Bill Clinton photo

Remarks at a Luncheon for Representative Patrick J. Kennedy in Barrington, Rhode Island

July 28, 2000

Thank you. You have to be 33 years old to have that kind of energy. [Laughter] You know, Patrick is—he celebrated his 33d birthday, but he looks like he's about 23. And he told me that story that he told you. You remember when he started his remarks, and he talked about being grounded? He was supposed to go to his birthday party; he was grounded by bad weather. The first time he said it, I thought one of his parents made him stay home for bad behavior. [Laughter]

Don't pay any attention to this. We're all just jealous, Patrick. [Laughter]

I want to thank Bill and Nancy for opening this magnificent home, this beautiful, beautiful place and for giving me a reason to come to Barrington. I hope I can come back. I really think it's amazingly beautiful.

I want to thank Senator Reed for being here with us and for his truly outstanding leadership in the Senate. I want to thank Ted and Vicki and Joan for being here to support you, Patrick. You deserve it, and everything you said about your dad is the truth.

When Patrick was up here bragging on his father, I leaned over to Bill and I said, "You know, you would be hard-pressed to name 10 people who have served in the United States Senate in the entire history of America who have done as much good as Ted Kennedy has." And I think that's very important.

I want to thank your former Governor, Bruce Sundlun, and your former Lieutenant Governor, Bob Licht, for being here and Lieutenant Governor and all the mayors and legislative leaders. And there are a lot of people here who helped me from the beginning, but I want to especially mention Joe Paolino and Mark Weiner and Ira Magaziner, and his whole family, for being there for me when I was just what then-President Bush referred to as a Governor of a small southern State. [Laughter] And I was so naive, I thought it was a compliment. [Laughter] And I still do. [Laughter]

I want to thank Patrick for giving me the opportunity to come here for him today. I don't know anybody in the Congress who works as hard as he does. I don't know anybody in the Congress any more devoted to his or her constituents than he is. I don't know anybody in the Congress on the good days and the bad— and believe me, you get your fair share of both down there—who is always up, always there, always focused, always doing what he's supposed to do. You should be very proud of what he has done with his life for you and the people of Rhode Island.

I think it is truly astonishing that one family has produced so many people so devoted to public service. His cousin Joe did a great job in the Congress. His cousin Kathleen, I think, is the finest Lieutenant Governor in the entire United States—unbelievable in terms of what she's been able to accomplish.

But over the long run, if you will just stick with him, his energy and consistency and dedication will make a unique mark on Rhode Island and on the United States, and I want you to stick with him. And besides that, he's now raised all this money for these other people in Congress, and they owe him everything. I mean, if we get the majority, they may move the Capital up here, for all I know, just because of Patrick.

Let me just say, too, on behalf of Hillary and myself and Al and Tipper Gore, I want to thank the people of Rhode Island for being so good to us and to me, especially, through two elections. I stopped at a school on the way here and read my radio address for tomorrow morning. And on the way out, I stopped and shook hands with a lot of the folks that were on the street. And I turned to one of my aides and I said, "You know, I want to spend the rest of my Presidency in places where I got 60 percent of the vote or more." [Laughter] I was pretty happy. But I'm very grateful to you.

And I guess the remarks that I make today are sort of like what we at home used to call preaching to the saved. But I hope you will listen to what I have to say, and I know that you have friends, not only all over this State but all over this country, and I hope you will share it with them.

Some people think I'm crazy for doing what Patrick said I am. I've never worked harder in an election for myself than I'm working for our Congressmen and our Senators and our Vice President. And of course, there is one particular Senate race I have more than a passing interest in. [Laughter] But I'm doing it for other reasons.

I come here today a little—actually, reluctant to speak because the night before last was the first time in 2 weeks I've been to bed before 2 in the morning, because we were at Camp David working on those Middle East peace talks. And I'm not sure I'll remember what I say when I finish, because I'm still a little tired.

But let me tell you what I think is most important and what I'm concerned about. Patrick had it right; I always tell people there's only three things you need to know about this election: It is a big election; there are big differences; and only the Democrats want you to know what the differences are. What does that tell you about who you ought to vote for?

But let me explain what I mean by that. We're in the midst of the longest economic expansion in our country's history, including those which occurred in wartime, and we've had no war. All the social indicators are going in the right direction. The welfare rolls are half what they were when I took the oath of office. The crime rate is down. The teen pregnancy rate is down. We have the highest homeownership in our history. We have the lowest poverty rate among single-parent households in over 40 years, the lowest unemployment rate among women in 40 years, the lowest minority unemployment rate ever recorded. Our country is at peace, and we've been able to be a force for peace from Northern Ireland to the Balkans to the Middle East and throughout the world.

So what's the big deal here? Well, in my lifetime we have never had such an opportunity to build the future of our dreams for our children. But we also know that even though things are going very well, nothing stays the same forever. America is changing rapidly and there are big challenges out there on the horizon.

