Bill Clinton photo

Remarks at a Rally for Democratic Candidates in Oakland, California

November 05, 1994

Thank you very much. It's nice to be back in Oakland. Thank you. Thank you. Senator Boxer, thank you for your leadership in the Senate, for your energy, your enthusiasm, your passion, your friendship. California is richly blessed to have Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein in the United States Senate. Congressman Stark; Congresswoman Woolsey; Mayor Harris; a special word of thanks to my friend, the chairman of the House Arms Services Committee, your Congressman, Ron Dellums. I wish every one of you who live in Ron Dellums' district had the opportunity to travel to Washington to watch him in action, to see the way he balances the best of politics: the way he passionately sticks up for what he believes in and still runs his committee in a fair way, the way he is unfailingly decent and fair to people who disagree with him, people who are in other parties, people who are on diametrically opposed sides of the issue. That is the best of American politics. We ought to get back to it, to treating each other with respect, to building up this country.

Folks, before I get into my speech and give you a lot of chance to cheer again—[laughter]— I'm going to ask you to do something that normally we wouldn't do at a Democratic rally. And I want you to be very quiet and listen to me for a minute, because this is important.

One of the worst things that's going on in our country today is this incredible meanness of spirit that is being promoted among people who differ with each other. And I want us to set that aside just for a moment while I make this announcement. A few moments ago today, President Reagan announced that he was suffering from Alzheimer's disease. And when he said that, it touched my heart in a particular way, because I went to visit him after I was elected President and he talked to me for a long time. It was a fascinating conversation, but once in the middle of the conversation he said, "You know, I forgot what I was talking about, and it really makes me mad." You know, we've disagreed on a lot of things over the years, all of us have, with Mr. Reagan. But he always fought with a sense of optimism and spirit. And in the days since he left the White House, I have to say that he's been willing to put partisanship aside to stand up for our country. He helped me on the trade agreement with Mexico. He stood up for the assault weapons ban, for the Brady bill. He and his wife stood up against Oliver North in Virginia. They were capable of putting aside partisanship. And so, having nothing to do with any of those issues, I want every one of you in this room now to give Ronald Reagan a hand and wish him well and Godspeed as he deals with this illness. [Applause]

Ladies and gentlemen, I come here with all these fine nominees of the Democratic Party, with my good friend Insurance Commissioner Garamendi, with Lieutenant Governor McCarthy, with so many others who are here, to ask you to think about your future. I come here on behalf of Dianne Feinstein and Kathleen Brown. I can put in a couple of sentences why I hope they will both win on Tuesday.

First, let me tell you about Senator Feinstein. I've been watching the scene in Washington for a long time, although I never worked there before 21 months ago. In 21 months, only 21 months, Dianne Feinstein has, as a freshman Senator, sponsored the biggest wilderness bill in American history, the California desert bill, which I signed last week; sponsored a bill that requires every school in the country getting Federal aid to have a zero tolerance for handguns, which will do more to get guns out of our schools and make our kids safe than anything else; and taken on the powerful NRA, which is trying to get revenge on every single person that had the courage to vote for the assault weapons ban. No one has done anything like that in my lifetime in that short a period of time.

Now, if 21 months with that kind of results doesn't get you a 6-year contract, I don't know what could commend the voters—or Dianne Feinstein. I don't know what else you could do.

What is the campaign against her? A hundred percent negative ads by someone who says, "I moved to California in ‘91. I bought myself a Congress seat. Eight months later I started running for the Senate. When I ran for the Senate, I lost my own congressional district in the Republican primary, but that doesn't matter. I'm just running against the other person. You don't have to know anything about me."

Are you going to vote for somebody who produced for you or somebody who is playing to your fears? Vote for somebody who worked for you, who will work for you in the future, who cares about you; not someone who cares about the job, someone who cares about what the job can do for you.

And with Kathleen Brown, it's a simple choice, really, isn't it? You have a builder and a blamer. You know, very often blamers make you feel better. Sometimes when we're frustrated and we're down and we want to get angry and we want to lash out, a blamer makes us feel better. They give us somebody to be mad at. And they want you to vote mad this time, folks. They do want you to vote mad.

Now, as a parent, the older I get the more I realize the wisdom of my mother who raised me. As soon as your children get old enough to understand, the first thing you try to tell them is never, never make a decision when you're mad. How many of us were told on our mother's and father's knee, "When you're mad, count to 10 before you say anything"? How many times did we find ourselves so upset we were incapable of taking our parents' advice, and so we started talking at about 2 instead of 10? And every single time we did it, we regretted it. And if you do it this time, you will regret it. Don't regret it. Vote for a builder, not a blamer. Vote for Kathleen Brown. Give California a better future.

