Bill Clinton photo

Remarks at a Reception for Senatorial Candidate Ann Wynia in Minneapolis, Minnesota

September 24, 1994

The President. Thank you very much. Thank you. Thank you, Ann Wynia, for that wonderful introduction and for your fine speech and for what you represent for the State of Minnesota and for the prospects for our country. Thank you, Senator Wellstone, and thank you, Congressman Sabo and Congressman Vento, for helping me to keep my commitments to the American people to move this country forward and for your outstanding leadership. And thank you especially, Senator Graham, for your brilliant leadership of the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee and for being such a good and wise and trusted adviser to me on so many issues. I wish Bill Luther luck. And Bruce Vento reached over and whispered in my ear and said, "Now, even though he's running for Graham's seat, he's really going to win, Bill." [Laughter] Thank you, David Wilhelm, for that rousing speech, for reminding us what we are against as well as what we are for.

Ladies and gentlemen, I came here to ask you to help Ann Wynia get to the United States Senate, not because, as she said, she would agree with me on every issue but because she would bring common sense and common decency to the United States Senate, something we need more of.

You know, half the time when you see what's going on in Washington, you must wonder what is really going on. A lot of us who come from the States and then go to Washington are amazed by the level of political rhetoric and how abstract and almost artificial it seems. We need more people in the United States Congress like Ann Wynia who actually served the folks at the grassroots level, who actually did things to help real people take responsibility for their own lives like the children's health care plan here in Minnesota, which provided health care to 35,000 Minnesota children. That's a lot of families that have been helped to do something in their own lives.

I have been interested in and working on the whole subject of welfare reform for nearly 15 years, and I know that the further you go away from the welfare recipients, the more likely you are to hear hot air and see no results. Ann Wynia I would like to have in the Senate when we pass welfare reform next year because, as commissioner of human services, she didn't just talk about it, she actually moved people from welfare to work, not talking about it but doing it.

I want to talk with you today about what this election is all about, especially from my point of view as your President, someone who has tried hard to be President of all people, without regard to their party or their region or their race or their economic standing.

Two years ago, I ran for President because I wanted to lead this country into the 21st century with the American dream still alive for my daughter and for all the children here, because I thought the Republican leadership in the White House was taking our country in the wrong direction. Their economic policy was not working; it was increasing inequality in our country. And their social policy seemed to be to divide us by race, by religion, and other ways, to preach at us instead of to practice and to move forward.

I thought, frankly, we needed a new direction in Washington that came from the grassroots, that we needed to go beyond these partisan fights that had dominated both parties too much. I didn't think that the Government could be the savior of the American people the way we Democrats believed during the New Deal when it was very nearly so then. But neither did I think that Government could just sit on the sidelines when all of our competitors all around the world were taking a different approach. And I didn't think our Government could come off of the sidelines only when the special interests needed help, as opposed to ordinary, middle class Americans.

I thought that we ought to run this country the way most of us try to run our families, our lives, our businesses, our grassroots efforts; that there ought to be a partnership; that the Government, after all, was no more than us. You all pay the bill. Everybody that works up there is your hired hand. Every now and then you have elections and get a chance to not renew contracts or vote for new people if you want. The Government ought to be our partner and ought to do its best to provide economic opportunity, to challenge citizens to assume personal responsibility to make the most of their own lives, and to try to rebuild the frayed bonds of our American communities.

For the last 12 years before I showed up, the leadership in Washington talked about a balanced budget amendment and quadrupled the national debt; talked about helping the middle class, but taxes went up on the middle class and down on the wealthiest Americans; talked about making us competitive but reduced investment in the things which make us competitive, including the education and training of our people; talked a lot about our social problems but didn't do very much about them.

I wanted to bring more jobs to America and help people to begin to raise their incomes again. I wanted to bring more educational opportunities and health care opportunities for people who didn't have them and to do something to control the spiraling costs of health care. I wanted to rebuild our families and our communities. I wanted to see this country have a Government that worked for ordinary people again. And I desperately wanted it to occur without the kind of partisan rancor that I had seen for the past several years.

Well, after 20 months, I can tell you that we're doing a good job of moving America forward, but we need some help at ending the partisan rancor, and you can't reward it in this election.

Here is why you ought to stick with the direction in which we are going. Two years ago I came here; we had the end of our bus trip here—5,000 miles. And after 5,000 miles, we were running late because there were people on the side of the road at every little crossroads. And a lot of you waited a long time for us to finally show up. There were tens of thousands of people here. And we were all caught up in the excitement of the moment and the promise of a new direction and change for America.

But even with all that optimism, if I had told you 2 years ago that if you elected me President and we got to work up there, within 20 months the following things would happen, you ask yourself, even then, would you have believed? If I had told you that we'd put our economic house in order, $255 billion worth of spending cuts, scores of programs eliminated outright, raising tax rates on only the top 1.2 percent of the income groups, cutting taxes for 10 times as many people, 15 million in working families to keep them above the poverty line so they didn't give up their jobs and sneak into welfare; if I had told you that it would be a Democratic, not a Republican administration that would make 90 percent of the small businesses in this country eligible for a tax cut, that would reduce the Federal bureaucracy to its smallest size since John Kennedy was President and would reduce the deficit 3 years in a row for the first time since Harry Truman was President, you wouldn't have believed it then, but it happened.

