Remarks at a Fundraiser in Chicago, Illinois
Thank you very much. Mr. Mayor, thank you for your introduction, your support, the power of your leadership. Thank you, Bill Daley, for being willing to leave Chicago and come to Washington, which is prima facie evidence of some loss of sanity—[laughter]—to help us pass NAFTA. And thank you for your long friendship and your support.
Thank you, Father Wall, for getting us off on the right start. Maybe we'll be a little less partisan, a little less like the Republicans tonight since you prayed over us to start. I thank you all for being here and for your support.
When Hillary was making her remarks I was looking at her, imagining her here, thinking about the first time I ever came to Chicago to see my wife, before we were married. I believe I was in her house 3 hours before her father came down and said hello to me. [Laughter] It was sort of like running for President; you just can't get discouraged; you have to keep going and—[laughter]—you're laughing, but that's the truth, that story I'm telling. And I owe so much to this city and to this State.
Last Saturday I was home in Arkansas, in a little town called Pine Bluff. I took Dr. Henry Foster back there because he was born there, he grew up there. And that's still a place where people judge you by what you do instead of what you say. And I think we'd be better off if the rest of America were more like that. But anyway, we went home to Pine Bluff. And while we were there, it turned out that in this baseball park four blocks from where Henry Foster was born and where he learned to play baseball, there was a phenomenal amateur baseball tournament going on with all the major amateur leagues there in a playoff. And it was on ESPN. And two of the players were drafted right out there to the majors. And I went to throw out the first pitch, since I was there. And I was interviewed by none other than Gary "The Sarge" Matthews. You all remember him. He took the Cubs to one of those playoffs. So he said to me, "Now, come on, Mr. President, who's your favorite baseball team?" I said, "When I married my wife, I inherited two things, a wonderful family of in-laws and the Chicago Cubs." And I expect to get lots of mail.
After I met the Daleys, I got to go to White Sox games, which made me feel very good about that.
On the wall of my private little office in the White House, just off of the Oval Office, I have one of my most treasured pictures, a picture of Hillary and me on March 17th, Saint Patrick's Day, 1992, in the confetti in Chicago on the night that we won the Democratic primary in Illinois and virtually assured the nomination victory. And for all of that, I thank you all very, very much.
Since then this administration has had a remarkable partnership with this State and this city, in the ways that the mayor mentioned, fighting for the crime bill, bringing the Democratic Convention here, Chicago winning a fair and open contest to be one of the six cities in America to get one of our empowerment zones, to prove that we can have a partnership between Government and the private sector to rebuild the poorest parts of America and give people opportunity and free enterprise again in every part of the country. And I congratulate Chicago on that.
I have strongly supported the mayor's efforts at school reform, something that I care desperately about. If we cannot make our schools work, we're going to have a very hard time prevailing in the 21st century with the American dream. And you know, over 90 percent of all the funds for education in America come from the State and local government. We can do some things at the national level, and our Secretary of Education, Dick Riley, has done a great job. But unless there are people at the grassroots who are committed to making the schools work so that children learn, they learn things they need to know, they are useful, they are effective, we are going to have a very difficult time. There is no more important battle, and I congratulate him on waging that battle.
And finally, I'd like to say a word of appreciation to the city for being willing to work with us in good faith through Secretary Cisneros and the Department of Housing and Urban Development in an attempt to reform and really improve the Chicago public housing. We are committed to that. The mayor is committed to that.
We are going to prove some things that most people in America don't think can be done. And we are going to do it right here in Chicago, thanks to you. And we appreciate you for that.
And we are very much looking forward to being here for the convention. Debra DeLee is here. We've all got our feet on the ground. It was David Wilhelm's parting gift to his neighbor State before he left the Democratic Party in Washington with our strong support.
I thank the mayor for what he said about the things that we had done. I just want to say one word about that. I've done a lot of things that were controversial in this last 2 1/2 years. But I haven't done anything I didn't think was right for America. What I'm trying to do is to test the outer limits of leadership, I think. But I think that's important at a time of profound change. But I'm trying to learn the balance, you know, like the mayor said, balancing the budget in 10 years instead of 7. I want to talk more about the other day—that in a minute.
