Bill Clinton photo

Remarks at a Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee Dinner in Chicago, Illinois

September 23, 1994

Thank you very much. Senator Graham, Senator Simon, Senator Moseley-Braun, Senator Biden, Senator Leahy, Mrs. Daley, Secretary Babbitt, Secretary Shalala. Joe Cari, thank you for doing such a wonderful job tonight. Let me say a special word of thanks to David Wilhelm for his heroic efforts over the last 2 years on behalf of the Democratic Party. David and I were flying in tonight on the helicopter, and we flew across the lake and we were coming in, and I said—I looked at him, and I said, "Lord, I love Chicago, and I miss being here." And we went through all of our history together. And I remember so well the night at the Navy Pier when I named him my campaign manager and all the things that happened and the night of St. Patrick's Day in 1992, when the votes in Illinois and Michigan pretty well ensured the nomination of our campaign in the election. I am so glad to be back here, and I want to say a special word of thanks to David and to Degee, who is also here. And I wish them well. They're about to give us one more Democrat in a couple of months—[laughter]—which is the most important thing of all.

We're looking forward to being back here for the convention as well, and I know you'll be a good host. And we will show Chicago to the world in a way that is very, very good.

Let me say—I want to say some political things. I'd like to start by thanking the people who have spoken already so much for what they have said but more importantly for their service to our country and their leadership. Every one of them has rendered enormous service to this Nation and stood up for the ordinary citizens of this country and has been willing to take on the real problems of this country.

But before I get into my remarks about the election and about what's at stake I think I ought to say a few words to you about our mission in Haiti. I'm pleased to report that we're making good progress. I had the opportunity to talk on the plane coming out here with General Shelton, General Meade, and our Ambassador there, Bill Swing, who has done a magnificent job under incredibly adverse circumstances.

Soon our coalition will be at full strength, including about 14,000 American service people, about a thousand military police who will keep a close watch on the Haitian police to see that we do keep order with professionalism and restraint. Soon they'll be joined and then replaced by hundreds of international police monitors from now well over two dozen countries, many of them coming from all over the world because they believe in what we are trying to do there in ending human rights abuses and restoring democracy.

The Haitian military, so far, has cooperated very well with our Armed Forces. They're turning over their heavy weapons. We're helping to buy back light weapons from the militia and the civilians. The situation is already calmer and more peaceful than it was when we got there.

On Monday, the first shipload of Haitian migrants from Guantanamo will go home to Haiti to begin to build a peaceful and a free life, and we expect more to follow soon. Of course, difficulties remain; they are always part of any military undertaking. But I want you to know you can be very proud of the men and women in the armed services that are down there executing a complex and exceedingly difficult task. They deserve our praise, they deserve our prayers, and they deserve our support.

I also want to welcome the three candidates who are here tonight in Chicago: Congressman Sam Coppersmith from Arizona; Jack Mudd, I think clearly one of our most promising challengers from the wonderful State of Montana that was good enough to vote for the Clinton-Gore ticket in 1992; Bob Carr, who's in a tight race in Michigan but who I am convinced is going to win that race and going to be the next Senator from Michigan. Each of them has something important to contribute to the future of this country. And thanks to you, they've got a lot better chance to make that contribution.

I want to talk to you tonight a little bit about what's at stake in this election and what I hope you will do besides give your money between now and November.

Like most of you here, I'm a Democrat by heritage, instinct, and conviction. I was raised by my grandfather until I was 4. He had a fourth-grade education, and he thought when he died, he'd meet God first and FDR second. [Laughter] I was raised to believe that the party to which I belong stood up for ordinary people in extraordinary times and was always looking toward the future for all Americans, not just for a few.

Our party and our Nation has survived for two centuries and more now because we've always found a way to meet the challenges of the moment and to fulfill our goals and to help people move forward in fulfilling their own Godgiven potential. We've always believed that our country could do better and that we had to do our best to call forth what is best within us. Always we believed that we had to be an engine of change, even when it was tough and even when it would cause us to be misunderstood. Always we believed that government had a responsibility not necessarily to give people anything except an opportunity to make the most of their own lives and that people in turn, all of our citizens, had a responsibility to follow the American dream and to make our community stronger. Those are the values that have defined us as a party and a people for quite a long while now. They are summed up for me in the three simple words I used all across this country in the '92 campaign: opportunity, responsibility, and community.

Two years ago, the American people knew clearly that we had to make a change, that we couldn't keep going in the direction we were and expect to move to the 21st century with a strong America, a more united America, an America where our children had a chance to make a future better than their parents enjoyed. You sent me to Washington to reverse a dozen years of failed policies that brought higher taxes on the middle class, lower taxes on the wealthy, higher unemployment, reduced investment in our people, and less ability to compete and win in the global economy.

