Remarks at a Reception for Representative Darlene Hooley in Portland, Oregon
Thank you. Thank you very, very much. Stand up here, Darlene. You know, on my body clock it is 1:35—[laughter]—and Alexis and Darlene are hard acts to follow. [Laughter] I must say, I'm sorry that Alexis had to miss the Shania Twain concert, but if Shania Twain had heard her sing, she might have thought it was the other way around. She was great. You have a great gift, young lady, and I wish you well with it.
I thank the Rose City Brass Quartet for playing "Hail To The Chief." It sounded great— thought the Marine Band had come across the country to be here. Thank you.
I want to thank Governor Kitzhaber and Senator Wyden and Congressman Blumenauer for being here; and my old friend and classmate John Platt; and the candidates for the House, David Wu and Kevin Campbell. I admire your public officials here. They are visionary and practical, principled and pragmatic. They get things done, and they're a joy to work with. And I especially am proud to be here with Darlene Hooley. My only regret is that as President, I do not have her courage in footwear. [Laughter]
I got to thinking the other day that if Speaker Gingrich wore shoes like that, he might be in a better humor. [Laughter] We might change the whole psychology of the Republican caucus in the Congress—[laughter]—if they just had comfortable shoes every day. Maybe that's what the matter is. Maybe their shoes hurt them all the time. [Laughter]
I also want to say how profoundly indebted I feel to the people of Oregon who have been so good to me and to my wife and to the Vice President and Mrs. Gore, to our whole administration. You've given me your electoral votes twice and have unfailingly supported policies to move this country forward. And I just thank you from the bottom of my heart. I'm very grateful, more than you know.
I wanted to come out here for Darlene tonight for a number of reasons, not the least of which is on occasion she has stood up with me and for our country when it was not easy to do so. And she's the sort of independentthinking person who also has a heart I believe we need more of in politics. She does a great credit to all of you.
Because we have a number of important races in Oregon this year, I'd just like to say a few things briefly. I know the hour is late. But every day I get up, and no matter what the challenges of the day are—and we've had a number lately, the financial challenges in Asia, the difficulties of the nuclear testing between India and Pakistan, the new trouble in the Balkan region in Kosovo, a number of things—but I just—I give thanks for the fact that compared to the day I was inaugurated, and Darlene said something about this, but I just want to read this off to you because you can take a lot of credit for this, but your country now has the lowest crime rate in 25 years. It has 16 million new jobs and the lowest unemployment rate in 28 years. It has the lowest percentage of its people on welfare in 29 years. We are about to have the first balanced budget and surplus in 29 years. We have the lowest inflation in 32 years, with the smallest Federal Government in 35 years and the highest rate of homeownership in the history of the United States. That's pretty good for America.
And when I ran for President in 1992, and came and asked the people of Oregon to support me, I was deeply disturbed because our country was not moving forward and because our political leadership seemed trapped in a debate that had very little relevance to ordinary people in places like Oregon or in my home State of Arkansas. And I thought to myself, if we would think more about the future, if we would imagine what we wanted America to look like for our children in the 21st century and work back from that, we'd make more sense in what we said and what we do would be better.
And I know that sounds sort of simplistic, but that's actually what I tried to do. And before I ever ran for President, I sat down and asked myself, what do you want your country to look like when we cross that bridge to the 21st century? What do you want your country to look like when your daughter is your age?
And my answers are fairly straightforward: I want the American dream to be alive and well for every person who is willing to work for it. I want America to still be the leading force in a smaller and smaller world for peace and freedom and prosperity and for meeting the challenges that we face together, whether it's from terrorists or weapons of mass destruction or from global environmental destruction. And I want America to be able to enjoy this dramatically increasing racial and ethnic and other diversity in our country and still be able to live together as one community with shared values, where we respect our differences but we have some core things in common that are most important of all. That's what I want. And that's what I've worked for. That's what I've asked people to join me in doing.
And the first point I'd like to make is that I certainly can't claim full credit for all those statistics I just read off, but I do believe that our administration and those in Congress who have helped us have contributed to those good results, the lion's share of which belong to the American people.
Ideas matter. And actions based on ideas have consequences. That's why it's important to keep people like Darlene Hooley in the Congress. That's why it's important to give us a few more people who are more interested in progress than politics, more interested in unity and moving forward than being divided for short-term political power advantage. That's why it's important, because ideas and policies matter; they make a difference.
