Bill Clinton photo

Remarks at a Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee Dinner in Palm Beach

July 31, 2000

Thank you very much. This is the fourth time that Bill and I have done this today, and we're about to get the hang of it. [Laughter] I want to thank Eric and Colleen for having us in their beautiful little home tonight, in this fabulous, fabulous tent. This is exhibit A for the proposition that if you want to live like a Republican, you should vote Democratic. [Laughter]

I want to thank the Aaronsons for having us earlier at the reception. I want to thank my great friend Alcee Hastings for being here and for representing Florida brilliantly in the House of Representatives.

I want to say a special word of appreciation to Bob Graham, who has been my friend for more than 20 years now. He and Adele and Hillary and I have been through a lot of interesting times together. And I've told anybody who cared to listen that the only job I ever could really hold down for any period of time was being Governor of my home State. I did that for 12 years, and I didn't seem to have much upward mobility for a while. But I had the good fortune to serve with 150 Governors and to see probably another 100 or more since then, since I've been President, and without any question, Bob Graham is one of the two or three ablest people I ever served with when he was Governor of this State. And he's done a fabulous job in Congress. I'll say more about that in a moment.

And I want to thank Bill Nelson and Grace for making this race for the Senate. It isn't easy to run for major office today. You never know what's going to hit you. You never know how difficult it will be, and you can't predict the twists and turns of the campaign. And he looks great right now, but when he made the decision, it might not have worked out this way. He did it not knowing how it would come out because he believed he should serve.

And he and Grace have been friends of Hillary's and mine for a long, long time. They and their children have spent the night with us in the White House. I know them well, and I'm just so proud that people like that still want to serve, still want to give. Besides that, he's really been a good insurance commissioner. I mean, he stopped insurance fraud against the elderly. He helped children to get health insurance. He's really done a good job.

I also want to mention my good friend, your former Lieutenant Governor, Buddy MacKay, who is here with us tonight, who has really been great as our Ambassador to Latin America. And we just got a special bill passed to increase trade with the Caribbean region, which will be immensely helpful to the people here in south Florida. And I thank him for joining us today.

I would also just—I'd like to thank the people that catered this dinner and the people that served it. They made our dinner very nice tonight. Most of the time, people don't say that. So I thank them.

Let me say that I never know what to say at one of these dinners because I always feel that I'm preaching to the saved, as we say at home. I mean, if you weren't for him, surely you wouldn't have written a check. [Laughter] But I have a real interest in trying to get you to do more than write a check, because everybody who can come here is someone who, by definition, has a lot of contacts with a lot of people. And I'm very interested in how this whole election turns out. I'm passionately committed to the election of the Vice President, and I will say more about that in a minute.

And there is one Senate seat than I'm even more interested in than the Florida election, in New York—[laughter]—where the best person I've ever known is running. And the thing I'm thinking about tonight—and I just kind of want to talk to you—is, what is it that I could ask you to do that might make a difference in the election? And here's what it is. You can understand exactly what it's about and convince everybody you know that that's what it's about.

My experience over many years now in public life is that very often the outcome of an election is determined by what people think the election is about. And it may seem self-evident, but it isn't. For example, when I ran in 1992 and James Carville came up with that great line, "It's the economy, stupid"—well, he's great, but you didn't have to be a genius to figure that out. The country was in trouble, and we were going downhill economically. We had quadrupled our debt in 12 years. All of the social indicators were going in the wrong direction. Washington seemed paralyzed.

The political climate seemed to me in Washington, when I was way out in the country— at the time I was serving at what then President Bush called—I was the Governor of a small southern State. [Laughter] And I was so naive, I thought it was a compliment. [Laughter] And you know, I still do. But anyway, it seemed to me like Washington, what happened in Washington was, that the Republicans and Democrats were saying, "You've got an idea. I've got an idea. Let's fight. Maybe we'll both get on the evening news," which got a lot of people on the evening news but not much ever happened. And I didn't think anybody else lived that way.

So it was obvious that we had to try to turn the country around, and I won't go through all that. But I will say now we've had 8 years of the longest economic prosperity in our history, the lowest unemployment rate in 30 years, 22 million new jobs. But it's not just economics. This is a more just society: Child poverty is down to a 20-year low; the lowest minority unemployment rate ever recorded; lowest female unemployment rate in 40 years; lowest singleparent household poverty rate in 46 years; welfare rolls cut in half; crime rate at a 25-year low; teen pregnancy down for 7 years in a row. The indicators are going in the right direction. This is a more just society and a stronger society.