But I heard a story the other day about the limits of leadership which I think about now before I do something really controversial, about the famous Louisiana Governor and later Senator, Huey Long, who as some of you know was a very great politician and was Franklin Roosevelt's chief rival for the affections of the Democratic Party before he was assassinated in the early thirties. And when Huey Long was a Governor, one day he was out on a country crossroads in the depths of the Depression where people had no money, nothing, no jobs. It was terrible, particularly in our part of the country.
And he had a big crowd of people out there in the country. And he started giving a speech. And his whole platform was share the wealth, you know, that nobody had very much money, and we ought to share what we had. So he looked at this crowd of people, these poor people and farmers in the country, and he said, "You know, we have got to share the wealth." And he spotted a farmer that he knew out in the crowd. And he said, "Farmer Jones, if you had three Cadillacs, wouldn't you give up one of them so we could drive it around here in the county and pick up all the kids and take them to school during the week and take them to church on Sunday?" He said, "Of course I would." He said, "And if you had $3 million, wouldn't you give up a million dollars so we could put a roof on everybody's house and feed all the children in this county?" He said, "Of course I would." He said, "And if you had three hogs——" And the farmer said, "Now, wait a minute, Governor. I've got three hogs." [Laughter] So I'm trying to learn what the limits of leadership are.
This has been a good day for America. We're celebrating the trade agreement with Japan, which all of you were kind enough to applaud. I want to tell you a little about it. It is different from and better than any similar trade agreement we've ever concluded. Most of our trade deficit in the world is with Japan, and 60 percent of our Japanese trade deficit is in autos and auto parts. We have a big surplus in auto parts in the rest of the world and a big deficit with them. This agreement will allow us to improve our position, not to guarantee us results, but it will give us a chance to compete and to be treated fairly and to create American jobs.
And coincidentally, it will be good for Japan, because their more closed economic system has led to the unbelievable anomaly of their being the richest country in the world on paper but not in fact, because their working people are paying 40 percent more—40 percent more—for basic consumer products than Americans are because their markets are closed. We lose jobs, they get money, but they can't do anything with it except spend more for the same stuff.
This is going to be a good thing for America. But it's going to be good for Japan, and it's going to be good for the world. And we were right to be firm and strong and go to the 11th hour, because this is one of the kind of difficult changes we're going to have to make if the world is going to be as it should in the next century.
This was also a good day for America because of the hookup of the Soviet—the Russian and the American space vehicles. Did you see that on television? And you saw them laughing and having a good time together and tumbling around in space. You know, it's amazing when you think about it, all that's happened, just from the last 5 or 6 years. That partnership with Russia that you saw in space today is also being mirrored on the ground.
In Russia today, the Vice President is over there working with the Prime Minister of Russia, Mr. Chernomyrdin. They have established an unprecedented partnership that has helped us to work to continue to reduce the threat of nuclear weapons, to reduce the threat of weapons being stolen or smuggled or nuclear material being smuggled out of Russia, to try to deal with the whole raft of problems that they have that will help our country, to work with them to build their democracy and their economy in the years ahead.
One of the things that I am proudest of is that during our administration, for the first time since the dawn of the nuclear age, there are no Russian missiles pointed at the people of the United States of America. So we're celebrating.
And I also want to talk a little bit about why we're here. When the mayor went through the record, you know, that unemployment's down and jobs are up, and we passed the crime bill, and we passed more trade legislation than anybody in the history of the country, and we've dealt with a lot of important issues, we have been able to play a constructive role for peace in the Middle East and Northern Ireland, lots of other important places in the world—you might ask yourself, if that all happened, well, why isn't everybody happy? What happened in the '94 elections? What's going to happen in the '96 elections? That's what I want to talk to you about tonight.
I want to talk to you about what I believe about this country and what I hope you believe about this country and why we are having the debate that we are having in Washington, DC, today. The truth is that for most Americans this exciting new world toward which we are moving, that has caught us all up, is a mixed bag. It is confusing, and they are confused. And that's why politics seems confusing. And it's why sometimes our adversaries do very well, because they are great at giving simple answers to hard questions. They're usually wrong, but it sounds good. It sounds good.
