Bill Clinton photo

Remarks at a Hillary 2000 Dinner

June 21, 2000

That was one of my great jokes—[inaudible]—that I intended to be president again next year, president of the Senate spouses club. [Laughter]

Let me say that I love coming to this magnificent home. I'm always so happy here. It's a happy place. I love being here. And now I'm here as surrogate-in-chief. Hillary is in New York tonight, and I was delighted to come by and have a chance to talk to you at the table.

I would like to just say a couple of things. First of all, thank you. I am very grateful that I've had a chance to serve as President. And I'm grateful that I had a chance to get elected in a moment where I felt that I had some ideas that would change the country for the better— and only after I've had years and years and years and years of working seriously on these ideas so I could test them, and it turned out most of them worked out pretty well. And I feel good about it.

We've still got a lot of good things going, and I think a lot of good things are going to happen in the next 7 months. You may have seen yesterday the House—the Senate passed the hate crimes legislation I've been pushing for 2 years. A couple of days before that, the House reversed itself and decided to leave my process of creating national monuments, to protect land for all time to come, alone. We're moving on a lot of the fronts that I hope we'll have some progress on. I think we will.

The second point I'd like to make is that people come up to me all the time and say, "Well, who is going to win this election or that election or the other?" Except I always say Hillary now, but apart from that—and I believe that very strongly. But I think my experience has been that the outcome of elections are largely determined by what the voters believe the elections are about.

That's what you were talking to me tonight on the New York City—what you think the election is about may determine more than anything else which candidate you vote for. And what I have been trying to hammer home all across the country, to all kinds of audiences—partisan audiences, nonpartisan audiences alike—is that this election must be about what we're going to do with our prosperity.

Eight years ago when we were in deep trouble—the economy was down; society was divided; we had all kinds of difficulties—everybody knew what we had to do. We had to roll up our sleeves and get out of the ditch. We had to turn things around. We had to put things moving in the right direction. Well, now things are moving in the right direction, and the real question is, what do we do with it, not just the budget surplus but the confidence, the capacity, to deal with the challenges facing the country, to deal with the big opportunities out there?

And if the American people think that is what we should do, then we're going to have a very good election. Because that means it's no longer necessary to have one of these sort of mudslinging campaigns where everybody tries to convince everybody else that their opponent is just one step above a car thief. I mean, how many elections have we had like that? That's not necessary. You start with the two Presidential candidates, you go through these Senate races, these House races, you've got people that make a very presentable case for their point of view and that argue it out. And so we really can have an election about the future.

And I worked as hard as I could to turn this country around, get it going in the right direction, and that's really what I want to have. If you believe that, then there are three things I want you to know—and don't laugh. Number one, it's a really big election. How a country deals with its prosperity is as important a test of its character and judgment as how you deal with adversity.

There's not a person around this room tonight who cannot remember one instance in your life when you made a mistake not because things were going so badly but because things were going so well you thought there was no consequence to the failure to concentrate. If you live long enough—[inaudible]—everybody knows that. So this is a big election.

Point number two, there are real and honest differences between the candidates for President, for Senator, for the House, and people, historically, pretty well do what they say they're going to do when they get in office. Contrary to a popular expression that all politicians are a bunch of slugs and don't keep their word, by and large, they do. If you look at all the historical studies, they do pretty much what they said they were going to do.

One of the proudest days I've had as President was in '95, when things looked so bleak for us, a scholar of the Presidency and the media named Thomas Patterson published a report and said I kept a higher percentage of my promises to the American people than any of the last five Presidents by '95, even though I'd made more, which made me feel very good. But most people will do most of the things they say.

And usually when a President doesn't do it, you wind up being glad. For example, aren't you glad that Abraham Lincoln didn't keep his promise not to free the slaves? That was one of his 1860 campaign promises. Aren't you glad that Franklin Roosevelt didn't keep his promise to balance the budget in 1932, when we had 25 percent of the people out of work in 1933? It would have been exactly the wrong thing to do for him, just like it was the right thing to do for me. So basically, you've got a big, important election; you've got real differences.

Now, here's the third thing: Only the Democrats want you to know what the differences are. Really. The real differences. You see that in the way the Republicans are basically trying to make everybody forget they had a primary season in which they made a lot of very specific commitments, and they don't want to talk about them anymore.

But I think they're honorable; I think they'll keep the commitments they made in the primaries. And it makes it uncomfortable for them when, like Mr. LaPierre, the NRA guy, says, "Well, we'll have an office in the White House if Bush wins the election," because they want him to go away until after the election.

