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Remarks at a Reception for Senator Edward M. Kennedy in McLean, Virginia

September 29, 1994

Thank you so much. Senator and Mrs. Kennedy, the Kennedy family, Senator Mitchell and Members of the Senate, Congressmen, Congressman-to-be Patrick Kennedy, and Marvin Rosen, and all those who made this night possible, I thank you so much for your help for our friend. Chevy Chase, thank you for making us laugh.

I'll tell you a story about Chevy Chase. I never told this story in public before. Don't get that excited, it's not that good. [Laughter] I had never met Chevy Chase in my entire life, except on a movie screen. And in 1988 or '89, I went up to Long Island in the summertime. Hillary and I were up there visiting our friend Liz Robins, who's here tonight. And every summertime there's a softball game to raise money between the artists and the writers. And they asked me if I would be an umpire in this game. And once I realized there were some members of the press there and I'd be able to give them grades instead of the other way around, I eagerly accepted. Now, at that time— a lot of you won't remember this; I hope, at least, you won't remember it, and I hope you'll forget after I tell you tonight. [Laughter] I had given a speech for Governor Dukakis at the Democratic Convention, which I intend to complete here this evening. [Laughter] Anyway— I can't believe I said that. [Laughter] The announcer for the ball game was Jim Brady, the guy that does that "Brady's Bits" in Parade magazine every Sunday, you know? He's a delightful man, but when he saw me out there on the mound about ready to call balls and strikes, he said—he introduced me—he said, "This is Governor Clinton from Arkansas. He's up here visiting, and if he takes as long to make the calls today as he did to speak in Atlanta, we'll never get out of here." [Laughter] I really appreciated that. [Laughter] Anyway, so the game starts, and the next time the sides change, I look up in the stands, and this tall guy stands up and walks down, comes out to the pitcher's mound, shakes my hand, and says, "I'm Chevy Chase." And he said, "I may be the only person in America besides your mother who feels this way, but I liked that speech. Tell him to go to hell." [Laughter] That's verbatim what he said. [Applause] You just applauded for the next ambassador to Great Britain. [Laughter]

Ladies and gentlemen, you know we all do a lot of these events, and a lot of you are the backbone of our party. And sometimes we do them with great energy; sometimes we do them with interest; sometimes we do them because we know it's the right thing to do and we do them. I am here tonight because there is no place else in America I would rather be tonight than here in this cause for this good man.

You know, before I got here I really didn't understand how things so often came across in the country so different than they are up here. I was another alienated American, even though I was the Governor of my State. And I was terribly worried that this country was going in the wrong direction, that the people that were running our country were just telling the voters what they thought they wanted to hear and avoiding all the tough problems—we had had profound social problems building up for 30 years, we'd had serious economic problems building up for 20 years—that we had finally come to the end of the cold war, a time when we had an opportunity to take a fresh look at both the opportunities and the difficulties of this country at this time, and that we had a window here in which we could either secure the American dream for our children and our grandchildren and the strength of this country as we move into the 21st century, or we could walk away from the responsibilities of our generation.

When I talked to Hillary about running for President, I—in a very personal way, I didn't really want to do it. First of all, most of my friends thought it was a fool's errand because the incumbent President was at over 70 percent approval. Secondly, things were going pretty well for us at home, with our family, our friends, and our work. But I did it because I thought that we all have an obligation to try to make a difference and that we had to change the direction of the country.

Tonight we come here to honor someone who has always fought to keep us going forward in the right direction, who has always fought for hope over fear, for reconciliation over division, to bring out the best in us instead of to bring out the worst in us. Well, when I came here I knew it wouldn't be easy, but I was determined to see that we work together to move this country forward, to address our problems, to get things done for ordinary Americans.

Well, it hasn't been easy. There have been some tough times and some really brutal fights. But you know, we've made a good start. And now, as always happens in these midterm elections, with the issue hanging fire, the American people will have to decide whether we will continue this rigorous transition into tomorrow.

Every time we reach a point in history where we're going through big changes and the future is not clear, we fight a battle within ourselves.

In that sense, our Nation is very much like a person. If you think about your own life, whenever you did anything really different and took on a new challenge, it was always with a mixture of hope and fear, when you went to school the first day or first went off to college or had your first job or first sought elective office or married or had your first child. No matter how good a thing is, if it is really big, it is also a little scary. Countries are the same way. A delicate balance always has to be maintained between hope and fear. And every day we all get up and we see things that are happening that we don't like or we're unsure what will happen to us. And it's almost as if we have a scale inside us, with blind justice holding it, and hope is on one side and fear is on the other. And each day it may take a little different balance.

