Bill Clinton photo

Remarks at a Reception for Representative Richard A. Gephardt

July 27, 2000

Thank you very much. That's the way it will be on January 20th. [Laughter] Just one hand left, that's all. [Laughter]

Let me say first of all, I'm glad to see you all here. I'm delighted that you have contributed so much money to our cause, and I thank you for that. I want to thank Chevy Chase and Jayni for being here. They've been great friends to Hillary and me. I always tell everybody that I knew that I would be friends with this guy for life in our first two encounters. I mean, our first two meaningful encounters.

You may remember that I gave a very illfated speech in 1988 at the convention. [Laughter] I'm still looking for the chance to finish it. I've just never—[laughter].

And so everybody's making fun of me. And that summer I went up to Long Island, and I went to this charity softball game they have up there every summer between writers and artists. And the guy that was calling the game— they asked me to be an umpire. So I said, "Okay, I'll do that. I know how to play ball." And by then, I thought I was finished anyway, so I didn't mind making all those writers mad at me. [Laughter] "Strike," you know. [Laughter]

And so the guy starts ragging me about this speech I gave at the convention, and between innings, this big tall guy gets up out of the stands, walks down. I looked up, and I said, "Lo and behold, it's Chevy Chase." And he comes to me, and he says, "To hell with them all. I liked the speech." [Laughter] Now, only my mother said that to me before he did. [Laughter]

The second time I saw him was—to really have an encounter, was June 2, 1992. A great night—I won the California primary, the Ohio primary, the New Jersey primary. It was the first time I knew for absolutely sure I'd be the nominee of the Democratic Party on the first ballot.

The whole story in the press that night was, "We did all these exit polls. Nobody's for Clinton. He's in third place. They really want Perot. He's dead." It's the first time anybody ever got nominated who was dead meat before he was even nominated. He came to my suite in Los Angeles, at the Biltmore Hotel, and said, "To hell with them. I'm still for you." [Laughter] I will never forget that as long as I live.

Now, he is, however, a terrible golfer. [Laughter] "Caddyshack" was not only a comedy; it was a fraud. [Laughter] But I can tell you truthfully, it's only because he never made an effort. He was actually quite extraordinary when he took a little instruction. [Laughter]

What is he doing back there, anyway? [Laughter]

Let me say on a more serious note, anything I have been able to do for our country would have been impossible without the leadership in the Congress—in the Senate, over these last 7 1/2 years, that's George Mitchell and Tom Daschle, and in the House with Dick Gephardt.

I was sitting here looking at Dick and Jane tonight thinking about the time he came to Arkansas to give a speech in 1988, and I brought him back to the Governor's mansion, and we ate french fries. Do you remember that? It's really unhealthy—11:30 at night and we're eating french fries on the kitchen counter at home. And I really liked him.

But I have to tell you that I hope that in some way I have grown in this job I have had, because we're supposed to grow with the experiences we have in life. I can tell you, I have never seen anybody—he was good when I first met him. But he's probably the best leader we have ever had, certainly in the 20th century, certainly in any of my experience and knowledge.

And if ever anybody deserved to be the Speaker of the House of Representatives and earned it, he did. He didn't quit the Congress. He didn't do something else. He didn't turn away. He didn't get bitter. He didn't get cynical. When we got beat in '94, he just kept working. And we worked together. We learned some things about how to work together from our defeat, and we got more effective. We picked up seats in '96.

Then we picked up seats in '98, the first time that we'd won in the midterm of an incumbent President since the thirties, the first time in the sixth year of an incumbent President since 1822. Dick Gephardt did that with his leadership and the unity of our Democratic caucus.

And we're just five little seats away now. And soon, I think, it will become apparent that we have an excellent chance of winning, thanks in no small measure to your support. One of the people that I expect to help make up our new majority is here tonight, and he is the Congressman from a district that includes a little town in which I was born, and I want you to make him welcome, State Senator Mike Ross from Arkansas. Mike, come up here and weigh in. He's a good candidate, and if you want to write him an extra check, it will be all right with me. [Laughter]

Now, let me just say a few words—and I realize I'm preaching to the saved tonight. But it's very important that every one of you recognize that in all probability this will be a close race for the Presidency, for the House, and for the Senate. We have an excellent chance to win the House. We have a realistic chance to win the Senate. And I have always believed we would win the White House when the American people understood what the issues were and what the choices were. You have to make them understand that.