But there are real differences, and by and large, they relate to how we think we ought to manage this moment of prosperity.

And I'll just say a brief word about the Vice President. I do believe by now I know him as well as anybody besides his wife, maybe his children. He's been, by far—as a matter of historical fact, he's had, by far, a greater positive impact on the country in this job than anyone has ever had—in this job.

Now, I have to make full disclosure. That's a very self-serving statement for me, because the way the job works depends on what the President asks the Vice President to do. But I've spent a lot of time studying the Presidency, and I never could figure out why you would want a Vice President who didn't get up and go to work every day. I never could figure out why the Presidents felt threatened by their Vice Presidents. I didn't get all that stuff.

I picked Al Gore because he basically was in tune with me, and we got along together. But he knew things I didn't know. He had experiences I didn't have, and he has made an absolutely incalculable contribution to whatever good we've accomplished in the White House. And I think he should be elected because I agree with his economic plan, as compared with the alternative, and we need to keep the prosperity going; because I know he'll work harder to extend the benefits of our prosperity to other people, whether it's the differences they have over the minimum wage or the Patients' Bill of Rights or you name it; and because he understands the future. He understands issues like climate change and the other energy and environmental issues, or the Internet privacy issues, which I predict will be very big for all of you over the next 5 or 6 years. All of our medical records and all of our financial records and all of our other records, everything is on a computer somewhere. I think that's a big issue. I'm very pro-high-technology. I've tried to do everything I could to create as many jobs, to support a competitive environment with the Telecommunications Act and all. But I think these privacy issues are going to be big.

So I think he's good because I like his economic plan. I think he'll do more to help everybody participate in our society, and I think he understands the future. And it's really important, because the next 8 years are going to be different from the last 8. The issue is not whether we're going to change; the issue is how are we going to change.

I wouldn't vote for anybody that said, "Hey, I'd like to be President because I'll do everything Bill Clinton did." I wouldn't support a candidate—that would be wrong. Things are changing too much. So that's my take on that.

Now, in Hillary's case, what I think will happen is she'll go through a period of time where—apparently, just looking, I saw Mr. Lazio had a film the other day that had me on it saying something nice about him. Well, I'm not like them. If a Republican votes on something that I think's good, I'll brag on them. I'm not ashamed of it. I don't think you have to say, just because somebody is a member of the other party, that they're right over there with Attila the Hun.

But I kind of—it was a gas that he would try to give the people of New York the impression that I'd prefer him to my wife in the Senate. [Laughter] Because she would have voted for my economic plan, not against it, and she would have voted against the contract on America, not for it. She wouldn't vote to shut the Government down and get rid of the Department of Education or get rid of the 100,000 police that lowered the crime rate in New York and other places. So, there, too, there are real differences.

I think the big issue here on the economic front for both of them—and it's one that all of you need to think about because you could actually be better off the day after it passed with the Republican plan, everybody here—the day after it passed. Because basically, what they want to do is spend the whole projected surplus on the tax cut, for Social Security transition costs, and extra defense costs. And what we want to do—even though I'm not a candidate, I strongly support this—is to set aside at a minimum—at an absolute rock-bottom minimum— at least 20 percent of this projected surplus which comes then from your Medicare taxes, and put it in a Medicare Trust Fund, and get it away from any spending, and use it to continue to pay the debt down. And then we want to have a tax cut that's much smaller, probably about 40 percent the size of theirs—still substantial, but not as big as theirs, slightly less than half of it—and we want to invest more money in education and research and technology and health care and the environment.

Now, why is ours better? Because, number one, we may not have—just because some economist says we're going to have $1.9 trillion over the next 10 years doesn't mean it's going to happen. And I'll bet you everybody in this room, in your heart of hearts, says, "Gee, I hope that will happen," but it might not. You know, we might not have 4 years like these last 7 years.

If I tell you—this gentleman was telling me about his business in Buffalo. If I said, "What's your projected revenue? Are you going to go out and not only spend it all but borrow money on the basis of it, no matter what, with no safety net," you probably wouldn't do that. And so I think if we—I believe if you have sort of a Bush-Lazio tax plan, and it passed, you'd all be better off the day after because all of you can afford to come here tonight. But you wouldn't be better off if it led to a 2 percent increase in interest rates. But in 2 years, the impact it would have on the markets, on the overall economy, on the unemployment rate, you'd be worse off. And the overall economy would be worse off, and we wouldn't have any money to do these things.

