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Remarks at a Reception for Hillary Clinton in Little Rock, Arkansas

May 07, 2000

Thank you very much. Vic, thank you for being here. Marion, thank you for being here. Vic Snyder was one of the bravest people in the Arkansas State Senate when I was Governor. When he ran for Congress, I told Hillary, I said, "I'm afraid he can't get elected. He's got too much guts. He'll say what he thinks about everything." But he got elected, and he got reelected. And I thank—when Marion Berry ran for Congress after doing a stint in our administration in the Agriculture Department, Dale and David and I really felt that he was entitled to be in Congress, almost as a conciliation prize for having hosted us at the coon supper in Gillette all those years. Anybody who could get us to eat coon for 10 or 15 years in a row should be given a seat in Congress, just as a matter of course. But I thank them so much.

The other night, when I was home a couple of weeks ago—or maybe it was last week—to dedicate the law school here to Bill Bowen and to do the event in honor of our friend Daisy Bates, Dale and David and I went to dinner alone, just the three of us. And we needed adult supervision. [Laughter] If there were a tape of the conversation we had—we relived everything we had ever done together, and amplified it all in an unconscionable way. I don't know when I've had as much fun. And Barbara, you should have been there to give us a little civilizing influence, but we had a good time.

Today mostly is a day for us that is full of sentiment and gratitude. I want to thank you for all you've done for us over the years. I want to thank you for things large and small when I was Governor and for backing us in the two times I ran for President. Yesterday I did have a chance to travel the backroads of Logan and Franklin and Madison and Washington and Benton Counties and to relive my first race for Congress in 1974. We went to Stephanie Streett's wedding in the beautiful chapel in Subiaco. I thought about all my old friends, including a lot of them, unfortunately, who aren't around anymore.

And Hillary and I both agreed that if we hadn't had to start our careers in public life in a place where you actually had to go see people and listen to them, instead of someplace where you just spent all your time raising funds to run television ads, our lives would have been very different, and I never would have had a chance to be the President.

I also was reminded of the first time I brought Hillary to Arkansas, and I picked her up at the airport here in Little Rock, and instead of going to Hot Springs, I drove her up to River Valley, and then we drove down Highway 7, a fairly indirect way, but I wanted to give her a sense of what I hoped she was getting into.

I'm looking forward to building this library and policy center, and we're going to have big apartment on top of the library. We're finalizing the plans now. I'm trying to keep this library to a reasonable price, somewhere around $125 million. But I want it to be a world-class building, a place that is beautiful and distinctive for our State, that will capture the imagination of the people, and that will in some way, some small way, try to repay the people of Arkansas for all they have done for me. And we're going to have a nice apartment there, and I'll be there a lot. Even Senator Hillary will be there some, too, when I can work it out.

I want to say a few things that are more comfortable for me to say, I think, than Hillary, before I bring her on. When Senator Moynihan announced that he would not run for the Senate again and the New York Democrats were trying to decide, you know, what they were going to do, they didn't just want to give the Senate seat back to the Republican Party and to Mayor Giuliani, and they knew he would be a very formidable candidate, that it was a seat that had been occupied by Robert Kennedy and then by Pat Moynihan. And all these House Members started calling Hillary. Then they started calling me to lobby Hillary.

And we talked, and I had always hoped she would have a chance to run for office and to serve because I thought she would be so good. But we decided she needed to go up there and just visit people, just the way we did so long ago in all those communities I went through yesterday. Every town of any size, I had been in every store in town more than once that we went through. And so she did and came back and said, "You know, the stuff I've worked on all my life is really what they need: someone who cares about the education of our children, how families balance work and child-rearing; somebody who knows something about health care; somebody who knows something about bringing economic opportunity to underdeveloped areas." If New York State, upstate—that's exclusive of the suburbs and the city—were a separate State, it would be 49th in job growth in my tenure as President, something that I have tried to help on. And much of what needs to be done there is what we've tried to do in the Delta and other rural areas of our State.

And she had so many people who wanted her to run and wanted her to do it that she really decided that she ought to try. And then I just practically beat her up, time and time again, working on this announcement speech. She said, "I've given a zillion speeches. Why do you keep doing this?" I said, because an election is a job interview, and if you get the job, it helps to have decided in advance what you intend to do when you get there.

And one of the reasons I think that the people here were good enough to elect me Governor five times is I always tried to be the candidate of change. I always tried to lay out what I wanted to do, and I always tried to be doing what I said I would do in the election. And one of the things I'm proudest of, a little known fact, is that in 1995, a Presidential scholar who at that time I had never met said that by '95 I had already kept a higher percentage of my campaign promises than the previous five Presidents. And I'm proud of that.

So she worked on that. And I thought she gave a terrific speech that day, with a wonderful program. And she showed that movie, which has a lot of Arkansas in it, as you saw.

Now, I want to make one general statement before I bring Hillary up here. This is a huge election. This election is just as important as what happened in '92, when this country was in terrible trouble. A lot of people have forgotten how bad it was in '92. And that's not good. It's just as important as it was in '96, when the American people decided to give me another chance to try to finish what I'd set out to do.

But we have worked so—I've tried hard to take good care of this, and Hillary has been involved in so many of the things we have done together these last 8 years. But so much of the time we spent—Dale and David were saying they were glad they were part of it—all we did was make unpopular decisions in '93 and '94, because we had to do hard things to get this country turned around again. Hillary made fun of me today. She said there was some article talking about that I had real good job ratings, and if they could just take out the first 2 years, they'd be perfectly astronomical. Well, in the first 2 years, I had to do all the hard stuff that made it better the last 6.