There are just three things you need to know about the 2000 election—only three. It is a huge election. We are deciding how to use our prosperity, and it is a stern test of our character and judgment. And a lot of Americans don't believe that yet. The biggest problem we've got—a lot of them think that we couldn't mess this economy up if we tried. Everything is going along all right. You know, maybe we're electing a President of the student body. [Laughter] I'm telling you, it's a serious thing.

You have got to go out and remind people that how a nation handles its prosperity is, if anything, a sterner test of its judgment, its values, and its character than how you handle adversity. We all talk about, you know, what a miracle '92 was. I'll never forget President Bush derisively referring to me as the Governor of a small southern State. I was so naive, I thought it was a compliment. [Laughter] And I still do. [Laughter]

But you know, the country knew we had to change. They knew we—we didn't have an economic policy that worked. We didn't have a social policy that worked, from education to welfare to crime. We didn't have a political theory about how we could pull the country together. We didn't really have a clear vision about what our national role was going to be in the world. We knew we had to change.

The worst thing that can happen to the Democrats this year is if people think this is an election without consequence. So I'm just telling you, the first thing you've got to do is convince everybody you know anywhere in America that this is a profoundly important election. I've waited all my life to see my country in a position to paint a picture of the future, to realize our dreams for our children.

We've got that chance now. I don't know if it will ever come around again, and neither do you. And it may not happen in your lifetime. It is a big election. If people think that, we're halfway home.

The second thing you need to know about this election is, there are real and profound differences between the two parties and our candidates for President, Senate, and Congress, differences on economic policy, on crime policy, on health care policy, on education policy, right across the board.

The third thing you need to know—and this is all you need to know—is only the Democrats want you to know what those differences are. What does that tell you about who you ought to vote for? [Laughter] I never thought I'd live to see it. All over America, these Republicans are moaning, crying these big crocodile tears about how mean and negative the Democrats are. These are people that brought us over the last 20 years the most vicious era of personaldestruction politics in modern American history, and what is it they're crying about? Is it because we're doing what they did? No. We're telling the voters how they voted. And they say, "Oh, this is so mean. It's so negative. How dare you tell people back home how I voted and what my positions are?" [Laughter]

Do you think I'm kidding? Just look at any race involving a Republican incumbent, and that ought to be sobering to you, because the only reason they have a chance to get away with this is because times are going so good, people are doing well. People are optimistic, and they're upbeat. And goodness knows, one of the best things about America is we always want to believe the best about people.

Well, I don't think we have to believe the worst about people. I don't want anybody saying anything bad about these folks. I want us to say that we assume they're honorable, good, and decent people, and they mean exactly what they say; they intend to do what exactly what they say. But they shouldn't be able to hide all they have done and said, starting at that Republican Convention and going all the way to November. And it's your job to make sure people know what the differences are, because they don't want you to know.

If we run ads in a State to say they voted against the Patients' Bill of Rights, they come back with ads that say, "How dare they say that. I voted for a patients' bill of rights." There is a big difference between "a" and "the," all the difference in the wide world. And I could go on and on.

Now, I want you to think about this. And I want to say a word about the Vice President. I always tell everybody there are four reasons you ought to vote for him, and all but the first applies to all the rest of the Democrats.

The first is, never in the history of the Republic has anybody held the office of Vice President to such great effect with so much influence and so much impact. I noticed the other day that the prospective nominee of the Republican Party said he'd be a more conventional Vice President; Al Gore had done too much. Well, I don't want anybody working for me that's not trying to do too much. I thought that's what we hired on for. Did you hire us to take vacations?

I'm telling you, from breaking the tie on the economic plan in '93, which broke the back of the deficits and the big debts in this country and got us going again, to his leadership on technology, on energy, on empowering poor communities, there has never been anybody in this job that did so much good. There have been a lot of Vice Presidents that made great Presidents, but no one as Vice President who ever did remotely as much as Al Gore. He's the best qualified person to be the President of the United States, to run in my lifetime, and you ought to make sure every American voter knows that.

The second thing I want to tell you is that if you want to keep making enough money so you can afford to come to fundraisers like this— [laughter]—you should vote for us—[laughter]— because we'll keep this prosperity going. Their proposal—last year they passed this big old tax cut, and I vetoed it. And they went out in the August recess, and they tried to stir up the folks, and it turned out the people agreed with us. So this year they did something smarter. They did a salami tax cut. They just slashed it a little bit along. And every one of them sounds great. It's like going to a cafeteria, you know? If you pick everything off a tray that sounds good and looks good and you want to eat it all, by the time you eat it all, you're really sick—[laughter]—even though it was all good.

