Bill Clinton photo

Remarks at a Reception for Hillary Clinton in Nantucket, Massachusetts

August 04, 2000

The President. When Smith started that story I didn't know where it was going. [Laughter] I thought he was going to say he called a surgeon or something.

Let me say, first of all, I am delighted to be back here. I had a wonderful time last year, and Hillary and I came back. Chelsea came with us this year. Just took a tour of Nantucket, and it's a beautiful place. And I want to thank all of you for coming out here tonight to help.

You know, we just finished the Republican Convention, and now it's our turn. And one thing that we apparently agree on—they did agree that the country was in good shape. [Laughter] And I appreciated that act of uncommon generosity on their part. [Laughter] We disagree on how it happened—[laughter]—and on what to do with it. I say that—I like to hear you laugh. I like to hear them laugh more. [Laughter] I mean, we need to lighten up here. But on the other hand, we need to be more serious about the election.

I actually think this is a great opportunity for the American people because we don't have to say bad things about our opponents as people. And if I have anything to do with it, the Democrats won't do that. I don't like it. I've never liked it, and we don't need it. All we need to do is to give the American people the chance to have an honest debate over the issues, what are the differences and what are the consequences of the election.

But if I could just say three or four things. First, I am profoundly grateful for the chance that I've had to serve. It's been a joy. Even the bad days were good, and the fights were worth making—if I had to fight it all again, I'd do it all again. I loved it.

Audience member. Thank you.

The President. And secondly, when we ran in '92, we had a very clear strategy. I didn't have any idea if it would work or not. I mean, when I started, the incumbent President was at 70-something percent approval, but the country was not in good shape. And so I actually laid out to the American people in great detail what it was I would try to do if I were fortunate enough to be elected.

And I tried to make it a campaign of ideas, committed to change, but change rooted in endless American values, opportunity for everybody who is responsible, and a community in which all Americans can be a part. And it's worked pretty well. I mean, we voted in '93 to get rid of the deficit, and the lower interest rates led to a boom in the stock market and lower interest rates and getting rid of the—and more jobs, and you know the rest. It's worked pretty well.

Last year I couldn't say this, but now we've had the longest economic expansion in our history and over 22 million new jobs. So if it worked, and you have evidence, then the question is, which course is more likely to keep this going and to spread the benefits of the recovery to the people in places who still aren't part of it?

When I became President, the crime rate was going up. Now it's gone down for 7 years. We put 100,000 police on the street. We took assault weapons off the street. We passed the Brady background check law, and it plainly had a big impact on the crime rate. And so if there's a difference in crime policy, you have to decide, since America is nowhere near safe enough, which strategy is more likely to keep the crime rate coming down.

When we tried to do welfare reform, I had to veto a couple of bills first, but then we said, "Okay, able-bodied people ought to go to work, but the kids ought to be able to keep their guarantee of medical care and nutrition." And the welfare rolls have been cut in half, and all the horror stories that some people predicted haven't materialized because we went out of our way to give people, that we were requiring to work, the education, the transportation, and the support to be good parents so that it would work. And so you have to decide what you think is best for low-income people and how to empower them to go to work.

The same is true in health care; the same is true in the environment. Somebody came up to me tonight and asked me to sign a picture of the Grand Canyon, and I was saying we just set aside another million acres around the Grand Canyon to protect the watershed. And Al Gore and I have now set aside more land in the lower 48 States than any administration in history except those of Theodore and Franklin Roosevelt.

And the other side is on record as to committing to repeal my order setting aside 43 million roadless acres in the national forests. The Audubon Society says it's the most significant conservation move in 40 years. So you get to decide which you think is better.

And I'd just like to say that for me—I'm not running for anything this year—[laughter]— and most days I'm okay about it. [Laughter] But I care a great deal about what we're going to do with this moment of prosperity. Let me just mention one other issue. In education, our theory was, have fewer regulations but higher standards; invest more, require more—more preschool, more after-school, smaller classes, better trained teachers—and a strategy to turn around failing schools; and then open the doors of college to everybody.

Well, test scores are up. The dropout rate's down. The African-American high school graduation rate equaled the white majority rate last year, for the first time in history. And we have record numbers of people going to college. So we have a strategy about that, and there will be differences, and you have to decide which you think is right.

But all this is just to say, the most important thing to me—all these races I've run since 1974, I used to have a simple theory which is that I wanted to make sure that on the election day, every person who did not vote for me knew exactly what he or she was doing. Because I always felt that if I lost, then I would have no complaint, that if the people who voted for you and the people who voted against you knew exactly what they were doing, I would have no complaint.

