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Remarks at a Reception for Representative Sanford D. Bishop, Jr.

June 29, 2000

Thank you. If I had any sense, I wouldn't say a word after that. [Laughter]

Thank you, Margo. I want to thank you and Briggs for opening your beautiful home. I had a great time. They took me in through the ground floor, where there are all the golf clubs and golf pictures. [Laughter] I almost didn't make it up here to you, folks. [Laughter]

I want to thank you all for helping Sanford Bishop. I have a lot of friends here. In case any of you think I was scandalizing Ada Hollingsworth, we've been friends for more than 20 years, so it's okay. [Laughter] And Calvin Smyre was with me in 1991, when only my mother thought I could be elected President. [Laughter] Jesse Brown and Secretary West and Ron Dellums and I—I miss him in the Congress, and so many of the rest of you here. I thank you for being here for him.

Sanford, I thank you for everything you said, and especially for that poem. People used to tell me in the tough times in the last 8 years that the good Lord never gives you more to carry than you can carry. And I thought, "Well, he's certainly tested the envelope with me." [Laughter] There was a time or two you could have fooled me. [Laughter]

People ask me all the time, "Well, what did you do? How did you do all that?" And I don't have much of an answer, except I got up every day and realized that all those people that were kind of after me, didn't hire me in the first place, that people like you hired me, and I just figured if I worked on my job and treated the rest as the cost of doing business in the 1990's, that everything would work out all right. And it sort of did.

I want to say to you that, you know, I do a fair number of these; I always try to help our Members, our Representatives and our Senators. It's very important to me. But it was especially important to me to be here tonight because I think that Sanford Bishop represents what, to me, is the best in our party and in our country and, to me, the best hope of our becoming a majority party again.

Look at all the people who are here tonight. He's got people from the agricultural community, people from the industrial community. He's got the friends he grew up with, which to me is always the acid test. [Laughter] I'm the only guy you ever met who got elected because of his friends. Nobody ever got elected just because he has friends, before. But I believe that—you know, because they'll like you if you're running a service station. [Laughter] And that's pretty important.

I want you to know that this guy has served well, and he has had to take a lot of tough votes. For some of our Members, everything I wanted to do—they've been in totally safe seats. They've had people that thought sort of just like we did, and they never had to cast a tough vote. There is no telling how many tough votes this man has had to cast to get our economy turned around, to get the crime rate down, to do things that were right.

So he could have read that poem about himself. And I wanted to be here for that reason. Because if we can't command the support of people like the ones he represents in Georgia, we can't really be a majority party. So I admire him, I like him, and I'm grateful.

Now, I just want you to know three things about this election—tell you everything you need to know. Number one, it is real important. It's just as important as the elections of '92 and '96 were. And in 1992, as Sanford said, this country was in deep trouble. One of the biggest problems the Vice President has got today in this election is, everybody has forgotten what it was like before we showed up. They sort of pocket that, take it for granted. This country was in trouble.

But to be fair, we knew what we had to do. We knew we had to change the economic policy. We knew we had to change the social policy. We knew if we were going to get the crime rate down and reduce welfare, reduce poverty, lift children up, grow the economy, help people who were left out and left behind work themselves into the middle class, we had to change things. And so we did. And then in '96, we knew that if we wanted it to work, we had to ratify that, we had to build that bridge to the 21st century, in the slogan of our campaign.

This election is just as important. Why? Because how a country chooses to deal with its moments of prosperity and promise is just as stern a test of our judgment, even our character, as how we deal with adversity.

There are a lot of young people here tonight, and I'm really glad, a lot of young people working for Sanford and working this event. And I'm grateful for that, and I like that. We even have a young woman from Russia here tonight. There you are. You're welcome here. We're glad to have you here.

But I want to say something here to the people that aren't so young. [Laughter] No, wait a minute. Calm down. There is not a person in this audience tonight over 30 who cannot remember at least one time in your life when you made a humdinger of a mistake, either a personal mistake or a business mistake, not because things were going so badly but because things were going so well, you thought there was no penalty to the failure to concentrate.

And that's what we've got to deal with in this election and the congressional races and the Senate races and the Presidential race. So the first thing is, this is really important. In my lifetime, our country has never had at the same time so much economic prosperity, social progress, national self-confidence with the absence of gripping, paralyzing crisis at home or threat abroad.

Now, what are we going to do with it? That's what this election is about. What do we propose to do with a truly magic moment? And it is a very stern test of our judgment, as well as our character and our values.

The second thing I want to say to you is: There are real differences between the two parties. And you don't have to be hateful to say that. I tell everybody, you know, we can really have a positive election this year because we can talk about the honest differences in our different vision of what we ought to do with this moment. And that's great. We've had enough elections over the last 20 years when the candidates tried to convince the voters that their opponents were just one notch above a car thief. [Laughter] And you know what I'm talking about. We don't have to do this. We can assume that everybody is honorable and that they mean exactly what they say. But there are real differences.

The third thing I want you to remember— and this is the kicker; this ought to tell you who you ought to vote for—only the Democrats want you to know what those differences are. [Laughter] Now, what does that tell you? It's interesting, the Republicans, who sort of pioneered this sort of mean, vicious campaign— what they did to McCain in the primary was embarrassing even to those of us who thought we'd seen it all. [Laughter] And now they all take the position that if you talk about how they voted or where they stand, you're running a negative campaign. If you give the voters information that's relevant to the decisions that are going to be made about their future, that's somehow going negative, and that's bad. I don't agree with that. Going negative is when you attack your opponent personally, when you say there is something wrong with their character, their value system; they're bad people.

