Remarks to Harley-Davidson Employees in York
Thank you very much. Thank you. It's nice to be in a restrained, laid-back crowd like this. [Laughter] The truth is, it's wonderful to be in a place where people are happy, and they're not ashamed to be excited, and they're proud to go to work every day. Thank you very much for making me feel welcome here today.
Thank you, Jeff Bleustein; thank you, Bobby Ramsey. Old Bobby kind of hurt my feelings. You know, I went up to him and he said, "Well, you're not nearly as tall as I thought you were." [Laughter] He said, "When I saw you playing saxophone on Arsenio Hall, I thought you were a lot taller guy." [Laughter] And I said, "That's why I got elected President. I was 6' 8" back then." [Laughter] But I still think you did a good job, Bobby, and I thank you.
I want to thank Bill Dannehl. Thank you, Harry Smith. I enjoyed meeting Willie Davidson today. And I thank Tom Buffenbarger, the president of the International Association of Machinists, for being here and joining us today.
I want to thank Mayor Robertson for welcoming me to York, and all the county commissioners and legislators and others who are here. And I want to say a special word of appreciation again, Jeffrey, to you for making me feel so welcome here and for the nice things you said about Bill Daley, behind his back. Usually, when you talk behind somebody's back, you're not saying nice things. [Laughter] So Daley is up here talking, and Jeff is telling me what a good Secretary of Commerce he is. And I will say, Secretary Daley, you have been superb, and we're grateful for what you do for the United States.
Now, you may remember this, some of you, but after I was nominated for President, way back in the summer of 1992, Al and Tipper Gore and Hillary and I got on a bus, and we started this bus tour. Our very first overnight stop was in York, Pennsylvania. And I'm sure none of you were there when we got in. We got in about a quarter to one, but the crowd was about the size that it is today. And I looked at that crowd. It was in the middle of the night, you know; we'd been stopped everywhere along the way, and I decided I'd take a bus tour so I could go see normal people. We went out to all these little towns. And then we got to York, it was the middle of the night, and there was this huge throng there. And I popped out, and I looked at Hillary, I said, "You know, we might win this election"—[laughter]—"and we'd better not mess it up."
When I was here before, I didn't get to come and visit Harley-Davidson. And I wish I had, because since then—I had a beautiful Harley jacket before I came here, that I got in Milwaukee, but I gave it to a guy who worked for me because he thought he was going to ride to heaven on a Harley-Davidson motorcycle. So when he retired, the only thing I could think of to give him that really reflected the service he had given to our country and to me was my jacket, which I hated to part with. But the only gifts that really count are the ones that you'd like to keep yourself, I think sometimes. So today I got another one, and I thank you. I love it.
You know, Bill Daley was talking about being over in the United Arab Emirates and how they were dying to have more motorcycles and other paraphernalia to sell. And I told Jeff when he mentioned it, one of the great treasures of being the President is having the opportunity to meet people around the world you would never meet and make friends with them. A person who became a particular personal friend of mine and of my wife's was the late King Hussein of Jordan. And some of you may know, he was a very satisfied Harley customer.
When Hussein and his wife, Queen Noor, came to stay with us a few years ago and we became very good friends, he gave me a gift that I treasure that's still up in the White House today. It's a picture of himself and his wife in very casual clothes in the Jordanian desert, astride a Harley.
My best Harley story—I was just recently in Paris on my way to Sarajevo and Bosnia to try to settle the outstanding issues of all the Balkan wars in Bosnia and Kosovo. So I stopped in France to have a meeting with the President of France, and I went to the American Ambassador's residence in Paris. Now if you ever saw that house, you'd want to be Ambassador to France, too. [Laughter] It's a beautiful place, built in the 1700's, just takes your breath away to walk in, these grand gardens and this beautiful marble foyer when you walk in. In the beautiful marble foyer when you walk in now, replete with all the proper lighting, is a stunning, 1944 Harley-Davidson. [Laughter]
And the way it got there is that when your predecessors were making motorcycles for the war effort, some of them were sent in packages, to be assembled to our allies in Europe. And some of them went to Yugoslavia, where Mr. Tito was fighting the Nazis. Two of them were never opened, and the son of the American Ambassador actually came upon these 54-year-old boxes of unassembled 1944 Harleys last year, and he gave one to his daddy. And now, if you ever go to France, it's now the main tourist attraction of the American Embassy, is a 1944 Harley. It is so beautiful, and I know you'd be proud of it.