And what I think the election ought to be about is this: Now what? Now, that may seem self-evident to you, but now what? What is it that we're going to do with all this prosperity? Are we just going to feel good about it? Are we going to take our cut and run? Or are we going to recognize that this is something that happens once in a lifetime, and we had better think very hard about the chance we have been given to build the future of our dreams for our children, to seize the big opportunities, to meet the big challenges?

There's not a person in this beautiful setting tonight over 30 years of age who cannot recall at least one time in your life when you made a big mistake, not because things were going so badly but because things were going so well you thought there was no failure to the penalty to concentrate—the failure to concentrate.

There was no penalty to that. If you failed to concentrate, you get distracted, who cares? Things are going so great, nothing can go wrong. And so you got to wandering around, and all of a sudden you made a mistake, something bad happened.

Now, countries are no different from people. So I say again—why am I telling you this? Because you read all the stories about this election—I read a huge story on the cover of USA Today a couple of weeks ago that said the voters had no idea that there was any significant difference between the Vice President and Governor Bush on economic policy. A big story in the New York Times last week on a survey, a national survey of suburban women voters who cared about gun safety legislation. They were for the Vice President only 45 to 39. Then the pollster, who doesn't work for any of us, not a politically affiliated person, simply read their positions on the issues to the people, and the poll changed from 49 to 35 to 50—45-39, excuse me, to 57 to 29. Boom, like that, just with information.

So what have we got? We've got a team headed by the Vice President, including Bill Nelson and Hillary and a lot of others who say, "Look, we've got to keep the prosperity going. We've got to keep investing in education, expanding trade, paying down the debt. We've got to have a tax cut, but one we can afford, so that we don't spend it all. And we've got to do some other things. We've got to lengthen the life of Medicare and Social Security so when the baby boomers retire, they don't bankrupt their kids and grandkids. We ought to add a prescription drug benefit to Medicare because it's unconscionable that all these seniors and disabled people who need these drugs can't get them, and we'd never create a Medicare program today without it. We ought to close the gun show loophole and do some other things to keep guns out of the hands of kids and criminals. We ought to do more to build one America. We ought to raise the minimum wage. We ought to pass employment nondiscrimination legislation. We ought to pass hate crimes legislation. We ought to preserve the fundamental individual liberties of the American people including the right to choose."

Now, on their side, they've got a team that basically says, "We used to be real conservative, but now we're moderate." [Laughter] Don't laugh. I'm not being cynical here. I'm being serious. And they talk about inclusion and compassion and harmony, but they don't talk much about specifics. And it's clear that they are greatly advantaged by the blurring of the lines between the two parties and the fact that people don't know what the differences are. So that's what I want to ask you to do. I want you to let me tell you, as much as a citizen, as a President, what I think the differences are and what I think is at stake.

First of all, on economic policy, our policy is pay down the debt, keep interest rates low, keep the economy going, invest in education and health care and science and technology, and have a tax cut we can afford, that 80 percent of the people will get more out of than theirs, even though it's only 25 percent as expensive, but most of you in this room wouldn't get more money out of it. You would, however, get lower interest rates, which the economists say our plan would give at least one percent lower interest rates for a decade—at least—which is worth, among other things, $260 billion in home mortgages, $30 billion in car payments, and $15 billion in college loan payments, a pretty good size tax cut, not to mention, lower business loan rates, which means higher investment and greater growth and a stronger stock market.

Now, it took me a while to say that. Their case is a lot easier to make. Their case is, "Hey, we're going to have a $2 trillion surplus. It's your money, and we're going to give it back to you." Doesn't that sound good? In the last year they passed over a trillion dollars in tax cuts, and they've been pretty smart this year. They passed some, sort of salami fashion, so each one of them has a huge constituency. I like a lot of them, and I like some of all of what they're trying to do. The problem is it's kind of like going to a cafeteria. Did you ever go to a cafeteria to eat, and you got the tray, and you're walking down the aisle, and all the food looks so good? But if you eat it all, you'll get sick. [Laughter] You think about it.

So they proposed to spend the whole surplus, the whole projected surplus—never mind what they promised to spend in money. Now, what's wrong with that? Well, we tried it before, number one. Number two, it's a projected surplus.

Now, if you propose to spend some money and the money doesn't come in, you just don't spend it. But once you cut the taxes, they're cut. So they want to spend the entire projected surplus that we have worked as a country for 7 years to accumulate to turn around the deficits and debt. Now, it's projected; I don't know if it will come in or not.