Often I came to Chicago in that campaign, and always I received a rousing reception and always I looked into the heart of America here, because there are all kinds of people here from all racial and ethnic groups, from all walks of life, people who know what it's like to live in a community where you can find unity in diversity and strength across differences. And I told you what I would try to do.

Now, if I had told you then not only what I would try to do but if I'd told you on election night, for example, that within 20 months we would have cut our deficit by over $250 billion, eliminated over 100 Government programs outright, raised income taxes only on the wealthiest 1.2 percent of our people, cut taxes for 15 million working families, made 90 percent of our small businesses eligible for a tax cut—thereby bringing 3 years of deficit reduction in a row for the first time since Truman was President, producing 4.3 million new jobs, including 8 months in a row of increasing manufacturing jobs for the first time in a decade; that we would be voted by the annual roll of the international economists as the most productive country in the world for the first time in 9 years; that we would increase spending on Head Start, on job training, on apprenticeships for people who don't go to college, and still reduce the Federal payroll, as Senator Biden said, by 270,000 so that by the end of this century we will have—and by the end of this budget cycle— in 5 years we'll have the smallest Federal Government we've had since John Kennedy was President. You know, the Republicans always bad-mouthed the Government, but they expanded it. We say we're going to make it work, and we have shrunk it.

If I had told you all that, if I'd told you that here in Illinois there'd be 125,000 new jobs, taxes would be cut for 600,000 families and raised for 79,000 of the wealthiest people of this State to bring that deficit down; if I had told you that in 20 months we'd have more expansion of trade than in any comparable time period in a whole generation, that we would have targeted automobiles, airplanes, ships, and defense conversion into new technologies for special treatment and had helped to revive all those industries; if I had told you that today we would sign a bill modeled on the South Shore Bank in Chicago to put $4.8 billion into inner-city neighborhoods and devastated rural areas, in banks to loan money to poor people under circumstances that will make the banks money and put free enterprise into devastated economic areas; that we would pass more education reform in any year since 1965; that we would make 20 million Americans eligible to refinance their college loans at lower interest rates and longer repayment terms; now, if I had told you all that and said, Oh, and by the way, after 7 years of delay we would pass the family leave law, after 7 years of delay we would pass the Brady bill, after 7 years of delay we would pass the motor voter bill, after 6 years of delay we would pass a crime bill that puts 100,000 more police on the street, 100,000 more jail cells for serious criminals, prevention programs for kids to have something to say yes to, that takes assault weapons off the streets, even though we had a brutal battle on that with the NRA and the Republican leadership; if I had told you that our national service program would start this year with more people in the first year serving America at the grassroots level than the Peace Corps had at its peak year and that year after next we'd have 100,000 more young people earning some money for their college education by solving the problems of America here at home, you would have thought that I had slipped a gasket. [Laughter] Wouldn't you? You would not have believed that.

The fact is, that is the record of this administration in the first 20 months, and more. And we've got more to do. But there is a larger purpose behind all these details that sometimes can get lost, and we have to stand back from it.

When I ran for President I said that my goal would be putting the American people first. And Al Gore and I wrote a little book called "Putting People First" that we put our heart into with the best ideas we could come up with from all over the country. We decided we could make Government work for ordinary people and that we could restore the American dream. And if I had told you 20 months ago that we would do all this, you would say, "I do not believe it, but you ought to go try." But that was done with the help of the people standing behind me in the Cabinet and, importantly, in the Congress. It happened because we were willing to say yes to America, we were willing to say that Government should not be on the sidelines, that Government should not be the prisoner of special interests, that Government could not ever be the savior of this country but that we could be a good partner and we could empower the American people to seize control of their destiny and make something of their lives.

And that is exactly what we have done. And we have done it all along the way with the Republican leadership and most of their allies in the Congress voting no on every tough vote and painting an increasingly distorted picture of what happened.

Our economic plan, they say, was the biggest tax increase in history. It raised income taxes on 1.2 percent of the people, cut income taxes on 15 percent of the working people so they wouldn't fall into poverty and wouldn't go on welfare. It brought the deficit down after they quadrupled our national debt in 12 years. But they all voted no.

They think if they can keep the noise up and keep saying no and confusing the American people and playing on their frustrations and their anger and the fact that there are an awful lot of people out there that have justifiable worries still, they may have a job, but they're not ever going to get a raise, it seems like. They may have a job, but they're scared they're going to lose their health care. They may have a job, but they're worried about crime in their neighborhoods and the pressures on families. They believe if they can just keep people in a state of high anxiety they can actually fool the people into voting for the very people who did the things that they're against. That is what they believe.

But, you know, Abraham Lincoln, who was their first and their greatest President, said— it must be disheartening for them; it's been all downhill since then. [Laughter] He said—what did he say? "You cannot fool all the people all the time. You cannot fool—you can fool all the people some of the time, and some of the people all of the time, but you cannot fool all the people all the time."

