Bill Clinton photo

Remarks at a Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee Dinner in New York City

April 28, 1998

Thank you very much. Thank you, Shelby and Katherine, for opening your beautiful home. I thank all the Senators who are here. I thank especially Senator Kerrey and Senator Torricelli. When Bob Torricelli goes around the country or Bob Kerrey goes around the country, I know they enjoy it, but it still gets hard. [Laughter] It still gets hard. All these Senators are here; they're going to go get on a plane and go home tonight so they can be there and vote tomorrow. And I thank them for doing this on behalf of others, among whom surely are the three candidates we have for the Senate in New York tonight. And I thank them all for running and for their fidelity to our party and for what they have already done for our country. And I thank Judith Hope for her leadership.

I also would be remiss if I didn't thank the people of New York for being so good to me and Al Gore. Twenty-five percent of the total plurality I received in popular votes in the entire country in 1996 came from New York, and I'm very grateful. I was just leaning against the wall back there wondering how much better I might have done if I hadn't interrupted traffic for 4 years before the election. [Laughter] Truly the people here are the epitome of tolerance. One of you tonight informed me that you had to walk 10 blocks just to get here because of my attendance. [Laughter] For that, I apologize.

Let me say very briefly, I try to do a number of these events to help our candidates for the Senate, our candidates for the House. I believe that the success that our country has enjoyed in the last few years is something that all Americans can claim a part of. Certainly, the private sector deserves an enormous amount of credit; just ordinary working people deserve an enormous amount of credit. But clearly, the direction of this country, and with it the direction of our party, has moved into the future, has changed, has gone to a different level. And the results have been very, very satisfactory.

We are going to have a surplus of some size this year, the first time our budget has been in balance in three decades. We have been able to dramatically increase our investments in education and in health care for our children, in the environment, in science and technology, to try to prepare for long-term growth.

What I would like to say to you tonight is— I think I'd like to make just two points about why this coming election is so important. Because if you're just following events in the papers today or on the evening news, you see that there's—particularly from the other side— there's a little more partisan rhetoric creeping back into their speeches. They seem to be sort of lapsing into that. It's easier; you can be in a semi-coma and give that speech, because they know how to do it so well.

But I think that we shouldn't forget as Democrats why we're here, why the country is in the best shape it's been in a generation, and what we're supposed to do with this time. You know, good times can be very deceptive because even if the times are very good, all of us know they're very dynamic. Things are changing very rapidly. You can take any set of circumstances and pick up a magazine, and one expert will say the glass is half-full, and the other will say the glass is half-empty; a third will say the glass is unbreakable, and the fourth will say it's about to be shattered.

So in a dynamic time, it seems to me, we need to think about two things. Number one, when people have a lot of confidence because things are going well, but leaders know that things are changing and the ground is still moving, that is the time when big issues should be faced and long-term problems should be solved. Now, we've got the sort of basic mechanisms of our society working better now with the budget in balance and the other things that are going on.

This country has some big, long-term problems. I'll just mention three or four: One, reform of Social Security to deal with the baby boomers; two, reform of Medicare to deal with the costs that will come before the baby boom generation—we've cut the long-term deficit in Medicare by more than half in the last 2 years, but we've still got some problems; three, climate change; four, the biggest public health problem in America is still the fact that 3,000 children a day start to smoke cigarettes and 1,000 of them a day are going to die sooner because of it; five, we still don't have an adequate network of child care in our country that is truly affordable for working people. Now, those are just five issues. I can think of a lot more. Overshadowing all of them is that we still haven't provided a truly world-class education for every child in this country.

I mention those things to say when times are good you should bear down in dealing with those problems, not relax and walk away from them. And no political party should let itself sort of just kind of disintegrate into petty bickering and small-minded politics. This is a time to lift America up, energize us on big issues, and move us forward. That's the first point I want to make. That's why these elections are important.

The second point I want to make is this country, for all the change and all the modern things and all the science and technology and everything else, is still always about, in my opinion, three big ideas. And at every time of change we have to lay off the dead hand of history and adopt new means to reaffirm and broaden these three big ideas.

One is, we're about freedom and liberty. We're about deepening the meaning of freedom. That's why I supported the "Employment Non-Discrimination Act." That's why I've tried to involve more different kinds of people than any administration ever has, in our administration. That's why I have tried to push this race initiative and get Americans to think about what it's going to be like when we are no longer a biracial or even a triracial society but we have the most diverse democracy in the world, when more and more places look like the New York City schools do.

Because these are the challenges we've always faced. This is the challenge of our generation, the freedom challenge. How are we going to get the most out of everybody's life? Only if everyone is treated with dignity and equality.

The second thing this country has always been about is widening the circle of opportunity, giving everyone not a guarantee but a chance. I don't think any serious person would say that everybody in this country has really got the same chance today. But there are more people with more chances than they had 5 years ago, and I'm proud of that. And I'm determined to see that we continue to expand those chances.

That's why we've supported things at home and abroad like microcredit programs, for example, to give little people a chance to borrow money to get into business, to prove that they can make something of their lives. It may sound like a small thing, but to someone who has it, who didn't have it before, it's all the difference in the world. And the Democratic Party is about widening the circle of opportunity.

And the third thing that I want to say, and it's very important, that is so easy to lose sight of when the stock market is at 9,000 or even when it drops 160 points, is we're also about strengthening the bonds of our Union and improving our relationships with people beyond our borders. That also has been a constant throughout our 200-year-plus history. And that's very important.

If you look at what's eating the world alive today—I go to Africa, and I celebrate all the wonderful things that are happening and then go to Rwanda and talk to 6 people who survived 100 days in which 800,000 people were slaughtered because of their tribal differences. We're all sitting on pins and needles, especially in New York, waiting for the Irish to vote in May to see whether they can vote for the next 30 years, instead of being imprisoned by the last 30 years or indeed by the last 600 years. We're all hanging around now waiting on pins and needles as we celebrate Israel's 50th birthday, because the Secretary of State is going to London to meet with the leader of Israel and the leader of the PLO hoping to get the peace process going again.

All over the world, in this so-called modern world where kids are pecking away on the Internet on every continent, we are still bedeviled by the most fundamental and primitive of prejudices of all kinds. We, the American people, should be drawing closer together. We, the Democratic Party, should be the instrument of that union.

So I say to you, there are two reasons that you ought to be here. One is, more Democratic Senators, and reelecting the ones we have, means we'll do a better job on the big issues for tomorrow. We've proved it with the deficit. We've proved it with crime. We've proved it with welfare. We've proved it with the environment. We've proved it with a whole host of issues. But we've still got huge challenges out there to face.

And two—and even more important—we will carry forward the eternal mission of America in modern times. And that matters more than anything else. In the end, that's what will really matter to your kids. Are we forming a more perfect Union? Is there more opportunity for everybody? Does freedom mean more today than it did 30 years ago? If we can do our job and you help us, the answer to all three of those questions will be a resounding yes.

Thank you very much.

NOTE: The President spoke at 10:20 p.m. at a private residence. In his remarks, he referred to dinner hosts Shelby and Katherine Bryan; Judith Hope, chair, New York State Democratic Party; Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu of Israel; and Chairman Yasser Arafat of the Palestinian Authority.

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

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