It reminds me of—I told people at the previous meeting. Did you ever get one of those letters from Publishers Clearing House in the mail signed by Ed McMahon? [Laughter] Did you ever get one? "You may have won $10 million." You may have won it. Now, if the next day after you got that letter, you went out and spent the $10 million, you should support them and their plan. [Laughter] But if you didn't, you had better stick with us. And that's what you need to tell people.

Nobody in their right mind—if I ask every one of you, whatever you do for a living, from the people who run the biggest companies here, the people that served our dinner, you think about this: What do you think your income is going to be over the next 10 years? What do you think it's going to be? Come to a very high level of confidence. Now, if I ask you to come up here right now and sign a binding contract to spend it all tonight, would you do it? If you would, you should support them. If not, you should stick with us. This is a huge difference, and all the surveys show the people don't know. You should help them know.

Let's take health care. We favor the Patients' Bill of Rights; they're against it. We favor a Medicare drug program that all our seniors can buy. They favor a private insurance program that, God bless them, the health insurance companies—I've fought them for 7 years, but I've got to take my hat off to them—[laughter]— they have been so honest. The health insurance companies have said, "Don't do this. It won't work. Nobody will do this. You can't offer policies."

In Nevada they passed a program like this, and not a single insurance company's even offered the policy. So they're not doing anything real for people who desperately need these drugs, the disabled people and seniors. And we've got the money now. It's unconscionable not to do it. If you live to be 65 years old now, your chance of your life expectancy is 83 in America. But it ought to be a good life. It ought to be a full life. If you're disabled in America today and you can get the right kind of medicine, it can dramatically increase your capacity to work and to enjoy life and to be a full person to the maximum extent of your ability to do so. But you need medicine.

This is a huge issue, especially in Florida, but throughout the country. They're not for it.

We say there are a lot of people who lose their health insurance when they're over 55 and they're not old enough for Medicare; we ought to give them a little tax break and let them buy in. They say no. So there's a big difference in health care policy.

Big difference in education policy. We say that we ought to have high standards, and people should turn around failing schools or have to shut them down, that we ought to have more teachers and more money for teacher training. We ought to spend more money to help places like Florida build new schools or repair old ones. They favor block grants and vouchers.

We say, on crime, we want more police in the high-crime areas, and we want to close the gun show loophole on the Brady background check law and require child safety locks on these guns and stop people importing these large capacity ammunition clips that allows people to convert legal weapons into assault weapons. And I say, and the Vice President says, you ought to get a photo ID license before you get a handgun, showing that you passed the background check, you know how to use the gun safely. That's what we say.

Now, they think we're all wet. They think we're wrong. They think that all of that should be opposed and what we really need is more people carrying concealed weapons, even in their places of worship. That's their record and their commitment.

We believe, as I said earlier, that we should raise the minimum wage; they don't. We favor the hate crimes legislation. Their leadership doesn't because it includes gays. I think that's one big reason we need it. I mean, how many people do we have to see get killed in this country because of who they are before we do that?

Same thing on employment nondiscrimination laws. And as Bill said in a delicate way—and I'll be more blunt—maybe the biggest thing of all is the fact that the next President is going to appoint between two and four members of the U.S. Supreme Court, and it will change the face of America, one way or the other, long after the next President's term is finished. And on the one side, you've got the Vice President, who believes in a woman's right to choose but also in the traditional commitment to civil rights and individual rights and responsibilities and the idea that the law ought to be a place where the weak as well as the strong can find appropriate redress.

And on the other side, you have two candidates who are firmly committed to the repeal of Roe v. Wade, and their Presidential candidate says the two judges he most admires are Justices Thomas and Scalia, by far the most conservative members of the Court.

Now, what's the point of this? We don't have to have a negative campaign. We should say, we think they are honorable people with wonderful families who love their children, who love their country, who want to do public service. But as honorable people, we should say, we expect them to do exactly what they say they're going to do even if they're not talking about it in this election. We can't pretend that these differences don't exist and that they aren't real and that they won't affect millions of people's lives.

Look at civil rights. You know, they've gotten in a lot of—at least a little stir lately because Mr. Cheney, when he was in Congress, voted against letting Nelson Mandela out of prison, and a lot of people are horrified to learn that. Now, he's a friend of mine and, I think, one of the greatest human beings I ever met. But to be fair, he did get out, and he's made a pretty good job of his life since he got out. I'm not nearly as worried about Nelson Mandela 10 years ago as I am about some other minorities today.