So I say to you, not in any morose way— I mean, I'm just as happy as the next guy— and for my age, I'm almost as happy as Patrick. But I want you to listen to this. How a nation deals with a unique moment of prosperity, a democracy, is just as stern a test of our judgment, our values, our wisdom, our character as how we deal with adversity.

You didn't have to be a genius in 1992 to know we needed a change. This country was in trouble. We quadrupled the debt of the country in 12 years and reduced our investment in the future.

We were in trouble. The country was becoming more divided socially. The politics of Washington were stuck in sort of a partisan verbal warfare. And we had to change. Now, people think there may be no consequences to change one way or the other.

Well, what I want to say to you is this: However people vote this year, they will be voting for change. There is no doubt about that. The question is, what kind of change will we vote for? This is profoundly important. And countries are like individuals. There's not a person out here who is over 30, at least, who can't remember one time, at least one time in your life when you made a huge mistake, professionally or personally, not because things were going so poorly but because things were going so well you thought there was no penalty to the failure to concentrate. It's almost endemic to the human condition.

And I see a lot of people nodding their heads. You know I'm telling the truth. That's the only thing I'm worried about this year. People just sort of saying, "Gosh, things are going so well, you couldn't mess this economy up with a stick of dynamite. There doesn't seem to be much difference to me; all these people are so nice.

Now, that basically is the message of our Republican friends. Near as I can tell, the message of the Bush campaign is just that. "I mean, how bad could I be? I've been Governor of Texas. My daddy was President. I own a baseball team." [Laughter] "They like me down there. Everything is rocking along hunky-dory. Their fraternity had it for 8 years. Give it to ours for 8 years because we're compassionate and humane, and we're not like what you think about us from watching the Congress for the last 5 years." That's the message isn't it? Blur, blur, blur. Blur all the distinctions.

Well, there is a difference. And that's what I want you to tell every friend you've got all over this country. Whatever decision the American people make, I will gladly accept. And I've already had so many gifts in life I could never complain about anything that happens to me. But I want my country at least to make this decision knowing what the alternatives are and knowing that there are consequences for whichever choices we make. And let me just give you a few.

There is a huge difference in economic policy—massive. This year already, the Republicans have passed—not this calendar year but over the last 12 months—tax cuts totalling over a trillion dollars. They're going to Philadelphia to advocate another tax cut way over a trillion dollars. In other words, they propose to spend 100 percent and more of the projected surplus over the next 10 years on tax cuts—all of it. And if they enact them in a year, which they would do if they had the White House and the Congress, they would be there, but the money may not be.

Let me ask you something. Did you ever get one of those letters in the mail, like from Ed McMahon, saying, "You may have won $10 million"? Now, if you got one of those letters and you went out the next day and committed to spend $10 million, you ought to be for them. If not, you had better stick with us. [Laughter] You think about that.

If I ask you what your projected income is for the next 10 years—you think hard. How much money are you going to make over the next 10 years? If I ask you to come up here right now and sign a binding contract to spend 100 percent of it, would you do it? If you would, you ought to support them. If not, you better stick with us. [Laughter] Now, you're laughing, but that's exactly what the deal is.

Now, our proposal is different. We say our tax cuts are less than 25 percent of their $2 trillion-plus. But we give more tax benefits to the 80 percent of the American people that are the first four quintile. Which means in the short run, most of you who can afford to be here today would do better with theirs than with our ours. But 80 percent of the American people would actually get more relief under our plan than theirs, even though we spend less than a fourth as much.

And what do we do with the rest? Well, first of all, we're not going to spend it because we don't know if it's there yet. Secondly, we think some money should be invested in the education of our children. We have the largest number of our students in our country's history. We have the most diverse number of our students in our country's history. We have kids in these classrooms bursting at the seams, and we want to make them smaller. We have school districts who can't afford to build buildings, and we want to help them build them. We have kids that come from troubled homes and troubled neighborhoods that need after-school and summer school programs, and we want to give them those opportunities.

And I've been working on education seriously now for more than 20 years—seriously—going to schools, talking to teachers, talking to principals, watching how they work. And I can tell you we know more now than we have ever known about how to turn these failing schools around.

I was in a school in Spanish Harlem the other day in New York City, where 2 years ago 80 percent of the children were reading and doing math below grade level. Today, 74 percent of the kids are reading and doing math at or above grade level.

I was in a school in rural Kentucky the other day, where—[laughter]—your national ambitions are being outed, Patrick; you've got broad bases. [Laughter] So I was in this school in rural Kentucky, over half the kids on the school lunch program; 4 years ago, one of the failing schools in Kentucky—4 years. They went from 12 percent of the kids who could read at or above grade level to almost 60 percent. They went from 5 percent of the kids who could do math at or above grade level to 70 percent. They went from zero percent of the kids who could do science at or above grade level to almost two-thirds in 4 years, and they're one of the 20 best elementary schools in Kentucky. We can turn these schools around, folks. We can do that.