The job we have between now and election day is to make sure that when people wake up on election day, they vote their hopes instead of their fears, they vote for tomorrow instead of yesterday, they vote to keep going forward, and they vote for Senator Ted Kennedy for reelection in Massachusetts.

We still have a lot to do, but we've made a good start. And we've done some very important things by putting our economic house in order, giving the American people their first serious attack on crime in a long time, and beginning to make this Government work for ordinary citizens.

If you look at the last 20 months, this Congress—I might add, without one single, solitary vote from a member of the other party—the Democrats, who were so often attacked as being for big Government and spending, voted for a budget that cut $255 billion in Federal spending, that reduced the deficit by more than any plan ever adopted in the history of the country, that gave us 3 years of deficit reduction in a row for the first time since Harry Truman was President. I might add, they did it by raising tax rates on only the top 1.2 percent of Americans, including most of you in this room tonight. And we thank you for staying with us. [Laughter]

This administration—and it's a great rebuke to those who think people only vote their own short-term self-interests; all of you are. And I honor you for your presence here tonight and for caring about your country and the long-term health and discipline and economic direction of what we're trying to do.

Our administration expanded trade by more than any in the comparable time period in the last 30 years. Exports are up, sales are up, and jobs are up in export-related areas. And what has all this produced: 4.3 million new jobs, 93 percent of them in the private sector, unlike the ratio in previous years when it's been mostly Government jobs created to try to help people deal with the problems of economic fallout. We've had 8 months of manufacturing job growth in a row for the first time in a decade. And just last week, at the annual vote of International Economists, for the first time in 9 years, it was the United States of America that was voted as having the most productive economy in the world. We've got a long way to go, but we've made a good beginning.

Senator Biden is here. And Senator Kennedy for years has been interested in this whole crime issue from his service on the Judiciary Committee. But Joe Biden will tell you they talked about crime around here for 6 years, but we finally passed the crime bill that is tough with punishment, tough in terms of putting 100,000 police on the street, but also smart in providing prevention and giving people a chance to turn away from lives of crime and giving our young people a chance to have something to say yes to. Also, for the first time in my memory we put together back-to-back victories with the Brady bill and the assault weapons ban, in spite of the ferocious opposition of the NRA. That's a pretty good beginning. We've got a long way to go, but it's a pretty good beginning.

If you look at what was done to make Government work for ordinary people, in the economic plan, we reformed the college loan program— the Secretary of Education is here tonight— making 20 million Americans, including over 840,000 in the State of Massachusetts, eligible for low-interest loans at longer repayment terms, a stunning benefit for middle class kids, not just poor kids, so that no one need ever walk away from the challenge of paying for a college education again—you can clap for that; Ted Kennedy was for it. [Applause] We have 200,000 more children in Head Start; hundreds of thousands of people in Massachusetts alone affected by the family leave law which says that if you've got a sick parent or you're about to have a child, you can take a little time off work without losing your job. We are going to have 2 million more children immunized by 1996, so that all the kids under 2 will be immunized and parents can go to work not worrying about whether their children are going to be safe from preventable childhood diseases. Fifteen million working people and their children are going to get income tax cuts because they work hard and they raise their kids but they're hovering just above the poverty line, and we do not want them to fall into the poverty line and quit working and go on welfare. This is a pro-work, pro-family administration making this Government work for ordinary citizens again. And it's a good start.

Finally, let me say to our friends in the other party, I sat out there in the heartland of America as the Governor for years and years and years, and I heard them talk about how terrible the Federal Government was and how big and bloated it was. But we, the Democrats, voted to reduce the size of the Federal Government by 272,000, to make it the smallest it's been since President Kennedy was in office. We have already done over 70,000 of those reductions. And every last red cent of reduction in the Federal Government is going to local government and to local communities to help them fight crime. That is the record of the Democrats in the last 2 years.

Now, if you compare that to what our opponents have done and what they have said, it's a pretty big difference. In the name of partisanship, they tried to stop the crime bill. They voted entirely against the economic program, a program that gave college loan breaks to millions of kids, a program that made 90 percent of the small businesses in this country eligible for tax cuts and gave tax reductions to 15 million working families. They have done everything they could to keep us from addressing the health care reform issue in a serious way. You needn't take my word for it, only listen to them: Congressman Grandy from Iowa saying that they had all been ordered not to cooperate and compromise on health care; a Republican Senator quoted in one of our big newspapers the other day saying, "We killed health care, now if we can just not get our fingerprints on it"; their political adviser, Mr. Kristol, telling them the one thing they must not do is to cooperate to bring down health care costs, make health insurance secure for those who have it, and cover those who don't because that would be a political benefit for the other party. That is their record.

