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Remarks at a Dinner Honoring Dale and Betty Bumpers

December 08, 1998

Ladies and gentlemen, Hillary began by saying this was a bittersweet moment for us, and indeed, it is. Nonetheless, I do want to thank all of you for making it possible. I thank Joan Baker, Deba Leach, and all the Peace Link folks. I thank our good friend Reverend Wogaman for praying over us. God knows we need it. I thank my friend Peter Duchin for being here and for playing.

And I thank Alan Simpson for destroying all the stereotypes that we Democrats like to have about Republicans. [Laughter] He's tall and funny. [Laughter] And you know, in his new career, he has finally destroyed the myth that Harvard is an elitist institution. [Laughter] And maybe even that it's an elite institution. [Laughter]

I thank Ann Bingaman for her wonderful remarks, and all the Members of the Senate, the diplomatic corps, and others who are here tonight; and our wonderful friends David and Barbara Pryor for being here.

You know, the six of us—we three couples— we've been together a long time. I met David Pryor when he was running for Congress in 1976. I voted for Dale Bumpers when he ran for Governor the first time, in 1970. We were all on the ballot in 1974, and I was the only one that lost. [Laughter] And—it's a good thing, I could have—if I had won, I'd have gone to Congress, been infected by people like Simpson, and never become President. [Laughter]

But over these last more than 20 years now, we've been together on countless occasions. When we were all in public office—when I was Governor and they were our Senators, we did all those parades that David talked about. We did countless toasts and roasts. We even crashed in a plane together once, nearly made every other politician in Arkansas ecstatic all at one time—we opened all the jobs at once. [Laughter] But we walked away from it.

We've borrowed each other's stories mercilessly. Then I became President, and they said it wasn't Presidential for me to tell jokes, so I had to stop. I wish I had a nickel for every time Dale Bumpers has called me and said, "Now, tell me that joke one more time." [Laughter] And I'd get halfway through the joke, and he'd remember it and remember the punchline and start laughing. I could just hear the tears rolling down his cheeks, he'd laugh so much.

This would be a better place if we had more people who laugh like that. This would be a stronger National Capital if we had more people like Alan Simpson and Dale Bumpers and David Pryor that could tell these stories and reach across party lines.

You know, Betty and Dale were raised in a tradition in Arkansas—a little town in western Arkansas where, if you took yourself too seriously, you were deflated quickly. And people knew about you, all about you, and they loved you anyway. It's easy to get away from that, the more distance you get from real life and this business. So I have to tell you that one of the things that I am most grateful to both of them for is remaining real people in every way, throughout all these years—the laughter, the tears, the drama, the struggles; real flesh and blood, patriotic, wonderful human beings. It means a lot and more every passing day.

I thank Betty for her vision. We've made a lot of fun of all the things she's done with Peace Links, but if you think about it, it's a truly astonishing thing. It proves, really, that there is such a thing as citizen empowerment. And one person with vision and enough people, like Ann, ready to be dragooned into service, can change the course of history.

Think about what we're discussing today. Today, we're impatient because the Russians haven't ratified the START II treaty, so we can negotiate another treaty, so we can dramatically slash our nuclear arsenals further. And when we do, it still won't be enough to suit Betty, but it will be partly because she has been pushing us all this time, and all the other Peace Links members.

I want to thank Betty for something else, too, that she and Dale pioneered this whole business of immunizing our children. Last night we had a Christmas party at the White House, Betty, and I thought about you, because a young, handsome man came through the line and shook hands with Hillary and me, and he said—he looked at us, and he said, "I want you to know, for the last 3 years, I have run your immunization program. And it's been the proudest experience of my life." He said, "We've gotten tens of thousands of volunteers all across America, and for the first time in our history we've got over 90 percent of our children immunized. And all these kids are going to live, that would not have lived; they'll be normal, that would not have had normal lives before." And you were the first person that sensitized me to that issue. And I thank you for that, and I hope you're proud of that achievement for your country.

I want to say just a word about Dale. I have to forgive him, for one thing—I'm in this sort of forgiveness mode. [Laughter] Dale Bumpers never fails to introduce me and David Pryor as the second-best Governors Arkansas ever had. [Laughter] And I forgive him, because it's probably true. He was an inspiration to David and me, as David said. And as I look back on his long public career, including his service as Governor and the 9,447 votes he cast in the United States Senate, votes for energy conservation, votes to preserve the ozone layer—people used to make fun of Dale Bumpers about the ozone layer, the way they used to make fun of Betty about Peace Links. Two days ago I got a report on the hole in the ozone over the South Pole; it's the biggest it has ever been, and its duration is longer than any we've ever measured. And we have at least made some progress on it, because he started griping about it so long ago.

He stood up for reform of our laws on natural resources, and he got some things done. And we didn't get everything we wanted to do done because there were too many people like Simpson stopping us, but—[laughter]—eventually we'll get it done.

He stood up for the Constitution of the United States, for the welfare of our children, for the future of America. In his own way, just as Betty did in Peace Links, he was always trying to build bridges to tomorrow over the fears and ignorance and conflicts of today, always trying to bring out the best.

And I was sitting here looking at David and Barbara and Betty and Dale, and I was thinking, it does not take long to live a life. Time passes quickly. And all we can do is make the most of every day God gives us. I think that my days have been richer, and I know that Hillary's have, and I believe our public service has been better because very early on we met, came to know, love, admire, and learn from Dale and Betty Bumpers. We will love them always.

On Dale Bumpers' last official visit to the White House, not very long ago, a couple of weeks ago, we had this huge gathering under a tent of every soul we could find in Washington connected to Arkansas. And I signed legislation making Little Rock Central High School an historic site, a companion to a bill that will award Congressional Gold Medals to all the Little Rock Nine who integrated that high school so long ago, a real milestone on America's long march towards justice and equality and reconciliation.

At this time, when the world needs so much from the Middle East to Northern Ireland to the Balkans to central Africa to our own meanest streets, a remembrance of what is basic and good and fundamental about our national life, when we need so badly to be reconciled one to another and to reach out to those around the world, the enduring legacy of Betty Bumpers and Peace Links, and Dale Bumpers' entire career as a public official, to me was somehow crystallized on that magic day when we celebrated a seminal event in all of our lives, and his commemorating it for all time to come.

We will remember them for all of our days with gratitude, thanks, and laughter. God bless you both, and congratulations on your award.

Please come on up.

This magnificent and beautiful award is richly deserved. It's also very heavy. [Laughter] But, what the heck. If John Glenn can go into space, they can hold this award.

God bless you. Congratulations.

NOTE: The President spoke at 8:36 p.m. in the ballroom at the Capitol Hilton Hotel. In his remarks, he referred to Joan Baker, chair, and Elisabeth (Deba) Leach, vice chair, Peace Links; Rev. J. Phillip Wogaman, who delivered the invocation; Peter Duchin, orchestra leader; Ann Bingaman, National Link and wife of Senator Jeff Bingaman; former Senator Alan K. Simpson, master of ceremonies; and former Senator David H. Pryor and his wife, Barbara. Peace Links, founded by Mrs. Bumpers in 1982 to help educate women on nuclear arms issues, presented Senator and Mrs. Bumpers with the Eleanor Roosevelt Living World Award at the 12th annual Peace on Earth gala for their combined years of public service.

William J. Clinton, Remarks at a Dinner Honoring Dale and Betty Bumpers Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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