And so we got the country turned around. And the unemployment rate last month was 3.9 percent, for the first time in over 30 years, and that's good. The welfare rolls have been cut in half; 90 percent of our kids immunized for the first time, something I know is very important to Dale and Betty Bumpers. Today the statistics were to be released, or have already been released, showing that crime has come down every year, down another 7 percent across the board. Only about three dozen cities in the United States last year, in the whole country, had an increase in the crime rate.

So things are going in the right direction. But the big test for a country is, what do you do when things are going well? What do we propose to do with our prosperity, with the fact that our social problems are lessened, with the fact that we've got the lowest African-American and Hispanic unemployment rate ever recorded? What are we going to do with this?

And in all fairness, one of the reasons that our adversaries in the other party, beginning with the Presidential nominee, are sort of trying to blur all these issues and say, "We care about all those things that Bill Clinton and Al Gore worked on for 8 years," is that they hope that people will forget what it was like in '92. But there are huge decisions before you.

And as sentimental as I feel today, elections are always about tomorrow. And what I wanted to do with all my heart is literally build a bridge for this country to the 21st century, so that when I left office, America would be in a position to build a future of our dreams for our children. To me, that's what this whole thing was about. And I was furious and disappointed in 1991, when I saw our country just paralyzed in Washington, nobody getting anything done, everybody fighting, partisan politics the order of the day—which, unfortunately, there's still too much of there.

And so we set about doing things. But it's important for all of you to focus—if you believe that the results were good, it's not just because you knew me and you saw I gave a good speech and I was a pretty good guy. What we did was—those were the right things to do. You can be as eloquent as you want, and if you advocate the wrong thing, you'll get the wrong result.

That's what—this election for the Senate is a big issue. It really matters who is in the Senate. The Republican Senators from Texas just announced a couple of days ago that they weren't even going to even permit a hearing on an Hispanic judge who was from El Paso, who graduated cum laude from Harvard and Harvard Law School and was endorsed by every single organization with an informed opinion. Why? Because he wasn't ideologically far enough to the right.

This is a big election, and I can tell you who's in the Senate makes a huge difference, for good or ill. And you're going to have to decide, including in Arkansas, whether you want to build on the progress for the last 8 years or reverse the policies. Do you like this economic policy? If you do, you better stick with it and build on it. Do you believe that it's a good thing that the educational attainment is going up, the college-going rate is going up, more people than ever before can afford to send their kids to college? If you do, you've got to build on it, and the same thing with the environment and the same thing with health care and with national security. The other party is honestly opposed to the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. And if they do what they say they're going to do, there's a real chance we could have a new arms race again in the world, which is the last thing in the wide world we need. We've got enough problems out there with the terrorists and the drugrunners and the organized criminals, without setting off another arms race.

So, you know, I'd like to come home and just make this a perfectly happy thing, but I'm telling you, this is a big decision that the people will take. And this election of 2000 is every bit as important, even though I'm not on the ticket. And a lot of you did a lot for me. You went to New Hampshire. You did all the things in the wide world. What was going on in '92 and '96, that was important. But the 2000 election will determine whether we really like the direction of the country and we want to continue to change built on that, or whether we say, "Well, we feel so good now, what they say sounds good; I think we'll go back to their economic policy and their education policy and their health care policy and their environmental policy and their foreign policy." This is a huge, huge decision.

And that's why I thought it was a good thing for Hillary to run. Because I've been doing this a long time. I don't think any State ever had two Senators working together that were remotely as good as Dale Bumpers and David Pryor. They were the best team I ever saw. I served with 150 Governors, and I've seen another 100 run through the White House since I've been there. You know, I realize I am prejudiced in this, but I know a lot about public service and public service efforts. And I have spent the last almost 30 years, now, having conversations with my wife about every conceivable issue.

I watched her when she started the Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families. I watched her when she ran this education standards program here, when a lot of our kids couldn't even get science and math courses in their schools. I watched her labor to try to get rid of all the ridiculous Federal barriers to people adopting children, and to try to get us to adopt policies up there that would enable working families to afford health insurance and deal with a whole lot of other issues.

And in my whole life, I have never known anybody that had a better grasp of the issues, a better ability to organize, a better ability to get people who thought they would never get along to work together, and could get up every day and just keep going, than Hillary—never, not a person.

So, I think the Senate would be a much better place if she were there. I think she would do a superb job for the people of New York. I think she would be great for America. I think you know that, and you will never know how grateful we are that you're here today. And I hope you'll make her feel welcome.

Come on up, Hillary.

Thank you.

NOTE: The President spoke at 2:50 p.m. in Hall A at the New Statehouse Convention Center. In his remarks, he referred to Representatives Vic Snyder and Marion Berry; former Senator Dale Bumpers and his wife, Betty; former Senator David H. Pryor and his wife, Barbara; William H. Bowen, former dean, University of Arkansas at Little Rock School of Law; Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani of New York City; Enrique Moreno, nominee for U.S. Court of Appeals Judge for the Fifth Circuit. The transcript released by the Office of the Press Secretary also included the remarks of the First Lady.

William J. Clinton, Remarks at a Reception for Hillary Clinton in Little Rock, Arkansas Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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