Remarks at a Fundraiser for Gubernatorial Candidate Bill Curry in Bridgeport, Connecticut
Thank you. You know, I've been telling the people at the White House for months, if we could just get the Congress out of town and I could get out in the country, we could have a little fun. [Laughter]
I am delighted to be here with two of the finest Members of Congress, Rosa DeLauro and Barbara Kennelly; and with the leaders of Bill Curry's campaign, the leaders of the Democratic Party; with the State officials, including my longtime friend Attorney General Blumenthal; with the mayor of this city and his wife; and with Bill Curry and his mother.
I want to talk a little today about two or three things that I hope will help to put this Governor's race in perspective. Let me tell you, I used to be a Governor, and it's a pretty good job. There have been a day or two in the last couple of years where I wondered why I ever gave it up. They used to tell me there were times when I could take a boat out in the middle of the Arkansas River and walk back, and the headline would be, "Clinton Can't Swim." I know what it means now. [Laughter]
But I want to say to you today—I want to try, if I can, from my perspective to tell you just how important a Governor's race is and just why I think Bill Curry is not only the right sort of person for this job at this time but also why I think he did a very smart thing in having a bright young mayor as a running mate. And the reason is you cannot see the role of government anymore as all divided up. You can't look at there's a little box, and that's what mayors do; and there's another little box, and that's what Governors do; and there's another little box, and that's what Presidents do at home; and another little box, and that's what Presidents do abroad; there's another little box, and that's what people in the private sector do. This country needs to stop thinking like that, because we are moving into a global society, not just a global economy but a global society, and we have to look at our work in terms of partnerships. We have got to get the best out of everybody. And we have to have as a goal how to get the best out of everybody and how everyone can live up to the fullest of their own potential.
When I was out at the airport just a few moments ago I said, looking at our role in the world, this was a day of celebration, a day of sorrow, and a day of determination: celebration in the return of President Aristide to Haiti and seeing the people dancing in the streets for democracy; sorrow, of course, because on the day that the long struggle of Prime Minister Rabin and Foreign Minister Peres and Chairman Arafat to bring peace to the Middle East was rewarded with the Nobel Prize, Corporal Waxman, an Israeli soldier and an American citizen, was killed by terrorist thugs who desperately want peace in the Middle East to fail so that they can go on and ply their craft of death; and determination because our men and women in uniform in the Gulf are standing up to one more threat from Iraq to its neighbors, one more attempt to bully the United Nations into backing off its resolutions.
There's a lot to be proud of and a lot to be happy about. Even in the terrible tragedy in Israel, you see shining through that the determination of the people there to keep working for peace and not to turn back, to give not only that troubled region but the rest of us who are so caught up in it and its future a different and a better future.
But if you look at that, and you recognize that we cannot be strong abroad unless we are first strong at home, that is the inner strength of America that permits us to lead the world in bringing democracy back to Haiti. It is the internal strength of America that gave us the power to lead the international coalition first in the Gulf war and now in standing up to what is happening there. It is the symbolic power of America and the fact that we represent the kaleidoscope of the world's cultures and ethnic groups and religions that make people wish us to be active in helping them to achieve peace in the Middle East or peace in Northern Ireland or conducting the elections in South Africa, which we celebrated recently with President Mandela's trip here.
It is very important to understand that. It is the fact that people believe that we live by our values that enables us to be trusted when we say to the Russians after decades of mistrust, "We know that the future will have differences between us, our interests will be different, our opinions will be different, but we ought to go forward as democracies," and that leads us to the point where today, for the first time since the dawn of the nuclear age, there are no Russian missiles pointed at the people of the United States. That is important to know.
So we come to this point in our history, as the First Lady said, at a point of transition, the end of the cold war, the advent of a global economy, with very serious challenges and enormous opportunities. And the question is: What must we do in our country to continue to be able to celebrate the things we just discussed? What is it that we have to do in our time to give new birth to the American dream, to rebuild this country, to empower all of our people to be what God meant for them to be? What is it that we have to do—that is the question— and how must we do it? Those are the things that dominate my thinking as your President every day. That's what I think about. That's what I work on.
