Remarks at a Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee Reception
Thank you so much. Thank you, Senator Kerrey, for that uncommonly generous introduction. [Laughter] And I thank you and Senator Kennedy for being on your best behavior tonight. [Laughter] And I thank you for giving me the chance to be the warmup act for Don Henley. [Laughter]
Ladies and gentlemen, I very much wanted to be here tonight with Senator Daschle and Senator Lieberman and Senator Kerrey and all the others who have talked and who are here because this is an important evening. I'd like to personally thank the retiring Senators who are here; many of them I have known for a long, long time.
I thank my friend Bill Bradley, and I thank Jim Exon who always gave me such wonderful, sage advice. If I had taken all of it, I'd be better off today. [Laughter] I thank Howell Heflin whom I first met over 20 years ago when neither one of us were even close to our present positions. I thank my neighbor Bennett Johnston for his friendship and his guidance. I thank Sam Nunn for his many contributions to our country and to me personally. I thank Claiborne Pell for always standing up for what is noble and good in politics and human nature. I thank Paul Simon for being a force for reform down to the last day of his service in public life. And I thank my friend David Pryor, as good a friend as I ever had in public life. I will miss them all, and they have served our Nation well.
I do believe that Senator Kerrey and others who were involved in this, and maybe just the civic impulses of the candidates themselves, have given us an unusually attractive group of candidates who are running for the United States Senate this year. And I know that I have the names of 12 who are here, and I'm going to, at the risk of—if I miss anyone, this will be a good test for how you'll do in the Senate. You must stand up and make sure you are recognized. [Laughter] But I'd like to introduce those whom I know are here.
Steve Beshear from Kentucky. Steve, are you here? Where are you? Stand up. Come out here so we can all get a look at you, if you're over there in the crowd. Come on up here. Come here; come and stand here. Thank you. Fritz Hollings certified that he looked like a Senator—[laughter]—and I can tell you he'd be a fine one. My friend and former colleague Governor Joe Brennan from Maine and your former Congressman from Maine. Come on up, Joe. I know he's here somewhere. Come on up. I know Joe didn't leave. Jill Docking from Kansas, I saw her. She's right here. Come on up, Jill. Congressman Dick Durbin from Illinois. Where is he? Where is Dick? Congressman Tim Johnson from South Dakota, come on up. Come on up, Joe. Mary Landrieu from Louisiana, is she here? Mary, are you here? Jack Reed from Rhode Island, Congressman Jack Reed from Rhode Island. Dick Swett from New Hampshire. Tom Strickland from Colorado. Come on up, Tim. Sally Thompson from Kansas, she's right here. Come on, Sally. Congressman Bob Torricelli from New Jersey. Mark Warner from Virginia. If anybody else is here who is running for the Senate, come up here so we can see you. If it looks so exciting and you have an uncontrollable impulse to start now, come on up here so we can see you. [Laughter]
Ladies and gentlemen, I've had the honor of being in the States of most of these candidates and doing what I could to speak a word for them. They are truly outstanding. They would serve our country well. They would be worthy successors to those whom we honor tonight. I wanted you to see them, and I want you to remember, as Bob Kerrey said, we have just 40 days, and they have a lot of hurdles to overcome and a lot of rain to walk through to get to the sunshine on election day. I hope you'll stick with them and do what you can to help them. Thank you very much. Give them a hand. [Applause] Thank you.
Ladies and gentlemen, last night I got home late from Pennsylvania and I got all my accumulated paperwork and I took it to bed and started ripping open the envelopes and talking to Hillary. And she was saying, "It's late. We should go to sleep." And I said, "I've got to read this stuff." And all of a sudden I opened this envelope, and I said, "Holy smokes." And I got, as I do, the Government reports regularly scheduled to come out the next day. They send me a little summary the night before, and this was just a brief summary. But it said, "Tomorrow the United States Government, in its regularly scheduled annual report on the incomes of Americans, will say that we've had the biggest reduction in the inequality of incomes of Americans in 27 years, the biggest drop in poverty in raw numbers in 27 years, the biggest drop of children in poverty in 20 years, the biggest drop of female head of households in poverty in 30 years, the lowest recorded poverty rates ever among African-Americans and senior citizens in the United States." And I thought, we are on the right track. We're onto something. We're doing something right.
And I appreciate what Bob Kerrey said. But to be fair to him, given the prevailing political rhetoric in 1993, it wasn't very easy for a Senator from Nebraska to cast the vote he did. But we got the interest rates down. We got the economy going again. We have 10 1/2 million jobs to show for it, record numbers of new small businesses, the lowest combined rates of home mortgages and inflation and unemployment in 27 years. That's what we have to show for it. We're moving in the right direction.
And because of what we tried to do and because of the results that our efforts are helping to bring, I think it puts the choice the American people will make in 40 days in a clear perspective, particularly when you look at the fights we had over the budget, the Government shutdown, and the other issues.
I was just out in Senator Daschle's home State in South Dakota where they put—if you ever get discouraged about America, go to South Dakota. We said we'd like to stop in South Dakota, and we wanted to go to a town where they were having a homecoming game, so they just put the homecoming game back an hour. And we sort of warmed up the crowd. So I've now warmed up for—I've been the lead act for a homecoming game and the lead act for Don Henley. I'm kind of getting into this. I like this. [Laughter] And I was just talking to people there in the audience. And it's very humbling to see the fundamental goodness of our people and the old-fashioned faith people have in this country and to see people feel connected again to their elected representatives and understand the relationship between what happens here and what happens where they live. And that really is what this election is all about.
Once in a great while, a country like ours makes a set of decisions at election time—or if they don't have a democracy, they do it in some other way—that has huge, huge ramifications. This is such a time, not because of any of us but because of the times in which we live, because we are changing so fundamentally the way we work and live and relate to each other and relate to the rest of the world.