You know, you have a simple choice on Tuesday. If you vote your anger, your fears, your frustrations, you will be voting for a crowd that is committed to take us back to what they did before, to the trickle-down economics of the 1980's, to the neglect of our most profound problems. Or you can vote to keep going forward.

Sure, we've still got problems. But let me ask you this: 21 months ago, when California and the rest of this country sent me to Washington, you did with a commitment to rebuild this country, to make Government work for ordinary people, to bring the economy back, to try to make a more peaceful and prosperous world for us to live and work in and for our children to bring the 21st century in with. And even though we've still got problems, folks, this country is in better shape than it was 21 months ago. Yesterday unemployment figures came out, a 3-year low in California, a 4-year low in the United States. We're going in the right direction. Let's don't turn back now.

I have been dedicated to making this country strong. What makes a country strong? Strong families, strong communities, strong schools, safe streets, good jobs, a strong foreign policy that makes us more secure, more prosperous, and promotes peace and freedom. We're making progress on all fronts. We're getting stronger. Let's don't give in to our weaknesses. Let's stand up for our strengths.

And we are getting stronger together. In the Government and the country of my dreams, there is room for all of us. We reach across all lines. Everybody's got a seat at the table of America. This is the most diverse and still the most excellent commitment that this administration has made, more than any other. We have people from all walks of life, from all backgrounds, of all colors in the administration, moving America forward together, and we ought to keep doing it just that way.

You know, when I took office, we were dealing with 30 years of accumulated social problems. You know it as well as I do. We see it today in the violence, the gangs, the guns. We see it sometimes in heartbreaking pictures, like those 10-year-old boys that dropped that 5-year-old to his death at the highrise in Chicago. But they did not happen overnight. They have been building on us for 30 years.

We were dealing with 20 years of accumulated economic problems for ordinary Americans: the stagnation of wages, the frequent loss of jobs, the constant threat of losing your health insurance, your retirement, and other benefits. This has been building up for 20 years.

For 12 years, the American people attempted to address it with an entirely different theory of politics and economics. We called it trickledown for short, but the basic idea was you could increase spending in some areas, cut taxes, especially for the wealthy, sit on the sidelines, and let nature take its course. Well, it didn't work. In the last 4 years before I took office, we had the slowest job growth since the Great Depression. And we were not doing what it took to compete and win in the 21st century, to make it an American century, to guarantee the American dream for all these children that are up here in this audience today.

That is the fact that we face. And I took office saying, look, folks, there had been a big debate about the role of Government. I don't think Government is inherently good or bad; it is a reflection of us. The question is, what should it do, and what should we do? In my judgment, the obligation of our Government is to create opportunity, to empower people to take advantage of it, and then to insist that you, as individuals and communities, assume the responsibility to take yourselves together into the future and to live up to the fullest of your God-given capacities.

Now, our opponents believe—and I must say, this year our opponents in the other party represent a more extremist point of view, on the whole, than in any time in my experience. They say that Government is inherently bad, that anything it touched it makes worse. I don't know how they explain Social Security or Medicare; I don't how they explain the student loan program; I don't know how they explain a lot of things. But they say, "Anything the Government does is worse. Therefore, if anything good happens while Mr. Clinton is President, it happened by accident or in spite of what he did." And they say, "Since we're not going to do anything anyway, it doesn't matter how outrageous our comments are, because we're probably kidding; we won't do anything."

Now, in a cynical time, this has appealed because people say, "It doesn't make a difference." Well, folks, where I come from, they say if you find a turtle on a fencepost, it didn't get there by accident. So you tell me, you tell me if we have made America stronger for strong families. I believe it made a difference when 4.9 million Californians were protected by the family and medical leave law so they could get a little time off when a sick baby or a sick parent was there. And I think it made a difference when 2.1 million California families got income tax cuts because they were working hard with kids in the house and they had modest wages and we didn't want them in poverty.

I think it made a difference when we immunized all the kids in this country under the age of 2 by 1996—that will make a difference to the future of our families. I think it made a difference when we said people who are dealing with AIDS are part of our family and we quadrupled housing funds, we doubled research, we fully funded the Ryan White Act. I think that made a difference and made us stronger.

I think it made a difference when we expanded Head Start and when we changed the way we give money to the local school districts to take all these Federal rules and regulations off and said, "We now think all kids can learn without regard to their color or their income; go ahead and teach them all and have high expectations for all of them and let them all rise up. We're not going to segregate them anymore and tell them they can't learn because they're poor."

I think it will make a difference as we set up national systems of apprenticeships for young people who don't go to college but do want to be in good jobs. I think it will make a difference when we qualify 20 million Americans for lower cost college loans so that everybody can afford to go to college and stay there.