But I want you to think about what the world looks like from the point of view of the average American family. Let's just take the changes that are going on. Look at the economy. Consider this: In the last 2 1/2 years, we've had 6.7 million new jobs, a big drop in the unemployment rate; the African-American unemployment rate has gone below 10 percent for the first time in 20 years; we have the lowest combined rates of unemployment and inflation in 30 years— that's very, very impressive; we've had the biggest expansion of trade ever in a 2-year period; the deficit has been cut, using the 7-year term now favored by the congressional majority, by a trillion dollars over 7 years. But the median income in the United States has dropped one percent.
Now, if anybody had ever told you that jobs would go up, trade would go up, productivity would go up, inflation would go down, and the person in the middle would actually have a one percent decline in their income, you wouldn't have an increase in income—it doesn't seem to compute. What happened? How did that happen?
In the last 2 years, we've had more new businesses formed in '93 and '94 than in any 2year period in American history; more new people have become millionaires in '93 and '94 than in any comparable period in American history. But more than half of the people of this country, 60 percent to be exact, are working a longer work week today than they were 10 years ago for the same or lower wages once you adjust for inflation. It doesn't figure.
What caused all this? It's good news and bad news. Part of it was the global economy. Part of it is the information and technology revolution, which means fewer people can do more work. Part of it was wrong-headed policies in our own Government. But it's happening.
So I get letters all the time from people that say, "I know that things are going well, but I don't feel more secure." I got a letter the other day from a guy that I went to grade school with, came from a very poor family, made himself an engineer, got a job with a Fortune 500 company, and now, after working there for 25 years, was one of three 49- and 50-year-old engineers who was laid off, and thinks he will never again find another job at remotely the same income or benefits. He's very excited for all these good things that are happening to the American economy, but how does he send his kids to college?
So, it's like a good news/bad news story. I'll give you another example: the technology revolution. Do you know what technology means in education? It means that a child in a poor mountain hamlet in the hills of the Arkansas Ozarks can get on the Internet and hook into a library in Australia to get direct information about volcanoes down there to do a research project. It's incredible. That's what it means.
It means that—the technology revolution means that all of you, if you have a computer, can hook into the White House and get all the facts on the budget. We were getting 50,000 people an hour for a few hours after we announced our new budget. It's incredible, what it means.
It means a lot of other things that all of you know, I'm sure. But let me tell you what it also means. It means that our children can get on the Internet, and now, without even paying any money, can be exposed to hardcore porn. It also means that a person who's smart enough to work a computer but is slightly deranged and paranoid can hook into the right people and learn how to make a bomb just like the one that blew up the Federal building in Oklahoma City. It also means that clever radical groups in places like Japan can have little vials of sarin gas they can go into subway systems and break open and kill a lot of innocent people. It means that here in our own country we've found radical groups experimenting with biological weapons, germ warfare. Technology: good news and bad news.
Foreign policy: The good news is no Russian missiles pointed at the United States. The good news is the cold war is over, and there's no serious threat to our security. The bad news is that once you strip the veneer of Communist control off of Russia with nothing to replace it, within 5 years half the banks are run by organized crime.
Hillary and I went to the Baltic States, to Riga, Latvia, and had tens of thousands of people in the streets thanking us for helping to get the Russian troops out of there for the first time since before the Second World War, people weeping in the streets. We went inside to a meeting, and the first thing the Presidents of the country asked us for was an FBI office, because now that there was no communism and no soldiers, they were worried that the port was going to become a center for drug traffickers.
The crime problem: Every major city in the country that's taken an aggressive stance against crime sees the crime rate going down, and that's the good news. But there are so many young people in this country that don't have strong family situations, don't have good community situations, that the rate of random violence among young teenagers is still going up. The rate of random drug use among young teenagers has started going up again, which means unless we figure out something to do about it, in 5 or 6 years, there's going to be an awful price to pay.
