brady bill, family leave, motor voter, the crime bill, finance the crime bill totally by reducing the size of the Federal Government, and pass a crime bill that would have the support of every single law enforcement association in the entire United States of America—if I had told you that, and for good measure said that in a year and a half we would expand trade by more than any period in our history in 35 years, that for the first time in over two decades we'd actually have a policy to rebuild automobiles, airplanes, and ships and their international competitiveness, that we would have worked with Russia to get all the nuclear weapons out of all the other states of the former Soviet Union, that all the Russian troops would be gone for the first time since World War II from Eastern Europe and the Baltics, that we'd be actively involved in peace in the Middle East with two-thirds of the job done, actively involved in peace in Northern Ireland, actively involved in helping the election process in South Africa—if I had told all that, I'd say, "What do you think about that?" You'd say, "Well, that sounds pretty good, Bill, but you won't get that done." But we did, and that ought to be what we're running on out there.

I ask you, if we have a good economy, if we face the challenges of trade and crime, if we have reached out to families who are trying to keep their families together and raise their kids with the family leave bill and by giving 15 million working families tax cuts—we've put on the table a welfare reform program that is both compassionate and tough—why would anyone think there will be any problem? Because a lot of people don't know what has happened, number one. And number two—I don't know if you want to clap about that or not, it's partly our fault. A lot people don't know what has happened, number one. And number two, in addition to the jobs problem in America, we've got an income problem because as we go into the global economy, more and more people are working harder for static wages.

We're all happy there's no inflation with this economic revival. What that means among other things is, most people's wages aren't going up because they're set in a competitive global economy. And number three, the other guys aren't near as good as doers as we are, but they are better talkers, especially when they're saying no, as George Mitchell said. And they've got a whole talking apparatus here; they built it up over the last 12 years. And now that they have no responsibility in the executive branch, they've got a lot more free time to talk—[laughter]— and to find a thousand different ways to say no. One of them was quoted in the newspaper the other day, saying, "Now we've killed health care, let's just don't get our fingerprints on it."

So why is it that if for the first time in 9 years the annual meeting of the international panel of economic experts said America has the most productive economy in the world; for the first time in a decade we have 8 months of manufacturing job growth in a row; we have a 1.5 percent drop in the unemployment rate, a 20 percent drop in the minority unemployment rate; why is it that more than half the people say the country's going in the wrong direction? First of all, they do not know these things. That's why George Mitchell gave his little economic sermon up here. They do not know. And secondly, they are still profoundly concerned that maybe, if all this happened, it won't make a difference. They've been told for so long that Government can't do anything but mess up a one-car parade, it's hard to imagine that what we do here can make a difference. But it does. It does.

Every time I leave this place and go out into the country, I meet somebody who has a job that wouldn't have one if it weren't for the policies of our administration; I meet somebody with an opportunity to pay his or her way to college; I see a parent with a child in Head Start; I see a family that's benefited from the family leave program; I see whole industries— shipbuilding, airplanes—moving forward because of the efforts we have made to strengthen this economy. It makes a difference.

And what we have to do is to make this election our friend. We have to go home and say, "Look, you know, we've done a lot of stuff up there. You may not have liked it all, but we're finally getting something done."

I'll tell you something else, one of Clinton's nine laws of politics: Everybody is for change in general, but they're scared of it in particular. [Laughter] It always happens. It always happens. Five hundred years ago Machiavelli said, "There is nothing so difficult in all of human affairs than to change the established order of things." Why? Because those who will be disadvantaged by the change know it and fight you like crazy. And those who will benefit are uncertain of the result until they finally see it. Woe unto you if you have to run for reelection in the interim. [Laughter] Machiavelli didn't say that, I sort of added that one. [Laughter]

But I want you to understand what we're up against. But it is not right, and it is not rational. The American people are not by nature pessimistic people. Let's face it, we do have some problems. We're still the most violent country on Earth, but we passed the crime bill. We're going to lower the crime rate. We've given the communities of this country the tools to deal with it. We do have too many kids who are born where there was never a marriage and there was never an intact family, but we're trying to do something about it. We do have many communities where there was no economic recovery, but we have tried to do some things about that with the empowerment zones, the community development banks, and other things.

We have real problems. But consider this, every one of you, whatever it is you do for a living, how could you function if every day you showed up for work, two-thirds of the people in your place of business were in a deep funk and thought nothing good has happened? That's what they're asking today. Could you get anything done if two-thirds of the people you work with said, "Our business is going in the wrong direction. Nothing good's going to happen. Nothing can happen"?