Therefore, I think it's important for people like you, who come here to help Hillary, to make a commitment that goes beyond writing a check, because you're obviously interested citizens. And what I think you should do is to go out between now and November at every conceivable opportunity and say, "Isn't it nice that we can have an election where we don't have to run down our opponents, where we can posit that they're good, patriotic people, that they love our country, that they will do what they believe in, and all we have to do is to ask ourselves, what do we want to do with this moment of prosperity?"

It is literally unprecedented in our country's history that we would have at once so much economic prosperity, so much social progress, with the absence of crippling internal crisis at home or overpowering threat abroad. So what is it that we're going to do with it?

More than half the people in this audience are younger than I am, and a huge number of you have more years ahead of you than you do behind you. What is it that we propose to do with this? It is a huge question. And that— my experience is that very often the answer you get in an election depends upon the questions people ask in the first place. Or to be blunter, who wins the Presidency, who wins the Senate race in New York, who wins a lot of these other elections depends upon what the people really believe the election is about.

And we have a chance, literally unprecedented in our lifetime, to build the future of our dreams for our children. But it requires us not to be complacent with our prosperity but to look over the horizon, to take on the big challenges, to seize the big opportunities.

I tell everybody who will listen that there are four reasons I think Al Gore ought to be President. He's been the best Vice President in history and had more influence in that job than anybody ever had. He's got an economic program that will work instead of one that will spend the whole surplus on a tax cut today when the surplus hasn't materialized yet. I tell everybody that our proposal is, cut taxes but only to the extent that we can afford it and still invest in education, provide a prescription drug benefit for people on Medicare, and keep paying the debt down, because that will keep interest rates low, which is a de facto tax cut, and prosperity going.

And so if you have a tax cut that essentially takes the whole projected surplus away—I can make you a good speech for it. I can say, "We're going to have this big surplus, and it's your money, not the Government's. And we're going to give it back to you." Sounds good, doesn't it? Except it hasn't come in yet. It's kind of like—did you ever get one of those letters from Ed McMahon and Publishers Clearing House? [Laughter] Think about it. "You may have won $10 million." Now, if you went out the next day and spent the $10 million, you should support their program. But otherwise, you ought to stick with us and keep this thing going. [Laughter] So that's the second reason that I think it's important.

The third reason that I'm for Al Gore is that he understands the future, whether it's information technology or the human genome project or global warming. They made fun of him in '88—I mean, when he wrote the book. They made fun of him in '92 when we ran. Now even the oil company executives say global warming is real. It could change the climate of the whole world. It could flood the sugarcane fields in Louisiana and the Everglades in Florida we've worked so hard to save, and change the pattern of agriculture in the United States. And already you see in Africa malaria at higher and higher altitudes because of the warming of the climate.

One of the biggest problems we've got—many of you mentioned the Middle East peace process to me. One of the biggest struggles we're going to have is to figure out how to provide water for all the people who live there, because of climate change. And I don't know about you, but if that's really a big issue, I'd like someone in the White House that understood it.

And that's not an insult; that's a plus for Gore. That's not a criticism of his opponent. There's nobody that understands that in public life as much as he does. That should not be interpreted as a criticism of his opponent; it's a plus for him.

Look, all your medical and financial records are on somebody's computer somewhere. Don't you think that we ought to have somebody in the White House that really understands what the privacy issues are? It's going to be wonderful—all the young women in this audience, when you start having babies, when you go home—and within 5 to 10 years, you'll take a little genetic map home with your baby. It will tell you: Here are the problems your baby has, but if you do the following five things, you will increase the chance that the child will have a great life.

There are young women in this audience tonight who will have babies with a life expectancy of 90 years. That's not an exaggeration. But it seems to me that we ought to have somebody there that understands whether somebody ought to be denied a job or a promotion or health insurance based on their gene card. We need somebody that really understands the future.

And the last thing is, we ought to have somebody that will take us all along for the ride. That's what the hate crimes bill, the minimum wage, the employment nondiscrimination bill— that's what all that stuff's all about. Should we all go along for the ride or not? And I presume that all of you believe that or you wouldn't be here. Otherwise—because the other guys are going to give you a bigger tax cut than we are. [Laughter] But we'll give you lower interest rates and a better stock market. You'll make more anyway. But I think we ought to all go along for the ride.

So now, that brings me to Hillary—[laughter]—and this reason: It is very hard for me to say anything that is not either sappy, or I'm always afraid I'll be over the top and ineffective here.

But let me just tell you. I've been President for nearly 8 years now. It really matters who is in the Senate. There is a gentleman here that I went to college with who is from South Dakota. We were bragging about Tom Daschle and how I couldn't have functioned the last 5 years without him, and it's really true.