So there's all these wonderful things going on and all these troubling things going on. Is it surprising that people would look at all this and be confused and frustrated and anxiety-ridden and feel somewhat insecure?
Now, let me tell you, I believe with all my heart that the United States is better positioned for the 21st century than any nation in the world. I believe that the good news outweighs the bad. And I believe that the future's going to be fine if we will face these challenges.
But I have spent a lot of time in the last few months thinking about how to explain this to my fellow citizens. I ran for President for two reasons. I wanted to restore the American dream, because I did not want my child to be part of the first generation of Americans to do worse than their parents, because I did not want to see all these young people in our cities and isolated rural areas growing up in poverty with nothing to look forward to. And I wanted to unite the country. I wanted to bring us together. The diversity of America, the diversity of Chicago, the racial, religious, ethnic diversity we have in this country, unique among all the large countries of the world, is our meal ticket to the global economy if we can figure out what to do about it.
And if you ask me to give myself a grade on the first 2 1/2 years, I would say I did a very good job on the first part of that, because we have really worked hard on the economy and on crime and on the other major issues facing us. But now, as President, I have to work harder on the second part, how to bring the American people together, how we can understand what it is we are facing.
Because I can tell you right now in Washington—the Members of Congress who are here will tell you—we are debating fundamental questions that we thought were resolved 50, 60, 70 years ago now. All these changes in the economy and all these changes in the way we live and work have led to a sense of unsettling and have led us to a composition in the Congress of people who literally are prepared to debate the first principles of our society. And you better be part of the debate if you want it to come out in the way you believe.
I now believe our ability to restore the American dream and to get this country going economically, to grow the middle class and shrink the under class, our ability to face all these other problems, depends upon our ability to have some understanding about how we relate to each other as a community and what this country's all about. And I just want to give you two or three examples of the profound debates going on in Washington today and why I come down where I do and why I hope you will understand how important this election is.
Debate number one in Washington: Are the problems we have as Americans primarily personal and cultural, or are they primarily political and economic? There are a whole lot of people in the Congress today who believe there's really nothing for the Government to do about our problems and nothing for them to do in their private capacity because most of our problems are personal and cultural. So if everybody would just wake up every day and do the right thing and stop misbehaving, and if people would stop putting out bad movies and CD's, we would have Nirvana. Everything would be fine. [Laughter]
Now, you're laughing, but I'm serious. I am serious. There are people who honestly believe that. And let us give them their due. At a certain level, it is true. That is, there is nothing I can do for you if you're not prepared to do the right thing yourself. You will all concede that. You didn't have enough money to come to this fundraiser tonight because somebody just gave you something. You had to live your life in a certain way. So at a certain level, that is true.
It is also true that the influence centers in our culture, whether it's entertainment or media or sports or you name it, have great influence in our society independent of politics and business and economics. That's also true.
But what bothers me is, that is—if that's all you say about it, it's just an excuse to walk away from our common problems and pretend we're not one country. What I believe is that our problems are both personal and cultural and political and economic. And I don't intend to use the personal and cultural nature of our problems as an excuse to walk away from our common responsibilities to do better.
And I'll try to give you a simple example of every one. Example number one: the family and medical leave law. There were people who opposed the family and medical leave law. They said, "It is wrong to impose any burden on the private sector at all. It will be terrible for them. And besides that, we are philosophically opposed to it."
I believe that, on the personal and cultural side, if every kid in this country had two parents taking care of her or him and loving them and giving them discipline and giving them direction, we'd have about a third of the problems we've got in this country today. Most of them would be gone. I believe that. Now, I also believe that, economically, most people who are adults in this country have to work to make a living, whether they live alone or whether they're in a single-parent or a two-parent family. Therefore, the most important thing we can do, arguably, is to enable our fellow citizens to succeed as parents and to succeed as workers. Therefore, people ought to be able to take a little time off without losing their job if their child is sick or their parent is sick or a baby is born or something terrible happens to their family. So I supported that.
Now, that is the kind of fundamental debate we're having. You've got to decide where you stand. I say it's both, both personal and economic and political. And I hope you believe that. But a lot of people don't.