And it is very important that in this election season the American people say, "We want an honest debate about where we are, where we've come from, and where we're going, because ideas and actions matter. We are not going to be diverted. We are not going to be divided, and we are not going to be little. We are going to be large, and we are going to look to tomorrow, to our children's future." If we do, we'll have more people like Darlene in Congress.
We have big issues still to deal with. That's the other thing I want to say. The temptation is to say, "Well, I ought to just vote for a bunch of people who tell me what I want to hear and hope they won't do anything, because things are going well and I don't want to mess it up." [Laughter] And we have often done that. Societies everywhere often do that. That would be a mistake.
It would be a mistake for two reasons. Number one, we have big long-term challenges ahead of us—big long-term challenges ahead of us. That's why I say, don't spend any of that surplus that we're going to accumulate this year until we know that we have fixed Social Security for the 21st century. We have to reform Medicare for the 21st century.
We've opened the doors to colleges to virtually all Americans now, with our tax credits, our scholarships, our student loan program improvements, our work-study increases, our national service scholarships. But nobody thinks that we have the best system of public education uniformly in the world yet. And we've got things to do. We've got an agenda there, of smaller classes, better-trained teachers, more charter schools, technology in every single classroom, no matter how remotely rural or how poorly urban, in America. And I want to see that implemented.
We still have too many kids in trouble; Darlene talked about that. The after-school program—we have offered to the Congress a program to hugely increase after-school programs and summer school programs to give not only— not only say, well, we're going to find these kids that do bad things and punish them but to keep more kids out of trouble in the first place.
Let me just tell you one story. A lot of you know that Hillary comes from Chicago, and we spent a lot of time there. When I was a Governor, the Governor of Illinois—the then-Governor of Illinois was a friend of mine, and he and I both have one daughter. And I knew that there was one picture I could see in the newspaper once a year, when his daughter was with him in the Governor's office on the day that the teachers went on strike in Chicago. Every year it happened, whether they needed to or not. [Laughter] And there was this great estrangement, and everybody thought the schools were dysfunctional.
Today, in Chicago, there has been unbelievable harmony between the teachers and the administration. Every school has a parent council. No child can be promoted that doesn't perform to a certain level. They have mandatory summer school and a massive after-school program. There are literally tens of thousands of children now in the inner-city neighborhoods of Chicago who get three hot meals a day at school because their parents work. And their summer school, the Chicago summer school, is now the sixth largest school district in America.
Now, what is the consequence? The juvenile crime rate has plummeted. Even better, more kids are learning more; more kids are having the opportunity to work; more children are going to have the chance to live the American dream. That's what we have to be mindful of.
You know, we will never reach a time when we can solve every problem for every child, when there will never be any tragedy, when there will never be any kind of thing that goes wrong in any family in this State or this country. But there's not a soul here that doesn't know we can do a lot better. We can do better with our schools, and we can do better with our children.
We have huge environmental challenges. I just flew up here from Monterey, California, where we had the first-ever national conference on the state of the oceans today, and particularly ours, the oceans that embrace our coasts all over America. And I announced a number of steps to try to improve our capacity to protect and recover the environmental quality of our oceans, the fishing stocks, and to preserve them into the future.
This is a huge deal that most people don't ever even think about. You know, one of the most common phrases in our vernacular is, "Oh, what I did was nothing. It's just a drop in the ocean." Nearly all of you have used it if you've lived any number of years. [Laughter] And— that's another way of saying I'm getting older. [Laughter] And it may have been true at one time, but once there are millions and billions of drops in the ocean, we run the risk of changing the entire ecostructure of the planet, even in Monterey, which is a pretty pristine place.
I met with young graduate students at Stanford today, and we walked out into the ocean. We looked at the sea otters and the harbor seals and the pelicans and a lot of the small ocean life there. And these young people told me that they were studying it, and they concluded two things: number one, that even there was a demonstrable warming of the ocean; and number two, that a lot of the small examples of life in the sea there were things that had moved from the south and that all the life was moving north. Anybody that is involved with salmon in Oregon or Washington or Canada knows that they're moving north.
This is a huge issue. We must come to grips with it. It is also closely related to the issue of greenhouse gas emissions and climate change, which is, in the near term, an even bigger issue. But they feed on each other, because the more greenhouse gases we emit into the atmosphere, the more the polluted particles drift over the ocean, find their way into the ocean, and compromise the ocean's ecostructure.
Now, this may not be a burning issue in the election, but it's really important that you vote for somebody who will make some mental and emotional space to think about what your grandchildren are going to be facing if we don't deal with climate change, what your children and grandchildren are going to be facing if we don't deal with the deterioration of the oceans. So I just give you those things as an example. Ideas matter.