I'll tell you about Enrique Moreno. You don't know him. He grew up in El Paso without a lot, and got himself to Harvard, graduated summa cum laude, went home, and became a lawyer. The judges out there in west Texas say he's one of the best lawyers in the region. I tried to put him on the Federal Court of Appeals in Texas. The ABA gave him a unanimous well-qualified rating. All the local folks were for him, the Republicans and the Democrats, they were all for him in the local level in El Paso.

But the Texas Republican Senators won't even give him a hearing. They say they don't think he's qualified. And the head of the Republican Party in Texas, now the head of the Republican Party in America, didn't lift a finger to get him a hearing. So I'd like to get Enrique Moreno out of this sort of political prison where he can't get a hearing.

In the southeast United States, more African-Americans live in the fourth circuit than any other one. There's never been a black judge on the fourth circuit. I've tried for 7 years to put an African-American judge in the fourth circuit. And the Republican Senators there are so opposed to this that they have allowed a 25 percent vacancy rate on that court. Now, they make all the decisions that don't quite get to the Supreme Court. Twenty-five percent vacancy rate because they don't want—ask Alcee Hastings if I'm telling the truth. Look at him nodding his head. It's unbelievable.

I want every American to know this. I've got two African-American judges now I've appointed. So I'm more concerned about those guys than Mandela. Mandela made a pretty good job of his life because—thank God—nobody listened to the vote that was cast by the Republican nominee for Vice President. He did get out of jail, and he went on and made a great job as President of South Africa.

Look, what kind of country do you want, anyway? And again, what I want is a great election. I want people to be upbeat and happy and say, "Gosh, here we've got these perfectly fine people that are honorable, that are patriots, that want to serve their country, that have very different views. Here's what the differences are. Let's choose." If that's the way this election rolls out, you can book it. Al Gore will be the next President, and Bill Nelson will be the next Senator from the State of Florida.

But you cannot allow your fellow Floridians and any Americans you know anywhere else in the country to sort of sleepwalk through the election, sort of say, "Oh, well, this is just a fine time, and everything is great, and they all seem pretty nice. And this fraternity had it for 8 years, maybe we ought to give it to the other fraternity for a while." They've got a real pretty package here, the other side does, and they just hope nobody opens the package before Christmas. [Laughter]

And I say that not sarcastically. I don't blame them. It's a brilliant marketing strategy. It's the way they can win. But America is still here after 224 years because nearly all the time the people get it right if they have enough information and enough time. You can give it to them. You can go out and say, "Look, an election is a choice with consequences, and how a country deals with its prosperity is just as stern a test of its values, its judgment, and its character as how it deals with adversity. And we may never get a chance like this again to build a future of our dreams for our children."

And let me just close with this very personal note and show my age a little bit. In February, when we broke the limit for the longest economic expansion in history, I asked my staff to tell me when the last longest economic expansion in history was. You know when it was? Nineteen sixty-one to 1969. I graduated from high school in 1964, before a lot of you were born, in the full flow of that longest economic expansion in history.

President Kennedy had just been killed, and we were all sad about that, but President Johnson was very popular. The country had a lot of confidence. We took the health of the economy for granted, low unemployment, low inflation, high growth. We thought the civil rights problems we had would be solved in the courts and the Congress, not on the streets. We never dreamed that Vietnam would get as big or as bloody or as divisive as it did. And we were just rolling along. Two years later we had riots in the streets all over America. Four years later I graduated from college in Washington, DC— 9 weeks after President Johnson couldn't run for President anymore and told us so, because of the division of the country over Vietnam, 8 weeks after Martin Luther King was murdered in Memphis, and 2 days after Robert Kennedy was murdered in Los Angeles. And the election and the national mood took a different turn. And before you know it, the last longest economic expansion in history was history.

I've lived long enough to know now nothing lasts forever. I have waited 35 years for my country to be in a position to truly build the future of our dreams for our kids. This kind of thing just comes along once in a great long while. And believe me, when you think of the implications in the human genome project or the information revolution, all the things that are going out here, all the good things that have happened in the last 8 years, they are a small prolog to what is still out there. All the best things are still out there if we understand what our responsibility is in this election and if the voters understand what the choice is. Then we will not blow this, and when it's all done, we'll be very proud we didn't.

Thank you. God bless you.

NOTE: The President spoke at 9:12 p.m. at a private residence. In his remarks, he referred to dinner hosts Eric and Colleen Hanson; Senator Graham's wife, Adele; Bill Nelson, Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate in Florida, and his wife, Grace; Palm Beach County District 5 Commissioner Burt Aaronson, his wife, Sheila, and son, Daniel; political consultant James Carville; and Republican Presidential candidate Gov. George W. Bush of Texas and Vice Presidential candidate Dick Cheney.

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

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