Let me give you another example. The mayor mentioned the crime bill. You know, I'm the only President—it's sort of—maybe this is not a compliment to me, but I'm the only sitting President, as opposed to somebody who gets out of office and does it, who has ever opposed the National Rifle Association in the Senate. [Applause]
I hate to say what I'm about to say now that you clapped. [Laughter] The truth is that I have agreed with them on many things. When I was a Governor, I worked with the NRA a lot. I liked their hunter education programs. I liked the fact that they tried to help me resolve some very difficult problems relating to people in rural areas and where you could hunt and where you couldn't and all of that. I don't oppose everything they want. What I oppose is this world view. This is not about the right to keep and bear arms, not the Brady bill and not the assault weapons ban.
There is one view that says, look, the crime problem is a personal problem. It is people doing wrong, right? Their slogan: "Guns don't kill people, people do," right? It's a personal problem. So find the wrongdoer, put him in jail, and throw the key away. This is politics, economics aside—has nothing to do with this.
This is about personal wrongdoing. And therefore, don't you dare inconvenience me one bit because of something somebody else did. I shouldn't have to wait 5 days to get my handgun, because I haven't done anything wrong. If I want to carry a TEK-9 around, I haven't done anything wrong. And who are you to judge me if I want to take it to target practice? That's what this is about. I'm not doing—just find the people who are doing wrong, and punish them. This is all individual.
The problem is, if you talk to the police officers of the country, if you talk to the prosecutors and the former prosecutors, like the mayor, they will tell you that this is like all of our other problems: If we will all take some responsibility for it, we can make progress.
So I have no objection, and I don't think anybody should, to saying to the citizens of this country, it is your responsibility to go through the minor inconvenience of waiting 5 days so we can keep people who have got no business buying guns from buying guns. It is a minor sacrifice for a major good. I don't have any problem telling those guys that you—it may break your heart not to have one of these TEK- 9's, but it's worth it to get the Uzis out of the high schools. Sacrifice a little bit for a greater good.
I'll tell you—this may be an unpopular statement here—I agree with this decision the Supreme Court made saying that that school had the right to drug-test the kids who wanted to play on the sports teams. And I'll tell you why. Not because I think most kids do drugs; they don't. Not because I think most of our kids are bad; they're not, they're good. But our young people are pretty smart, and they know this drug deal is a big problem in our country. And I think it's worth saying to them, "It's a privilege to be on an athletic team. It's a privilege to be in music. It's a privilege to do extracurricular activities. This is something you ought to do for your country. Help us get rid of the scourge of drugs in our schools. Be willing to be tested as an example and to help us catch the people who are doing it. Don't cry about having your rights infringed, when all we're asking you to do is to band together and assume a little bit of responsibility and go through a little bit of inconvenience to move this country forward and help us deal with our problems." That's what we ought to be doing.
And I come now to the third example, the budget. Let's give the Republicans credit. First, they wanted to do the balanced budget amendment. And it failed by a vote because a lot of people thought it was a dodge and because a lot of people feared that sometime we might need to run a deficit in a recession and we couldn't do it. But then they came up with a balanced budget. And it adds up, and it's a credible budget.
And I want you to know, I think they're entitled to credit for that. Why? Because I believe it's important to balance the budget. Now, I know a lot of people don't. But let me remind you, this country never—never—had a permanent, structural deficit before 1981—never. We ran rather modest deficits all during the seventies, because those of you who were around then will remember that we had something called stagflation and the economy was weak, and we needed to do it for sound economic reasons. But we never had a permanent, huge deficit.
In 1981, we adopted those big tax cuts. We never really got over it. And then there was sort of a bipartisan agreement in Washington because the Democrats were not about to cut spending as much as it would take to balance the budget and the Republican Presidents didn't want to raise anybody's taxes because it violated their ideology.
So I got to be President 2 1/2 years ago with the debt quadrupled in 12 years. And I'll tell you how severe it is: Our budget would be balanced today but for the interest we have to pay on the debt run up in the 12 years before I became President. I'll tell you how severe it is: Next year, interest payments on the debt will exceed the defense budget. You want more money for the Chicago schools? You want me to help educate more kids? You want me to invest in your efforts to clean up the environment and grow the economy? We won't have it unless we do something to change our spending priorities. So it matters.