It is important not only who is President but what other things are going on in this country. One of the things I'm convinced of is that Washington is very good at doing some things and not very good at all doing others. Second, people have more trust in government that's closer to them than they do in governments further away, so even if we are good at some things we need to go ahead and let a lot of that be started out at the grassroots level. And third, there are just differences from place to place.
The economic challenges faced by Bridgeport are different than the economic challenges faced by Hartford and certainly different than those faced by Laramie, Wyoming.
So I have tried to launch a kind of a revolution in the way we think about Government. I don't want a Government anymore that sits on the sidelines or just kind of comes into the game to help preserve the status quo and organized interest groups. But neither do I think the Democrats can afford to make a lot of promises we can't deliver and say that we're doing things for people, when what we really ought to be doing is empowering people to do more for themselves.
So let me give you some practical examples in why it matters who the Governor is and why it's a good thing the ticket has a mayor on it. Example number one: welfare reform. Everybody knows that we've had 30 years, not 30 months, 30 years, of developing social problems in this country. The breakdown of families, the breakdown of community structures, it started with the collapse of the economic infrastructure of many of our urban areas and rural areas, and it was accelerated by changing social patterns. But when people bemoan crime and drugs and guns and gangs and violence, it is important to recognize that these things have been developing, after all, for quite a long while.
One of the things we know we have to do is take the families that exist now that are dependent on the Government and try to make them self-sufficient. That's what welfare reform is all about, making welfare a second chance for people that really need it, not a way of life.
The truth is no one has a magic bullet. I have sent legislation to Congress which I believe will be adopted next year, but it rests upon the ability of people at the grassroots level to implement it and make it work. So we have given 18 States, including Connecticut, I might add, permission to cut through all the Federal rules and regulations and design their own ways to move people from welfare to work. Just recently I gave the State of Oregon permission to take the welfare check and just give it to employers who would hire people as an employment supplement. It may or may not work, but it's worth trying. In Connecticut, we'll know soon enough whether it did. And so will other States in the country. This is important, but if you don't have a good Governor, it's a bust.
First of all, they won't ask for the permission to do it, and secondly, they may not be able to carry it off.
We've given 9 States—in the middle of all this health care rhetoric that we've put up with in the last couple of months—9 States have gotten permission to go beyond a lot of the Federal rules and regulations to try innovative ways to provide health coverage for all their people in ways that preserve consumer choice, preserve the private health care system, but got out there in ways that would control costs and provide more coverage.
We just passed an education bill that I have worked very hard for based—it is rooted in my experience as a Governor that has strong national standards for achievement but gives all the initiatives back to grassroots schools and school districts, State departments of education. It really matters who's out there. Now those are just three examples that this Congress has worked with me on to help put decisions back at the local level.
Finally, let me say we're trying to do some things that will really bring economic opportunity back to places where it has long been lost. This is something I've worked on for a decade. When I was Governor, part of my State was the fastest growing part of America, and part of it was the poorest part of America. I understand a little about this, and I know there is no one formula that works.
So we are trying to build institutions like community development banks to make loans to poor people to start businesses where they live—proven to work all over the world, and we're way late in putting them in all the cities in America—like enterprise zones and empowerment zones and enterprise communities, all these things we're trying to do. These are important things, but I can propose all the laws and they can pass all the laws, and none of those things will change anybody's life if the people at the grassroots level don't know how to do it and aren't connected to the real problems of real people.
So if you want America's economy to be revitalized, you have to have a good Governor, everywhere; you have to have people who have a partnership; you have to have people who understand these things. This guy is a fountainhead of ideas. And he won this primary with a grassroots movement, which means that he has people in every community who understand what is going on there. That is terribly important to whether the President and the country succeed. It really matters.
I also see a lot of partnership here, and if you'll forgive me, I want to say a special word of thanks to your major opponent in the primary, Senator Larson, for being here today and for being so strongly for you and helping you. Where is he? John, stand up. Thank you very much, sir. [Applause]
Now, that brings it back to what we have to do. Our mission in Washington has been to try to make the Government work for ordinary people again, bring the economy back, get the American people together, to empower people to make the most of their own lives. After 20 months—a rather interesting 20 months, I might add—I'd say we've made a good start, and we've got a ways to go. And the midterm elections offer the American people the chance to decide whether they want to go forward or whether they want to go back and try what the opposition party says they offer America. We now have clear evidence on both paths.