Here in the bay area, I think you know it makes a difference that our national service program is making it possible, over the next 3 years, for 100,000 young Americans to serve their country, to solve community problems, and earn the money to go to college. I think that makes a difference.

I think our streets will be safer because of the Brady bill and the crime bill, because of the police, the punishment, the prisons, the prevention, and the assault weapons ban. I think it will make a difference, and I think you do, too.

I think it makes a difference that we reduced our deficit and increased our investment in new technologies and defense conversion. I think it makes a difference that we reduced the size of the Government and gave all the money to people to fight crime in their neighorhoods. I think it makes a difference. And you know something? It did. It did. This economy has produced 5 million jobs in the last 21 months. This year, we had more high-wage jobs coming into America than in the previous 5 years combined.

I think it makes a difference that you had an administration that said we're not going to sit by and watch California just die because of the base closings. So we're going to give the Alameda Naval Station to the Port of Oakland so they can build it up and create jobs and go forward. And we're going to invest—we're going to make the Presidio a national park. We're going to invest in laboratories like Stanford and Livermore. We're going to create the high-wage jobs of the future. We're going to rebuild shipbuilding. We're going to keep the airline industry afloat. We're going to do things that help California and help America. We're going to sell our computers from California all over the world. That has made a difference. Don't tell me that we're not stronger and it doesn't make a difference. It does make a difference.

I hear them; they say it doesn't make a difference. I think it makes a difference that for the first time since the dawn of the nuclear age, there are no Russian nuclear missiles pointed at these children here. That makes a difference. I think it makes a difference that North Korea says they won't be a nuclear power. I think it makes a difference that we're expanding trade to Mexico and building friendship instead of enmity. I think it makes a difference that we have democracy and freedom in Haiti again. I think it makes a difference. I think it makes a difference that our young men and women in uniform went to the Gulf with lightning speed to stand up to Saddam Hussein. And it makes a difference that the United States is involved in peace in the Middle East and in Northern Ireland and in helping South Africa to make its elections and its democracy a success. It does make a difference. They are wrong when they say the Government is inherently bad and it doesn't make a difference.

So what is it that they want? Well, for America, they want their contract. Their contract is— oh, listen, it sounds good. Here we are just a few days before the election; it's like music to your ears. It says, "The Government is really bad, so we will give everybody a tax cut, but almost all of it will go to people in the upper 2 percent of incomes. But we'll give the rest of you a couple of bucks so you don't boo so loud. And then we will have a big increase in defense, and we will bring back Star Wars. And we will balance the budget."

So we said to them when they said this was their contract, "Well, what does this cost?" "A trillion dollars." Now, folks, even in big old California, a trillion dollars is real money. [Laughter] I could take every one of you out on the town tonight for a trillion dollars and have money left over. We could have a good time on a trillion dollars. "Well, how are you going to pay for this trillion dollars?" we asked. They said, "We'll tell you after the election." [Laughter] That sounds familiar: "We're going to raise spending, cut taxes, balance the budget; we'll tell you later."

Now, here's the facts, folks. I've been fooling with these budgets for 2 years. I have given you 3 years of deficit reduction for the first time since Truman; I know something about these budgets. I know something about these budgets. And here's what is going to happen. If they win the Congress, here is what happens.

In order to keep their promises to balance the budget, cut taxes, increase spending, they have to cut everything else 20 percent across the board: Social Security, college loans, Medicare, you name it, the farmers in the valley, everybody—anybody that gets any help, 20 percent cut. That's $2,000 per Social Security recipient a year. And then they say, "Well, oh, no, no, no, we didn't say we would cut Social Security." They didn't say they wouldn't do it, either. Okay, if you take Social Security off, then you have to cut everything else 30 percent, a 30 percent cut in college aid, in Medicare, in everything else. It will eviscerate some of the things that keep this country going.

Now, there's always the chance that they're kidding. That's what happened last time; they were kidding. So they'll just give you the goodies, and they won't pay for it. Then what will happen? The deficit will go up; we'll start shipping our jobs overseas again; we'll put the economy in the ditch again. Tell them, "No thank you on your contract. We want a strong America, not a weak America. We want to be strong, not weak."

And in California, what is their program? Their sole program is, "I don't have any program for the future; I want you to give me a contract for the next several years based on a vote you're going to take, so I don't have to do anything. I want you to vote for 187 and vote for me because I'm for it," they say, "and give me a 4-year contract. And I'm not going to tell you what I'm going to do. I just want you to be mad, vote for 187, and give me a paycheck for 4 years."