When we brought the deficit down 2 years ago, that's how we got the economy going again, because we drove interest rates down and we got this economy spurred. So it is important. But there's a right way and a wrong way to do it.
What is the difference between my budget and theirs? It rests on a simple philosophical difference. They believe—this is honest. I'm not being critical; I'm telling you what they honestly believe. In the heart—when you strip it all away, they believe that the purpose of the Government is national defense, tax cuts on capital, and balance the budget as quick as possible because the Government would mess up a onecar parade otherwise. It's not good for anything. And we don't have any public responsibilities that should be manifest that way. That's what they believe. That's their honest conviction.
Now, I believe that the purpose of Government is to help people make the most of their own lives—that's what I believe—and to meet the challenges of the moment and to provide security for people who have done what they're supposed to do. That's what I believe.
So our budget says, look, if you balance the budget in 10 years instead of 7, if you cut this tax cut by more than half and you don't give it to people who don't really need it and you focus the tax breaks on education and childrearing, the two most important jobs in our society, then you don't have to gut Medicare and Medicaid. You can shave them in a modest way without worrying about whether you're going to close urban hospitals or close rural hospitals or hurt elderly people who don't have enough money to live on as it is. And not only that, you don't have to cut education at all. You can increase education. You can increase Head Start. You can increase apprenticeships for kids that don't go to college. You can increase student loans. You can increase our investment in technology and research. That is the difference.
My belief is we should balance the budget, but we should also grow the economy. The purpose of balancing the budget is to raise incomes, to create jobs, to bring us closer together, to enable us to meet our challenges. So I think my budget is better. But it all rests on a philosophical difference. You have to decide which side of the divide you're on.
I believe our Government's purpose is to help people make the most of their own lives. And let me just point out, there's a lot of people in that Congress who are there because we did that. The GI bill after World War II built the greatest middle class in the history of the world because the Government tried to help people make the most of their own lives. And that's the kind of thing we ought to be doing now.
So our budget proposes a "GI bill" for America's workers. It proposes the kind of thing that they ought to be for, collapsing all the separate training programs of the Government, putting it in a big voucher. If you lose your job, you call the Government, say, "I'm enrolling at the local community college." We send $2,600 a year for 2 years and let people get a re-education or retraining program to get a new job and a better income and a new start in life. That's the kind of thing I think is worth spending money on. You have to decide where you stand on that.
These are the big, fundamental issues we're debating in Washington today. I believe time is on our side now. And I believe it for a couple of reasons. First of all, as hideous and awful and heartbreaking as the bomb in Oklahoma City was, it took a lot of the meanness out of this country. It brought us together. It made us all think about the impact of our words and our feelings and how we've been conducting ourselves.
And then when Captain O'Grady survived that magnificent, terrible 6 days in Bosnia and he was rescued, it put a little zip back in our step and made us realize what was best about this country. And I think our heads are kind of getting on straighter today as a people.
But I want you to know, I'm going to spend the next year determined to continue to move the country forward economically, to continue to deal with all these problems we've talked about. But we've got to get ourselves together.
I am telling you, this is a great country. If we can get ourselves together, if we can understand we have certain common responsibilities, if we can understand it is a phony political debate to try to say problems are personal and cultural as opposed to political and economic when they are both, if we can have a conversation with each other again about what it's really going to take to help people make the most of their own lives and give every American a chance to succeed, then we are going to do just fine. That is what the 1996 elections are all about.
Thank you, and God bless you all.
NOTE: The President spoke at 8:46 p.m. in the International Ballroom at the Chicago Hilton and Towers. In his remarks, he referred to Mayor Richard M. Daley of Chicago; former Special Counselor to the President for NAFTA William Daley; Rev. Jack Wall, pastor, Old St. Patrick's Church; Debra DeLee, chair, Democratic National Convention; and David Wilhelm, former chairman, Democratic National Committee.
William J. Clinton, Remarks at a Fundraiser in Chicago, Illinois Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/221570