Remarks at a Dinner Honoring Senator Ernest F. Hollings
Thank you very much. First of all, on behalf of Senator and Mrs. Hollings, myself, and all the southerners present at this dinner—[laughter]—I want to thank Esther Coopersmith for serving okra and cornbread. I don't know what the rest of you thought about it, but I felt good about it. [Laughter]
Esther, I thank you for your friendship to me and to Fritz and Peatsy, and for opening your home and bringing your whole family together; especially thank you for Connie, who's done such wonderful work for me.
Don't you love to hear Fritz Hollings talk? You know, one night back in 1985—this is a true story—I was a lowly Governor—[laughter]—or as my predecessor said, a Governor of a small Southern State. And I was sitting at home one night, and I decided I would do something responsible, so I flipped on the television, and instead of turning to HBO, I turned to C-SPAN. And it was more entertaining than HBO because it was a roast of Senator Hollings.
One of the speakers was Senator Kennedy, who commented on Senator Hollings' campaign in 1984, and said that he was the first non-English-speaking person ever to serve in the Senate and a great inspiration to non-Englishspeaking Americans everywhere. [Laughter] And every time some of my friends get all upset about these English-only referendums, I thought to myself, you know, if Fritz didn't have to run for reelection, they could send him to California; he could beat it all by himself. [Laughter]
Anyway, I'm glad to be here speaking for a man who Strom Thurmond believes is too young to serve the people of South Carolina. [Laughter] But I think he's about to get the hang of it.
I also want to say that one of the things— this is serious now—there are several things I like about Senator Hollings. Number one, he's smart. Number two, he works hard, and he's not—he is just as dogged today as he was the first day he showed up here, the first time he took the oath of office, which I think is important. Number three, he believes that when people elect or reelect him, they have given him, for a while, their power to do something with.
You heard him say that. You know, sometimes I feel like a person that's really out of his time here. I keep telling people to think about the future, but sometimes I feel like an artifact of the past. When I come to Washington and I read and hear what people say about politics, it looks to me like people are in love with power and positioning for it. I thought the whole purpose of democracy was to give people power in a limited fashion for a limited time so they could do something with it for the benefit of the public at large. That is the way Fritz Hollings has lived his entire public life and another reason he should be elected in this election year. And I really appreciate it.
Let me just say one other thing about the past. He's already talked about the vote to reduce the deficit in 1993. It was a very hard vote. It was an agonizing vote for a southern Democrat. It's one of the reason that we lost the Congress in '94, because people had not yet felt the benefits of it.
But we had to do something. The deficit was $290 billion; it was projected to be $370 billion this year. It's now projected to be $10 billion this year. And if the Asian financial difficulties don't hurt us too much, we will, in fact, balance the budget this year, may even have a small surplus—if not this year, certainly next year. None of that would have happened if, in my opinion, if he hadn't been willing to stand up and take a strong position, because everybody knew that there was not another Member of Congress that had as much at risk as he did. And he did it anyway because it was the right thing to do.
And 15 million jobs later, we have the lowest unemployment rate in 24 years, the lowest inflation rate in 30 years, the highest homeownership in history. I don't think it would have happened if we hadn't brought the deficit down beginning in 1992.
Now, let me make one last point about Senator Hollings. It's true that I was 2 years old when he first got elected. [Laughter] But I was having to pay the adult ticket price at the movies when he got elected Governor in 1958, because I was 12. [Laughter] But he is a very young person. Peatsy is a very young person. They make you happy to be around them because they're always full of life and always thinking about tomorrow.
What really—sometimes younger people in our business are at a disadvantage because sometimes they're thinking a little bit too much about today and a little bit too little about tomorrow. And I think all of us would admit that as we've grown older in life, as long as we have our health and our mind is working well and we are engaged, the older we get, as long we're functioning properly, the more likely we are to be thinking further into the future, the more likely we are to be concerned about grandchildren as well as our children.
And if you think about the time in which we live and the speed with which things are changing—not least in the telecommunications business, which, has a lot of representatives here, and I thank them all for being here— this is a time when we need someone who is not only smart and active but someone who is literally capable of thinking about the longrun interests of the country. Fritz Hollings wanted to save Social Security when most people didn't know it was in danger. Now it's become part of the mantra of official Washington. I'd like to say I thought of it first, but I didn't. He was preaching to me about it for 3 years before I ever made the first speech about it.
And I think that this is a time when—if you think about the kinds of questions we have to face here, the speed with which things are changing, the complexity of the problem, and the way we are likely to totally reshape the way we work and live and relate to each other and the rest of the world in the next decade, it is probably more important that he be elected this time than in any of the previous elections in which he has run.
I hope the people of South Carolina, like people of my native State and the whole South who have been leaving the Democrats in droves, will see a better economy, a lower crime rate, the lowest welfare rolls in 27 years, the lowest crime rate in 24 years, a people coming together instead of being driven apart, and think, you know, maybe old Fritz was right all along.
He was, and he's right for the future, too. And I thank you for being here for him.
God bless you.
NOTE: The President spoke at 9:05 p.m. at a private residence. In his remarks, he referred to Rita L. (Peatsy) Hollings, wife of Senator Hollings; and Esther Coopersmith, dinner host, and her daughter, Connie.
William J. Clinton, Remarks at a Dinner Honoring Senator Ernest F. Hollings Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/225979