But you can't say that we care more about our children than anything, but we're going to take the money and run. You've got to save some to invest in them. And in health care and in the environment and in science and technology and in health research.

So I think this is very, very important. And it's not like you hadn't had a test run here. We tried it their way for 12 years, and we've tried it our way for 8 years, and you do have a record here. You cannot let this election unfold as if there are no differences in economic policy and no consequences to the decision the American people will make.

The same thing is true in health care policy. We're for a strong Patients' Bill of Rights that Senator Kennedy has led the way on, and they're not. We're for a Medicare prescription drug program that all the seniors in our country who need it can buy into. We would never create Medicare today—never—without prescription drugs. Only reason it was done that way in 1965 is that health care in 1965 was about doctors and hospitals.

Today, if you live to be 65, your life expectancy is 82 or 83 years. And it's about keeping people out of the hospital and keeping them healthy and extending the quality as well as the length of their lives. We would never create a Medicare program without prescription drugs today. And Patrick's right—there are people every week who choose between medicine and food. This is a big difference. And what kind of country are we going to live in?

There are big differences on environmental policy. You know, one of the things I'm proudest of is that we have set—Al Gore and I have set aside more land for future preservation for all time than any administration in American history except those of the two Roosevelts in the continental United States—ever.

Now, in the primary, their nominee said if he were elected, he would reverse my order creating 43 million roadless acres in our national forests, something that I think would be an environmental terrible mistake. So make no mistake about it. There are big differences here. We believe you can improve the environment and grow the economy, and they basically don't.

And there are big differences in crime policy. Patrick talked about this. The previous President vetoed the Brady bill, and I signed it. And they said—and we lost the House of Representatives, in part, because I signed that and the assault weapons ban, because they scared all the gun owners in the country into believing we were going to take their guns away, and they wouldn't be able to go hunting.

And I went up to New Hampshire, I remember, in 1996, where they beat one of our Congressman. And I said, "I know you beat him because he voted with me on the assault weapons ban and the Brady bill." And I told all these hunters, I said, "Now if you missed a day in the deer woods, you ought to vote against me, too, because he did it for me, because I asked him to. But if you didn't, they didn't tell you the truth, and you need to get even." And they did, and we won.

But the point I want to make to you is, there is a huge philosophical difference. The head of the NRA said the other day that they would have an office in the White House if the Republican nominee won. What I want you to know is, they won't need an office, because they'll do what they want anyway. And we just have a difference of opinion there.

Al Gore, he wants to close the gun show loophole and require child trigger locks and stop the importation of these large capacity ammunition clips and require people when they buy handguns to have a photo ID license showing they passed a background check and they know how to use the gun safely. And I think that's the right thing to do, and they don't—and they honestly don't. But I do.

And the American people need to know there are consequences here. And if they agree with them, then they ought to vote for them. But at least they have to know. There are big differences on our ideas about what it means to be genuinely inclusive. We're for the hate crimes legislation. Some of them are, but most of them aren't. We're for employment nondiscrimination legislation. We can't get it passed. Senator Kennedy has been working on it a long time. We're for raising minimum wage, and they're not. I'll bet they will do that before the election, because that's pretty hard to defend. But we've been trying to do it for over a year.

Ted Kennedy has worked with them for over a year trying to raise the minimum wage—the strongest economy we've ever had. The last time we did it in '96, they said it was a job killer disguised in kindness. They said it would cost a terrible number of jobs. And that would lead to skyrocketing juvenile crime because we were going to throw all of these kids out of work by raising the minimum wage. And since they said that, we've got 11 million more jobs and the lowest juvenile crime rate we've had in 25 years. It's not like we don't have any evidence here.

So what's the point I'm trying to make? There are big differences, and we have evidence. So how could Patrick not be successful in his quest if people really believe there are no consequences to their failure to concentrate if they really don't know what the differences are?

You know, we wouldn't be around here after 226 years—224 years—if the American people weren't right most of the time. That's the whole premise of democracy. Most of the time, the people get it right on most of the issues if they have enough information and enough time.

So that brings me to this next point I want to make. Their clear objective is to blur all these differences. You don't ever hear them talking about that primary they had for President, do you? You don't ever hear them talking about the commitments they made in the primary. They just want to make like that never happened. But it did happen.

Now, here's what I want to say to you. I think we can have a positive election. I'm tired of 20 years of politics where people try to convince the voters that their opponents were just one step above car thieves. And you're tired of it too, aren't you? The whole politics of personal destruction: We ought not to have that.