Many of you came up to me tonight and said, "I'm so glad not only what you did but what you stopped—all the attempts to weaken the environment and all the attempts to weaken our economic policy or cut education or do other things, all the things that were stopped over the last 5 years." Well, it really matters who is in the Congress and, especially, who is in the Senate. They get to vote on the confirmation of judges, and if they don't want to bring them up, they don't. So I've tried for 7 1/2 years to get an African-American judge in the southeastern part of the United States. There's never been one before. But their side doesn't want one, so we've got two perfectly well-qualified people that I still can't get confirmed.

There's an Hispanic-American who grew up in El Paso and graduated summa cum laude from Harvard. The ABA gives him unanimous high ratings. I can't even get him a hearing in the Senate because he's not part of what they think the bench ought to be about.

Senators make a difference. The next President will appoint two to four judges to the Supreme Court. The Senate will confirm them. And whether you like it or not, when you vote for President and you vote for Senate, you better think about that, because the balance of the Supreme Court will change. And you have to assume that any President you vote for and any Senator you vote for will vote and appoint his or her convictions. You have to assume that.

The most important thing that I think that I could say to you about Hillary is two things. One is, this is just the last in a long line of lifetime public service for her. When I met her in 1971, when she wasn't old enough to vote, but I was—[laughter]—when I met her in 1971, she was already involved with the Yale Child Studies Center and issues of children's health care, children's education, family law. She took an extra year in law school to work at the Yale hospital in the Child Studies Center so that she would not have not only a law degree but a clear background in the legal issues affecting children's health and children's welfare, before anybody else was doing it—that kind of thing.

Her first job out of law school was at what became the Children's Defense Fund, where she later served as chair of the board. Her first project, when I was elected Governor of Arkansas, was to build a neonatal nursery at the Children's Hospital in Little Rock. And when I left office, in my little home State, that was the seventh biggest children's hospital in the United States of America, and she ran the fundraising drive every year. She founded an advocacy group for children and families when we were living in Arkansas, and then when she came up here, she took up the cause of children's health care, our education reforms. She led the way to a total revision of the laws affecting adoption, cross-racial adoption, and what happens to foster care kids and how to improve their welfare. Things at a level of details unheard of for First Ladies to be involved in. And along the way, she found time to host conferences on early childhood and brain development, children and violence, and a lot of other things.

And then this year, she ran our millennium program for the last 2 years, which the gentleman who is the head of the National Historic Preservation Trust told me that Hillary's millennium program, which has now gotten $100 million for the preservation for American treasures, slightly over half public money, the rest private, was the largest, single historic preservation effort in the history of the United States of America.

So when Senator Moynihan announced he wasn't going to run again and all these Democratic House Members came and asked her to run, I can promise you, it had never occurred to her before, because we assumed he was going to run, and we would support him.

And so she started traveling around New York. And she found out, A, she kind of liked it, and B—not liked New York; she kind of liked politics; she knew she liked New York; she liked politics—[laughter]—and B, she found out that people understood that what they needed in a Senator was somebody that would put their families first and think of their children's future and make the most of this moment of prosperity, which allows me to close this circle here.

I cannot tell you—again, I'll say, no American who has not been where I am can possibly appreciate the importance of every single Senate seat—nobody. And I can tell you this. I knew, and I told her when we started, that we would have a hard fight the first time. But if she wins in November—and I'm convinced she will— she'll never have a close race again, because she'll be the best Senator they ever had.

And I said something here last year I will say again. I have been privileged in my life, over, almost 30 years in public life now, to work with hundreds of people. I have known some magnificent leaders around the world; I have known some wonderful American public servants. I have never felt the kind of personal animosity for people in the other party that some of them seem to feel for us from time to time, because I wouldn't be able to get up in the morning if I was that torn up and upset all the time. [Laughter] And I basically like people in public life. I've found most of them are smart and honest and work hard and do what they think is right.

But of all the people I have ever known, bar none, she has the best combination of heart, compassion, brains, and just plain old stick-toit-iveness, persistence. And you need that in a Senator. So you've helped her tonight, and if you can do anything between now and November, I'll be very, very grateful.

Thank you very much.

NOTE: The President spoke at 8:10 p.m. at a private residence. In his remarks, he referred to reception host Smith Bagley; Enrique Moreno, judicial nominee, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit; Ed McMahon, Publishers Clearing House Sweepstakes spokesperson; and Richard Moe, president, National Trust for Historic Preservation. The President also referred to his memorandum of October 13, 1999, on protection of forest roadless areas (Public Papers of the Presidents: William J. Clinton, 1999 Book II (Washington: U.S. Government Printing Office, 2001) p. 1765).

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

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