I came here today not just because I wanted to see you and not just because I wanted to come back to York to thank the people of this community and this State for being so good for the last 7 years and through two elections to me and my wife and Vice President and Mrs. Gore. I came here because I want America to know exactly what you have done and how.
The recovery of this company since the 1980's has been truly remarkable. When you were down in the dumps, people were saying American industry was finished, that we couldn't compete in the global economy, that the next century would belong to other countries and other places. Today, you're not just surviving; you're flourishing, with record sales and earnings and one of the best managed companies in America, according to Industry Week. According to management and labor, one of the reasons you're the best managed company in America is that you have a genuine partnership between labor and management, where all employees are valuable and expected to make good decisions on their own for the benefit of the common enterprise. And I thank you for setting that example. I wish every manufacturer in America would model it.
I came here because I knew before I got here—although I had never quite experienced the full force of it until you were shouting and screaming and having such a good time—I knew that this was about more than making bikes for profit, more than selling attractive leather jackets. What we see here today is how people feel when they have got a job that they do well, that gives them not only a decent income but a full measure of dignity and pride.
I used to tell people all the time that politics is about a lot more than economics. But if you get the economics right, people figure out how to live and shape good lives and raise their children and build strong communities. And if you don't get the economics right, then you have to deal with a lot of the other values issues, extraordinary welfare rates and higher crime rates and all those other problems.
I want people to see that you have, yes, turned a company around, yes, you make an exciting product, and you sell it all around the world, but that you do it in the right way, a way that makes you proud to come to work every day. It puts a spring in your step and a shout in your voice and a light in your eyes. That is what I want for every American working family, and I hope that more people will follow your lead so that more people can stand up and shout every day just for the joy of going to work and being part of a common enterprise and doing something they can be profoundly proud of. Thank you, thank you, thank you for that example.
The second point I want to make is the point that Secretary Daley has already mentioned. To really do as well as you can, you have to sell these wonderful products not only around the country but around the world. And I think that's very important.
In 1973, when the first Harley rolled off the assembly line here, America exported only 6,300 motorcycles. By last year, that number had increased to 66,000. Today, you're selling about a quarter of your bikes around the world from Costa Rica to Korea, from central Europe to the Middle East. The global market for motorcycles, and for Harleys, is exploding. It's a big part of your future.
And in order for it to be a part of your future and our future, America has to continue to support expanding trade on fair terms to all, including Americans. Now, this is a big issue. And I want you to just give me a couple minutes of serious time here to talk about it.
When I got elected in 1992, I don't think there's any way in the world a Governor of a small southern State—in the affectionate terms that President Bush used then to describe me— would have been elected President if we hadn't had economic distress, social division, political drift, and a Government discredited. You all remember that. It was tough in this country. It was tough in this State.
And I had spent 12 years—at that time, not quite 12, a little over 10—working as Governor of my State, trying to figure out how this economy works, how the education system plays into the economy, how I could actually get up and go to work every day and create the conditions and give people the tools to make the life of their dreams. And I asked the American people, I said, "Look, give me a chance to put people back at the center of our politics, to create opportunity for every responsible citizen, to create a community that every American has a chance to be a part of. And give me a chance to put in some new ideas. I believe we can grow the economy and protect the environment. I believe we can move people from welfare to work and still allow them to take care of their children. I believe we can be tough on crime and still do more to keep kids out of trouble in the first place. I believe we can do more to help people succeed at home and at work. I believe we can have a trading system that expands trade and still protects legitimate labor rights and our responsibilities to the environment. I believe we can have a community where all of us serves more and help one another reach our common dreams." Anyway, I said, "The center of this has to be an economic strategy, and mine is very simple. I want to get rid of the deficit, but I want to find a way to invest more money in education, in technology, in training, and in research. And I want to expand trade." To me, it was simple math: we have 4 percent of the world's people with 22 percent of the world's income. You don't have to be a genius to figure out, if you want to keep 22 percent of the world's income with 4 percent of the world's people, you've got to sell something to the other 96 percent.