Now, what is wrong with 187? Let me ask you to think about this. First of all, it is not wrong for you to want to reduce illegal immigration. And it is not wrong for you to say it is a national responsibility, not just a State responsibility. And Senator Boxer and Senator Feinstein and I, we tried to work with the Governor, without regard to party, to deal with this issue. We have nearly doubled the border guards in San Diego. We have nearly doubled the number of people convicted of crimes we have sent back home. We have given money for the very first time to pay for the costs of imprisonment. When we are shrinking the Federal budget, we have given a one-third increase to the State of California in the money we're giving you to deal with the costs of immigration. We should do more. But folks, we have done a lot, and the crowd before us didn't hit a lick at it. We have really tried to help.

Now, we need to do more, and we will. But 187 puts the cart before the horse. In fact, it puts the cart way out there so the horse can't find it. [Laughter] One-eighty-seven says, "Let's be real mad and take it out on the kids. Let's don't let any of these kids go to the health clinic." But they might get sick, and then they might make everybody else sick that lives around them. "Oh, we'll worry about that later. We're mad now." One-eighty-seven says every teacher has got to be a police officer: "Go check all these kids, and if you find a kid who's in an undocumented family, just put them out on the street." And we say, "But we've already got enough kids on the street. We need the kids on the street to come back and go to school, not the other way around." But they say, "No, no, no, we'll worry about that later. We're mad now. We want you to be mad now and worry about that later."

So, that's what's going on. They've got a contract that says, "Here's a trillion dollars' worth of promises; take this sweet thing now, worry about the details later. Here's this 187; be mad now, worry about the details later." Folks, if you want to build, not blame, you've got to worry about the details now. You've got to care about the kids now. You've got to think about the future now. Let's build, not blame. Let's do the right thing. Let's vote for Kathleen Brown and Dianne Feinstein and against 187. We can do it. We can do it.

You know, I want you to think about this. You heard what Kathleen said when she closed her speech about turning the lights on in California. This whole deal, all across America and certainly here, this whole election—these elections are so close in so many States, this whole thing will come down to the spirit that is welling up inside the voters of this country on election day. This whole thing will come down to that.

Do you know what an election is like? It's like everybody has equal power. And you might imagine that you wake up on election morning and you're looking at the television, and the movie on the television is the story of America. And you've got this remote control in your hand. You can push "forward," you can push "fastforward," you can just leave it fixed, or you can push "reverse." What they hope is that you'll stay home and then a bunch of folks will push "reverse." What I hope is you'll say, "This is my movie; I'm pushing ‘forward.' This is my movie; I'm pushing ‘forward."'

My fellow Americans, this election is something that is outside the normal course of American history. In the depths of the Depression, when one in four Americans was out of work, our great President, Franklin Roosevelt, told the American people, "The only thing we have to fear is fear itself." These people who our opponents say—our opponents say in this election, "Well, even though the Democrats are facing our problems and we're making progress, we want you to vote your fears and give us power."

Look at what the Republican Presidents, the great ones in the past, said. Teddy Roosevelt said the credit belongs to the person in the arena, the person who is trying to deal with the problems of the day. These folks say in this Senate race—this says, "Punish the people in the arena. Put me in, and I won't try at all." That's the complaint.

You look at what that greatest of all Republicans, perhaps our greatest President, Abraham Lincoln, said: "With malice toward none; with charity for all... let us move on to finish the work we are in." These folks say, "We're going to have malice toward anybody who gets in our way and tries to stop us from finishing the work we're in, and keep everybody in a turmoil from now til kingdom come so we can be in office." President Lincoln said that we had to be driven by the better angels of our nature. They say, "If we can keep people in a foul mood, we'll be home on election day." President Lincoln said our Government was of, by, and for the people. They say, "If we can just keep people mad enough, they'll stay away from the polls, or they'll vote for us. We'll go back to Government of, by, and for the organized interests and the favored few."

Folks, that is the choice here. It is a deep and profound thing. It goes way beyond all the details. This cynicism, this negativism, this country never got anywhere on this. These kids are here today because, for more than 200 years, every time we had a pivotal choice to make, we voted for the future. Every time people tried to get us to go back, every time people tried to divide us, every time people tried to get us to vote our fears, every time people tried to get us to be angry, we said no, this is America. This is the greatest country in human history. We are one nation under God, together, going forward. You do that, and we'll be home Tuesday night.

Thank you, and God bless you all.

NOTE: The President spoke at 4:28 p.m. at the Harry J. Kaiser Convention Center. In his remarks, he referred to Mayor Elihu Harris of Oakland, CA.

William J. Clinton, Remarks at a Rally for Democratic Candidates in Oakland, California Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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