In the other party, they just passed a budget in the House which has, as nearly as I can tell, not very much money at all for our climate change policy; would eliminate our policy of putting 100,000 community police on the street before it's finished, when it has been the most successful anticrime strategy in modern American history; and would cut back on our investments generally in education and the environment at a time when we ought to do more. Ideas matter. There are consequences to this. And there are big issues out there—lot of others I could talk about.
But the second point I want to make is this: We feel good about our country now. You all clapped when I gave you all those numbers. [Laughter] The question is, what do you do when you feel good? You can go sit in the sun and wait for something to go wrong and enjoy it while it's good, or you can say, "Boy, when we have all this confidence now, when we finally have got some resources, when we finally have got the—literally, the space to breathe, to think about the long-term, that is the time to act." You don't wait to repair the roof until there's a rainstorm. We have a chance to build the right kind of house for America.
And yes, it's important who's President, and because of the 22d amendment, you'll get a chance to make another decision next time about that. [Laughter] But it really matters who's in the Congress, who the Governor is, what kind of decisions are made, what values they reflect, and whether you honestly believe that we ought to be doing everything we can to create opportunity for everybody responsible enough to work for it, to maintain our leadership in the world, and to live together as one people.
I'm going to talk at Portland State tomorrow about immigration and this new wave of immigrants and how they're changing America. And I'm going to say that they all now are more likely to be different colors and different races, but they're not much different than when the Irish came over, when my people came over here. I got a letter the other day—I mean, a book the other day, from a friend of mine who's got a terrific sense of humor, that talked about how unfortunate it was that a lot of my forebears turned reactionary, because when we first came here, we were treated just like the recently freed slaves. And the title of this book is "How the Irish Became White"—[laughter]— tongue in cheek. You may have seen it. It's in the bookstores.
But the point I want to make is, this is important. You look at the whole rest of the world. Look at what I'm worrying about: the struggles between India and Pakistan, between the Hindus and the Muslims; in Kosovo, the struggle between the Albanians and the Serbs. What was the Bosnian war about? People that were biologically indistinguishable, who were Serbs and Orthodox Christians, Croats and Roman Catholics, Bosnians and Muslims. Eight hundred thousand people killed in Rwanda in a matter of weeks because they were two different tribes— and they had lived for 500 years on the same land. They weren't part of some artificial construct of colonialists. That was a distinct country.
And if you want your kids to live in a world that is moving beyond that, America has got to set an example. If you want me to be able to say—you know, it wasn't the only reason, perhaps not even the principal reason, but I can tell you it was a significant factor, when the Irish people voted for peace recently, that so many Irish-Americans were involved and committed, and they were Protestant, and they were Catholic, and after a time of going over there and working year-in and year-out and trying to get people together, it became indistinguishable what the faith of the Irish-Americans were committed to Ireland.
We have to build one America for these children if we expect America to be able to lead to a safer, more peaceful, more prosperous, more responsible, sustainable planet. That is very important.
So I say to you, I'm honored to be here with Darlene. I'm honored to be here with your other leaders. I respect them more than I can say. I respect Senator Wyden and Congressman Blumenauer. I respect Governor Kitzhaber. I respect Congresswoman Furse, and I regret that she's leaving. And I hope you'll replace her with a good Democrat who will help us keep going forward. But not because of party but because our party has embraced these ideas; our party has embraced the future; our party has resisted the politics of division and getting in office for the sake of holding power, and we're more interested in what we're going to do with it if we get it. And we want to build that kind of future for our country.
So I'm glad you're here. I'm glad so many young people are here. But you remember what I'm telling you. There's a long time between now and November. And I want you to go out of here committed to talking to your friends and neighbors about the nature of American citizenship at the close of the 20th century and about this incredible opportunity we have. Yes, we've done a lot of good things, and yes, the country is in good shape, but I want you to be grateful for that, pocket it, and ask yourself, now what am I supposed to do for my country and my children's future?
Thank you, and God bless you.
NOTE: The President spoke at 10:30 p.m. at the Tiffany Center. In his remarks, he referred to 8 year-old singer Alexis Ebert; singer Shania Twain; Gov. John A. Kitzhaber of Oregon; John C. Platt, husband of Representative Elizabeth Furse; and David Wu and Kevin M. Campbell, Democratic candidates for Oregon's First and Second Congressional Districts, respectively.
William J. Clinton, Remarks at a Reception for Representative Darlene Hooley in Portland, Oregon Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/226341