Remarks on Kick Butts Day in Brooklyn, New York
The President. Thank you. Good morning. Let me, first of all, say that I am delighted to be here. And I thought Ayana gave a wonderful introduction, didn't you? Give her a hand. [Applause]
I'm delighted to be here with all of the young people at the Hudde School, not only those who are here but those who are outside this room listening to us and looking at us over closed-circuit television. There are young people around New York and all across America participating in this second annual Kick Butts Day. But I am glad to be here.
I thank your principal, Julia Bove, for making me feel so welcome. I am delighted to be here with Congressman Chuck Schumer, my longtime friend who has worked so hard on this tobacco issue, and also he's worked hard on the assault weapons ban and the Brady bill and other things to make the streets of New York safer for children.
I'm glad to be here with Major Owens who was a very early supporter of mine here and who has been a great champion for education. You heard him talking about education—we're trying to get this Congress to really focus on the education needs of our children. And if it does happen in this Congress and we get the kind of progress that I think we will, it will be in no small measure due to Major Owens. I thank you, Major, for your leadership.
And I want you to think about Mark Green's title a minute because I'm going to talk to you about my job, their jobs, your jobs in a minute. Mark Green's title is the public advocate. I don't know if there's another city in America that has an elected public advocate. But think about what that means. What would it mean for you to be a public advocate? Someone who is standing up for people at large, right? For the public. Now, it was in that connection that Mark Green created this day, Kick Butts Day, all across the United States; he was the first official to ask to ban cartoon figures in tobacco ads—to his fight for at-risk and uninsured children. He's been fighting for children, but just think about it, because he was advocating for the public in New York, we now have a national Kick Butts Day involving, as you heard, about 2 million people. That's an incredible thing, and we thank Mark Green for his leadership for that.
I also want to thank Bill Novelli and the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids. I thank the others who are here on the platform with me today: the president of the New York City Board of Education, Bill Thompson; and Rudy Crew, the chancellor of the board of education; and I'm glad to see Sandy Feldman and the American Federation of Teachers representatives, out here in this group.
And I'm glad to be at this school. I've heard a lot about this school. Congressman Schumer says, "My daughter goes to this school." I actually have—one of the press people who travels with me, Mark Knoller of CBS Radio, graduated from this school. And I hate to admit it, but he got a good education, too. He's done a good job. [Laughter] He's also very popular with the press corps, as you can hear. [Laughter]
Now, let me ask you to think about my job and your job. How many of you saw something in the news about Tiger Woods winning the Masters? How many of you thought it was a good thing? How many of you know that we're going to celebrate tonight at Shea Stadium the 40th anniversary of Jackie Robinson—the 50th anniversary of Jackie Robinson breaking into baseball? You all know that? And how many of you know who Jackie Robinson played for? Who did he play for? The Dodgers. When they were in——
Audience members. Brooklyn.
The President. ——Brooklyn. And how many of you think it was a good thing that Jackie Robinson broke the color line in baseball and gave everybody a chance to play baseball? [Applause] Okay, now, to do things that are great, you have to be able to imagine that you can do them. You have to be able to dream your dreams and actually imagine that you can be there. But you also have to pay the price. You have to develop good character and a good mind and good habits. And those are things that no one can do for you.
And I came here today for a specific reason. Because I think all the time about my job as President, I'm sort of the country's public advocate. You think about my job and what I can do and what I cannot do. Where does my job as President end and your job as a student and a citizen begin? That's what I want you to think about, because that's really what this is about. That's what all these T-shirts are about. That's what this slogan is about. It's about your future, your life, what all of us on this stage can do, and what only you can do.
Now, if you think about my job—this morning, I got up early this morning and read the newspapers and talked to my wife and daughter and read my security briefing to see what was going on in the rest of the world. And I got on Air Force One, the special plane that the President flies in, and I flew to New York and then came over here. And I thought about on the way over here, how much do these young students know about my job?
My job is to protect the United States, to promote world peace and the interest of the United States around the world. My job is to try to give you a strong economy so those who are willing to work can find a job; to commit to giving Americans the best education in the world so everybody has the chance to develop their minds; to try to make our streets safer; to try to make our environment cleaner; to try to make sure that the health and welfare, especially of our children, are in better shape for the future; and maybe more than anything else now—and look around at this student body— to try to make sure that we in America can learn to live together in harmony and peace and genuine affection and respect across our racial, ethnic, and religious differences, to have a true democracy that's blind to the differences in terms of prejudice but respects the fact that we are different and says, that's a good thing. It's a better thing that this country has people from many different racial and ethnic and religious backgrounds. It makes us stronger, not weaker, for the 21st century. That's my job.
Now, what does that mean? That means, in specifics, that I'm down in Washington now; I'm trying to work with the Congress to do the public's business to balance the budget, because it will make our economy stronger and guarantee that we'll have more growth and your parents will have more opportunities for good income. I'm trying to do it in a way that invests in education because unless we have the best education system in the world, we won't do as well as we should in the future and you won't have the opportunities you deserve. Those are just two examples.