If you look at what we've done to make the Government work for ordinary people, and the family leave law has already been mentioned, we debated for 7 years, we passed it in a couple of months; we provided immunizations for all children under 2; another 200,000 seats in Head Start for young children; apprenticeship programs were staged to help kids who don't want to go to college but want to be in good jobs, not low-wage jobs; a dramatic reform in the college loan program that makes already 20 million middle class Americans, including over half a million in Connecticut, eligible for low interest and longer repayment terms on their college loans so that no one should ever again not go to college because of the cost of a college education; this is a dramatic thing. This is making Government work for ordinary people.
We are also—you heard Bill talking about the crime bill—you know how we paid for the crime bill? Not with a tax increase, not by cutting out other Government programs but by a commitment to reduce the size of the Federal bureaucracy over 6 years by 270,000. The National Government already has more than 70,000 fewer people working for it today than it did on the day I took office, and all the money's being spent to fight crime. And I might add, that makes the point again. We're shrinking the size of the Federal Government to do more with less, and we're giving all the money to communities to fight crime, to Bridgeport, to Bristol, to East Hartford, to Norwich. You already have these four communities, within 2 weeks after I signed the crime bill, were already given grants to hire more police officers—taking the money away from Washington, giving it to you at the grassroots. If you spend it right, the crime rate will go down. We know that.
You know, our opponents, the Republicans, always cussed the Federal Government for years, but they didn't make it smaller, they just tried to make sure their folks were in all those jobs before we took over. [Laughter] And they talked about Government waste, but they didn't want to do anything about it because they wouldn't have anything to run against anymore. So we passed a bill to change the way the Government buys $200 billion worth of services a year. You know that we're going to save an average of $50 on every purchase the Government makes that costs less then $2,500 by getting rid of paperwork and letting competition in; no more $500 hammers, no more $600 toilet seats. Poor Al Gore can't go on David Letterman anymore—[laughter]—because we did that. The Democrats did that. We're trying to make this Government work for you in a commonsense way.
And the second thing we're trying to do is to bring this economy back. The first thing I did as President, before I ever took office, the first decision I made was that we needed an economic security organization. Just like we had a national security operation and a domestic policy operation, we needed an economic operation. And I put a man from New York named Bob Rubin, who's had a distinguished business career, in charge of it, and we have worked from the get-go to make sure that everything we do is good for the American economy.
And if you really talk to people who deal with the Federal Government, they'll tell you we've got the best Commerce Department, the best Small Business Administration, the best Agriculture Department that anybody's seen around there in decades when it comes to promoting economic growth and development, the best trade negotiator, because we are trying to grow this economy.
When we put the economic plan before the Congress, which lowered the deficit and which provided tax cuts for 15 million working Americans and tax increases for the wealthiest one and a half percent, what did our adversaries say? They said, "If this plan passes, the deficit will go up and the economy will go down." That's what they said, the world would come to an end. Chicken Little would not have been as eloquent—[laughter]—as they were about how bad that plan was.
Well, we passed it—thanks to Barbara, thanks to Rosa—without one of them being for it, and where are we? We've got 3 years of deficit reduction for the first time since Truman was President, 4.6 million new jobs, more high-wage jobs in 1994 than the previous 5 years combined, 9 months of manufacturing job growth for the first time in 10 years, and America rated the most productive country in the world at the annual vote of international economists for the first time in 9 years. They were wrong, and we were right.
So are we here celebrating? No, not exactly. There are still too many people who don't have jobs; there are still too many people who have worked for jobs but never get raises. A million Americans lost their health insurance last year. We still have to pass welfare reform and important environmental legislation and political reform legislation like campaign finance reform and lobby reform. And we have to keep going until our future is secure. No, we're not satisfied, but we have made a very good start.