But why have an election if you're not going to have a debate? But you just remember those three things: It's an important election; there are real differences; only the Democrats want you to know what they are.

Now, lest you think I'm kidding, there was a story in the press a few days ago saying that the Republicans in the House, where Sanford served, had hired a pollster to tell them what words or phrases to use so they could convince the people that they're for a drug benefit for all the disabled and senior citizens on Medicare, even though they're not.

Now, this is not what you normally hire a pollster for. At least, I don't. Normally, you hire a pollster to figure out how you're doing in an election, whether what you believe in is flying, and not to change your positions but to change your campaign, emphasize other issues some. But this is—it's astonishing—hire a pollster to give you the words and phrases so that the people will think you're for something you're not, that is, to blur the differences. And I see this all over.

But there are differences. We're for a Patients' Bill of Rights that is real and enforceable, and they're not, by and large. I'm talking about the leadership and the vast majority. And we're for a comprehensive Medicare drug benefit for senior citizens, and they're not. And we're for a tax cut, but one that helps people educate their kids or pay for child care or pay longterm care for family members that you've got to take care of, but that's affordable so we don't spend all this projected surplus, and we can keep paying the debt down and preserve Medicare and Social Security for the next generation, when all us baby boomers retire. And they don't agree with that. They really believe that you can take all this non-Social Security surplus right now and commit to spend it all on tax cuts or their Social Security plan, their missile defense plan, the other spending things—just spend it all.

Now, if I were to ask you tonight, what is your projected income over the next 10 years, you would all have a different answer. And then I said, "Okay, how much confidence do you have that this is your projected income?" And you say, "Oh, I'm more than 50 percent sure." I'd say, "Great. Now, I want you to sign on the dotted line—here's a piece of paper—that you're going to spend every nickel of it right now, and you can't get out of it for the next 10 years." That's their plan.

And I'm just telling you, we didn't get to where we are today without being careful. Interest rates are low. If you keep interest rates a point lower for the next decade than they would otherwise be—do you know what that's worth to you? Two hundred and fifty billion dollars in lower home mortgages alone—in lower home mortgages alone.

So we don't have the more popular side of this argument. They're saying, "Hey, we'll give it all back to you right now. We know what our income is going to be for the next 10 years, and we're going to sign it away." And we say, "Excuse me, but we were in debt" We had quadrupled our national debt in the 12 years before our side showed up, and now we're going to pay off $400 billion of our debt before I leave office, and I'd like to get this country out of debt so these kids will always have low interest rates and be able to afford a college loan, a car loan, a home mortgage, and we'll be able to keep growing this economy. It's a huge difference. It's huge.

And I could go through issue after issue— the hate crimes legislation, the environmental position, in the Presidential race, the appointments—two to four people to the Supreme Court. Did you see all these decisions that came out this week? Five to four, six to three. There are going to be two to four appointments in the Supreme Court. Either one of them will change the balance of the Supreme Court— either one. The question is, how do you want it to go?

So here you've got this guy who is, I think, a really stand-up person. There are so many times in the last 8 years when it would have been easy for him to take a dive and call me on the phone and say, "Now listen, man, you're my buddy, but I've got a problem"—[laughter]—"and my district is not like the whole rest of America, you know; it's rural. And I've got all these farmers, and they think I'm a little too, you know, maybe close to you anyway. I don't know." [Laughter] I mean, just time after time, when we really needed somebody to stand up, he stood up. So I'm glad you're here helping him. But I want you to leave here committed to help shape this political environment.

This election is going to be fine. The American people normally get it right, if they have enough information and enough time to digest it. Otherwise, we wouldn't be here. We're the oldest big democracy in the whole history of the planet. And other people think it's a pretty good idea because over the last 8 or 9 years, we've had more people living under democratic governments than nondemocratic governments for the first time in all of human history, around the world.

Russia, where she is from, they just had their first transition from one democratically elected President to another in a thousand years. This works if people have enough information and enough time to digest it. So I have absolute confidence in the outcome of this election if the people have enough information and enough opportunity to digest it. But you've got to help that.

The only problem here is, good times are full of danger as well as opportunity. So you sort of slide along here and think, well, there is not really much difference; these two guys seem pretty nice; our side had it for 8 years, maybe we should give their side a chance— you know, just sort of, blah, blah, blah. I've heard all this stuff. [Laughter]

And I'm telling you, you just remember, if people ask you about the election, you say, "It is really important, and I want you to take it seriously." If you meet a Republican, an independent, anybody, you tell them that. In a lifetime you may get one chance—one chance— to set a course in times as good as this. Even the kids here may never see another time like this. And then the second thing you tell them is, there are real differences, and you should listen to both sides. And then the third thing you tell them is, however—a key to who you'll agree with is—only the Democrats really want you to know what the differences are. And the final thing is, a guy like Sanford Bishop, he can always make all the difference.

Thank you, and God bless you.

NOTE: The President spoke at 9:17 p.m. at a private residence. In his remarks, he referred to reception hosts Fernal and Margo Briggs; Ada Hollingsworth, owner, A&A Travel Services; former Georgia State Representative Calvin Smyre; former Representative Ron Dellums; former Secretary of Veterans Affairs Jesse Brown; and Senator John McCain. Representative Bishop was a candidate for reelection in Georgia's Second Congressional District.

William J. Clinton, Remarks at a Reception for Representative Sanford D. Bishop, Jr. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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