Now we know what they wish to do if they get the majority. They put out their Contract With America, and you know what they did? It looks like a contract; it looks like they took out a contract against the deficit, a contract against Medicare, a contract against paying for the crime bill, a contract against all the gains we have made for ordinary Americans in the last 2 years. They want to go back to the way they did it before, explode the deficit, tell people what they want to hear, and stick it to ordinary Americans. We can do better than that. We have to go forward. We have to reelect the people and elect the people who want to keep going forward.

If you just look at the things that Senator Kennedy has been involved in just since I have been President—the Head Start program, 200,000 more children; reforming the education loans; working on changing the whole unemployment system to a reemployment system, something we haven't finished yet; the Goals 2000 bill, which for the first time in the history of America commits us as a nation to world-class standards of educational excellence and commits the Federal Government not to have a bureaucracy but to give help to local grassroots efforts at reform; the national service program, which this year has 20,000 young Americans and 2 years from now will have 100,000 young Americans earning their way to a higher education by serving their communities at the grassroots level, not in a bureaucracy but in people power that can truly change the course of our country's future—he led the way in all of those endeavors. And he deserves a lot of credit for it.

But elections are about the future. If we do a good job, it's just what we were hired to do. So why should he be reelected? Because if you ever want this country to be able to bring the deficit down without breaking the backs of our senior citizens; if you ever want to see a time when working people will be secure in their insurance, instead of the situation which exists today—this is the only advanced country in the world where working families are losing ground in insurance coverage. There are 5 million Americans in working families today who had health insurance 5 years ago who do not have it today, even though we spend 40 percent more of our income than any other country on health care. If you want to preserve the integrity of our great medical institutions of higher learning, if you want to see health insurance for all Americans and stability in our economy long-term and in our Federal budget long-term, we have got to address the health care issue.

So what if we couldn't do it in a year. Look what's happened since I've been here. It took 7 years to pass the Brady bill, 7 years to pass family leave, 7 years to pass motor voter, 6 years to pass the crime bill. I signed a banking reform bill today that they've been working on longer than anybody can remember. We can do this. We will do this. The people of Massachusetts, I don't believe, want to send a signal to Washington, DC, that they have abandoned health care. I think they want to tell us to keep at it until we get it right. And the only way to do that is to say, "Senator Kennedy, stay on the job; keep doing it until we get it right."

My friends, you will see this election everywhere in America played out. Look at Patrick Kennedy's race in Rhode Island. He's running against someone who signed the contract, a contract against health care reform, for cutting Medicare, for exploding the deficit, for putting the Federal budget in a place where they won't even be able to fund the crime bill—the same old promises, tell them what they want to hear, bad-mouth Government, bad-mouth the people who are the instruments of change, and hope you don't get caught. I think the American people are smarter than that.

You know, Ted Kennedy said tonight that he was not the youngest man in the Senate race. He was once the youngest man in the Senate for quite a long time. Well, I was once the youngest Governor in America by 9 years. Time has a way of curing those problems—[laughter]—and of changing your perspective. But I would like to say something about Senator Kennedy and about the United States. He's made enemies in his life because he has fought for things. But the things he has fought for are things that would help people who are very different from him. Ninety-five percent of the people that would have been given the things that he was given in life never would have spent their life trying to get all that for everybody else in the country. Most of us, given the opportunities he had, would have enjoyed them in a very different way. They wouldn't have put themselves on the line day in and day out, year in and year out.

This country is also very old as a democracy, but it is forever young. When people say they worry about whether we've still got it as a country, I say to them: Why do you think the Israelis and the Arabs want to come here and have us work with them to end the decades of horrible fighting in the Middle East? Why do you think that after literally hundreds of years of fighting, the Catholics and the Protestants in Northern Ireland, and the British and the Irish wish the Americans to be involved in the peace process? Why did Mr. Mandela and Mr. de Klerk want the United States to spend a few million dollars of our tax money to help them develop an election that would really work? Even in the 11th hour of our crisis in Haiti a little over a week ago, when the delegation was down there meeting with the military leaders and they realized finally that we meant business, one of them said, "Well, if the President is determined to do this and the United Nations is determined to act, at least we want the United States here; we trust them, we know they can be trusted. We know what they represent." Why? Because the right things, my fellow Americans, never get old.

And I was sitting here looking at Ted Kennedy give that speech tonight, and I saw it literally moving his entire being. And I said to myself, let the people who disagree with him disagree. Let the people who say he's wrong on the issues say that. But let no one doubt that he may be the youngest person running for the Senate in any State this year, because he believes in things that are forever young.

Thank you, and God bless you all.

NOTE: The President spoke at 9:30 p.m. at the Kennedy residence. In his remarks, he referred to host Marvin Rosen and comedian Chevy Chase.

William J. Clinton, Remarks at a Reception for Senator Edward M. Kennedy in McLean, Virginia Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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