What have they done? What is the choice? I want to make three points to you. First of all, they voted no every chance they could. Every one of them voted no against the economic plan which included, also, the middle class college loan. Most of them voted against the Brady bill. Most of them voted against the family and medical leave bill. Most of them voted against the crime bill, having once voted for the crime bill, because it was election season. In the last week of the Senate, on one day, there were four separate issues being filibustered. To give you a sense of what that means, you know, if there's a filibuster, it takes you 60 percent of the Senate to pass it. In the 1800's, we had an average of one filibuster every 6 years. In the 1900's, we've had an average of one filibuster every year. We had four in one day because the "no" crowd was trying to shut us down.
Do you know what they stopped from passing, among other things? The Superfund bill to clean up toxic waste dumps. Who was for it? The chemical companies, the labor unions, and the Sierra Club. It's the first issue they'd ever agreed on in their lives. Every American with a breath and an opinion was for the Superfund legislation except the Republican Senators. And why were they not for it? Because they didn't want Rosa and Barbara to be able to come back to Connecticut and say, "In the closing days of the Congress, we passed the bill to clean up toxic waste dumps." They'd rather leave the dumps and deny them the credit.
In the closing days, we had big bipartisan majorities for campaign finance reform, for lobbying reform, for a bill to require Congress to live under the same laws they impose on private employers, and they killed them all with filibusters. Now that's a fact. And they give us a little inkling of where they'll go if they get a majority in the Congress. Two stunning articles in the Washington Post this week—they killed the campaign finance reform and the lobbying bill on the weekend. On Monday, the leaders of the Republican party in the House and the Senate had a little meeting with the lobbyists. And according to the news article, they said, "Look, we killed campaign finance reform for you. We killed lobby reform for you. We share your values, and you better give us money, and you better not give the Democrats money, or else." Then yesterday it was reported that if they could just get control, they'd give us a National Government by subpoena with an enemies list.
Now, you have to see that in terms of their Contract With America. Remember their contract? They all signed up; they all stood right up there and signed on the dotted line. You know what was in that contract? They promised just what they did in the eighties, the return to trickle-down economics, a trillion dollars in promises, tax cuts for the wealthy, more money for defense, bring back Star Wars, don't hurt anybody. And when we ask them, "Well, how are you going to pay for all this?" they say, "We will tell you later."
I'll tell you how they're going to pay for it. The deficit will be exploded, Medicare will be cut, veterans benefits will be cut, the police program cannot be funded, jobs will start to go overseas again just like they did before, and the economy will be in the ditch. But it will all happen after the election.
You know, I mean, this is election time. He wants to win; he wants to win; I want you to help our folks in Congress. I would love to stand up here and make you a trillion dollars' worth of promises. You know, if I could write a trillion dollars' worth of hot checks, I could show you a good time, too. [Laughter] That's still real money.
So they've told us what they'll do. They'll give you trickle-down economics and abuse of power politics. Now, that's what they'll do. They've had a high old time trying to stop everything and point the finger of blame. I love what Bill Curry said, what they're saying is not "What should we do?" but "Who can we blame?"
What we have done is try to turn a light on in this country, to lift people's spirits and pull people together and say: We can make the Government work for ordinary people. We can do more with less. We can empower people. We can get this economy going again. We can stand for the best of American ideals around the world. We can make ourselves more secure and more prosperous.
And it won't happen overnight. We're dealing with 30 years of social problems, 20 years of economic stagnation, and 12 years of trickledown economics. But it can happen if we keep going forward.
So I am here to say, if you want this country to go forward, you need to elect this good man Governor. And you need to say to the people of Connecticut, in every one of these congressional races we must decide: Are we going forward, or are we going backward? What do we stand for? Do we really want to go back to a Government of idle promises where people are simply told what they want to hear, where all their fears are played upon, where a majority is created through dividing the electorate, or do we want to go forward into a future where we can compete and win in an exciting global economy where our diversity is an asset and our economic strengths are legendary and every American child has a chance to live up to the American dream? I think the answer is clear, and I want you to help make it clear in November.
Thank you, and God bless you all.
NOTE: The President spoke at 1:22 p.m. at the Holiday Inn.
William J. Clinton, Remarks at a Fundraiser for Gubernatorial Candidate Bill Curry in Bridgeport, Connecticut Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/218771