But think about where what I do ends and what you do begins, because in the days when Jackie Robinson broke into baseball, someone had to make the decision that this racial prejudice was a stupid, dumb thing, right? And the owner of his club made that decision and give him a chance to play. That's a good thing, right? But just think what a downer it would have been if he couldn't play baseball. He still had to play baseball, right? He had to believe he could play baseball. He had to train himself to play baseball. He had to deal with all the prejudice and all the insults and all the hatred and all the rejection, and he had to maintain his dignity, all the time waiting for that chance and never knowing for sure it would ever come.
Now, think about Tiger Woods. He grew up in a time when there was—legal segregation by and large was illegal, unless it was in private clubs. And he had a wonderful father and mother who believed in him and gave him love and discipline and opportunities, right? But he still wouldn't have won that golf tournament unless he could hit the ball—a long way. [Laughter] Straight, right?
So all of us, we can get together. What's that got to do with you and Kick Butts Day? We can get together, and I can tell you, like they did, 3,000 kids start smoking every day, and 1,000 of them are going to die sooner because of it. I can say that. I can tell you that more people die from cigarettes every year than die from all of the other problems that you heard Congressman Schumer talking about. And I can tell you that; it's really true—more than from AIDS, more than from cancer, more than from car wrecks, more than from all that stuff. I can tell you that advertising has a disproportionate impact on young people.
How do we know that? We actually know that. How do we know that? Because younger people who buy cigarettes are far more likely to buy the advertised brands of cigarettes than the so-called generic brand, you know, where there's no advertising, no brand, just plain cigarettes. They're cheaper, but you never see them advertised. Older people are more likely to buy them, and younger people are more likely to buy the advertised brands even though they're more expensive.
So I can tell you all that. I can tell you that tobacco companies are getting more clever now. Virginia Slims is now sponsoring concerts because kids love music and CD's. Joe Camel cartoons are now on the packets of cigarettes, not just in the ads. Toy race cars are still emblazoned with tobacco brand names, even though we know adults don't buy many toy race cars.
Now, just last month, one of the tobacco companies finally changed its story. The president of the tobacco company Liggett said—and this is a quote from him—he can tell you this. This is a guy that ran a tobacco company. He can say, "We acknowledge that the tobacco industry markets to youth, which means those under 18 years of age." And he also admitted that nicotine is addictive. Now, that's what he said. I hope the other tobacco companies will follow his lead and tell the truth and stop trying to sell their products—to adults and not to kids.
Now, all this is my problem and their problem and the other people that are in this. We're supposed to do this. We're supposed to do everything we can do to stop them from advertising to you and to stop this, and I have done everything I know to do. Last August, we put out these rules, and we said they have got to stop this. But after we do all that, there's still you. Right?
Think about it like Jackie Robinson. And so all of us, we're like the guys that own the ballteam, right? We're supposed to make everything all right so you have a chance to play baseball, except what we're trying to do is make everything all right so that the chances are very high that you won't be tempted to smoke.
But it's still up to you. That's why I'm here today, because I can sit in Washington and work all day and all night long and make this speech until I'm blue in the face, and unless the children of this country band together and show solidarity with each other and help each other resist peer pressure and stand up for your future and understand that your body is the most prized gift you've been given along with your mind and your spirit, nothing I do will amount to a hill of beans. That's why I'm here, because you have to take responsibility for your future. We can give you the opportunity. You have to seize it. And I want everybody in America on the news tonight and anybody who hears about this to know that in this school, you children are setting an example for the rest of America's young people. I am proud of you, and I want you to remember it tomorrow when you're not wearing that T-shirt.
And I want you to remember this, too. Even with no barriers, not everybody's going to be able to play baseball like Jackie Robinson did. I still remember when I was—I was 10 years old before I ever got a television. But Jackie Robinson had 2 years left in baseball and I got to watch him on television. I still remember that.
Even with golf more open to more and more kinds of people, with 2,500 minority children in a golf program in Houston, Texas, for example, very few people are going to be able to drive the ball 320 yards consistently. But you can all have some dream. And everybody's life has real meaning and every one of you has to figure out what that dream is going to be for you. But no matter what it is, you've got to do just what the champions do: You have to believe you can do it and think about it and visualize it. You have to work for it. You've got to get a good education, and you've got to take care of your mind and your body. And if you do, you'll be a champion, no matter what you do and no matter whether you're famous or not.
You think about it. This country has one President, for example, and 260 million other people. Now, if tomorrow we had to do without one President or all 260 million other people, it would be a pretty easy choice, wouldn't it? You'd say, "I like you, President Clinton, but I'm sorry, you'll have to go." [Laughter] "The rest of us are going to stay."
The greatness of America is in all the people. It's in the billions and billions and billions of decisions they make every day. And you're making them for your life and your future and your country. I am very proud of you. But don't you ever forget this: Have your dreams and live for them, but take care of yourselves. Take care of yourselves. Your body is a precious gift. And you have set an example today that I can only hope and pray that every young person in this country, that all of them will follow.
Thank you, and God bless you.
NOTE: The President spoke at 11:10 a.m. in the gymnasium at Andries Hudde Junior High School. In his remarks, he referred to student Ayana Harry; Representative Major R. Owens; William D. Novelli, president, Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids; Sandra Feldman, president, American Federation of Teachers; and 1997 PGA Masters' winner Tiger Woods.
William J. Clinton, Remarks on Kick Butts Day in Brooklyn, New York Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/223866