And yet, I knew people were afraid of that. They were afraid that if we opened our borders here, a lot of our lower wage workers would be put out of business by people who worked for even less money abroad, and they might not ever get another chance. They were afraid a lot of our well-paid workers would not do well, because we'd have markets opened to our competitors in those areas, but they wouldn't open their markets to ours. A lot of people were afraid we would see a big transfer of wealth to poor countries, but the money would stay in a few hands, and it wouldn't flow down to the workers there, and it would lead to a degradation of the environment in ways that could hurt us. That was especially an issue along the Rio Grande River when we were working out the trade agreement with Mexico. So there was all this fight about it.
Well, the results of the last 7 years are in, and it's not an argument anymore. We have the longest peacetime expansion in history, the highest homeownership in history, 19.8 million new jobs, the lowest unemployment rate in 30 years, the lowest welfare rolls in 30 years, the lowest poverty rates in 20 years, the first backto-back budget surpluses in 42 years, and the Federal Government is the smallest it's been in 37 years. The record is in.
Now I might add, there's a lot of women in this plant. Last month the female unemployment rate was the same as the overall unemployment rate, 4.1 percent. That was the lowest unemployment rate for women in 46 years. And from 1993 until the end of 1997, when the Asian economy collapsed and the Russian economy had such great difficulty, until that point, 30 percent of this growth came from exports. And an enormous amount of it came because of improvements and advances in technology, not just computers in Silicon Valley but the computer programs running all these machines I saw on the plant floor here today, a lot of them taking the most dangerous jobs, some of the jobs that caused people to have long-term injuries, away, so that you can work and make a contribution and make these motorcycles at some less risk and wear and tear to yourselves.
Thirty percent of our growth came from exports, until we had the Asian collapse. And they're coming back now. We've worked hard to help them. They're coming back now.
Now, in spite of these economic statistics— I mean, here's why we're here, apart from the fact that Bill Daley and I wanted to come here. And we're glad we got our jackets, and we really wish we were leaving with motorcycles. But I have to wait a year and a half, you know? I've got to wait a year and a half. I couldn't bear all the stories out here if I rode around on a motorcycle for a while.
But let me tell you, the reason we're here, to be fair, is that, ironically, in spite of all those economic numbers I just recited, there's actually more division and controversy over whether trade is or isn't good for us today in Washington than there was in 1993 and in 1994 when we joined the World Trade Organization and set off this explosion of economic activity.
And again I say, I think it's because people are afraid that Americans always get a raw deal. They see we have a big trade deficit—that's because we've got even more money than we produce for. We buy things from other countries, but we also sell a lot abroad. We keep setting records for our exports. And a lot of what we sell abroad supports higher wages in America. The average trade-related job pays almost 20 percent more than a job unrelated to trade, like yours do. You know that.
So we have to find a way not just for big business leaders and people like me who live in Washington, who, you know, get a job that lasts for a term of years, regardless. We have to find ways for people like you, that get up and go to work every day and will have a lot of job security when you're doing well, and people who aren't in unionized plants and who may be working for low wages and who feel more vulnerable. We have to find a way to build a consensus in America so that all Americans understand that if we want to keep growing this economy, raising wages, creating jobs, we've got to stick with what has brought us this far.