If I had told you then that we would expand trade for America's products and services, more in 20 months than had been done in any comparable period for the last 35 years—with NAFTA; with trade with Mexico up 17 percent this year; with the GATT worldwide trade agreement, which will produce between 300,000 and 500,000 jobs for us in the next few years; with new outreaches in Asia and in Latin America; with $35 billion more in high-tech exports eligible to be sold all across the world; with new initiatives to rebuild shipbuilding and aerospace in this country and build a clean car and sell things all across the world—if I had told you we would do that, that we would launch a major defense conversion program and take the technologies of the cold war to create high-wage jobs in a peacetime economy, and if I had told you that those results would produce $4.3 million new jobs, 8 months of manufacturing job increases in a row for the first time in a decade, America rated the most productive country in the world for the first time in 9 years, 88,000 new jobs in Minnesota, the unemployment rate dropping here from 5.1 percent to 3.4 percent, tax cuts for 155,000 working families, 26,000 small businesses, tax increases for less than 23,000 families—if I had told you that, you might not have believed it, but it's so, and it happened.

If I had told you that we would make 200,000 more children eligible to be in Head Start programs, immunize 2 million more kids so that all the children under 2 will be immunized by 1996, that we would have a national education strategy in a bill that set world-class educational standards and promoted grassroots reforms like those pioneered right here in Minnesota, that we would launch a national effort to have apprenticeships everywhere to help young people who don't go to college move into high-wage jobs, that we would reform the college loan program to make 20 million people eligible to refinance their loans with lower fees, longer repayment periods, lower interest rates, you might not have believed it, but it happened.

If I had told you that after 7 years of deadlock we would pass the family and medical leave law to enable people to take a little time off, protecting 845,000 people right here in Minnesota; that after 7 years of deadlock we would have passed the Brady bill; that after 6 years of deadlock we would have passed a crime bill that gave you 100,000 more police, 100,000 more jail cells for violent offenders, "three strikes and you're out," yes to those good prevention programs, a ban on juvenile ownership of handguns, and a ban on assault weapons, you might not have believed it, but it happened.

If I had told you that the national service program I talked so much about would pass the Congress, be the law of the land, provide opportunities for young people all across America to rebuild their communities at home and earn money to go to college as well, 20,000 this year, 100,000 3 years from now, you might not have believed it, but it happened.

If I had told you that around the world we would keep democracy and economic growth as our foremost goal in Russia and we would stop pointing our nuclear weapons at each other; that they would withdraw their troops from Eastern Europe and the Baltics for the first time since World War II; that we would make a new partnership all over Europe with 21 nations to have defense security as one, not being divided; that we would make real headway, dramatic progress on peace in the Middle East, a breakthrough on peace in Northern Ireland, we would be actively involved in conducting the first free and fair and totally multiracial elections in South Africa, you might not have believed it, but it all happened. We are moving this country forward.

And if I had told you we would do that not with a Government that is bigger but one that is smaller, that began with a White House with the biggest work load in decades cutting its own size by 25 percent, a 272,000 reduction in the size of the Federal work force over the next 5 years to finance the crime bill out of savings, taking money from Washington and giving it to you at the community level and reorganizing vast sizes of the Federal Government to cut through redtape and promote reforms—we have given 17 States permission to embark on their own welfare reform programs, numerous States permission to try to find ways to cover all their citizens with health care coverage—if I had told you these things, you might not have believed it, but it happened. That is the record, the truth, and the facts.

Now, yes, to be sure, there is still more to do. We've had $100 million spent against us in the health care battle, and we haven't won that one yet. But we will if we keep fighting. We still have to pass the welfare reform bill next year. We still have to pass the trade legislation, campaign finance reform, lobby reform. We have lots to do. But the issue is, are we going to keep doing it, or are we going to become more partisan, more divisive, and more hot air and less real-people oriented in Washington? That is what this election is all about.

We are making progress. The economy is stronger, the deficit is lower, taxes are fairer, trade is greater, working families and communities are safer and building a new security. We are making real progress on hard problems against intense, organized opposition from the other party and from the special interests. That is the fact.

Now, what is our challenge? Our challenge in this election is that many Americans are still profoundly upset with the political system, profoundly disillusioned, even cynical. And they are in the mood to throw the rascals out without distinguishing who the rascals are. But what are the problems?

Number one, most Americans don't know what I just told you, do they? Most of you didn't know a lot of what I just told you, did you? [Laughter] What's the second problem? A lot of people have not felt these things. Why? The social problems we have, crime, the family breakdown problems, the violence among young people, they've been developing for 30 years. The economic problems we have, static wages for working people and troubles for farmers and people living in rural areas, they've been developing for 20 years. And the bad political policies that we've had, dividing us, the wealthy against the middle class, different races, different religions, all these political and economic and social problems we have, we had those for the last 12 years.

I have just been there 20 months. We are going in the right direction. Do not turn back. Do not turn back.