How did the American people get in this fix? Well, the election is something we have to use to work them out it. You can analyze it nine ways from Sunday, but no one can repeal the facts. The facts are, they said we would bankrupt the economy, when all we tried to do was to cut spending, ask the wealthiest of Americans, including a lot of you in this room—and thanks for sticking with us—to pay a little more taxes so that we could give a break to 15 million families that had not gotten a pay raise in forever and a day and were hovering above the poverty line. And we said we didn't want them to go into welfare; we wanted them to stay right there and raise their children and go to work everyday. We put another 200,000 kids in Head Start. We did these things. We must talk about them. They matter. People must know. These elections can be our friend.

Now, in every election you have to be relevant. If you're not, even if you're right, you're beat. But if you are relevant and all you do with your relevance is play on the resentments and the fears of the people, you can win the election and harm the country terribly. They are out there with all their pie-in-the-sky schemes and all their no-saying and now a lot of their denial about what they did and didn't do when they were up here. We have a record.

And if I had told you 20 months ago we could amass this record, you would have said hallelujah. What you never imagined was what could happen to that record and those actions between the time it happened here and the time it got to them out there in the country, and all the static in between. Heck, half the time I watch the evening news, I wouldn't be for me, either. [Laughter]

But let me tell you something. I'm trying to get you to laugh about this because if you can get people to laugh about it and listen, we can do very well here. Three times in this century has the President's party not lost seats in one or both Houses. Only one time in this century has the President's party actually gained seats in both Houses at mid-term. But we have a record here, and they got the rhetoric. And they had 12 years to build up an apparatus of nosaying and bad-mouthing and positioning, and they are brilliant at it. Give them their due.

They are good at it. But we're not bad at it when we can clear our heads.

So you have raised this money tonight so our people can get on television and get on the radio and be in the newspapers and travel in their States and tell the truth.

You know, it was never going to be easy. Everybody can talk about a balanced budget amendment. You start bringing down the deficit, and you actually have to make decisions. That gives people a headache. Everybody could talk about doing something about crime, but if you really looked at it, it required some difficult choices. Everybody could talk about expanding trade, and everybody could talk about reducing the deficit and still spending more on children. But when you really got down to doing it, it required some decisions.

Meanwhile, we had to go through the static between here and where all of you live. And I'm telling you, the American people are smart, and they are fair, and they do not like being pessimistic. And we can use this election like the sunshine breaking through the clouds. And I want every one of you to go out there and not just think about winning and not just think about how crazy it is to have the politics of resentment and all this sort of name-calling and division and agitation dominating our people; don't even think about it in personal terms.

Just remember why we came here, every one of us. This is the greatest country in human history. We have won two World Wars and a cold war in this century. We are going through a period of change, and every time we do as a country—we're just like people going through changes—we're in a period of insecurity and uncertainty. And it is for the Democrats to lead the way out and to take the licks to do it. That's what Harry Truman and the other people did after World War II. That's what gave us the rebuilding of the American economy at home, the growth of the middle class, NATO and the cold-war edifice abroad, and rebuilding Germany and Japan in a worldwide trading system. It's what gave us the last 50 years without a war that threatened our very existence. And now we have to do the same thing for the people who will live in the next century. We can do this. We can do it. We can do it.

I'll just close with this. You tell people this wherever you're from: If things are going so bad in this country, why is it that after 800 years of fighting between the Irish and the English, the people of Northern Ireland would still like the United States involved, along with Great Britain and Ireland in trying to work through this? John Hume is here tonight in the United States, the symbol of peace and hope and decency. Where are you, John? Stand up. [Applause]

If things are so bad here, why did the people of South Africa want the United States to go there and help them ensure that their election was free and fair and honest and nonviolent? Why did the people in the Middle East want to come here to sign their peace agreement and want us involved in what they are doing? Why, even at the tensest moments of our negotiations down in Haiti, did the de facto leaders say, "Well, if the President is determined to do this and the world community is determined to do this, at least we want the Americans here. We trust them."?

I'll tell you why: Because this is a good country which is changing as it has always changed. We have problems. But in order to have the energy to face our problems and overcome them, we have to have the necessary attitude that says we are doing some things right, we are going in the right direction, and the last thing we need to do is to go back to the politics of resentment and rhetoric and diversion and division. Go out there and fight for the future, and you will all win in November.

Thank you, and God bless you all.

NOTE: The President spoke at 9:25 p.m. at the Washington Sheraton Hotel. In his remarks, he referred to Beryl Ann Bentsen, wife of Secretary of the Treasury Lloyd Bentsen, and John Hume, Member of Parliament from Northern Ireland.

William J. Clinton, Remarks at a Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee Dinner Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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