When I sought the Presidency 4 years ago, I did it because I did not like the fact that we were not prepared and we didn't have a unifying vision to take us into the 21st century. And every day I get up and think of the three things that I wanted to do in 1992. I wanted to take us into the next century with the American dream alive for every man and woman, every boy and girl willing to work for it. I wanted us to grow together instead of be driven apart by our diversity, as so much of the rest of the world is being bedeviled by their diversity, even though it's much less in most countries than we have here. And I wanted us to continue to lead the world, as Bob said, for peace and freedom and prosperity.
And 4 years later, because we followed a strategy that was simple and profound: of opportunity for all, responsibility from all, and a community where everybody who works hard and shows up and does the right thing has a place, we are clearly better off than we were, and we are clearly moving in the right direction.
But there are some very big decisions that underlie all the specific issues that are being discussed. It really is: Are we going to build a bridge to the future or attempt to build one to the past? There really is a difference of opinion about whether you think we're better off being left to our own devices, or at least our family is left to their own devices, or is the First Lady right, does it take a village to raise our children and build our country and strengthen our economy and move forward?
It is not a question of big Government or small Government. Our administration and the Democrats who are here took the lead in reducing the size of Government and the burden of regulation and changing it more in ways that gave more legitimate authority to State and local governments and to the private sector than the previous administrations did. But we do not believe that it is responsible to stand up and say the Government is somehow inherently bad and if it just weren't hanging around here you would be great, because we believe that we have to have a partnership and that we have to do those things together that help us to move forward.
I'll just give you one example. In the area of research and development, we just agreed— as many of you have heard me say—we just agreed with IBM to build a joint supercomputer that will do more calculations in a second than you can do on your calculator at home, your hand-held calculator, in 30,000 years. Now, I think that's a good expenditure of your money, but you can't make it by yourself.
Our medical research has led to a doubling of life expectancy of people with HIV and AIDS in only 4 years. We had—just before Christopher Reeve gave his powerful speech at the Democratic Convention calling for more research, for the first time ever we had laboratory animals with severed spines have movement in their lower limbs because of nerve transplants.
I just talked to the International Association of Machinists before I came here, by satellite. A lot of them lost their jobs in the defense downsizing. But because we believe that the Defense Department ought to try to find other things for those folks to do, many of their workers have been helped by a technology research project that we have used defense technology on to try to help structure a system wherein heavily trafficked highways will be able to avoid car accidents forever by computer programming and things that will cushion against them.
So all of these things are things that none of us could do on our own but we can do together. The student loan program and scholarships and credits for people to go to college are things we have to do together.
So what I want to ask you to do is not only contribute to all of these candidates, anybody who can be here tonight is articulate enough, knowledgeable enough, and has enough conviction to influence other people. And I'm telling you this is one of the four, five, or six most important elections this country has ever had. This is a watershed election, not because of any of the individuals involved but because of the moment in time. And we will make decisions in 40 days that will affect how we live in 40 years.
If you doubt it, just think back over the history of the country. What did George Washington and his crowd have to do? They had to decide are we going to be one country or 50 States—I mean 13 States. They decided one country. If they hadn't decided one country, there never would have been 50 States, we would have been stuck at 13. And John Breaux and I and those of us who lived in the Louisiana Purchase never would have served in public life. [Laughter] Some of you might think that would be good—[laughter]—but on balance, you get the idea.
Then Abraham Lincoln had to decide, well, if the States formed the country, could the States turn around and leave it—a pretty logical argument. He decided the answer was no, and he gave a half a million lives, including his own—including his own, to uphold that answer. And then having made that decision, he had to decide, well, if we're going to be one country, can we go on being hypocrites forever? How can we say we believe all people are created equal and tolerate slavery? Can we do that? The answer to that was no. If either of those two decisions had been different, think about how your lives would be today, how much smaller your lives would be, how much less our lives would be.
Teddy Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson, they had to decide, well the country is no longer a rural country dominated by small farms; it's basically an urban country dominated by big industries. Can we just rip all of the natural resources of the country up? Can we let monopolies dominate the country and oppress workers and charge whatever they want? Is it okay to let kids work 70 hours a week, some of them in coal mines? And they said no. If they hadn't made those decisions, think how different your country would be.
Now, the closer you get in time, the more you can see the implications of the decisions made in the Great Depression and World War II by President Roosevelt, the decisions made for the cold war by President Truman and upheld since then. This is that kind of time.
And this whole business about are we going to build a bridge to the future or try to hold on to the past, do we believe it takes a village where we all work together, or in this new, highly technological, entrepreneurial, fascinating world where all the barriers are coming down, would we be better off if everybody just left us alone to find our own level? These are huge decisions. And the implications of them for our children and our grandchildren are things that we cannot today fully appreciate. But deep down inside we know they are big deals.
So I say to you we have the evidence on our side now. I gave you some of it tonight. We could talk until tomorrow at dawn about the things that are better now than they were 4 years ago. But the important thing is whether we're going to keep charting the right kind of course for the future.
So I say to all my fellow Democrats, don't make a party argument for this election, make a people argument. Ask every voter to decide, what do I want this country to look like when we start the 21st century, and what do I want this country to look like when my children are my age? And when my grandchildren and their children are reading the history books, what do I want them to say about what we did at this critical point in history? If those are the questions, you know what the answer is going to be.
Thank you, and God bless you all.
NOTE: The President spoke at 7:58 p.m. at the Hyatt Regency Hotel. In his remarks, he referred to musician Don Henley and actor Christopher Reeve.
William J. Clinton, Remarks at a Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee Reception Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/221492