And the way our crowd has it structured is, number one, they're going to save 20 percent of the money on the front end and put it into Medicare, as long as it materializes, which is good because when the baby boomers retire it's going to be hard to—[inaudible]—and we're going to keep paying the debt down as fast as we can, which I believe is good. I think since there's so much private debt, we should pay the public debt down and keep interest rates as low as possible. That's what I believe.

And most of the people I know that have done well in this economy, if they have to choose between low interest rates and a growing stock market and a tax cut, and if it's either/ or, they would choose the former every single time. So this is a big issue, and I think it's important.

The second big cluster of issues, I'll say again: what do you believe our obligations are to those who haven't done as well in this whole thing as we have, or those that have got the good jobs, but they have other problems?

The biggest challenge most working families, even upper class working families that work for salaries, face today is how to balance the burden of raising their children and succeeding at work. Because in the United States we have less support for that than our competing countries do. We don't do as much to help people pay for child care. We don't do as much to make sure they all have affordable health insurance. We don't do as much to make sure the kids are all in preschool or after-school programs. We don't do as much to guarantee that they have family leave options so that if the baby is sick or the parents are sick or there's a newborn baby, that everybody can get pretty much what they need.

Now, I think this whole cluster of familyrelated issues, I'll predict to you, will be very big over the next decade, because we're not all working just to have money to go spend it on things; that's not why people do it. They find reward from their work, and they try to run businesses that they're proud of, and they want to raise families they're proud of. And this all has to be done in the context of a certain value structure. And if we've got a country where, in order to be a success, you have to just basically walk away from your responsibilities as parents, we're in deep trouble here. And this is a challenge for every business, for everybody, and we're going to have to work through a lot of these issues together.

But one of the reasons that I think Hillary ought to go to the Senate is that she spent 30 years working on this stuff. She knows more than anyone I personally know about adoption, about foster care, about the children's health care and emotional and nutritional and educational needs, about the relationship of early childhood brain development to whatever the Government policy is. She has lived with this stuff.

And I was just kind of surprised when all those New York House Members came to see her and asked her to run for the Senate. I was surprised she'd even think of it. I said, "Do you know how much this is going to cost you?" She said, "You're talking to me about money?" [Laughter] She laughed at me. She said, "You, who have never cared if we had a nickel in the bank"—[inaudible]—and we laughed about it, you know, and we admitted that in the end we were kind of public service junkies. It's what we care about. [Laughter]

And for 30 years she's worked for me and worked on the side. The whole time we were in Arkansas, she gave away lots of potential income every year just to do public service, because it's what she wanted to do. And I can just tell you that in a lot of ways she's better than I am on a lot of this stuff, and she knows things I don't know. And she will be absolutely unbelievable.

I know there are still some people in New York who say, "Well, why is she doing this, and why are they coming to New York, and why is she running for the Senate?" It's not very complicated. She would prefer to do that than go out and get real rich. I mean, that's basically—she would prefer to do this work than even be a wonderful commentator and talk about it. Arguably, in the modern world, people who have access to communications can influence more people because they can just talk to a lot of people and convince them to go change their behavior. Not her, man. She thinks she's supposed to show up for the job, do it in the old-fashioned way—bam, bam, bam. That's what she believes.

All I can tell you is, I've been around a lot of people, and I've never seen anybody that I thought had the gift for public service that she does. And so what she's got to do is work like crazy and just keep meeting people in New York and basically chip away at the people who are still questioning, "Well, why is she doing this?" And at some point between now and election day, a critical mass of people will have been reached, and they will be talking to other people, who will be talking to other people, who will be talking to other people.

Did you read that little book, "The Tipping Point"? Have you all read that, how little things make big changes? At some point, we'll reach the tipping point in this whole issue, and it will vanish, and I think she'll be elected. But she can only do it if we can get our message out, which is why it's so important.

So, anyway, that's my pitch. You've got a good Senator. You've got a good Presidential candidate. It's a big election. There are big differences, and I do want you to know what they are.

Thank you very much.

NOTE: The President spoke at 10:30 p.m. at a private residence. In his remarks, he referred to Wayne LaPierre, executive vice president, National Rifle Association; Representative Rick Lazio; and Gov. George W. Bush of Texas.

William J. Clinton, Remarks at a Hillary 2000 Dinner Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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