I went there, I went to Washington with the fondest hope of reaching out to Republicans on all kinds of issues—health care?

[At this point, there was a disturbance in the audience.]

The President. Is there a doctor here?

Audience member. No.

The President. Help. CPR?

Audience member. We have a doctor over here.

The President. We need CPR, though. Who knows CPR? No, wait, wait. Make plenty of room. We okay?

Audience member. Okay.

The President. Give him a hand; he made it up. [Applause] I appreciate his support for the urgency of health care reform, and we're glad to see him up and around. [Laughter]

Let me ask you something. I want you to know this, too. Keep in mind, I came to Washington not as a creature of Washington. I came to Washington with the fondest hope that we would be able to work together across party lines where we had honest agreements, that we would have to give a little and work a little and we'd work things out. Once in a while we did that.

We had the—the debate over NAFTA was an honest debate where most people just voted their conscience for and against. But it's about the only example I can give you. You look at the economic program. I was not there a week in Washington as your President before I was informed by one of the leaders of the other party that there would be no votes for our economic plan, no matter what changes we made.

So, look what they did. When we gave the middle class a fair break on taxes and cut the taxes for those low-income working families and asked the wealthiest Americans to pay their fair share, every Republican in the Congress said no. When we reformed the loans to benefit middle class college students, not just poor kids, middle class kids, every Republican in the Congress said no. When we gave 90 percent of the small businesses in this country an eligibility for a tax cut, all the Republicans said no. When we banned assault weapons, when we put 100,000 police on the street, when we reduced the size of the Federal Government by 270,000 to pay for that crime bill, when we protected victims in that crime bill, when we had a great section on violence against women and children, most of the Republicans voted no. And all the leaders did, and those who didn't were told they were being traitors to the Republican Party.

And when they got up and said that our prevention programs were pork, I just want to remind you that a crime bill with the prevention programs in it passed the Senate about a year ago with the votes of the Republicans 42 to 2 for. When we got close to the election and they saw that their obstructionist tactics and their negative tactics were having a positive impact on them in the poll, the 42 to 2 for changed to 6 to 34 against in the United States Senate. A friend of mine George Mitchell, the Senate Democratic leader, said, "If you took the word ‘no' out of their vocabulary, they would be mute." [Laughter]

Let me tell you something, friends, we do have problems. And we must face them. But the issue is this administration has got a good record. We have kept our commitments. We are going in the right direction. We must see the glass is half full, not half empty.

Yes, we still have to change more of the way Government works. But after years with the Republicans badmouthing Government, we are the ones who have reduced the size of Government, we are the ones who've changed regulations of bureaucracy and slashed it and given more power back to State and local governments; we're the ones that gave the small business people the opportunity to walk into the SBA today and apply for a loan on a one-page form and get an answer in 3 days. Those are the kinds of things that we are doing.

And I just want to say this: If we're going to have the energy to keep solving our problems, we have to have our heads on straight and we have to stay with the policies that work. And when we're making progress, we have to know it and we have to get with it. This election is an opportunity for you to reassert what is best about our country, people pulling together and working together and moving forward. It's an opportunity for you to say, by the people you vote for, people like Ann Wynia, to send a signal to America that look, when the Congress gets together again, we don't care whether you're Republican or Democrat, roll up your sleeves and go to work. Don't say no to the other party, say yes to America. It's time to say yes to America.

This is the greatest country in human history. Every time I leave the borders of America and represent you in another land, I just swell with pride. People would give anything to have the diversity of our economic strength. They would give anything to find the diversity we have in our society. There are counties in America with people from 150 different racial and ethnic groups living in peace, even as people from just 2 or 3 different groups continue to kill each other with abandon in other parts of the world.

And I want you to think about that when you walk out of here. You think about what you can do for a person like Ann and how you want to feel when you see your United States Senator on television coming back from Washington. Do you want one more slogan, one more hot-air rhetoric, one more divisive statement, or do you want to look at somebody you think is imagining what your life is like, imagining how you feel when you put your kids to bed at night, imagining how you feel when you go out to work in the field or at your office the next day? That's really what this is about.

I'm telling you, other people sometimes may have a better fix on us than we do on ourselves. But it is no accident that the South Africans wanted us to spend $35 million and help them conduct their successful elections. It is no accident that the Israelis and the Arabs want us to help them work out a lasting peace in the Middle East. It is no accident that after hundreds of years of fighting, the turbulence in Northern Ireland may be coming to a close, and they want us to be involved.

And let me say this. Even at the most difficult moment of our encounter last week in Haiti, the military leaders looked at the delegation that I sent down there and said, "Well, if the President is determined to do this, and if the United Nations is determined to go forward, then at least we want the Americans in here; we know we can trust them."

That is what we are to the rest of the world. So let us be that to ourselves by voting for people who can bring out the best in us and say yes to America, people like Ann Wynia.

Thank you very much, and God bless you.

NOTE: The President spoke at 2:16 p.m. at the Minneapolis Convention Center.

William J. Clinton, Remarks at a Reception for Senatorial Candidate Ann Wynia in Minneapolis, Minnesota Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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