They have passed in this Congress, in the last 12 months, tax cuts totalling almost $2 trillion, the entire projected surplus: no money to lengthen the life of Medicare and Social Security; no money to invest in our children's education; no money to do what we need to do in health care to provide Medicare prescription drugs; never mind the environment or medical research or any emergencies that will come up along the way. They want to spend right on the front end our whole projected surplus.

Now, let me ask you this. This is like one of those—did you ever get one of those letters in the mail from Ed McMahon? [Laughter] "You may have won $10 million." Did you go out the next day and spend $10 million? If you did, you should support Governor Bush and the Republicans. [Laughter] If not, you better stick with us and keep this economy going.

Now, this is serious. There was an article the other day in one of the major papers saying the voters saw no difference in the economic policies of the two candidates and the two parties. And I said, "You know, they keep saying I'm a good communicator. I must have totally flubbed here." [Laughter] It's just because things are going well.

They had the White House for 12 years, and they quadrupled the debt of this country—4 times what we've run up in 200 years before. And they want to go right back to the same policy and convince you that things are so good, they couldn't mess it up if they tried.

You've got to make sure people know that. If the American people want that, if they want to read the Ed McMahon letter and say, "I'm going to spend that $10 million right now. I hope it comes in"—[laughter]—then that's fine. It's a free country. It's a democracy. People ought to be able to get whatever they want.

But they don't want that, and you know it. So if they vote against our nominees from President to Senator to Congress, it's because they don't understand that that's a choice. You know that by two to one they will agree with us. You know they will.

If I ask you what you were going to make over the next decade—what are your projected earnings? Every one of you just think about it. Just think about it. What do you think you're going to make for 10 years?

Now, I'm going to set up a chair here and a desk, and I've got a notary public, and I want you to come up here right now and sign a contract spending it all. [Laughter] If you'd do that, you ought to vote for them; if not, you better stick with us. Now, that's a pretty clear choice.

The second thing I want to say to you is, we have differences over social policy that I think are profoundly important. We're for a Patients' Bill of Rights that's real, and they're not. We're for a Medicare prescription drug benefit that all of our seniors can buy who need it and our disabled Americans, and they're not. We want to close the gun show loophole, and they don't. The head of the NRA says they're going to have an office in the White House if they win the next election. They won't need it; they'll have their way, anyway.

Now, I'm not saying anything bad about them. That's the way they are. [Laughter] No—they believe that. They believe that. You don't have to be a bad person to have a difference of opinion. But it's very bad to try to obscure the difference of opinion and hope the voters don't know.

If the voters want, by a majority, to have a Congress that won't close the gun show loophole, that won't provide a genuine Medicare prescription drug benefit for our seniors, that won't pass a real Patients' Bill of Rights, that won't help our schools with new building and hire more teachers, and do these things that need to be done, they have a right to choose that. But they must know what the choice is. And if they don't, it's our fault, because if I were them, I wouldn't tell them either. [Laughter] They know if anybody finds out where they stand, they're sunk. So they have to paint these pretty pictures.

And the last and most important thing I want to tell you, more important than anything else, is that Al Gore and Dick Gephardt and our crowd, we want to take everybody along for the ride. That's why we're for hate crimes legislation. That's why we're for employment nondiscrimination legislation. That's why we support strong civil rights enforcement. That's why we want to extend the benefits of this economic prosperity to everybody in every corner of this country. That's why we want to raise the minimum wage. That's why our tax cuts are targeted toward helping people send their kids to college or pay for child care or pay for long-term care for the elderly and disabled. That's why we want to give a big income tax cut to low wage working people with three or more kids, because we think the people that are here working in this hotel tonight that could never afford to pay a ticket to come to a fundraiser like this deserve the same chance we do to send their kids to college and to live the American dream. That's who we are, and that's what we are.

So if you believe that we ought to keep the prosperity going and you want to extend it to everybody, if you believe that we're right in trying to do the sensible thing on health care policy and crime policy and environmental policy, and if you think we ought to take everybody along on a great ride in the 21st century, you need to make sure that Al Gore is the President and that Dick Gephardt is the next Speaker.

Thank you, and God bless you.

NOTE: The President spoke at 7:17 p.m. in the State Room at the Mayflower Hotel. In his remarks, he referred to comedian Chevy Chase and his wife, Jayni; Representative Gephardt's wife, Jane; former Senator George J. Mitchell; Republican Presidential candidate Gov. George W. Bush of Texas; Publishers Clearing House Sweepstakes spokesperson Ed McMahon; National Rifle Association executive vice president Wayne LaPierre; and Republican Vice Presidential candidate Dick Cheney.

William J. Clinton, Remarks at a Reception for Representative Richard A. Gephardt Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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