We've got to keep paying down this debt. We can make America debt-free in 15 years, for the first time since 1835, if we stay on the budget plan that I've laid out. And that will be great for you. Why should you care if we're debt-free? Because if the Government is out of debt, this business can borrow money at lower cost, and you will have lower home mortgage rates. You will have lower car payment rates. If you send your kids to college, the college loans will be lower. Just because of the amount we've reduced the deficit already, the average home mortgage costs the average American working family $2,000 a year less and the average car payment is $200 a year less and the average college loan is $200 a year less. We ought to keep going until we get America out of debt for the first time since 1835, so the money will be there at the lowest possible costs for the American enterprise system to create jobs and improve lives. That's important.
The second thing we ought to do is to find a way to continue to expand trade. You know, we just had a meeting, and I was told, well, just what you heard here in the speech: Thank you very much for helping us get into the Japanese market, and we're doing well there, but there are still some barriers there. I hear that everywhere. So next month in Seattle, we're going to have a chance to make the global trading system stronger, to tear down more tariffs, to deal with more non-tariff barriers, to make it clear that if countries want access to our markets, we have to have access to theirs, but basically, to commit to expanding trade. Now that is what is in the interest of Harley Davidson, and that is what is in the interest of the 21st century American economy.
So I came here to say, we can have more companies like yours. We can have more success stories like yours. This company can have more employees like you. But if we're going to do it, we have to find a way to expand trade. There's 4 percent of us. We've got 22 percent of the income. We've got to sell something to the other 96 percent. It's just as simple as that. But we will never be able to do it unless working people believe that trade benefits ordinary American families.
You know, the politicians and the CEO's can talk until they're blue in the face. But we still have elections in this country, and in the end, you guys run the show. And it's a good thing. That's why we're still around here after 200 years. But if we can't convince people like you that we're right about this trade issue, then we are going to shrink America's future prospects. It's as simple as that.
You know, I want you all to watch Seattle when it rolls around. Every group in the world with an axe to grind is going to Seattle to demonstrate. I'll have more demonstrators against me than I've had in the whole 7 years I've been President. I'm kind of looking forward to it. [Laughter] I'll tell you why. I told them all I wanted them to come. I want all the consumer groups to come. I want all the environmental groups to come. I want everybody who thinks this is a bad deal to come. I want everybody to get all this out of their system and say their piece of mind. And I want us to have a huge debate about this.
But I'm telling you, I've worked really hard for you the last 7 years to turn this economy around and to get it going in the right direction. I've worked hard to make sure other people play by the rules, not just in York, Pennsylvania, but in York, England, and in York, western Australia.
And now, as I look ahead to the last year and a couple of months of my term, I try to think of what things I can still do that will allow this prosperity to go on and on and that will embrace people who haven't yet been affected by it. We still have people in places who haven't been picked up by this recovery. And I want this to go on. It's already the longest peacetime expansion in history. In February it'll be the longest economic expansion, including those that embraced our World Wars. But we can keep it going. But only if we find more customers and more investment in a non-inflationary way, and there's only two places to find it. You've got to go to the places in America which have had no recovery and to the people who are still on welfare or otherwise left out, or you've got to sell more stuff overseas.
Therefore, I say to you—I don't think the trading system is perfect, by the way. I have argued until I'm blue in the face, and I will continue to argue that when we make these trade rules, we need to take the concerns of ordinary citizens into account. We should be growing the economy not just in America but everywhere and still improving the environment.
Let me tell you, compared to 7 years ago, with all these jobs, in America, the air is cleaner; the water is cleaner; the food is safer. We've set aside more land to protect it for sportspeople and for tourists and people that just want to be out in nature, than any administration in the history of this country, except those of Franklin and Theodore Roosevelt. You can improve the economy and improve the environment at the same time. People ought to have that everywhere. They ought to have that security everywhere.
Working people everywhere, even if they can't enjoy the same income you do, ought to have access to basic labor rights. We shouldn't be having child labor in some of these countries producing products to compete in our markets and exploit children when they ought to be in school. We ought to have basic, decent labor standards for people everywhere.