This election is going to give us a chance to get that record out there. When the American people know it, when we say it over and over and over again, and when they see it, they will wonder what the no-sayers have been doing and why they have been filling their ears, their minds, and their hearts with a vision of America that is inadequate to the present and woefully short of what we have to do for the future.

They don't want the American people to know that we've been helping business and creating jobs, that we've been helping working people to get the education and training they need, that we've been helping families to get their kids in Head Start, that we've been giving kids a chance to go to college without regard to their income and that we're actually doing something for middle class kids for a change on college aid. They don't want them to know any of that.

And they sure don't want the American people to know what they've been doing. When we gave the middle class a fair shake in that economic plan by asking the wealthiest Americans to pay their fair share, every Republican in the Congress said no. When we reformed student loans to benefit millions and millions and millions of middle class students, every Republican in the Congress said no. When we gave 15 million working families a tax cut and made—and I want to say this again—90 percent of the small businesses in the entire United States of America eligible for a tax reduction, every Republican in the Congress said no. When we banned assault weapons, when we fought for health care reform, when we fought for campaign reform, when we fought for the Brady bill, most of the Republicans and their leaders said no. They said yes to the narrow interests, no to the national interests. They don't want you to see that big picture because if they did, you wouldn't like what you saw.

Sure, people are suspicious of all political claims. They've been disappointed, manipulated, and had reality distorted for years now. And their lives are full of negative messages and genuine concern. But I'm telling you, Abraham Lincoln was right. You cannot fool all the people all the time. And your contributions tonight are a sword of truth that these Senate candidates can use to cut through the fog and tell the truth of the record we are making to change America and to put the people of this country first again. And I thank you for it.

I just want you to think about this. When you go home tonight, I want you to think about this. This country has been around a long time now, longer than any other big democracy in human history. And it's here because when we went through tough times and had big challenges, we relied on the people who said yes, yes to the challenge, yes to the change, yes to making the most of the difficult situations. That's why we're still here.

And you know, all around the world, it's amazing, people see us, and they sometimes ask me as I travel the world why we're so agitated, because they would give anything to have an economy with our strength. They would give anything to see people from so many different races and religious backgrounds and ethnic groups living together, working together, voting together, disagreeing together. The things we take for granted about this great country are things other people would literally give their lives for.

Let me just give you a couple of examples, just since I've been your President. Why did the South Africans want the United States to contribute $35 million and our best experts to help them conduct an election that was free, fair, open, honest, had slews of candidates, and produced Nelson Mandela, who, after 27 years in jail, is coming here for a state visit with the President of the United States in the next few days?

Why did the people of Northern Ireland, after the English and the Irish and the Protestants and the Catholics had been fighting for 800 years want the United States to help to bring peace to Northern Ireland? Why do the people of the Middle East, Israeli and Arab alike, after they have fought for decades and their very existence has been at risk, want to come to the United States and have us play a part of their peacemaking process? Why do these things happen?

Why, even in the 11th hour at the moment of highest tension in Haiti a few days ago, when it was not clear whether there would be an invasion or not, the de facto military leaders said, "Well, if the President is determined to do this, and if the United Nations is determined to proceed, at least we want the Americans here. We trust them." Why? Because they know we stand for freedom and democracy and fairness and opportunity, and we know this is the greatest country on Earth.

So here's what I want to ask you to do— in the rhythm of American politics, in almost every election in the 20th century—I haven't checked back in the 19th century—the sitting President's party has lost some seats in the Congress at midterm. The only time in this century when the sitting President's party did not lose seats in at least one section of Congress was in 1934 when all the Republicans killed Social Security, and the Democrats won seats in both Houses.

If the American people knew the litany I gave you tonight, we would win seats in both Houses, wouldn't we? Wouldn't we? In spite of all of the pundits and all the polls, if they knew that we had 4.3 million new jobs, if they knew we had 3 years of deficit reduction for the first time since Truman, if they knew we had the smallest Federal Government since Kennedy, if they knew that we had passed family leave and the Brady bill and the crime bill, and if they knew that so much we had done was done against overwhelming bitterly partisan opposition, that is what would happen again, wouldn't it? Therefore, you must conclude they do not know. And if you want Abraham Lincoln to be right, then you have a personal responsibility to go beyond your checkbook to your voice and your heart.

Do not let this election go by and let the American people inadvertently vote for the very things they're against. Do not turn back. Keep going. We are moving in the right direction; we are turning the corner. This is a great country, and we are looking to the future. Let's keep doing it.

Thank you, and God bless you.

NOTE: The President spoke at 7:40 p.m. at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel. In his remarks, he referred to Maggie Daley, wife of Mayor Richard M. Daley of Chicago; Joseph A. Cari, dinner chairman; David Wilhelm, chairman, Democratic National Committee, and his wife, Degee; Lt. Gen. Henry H. Shelton, USA, commander, U.S. forces in Haiti; and Maj. Gen. David Meade, commander, 10th Mountain Division.

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

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