We Democrats ought to stand up and say, "As far as we know, from the Presidential nominee to the Vice Presidential nominee, to their candidates for Senate and the House, our opponents are honorable, patriotic people who differ with us. And we think elections are citizen choices about the differences." That's what we ought to do.

But they have now taken—but after basically trying to be the beneficiaries of this torrent of venom we've seen in American politics over the last 20 years, they have now taken the position that we're running a negative campaign if we tell you how they voted.

We see this in New York all the time. "If you tell people how I voted, you're being negative. I've got a right to hide my voting record from the people." [Laughter] "How dare you tell them how I voted." This is a choice, folks. It will have consequences. I know it's a beautiful place, and the economy is doing great. We're all in a good humor, but I'm telling you, we might never have another time in our lifetimes when the country's in this kind of shape, never have a chance like this to build the future of our dreams for our children.

And I want to say this about my Vice President really quickly—I guess he still is; I haven't seen him in a while—[laughter]—there are four things you need to know about Al Gore. One is, there have been a lot of Vice Presidents who made great Presidents. I believe President Kennedy's Vice President, Lyndon Johnson, did some magnificent things for this country. I believe Theodore Roosevelt made a great President. I know Thomas Jefferson made a great President. I know Harry Truman made a great President.

There have been a lot of Vice Presidents who were great Presidents. There has never been a person who, as Vice President, did as much for the economy, for technology, for the environment, for economic opportunity for poor people, and to help this country to have a foreign policy that promotes peace. Nobody has ever remotely done what Al Gore has done as Vice President of the United States—ever in the history of the country. You need to know that. And the American people need to know that. It's not even close.

The second thing you need to know is, he's got a good economic policy, and I already explained that. When you talk to people, you tell them the Ed McMahon story. Just tell them: You get that letter saying you may have won $10 million; if they want to spend it, they should support the other side; if not, they ought to stick with us.

The third thing that I think is important is, is he understands the future. And we need somebody in the White House who understands the future. The Internet, the human genome developments, that's all great and exciting, but your banking and financial records are on somebody's computer. Don't you think you ought to be able to say yes before somebody gets them? Your little gene map is going to be out there somewhere. Don't you think that you ought to know that nobody can use it to deny you a job or a raise or health insurance? You need somebody that understands the future.

The last thing is, he wants to take us all along for the ride. And I want to be in a country where my President wants us all to go, blacks and whites and browns, the abled and the disabled, straights and gays, everybody that will work hard, play by the rules, obey the law, do their part. I think we ought to all go along for the ride.

You've got your great secretary of state running for the United States Congress, in part because we now live in a country which says we will not look at people who have physical disabilities as if they are disabled; we will look at their abilities and think about what they can do and what they can do. Let me just—I'll close with this.

I graduated from high school in 1964, and our country was still profoundly sad because of President Kennedy's death. And I was a white southerner who believed in civil rights. And we were in the middle of the longest—what was then the longest economic expansion in American history. And I really believed—I was 17 and wide-eyed, and I really believed that all the civil rights problems would be solved in Congress and in the courts. And I thought that economy was on automatic, and it would go on forever, and all the poor people in my native State would be able to get an education and get a job. And everything was just going to be fine.

But we lost our concentration. And we got in trouble. And by the time I graduated from college, we had 2 years of riots in the streets. It was 9 weeks after Martin Luther King was killed—about 6 weeks—9 weeks after President Johnson said he couldn't run for reelection because the country was so divided, and 2 terrible days after Senator Kennedy was killed. And just a few months later, the previous longest economic expansion in American history was history. It doesn't take long to live a life. Nothing ever stays the same. We should be happy and thank God every day that we live in this time. But the test is, what will we do with it?

Thank you, and God bless you.

NOTE: The President spoke at 3:03 p.m. at a private residence. In his remarks, he referred to luncheon hosts William and Nancy Gilbane; Representative Kennedy's father, Senator Edward M. (Ted) Kennedy, and the Senator's wife, Vicki; Representative Kennedy's mother, Joan Kennedy; Lt. Gov. Charles Fogarty and former Lt. Gov. Richard A. Licht of Rhode Island; former Mayor Joe Paolino of Providence; Mark Weiner, treasurer, Democratic Governors' Association; former Senior Adviser to the President for Policy Development Ira Magaziner; former Representative Joseph P. Kennedy II; Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend of Maryland; Rhode Island Secretary of State James R. Langevin, candidate for Rhode Island's Second Congressional District; Republican Presidential candidate Gov. George W. Bush of Texas; and Ed MacMahon, Publishers Clearing House Sweepstakes spokesman. Representative Kennedy was a candidate for reelection in Rhode Island's First Congressional District. A portion of these remarks could not be verified because the tape was incomplete.

William J. Clinton, Remarks at a Luncheon for Representative Patrick J. Kennedy in Barrington, Rhode Island Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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