And I believe—that's why I'm glad the demonstrators are coming. I want us to try to find a way to build a consensus where we can expand trade and respect the rights of labor and the environment.
But let me tell you something. You know this. You think about your own life. If we have more trade and it's good for you and it's good for those countries, don't you think it's more likely that working people will be better off and their environment will be cleaner? I mean, the more money you've got, the more you can afford to give workers wages that are increased, and the more you can afford to clean up the environment. So I think all these things work together.
In Seattle, I'm going to ask the trade organization for the very first time to establish a working group on trade and labor, so we get working people and their concerns involved in the trade process before all the decisions are made. I have worked hard to make environment a part of this. I think it's important.
But I came here for this simple reason. This is a great company. You've got a great union. You've found a successful way to compete in the world. You represent the future of the American economy. But if I cannot convince the decisionmakers in Washington and ordinary people like you all across America that a key part of the economic success we've enjoyed in the last 7 years and the economic success America can enjoy in the years ahead requires us to continue to break down barriers to trade, then in the future, when I'm not around anymore, you won't have the economic prosperity that I think you deserve.
So I ask you to think about this. I thank you for being so quiet and listening to this. I wouldn't be for this if I didn't think it was right for you, if I didn't think it was good for ordinary Americans. But I'll leave you with this thought: We live in a world that is smaller and smaller, and that is either going to make us more prosperous and more secure or more vulnerable and more insecure. If we don't trade with other people and help them to get involved in a cycle of growth with us, and you have more and more people that are poor, with open borders, you're going to have more drug trafficking, more organized crime, more political terrorism, and more headaches. And everybody everywhere will be more vulnerable to it.
On the other hand, if we make a living by selling more of our things overseas and the price of that is to let people sell more of their things to us and they do better and their children do better, you will have more cooperation and a far more interesting world for your children to live in.
I believe the best days of this country are still ahead. I believe the life our kids and grandkids are going to have will be truly amazing. Within 10 years, children might actually be born with a life expectancy of a hundred years. Their mothers will take home with them from the hospital a map of the children's genetic system, which will say, your child has the following strengths and the following problems, but if you do these 10 things in the child's upbringing, you will dramatically reduce the fact that your little girl will get breast cancer or your little boy will develop colon cancer. It will be an amazing future.
But we have to do the big things right. That's what you do here. You do the big things right. And you know a lot of little mistakes will be made. You know even you aren't perfect. You know mistakes will be made, but if you get the big things right, you know it's going to come out all right.
What I'm trying to do, with this new trade round in Seattle, Washington, and with these speeches across the country, is to make sure as Americans, we get the big things right. Should we fight for fair trade? You bet. Did we get a lot of steel dumped on us when the Asian and the Russian economies went down, and was it unfair, and did I have to push hard to get it out? You bet. Did you deserve trade protection several years ago when you got it? Absolutely you did.
Do we have to make the system work right? Yes. That's true. You've got to make the system work right. But let's not lose the big point: if we want to continue to grow, have high incomes, low unemployment—the lowest minority unemployment in the history of the country, lowest women's unemployment in 46 years, the lowest overall unemployment in 30 years—if we want that, if we want a country growing together, a part of our strategy has got to be to sell more, not just Harleys but everything we can possibly sell, around the world.
So I ask you, don't let this trade debate be the province of politicians and CEO's. You embrace it. It's your future and your children's future. And every company can be like Harley. But we have to embrace the world and say, "We are not afraid. We can get the big things right."
Thank you, and God bless you.
NOTE: The President spoke at 1 p.m. in a tent at the Harley-Davidson Plant. In his remarks, he referred to Jeffrey L. Bleustein, chief executive officer, and Willie G. Davidson, vice president of styling, Harley-Davidson Motor Co.; Bobby Ramsey, chief shop steward, and William Dannehl, York facility general manager, Harley-Davidson Motor Co.; Harry Smith, president, Local 175, International Union of Machinists; and Mayor Charles Robertson of York.
William J. Clinton, Remarks to Harley-Davidson Employees in York Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/228822