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Remarks to Students at Portland State University in Portland

June 27, 1995

Thank you very much. First, President Ramaley, thank you for having us here at this wonderful campus. You know, I used to be a college teacher. My wife and I started out our married life teaching at the University of Arkansas in the Ozark Mountains. And I was looking at all of you under these beautiful trees, thinking there are a lot of days when I might like to be back here working for you here. This is a very wonderful place, and I thank you for having us here.

Thank you, Congresswoman Elizabeth Furse, for being here with us today and for your leadership, your vision, and your conscience. I can tell you all you are very, very fortunate to be represented by one of the most truly extraordinary individuals in the United States House of Representatives in Elizabeth Furse.

I want to thank Governor Kitzhaber, and I want to thank Mayor Katz, who I believe is over there—thank you, Vera, you've been great. And Portland has been wonderful to us. I've never had a bad day in Portland, Oregon, and I certainly didn't today. This is wonderful.

And you know, the Vice President really is funny, isn't he? [Laughter] You should have seen him back here when Elizabeth was introducing him and saying how intelligent he was and how energetic he was and how funny he was. And I whispered in his ear right before he came up, I said, "Next thing she's going to say is how pretty you are." [Laughter] But she restrained herself, and he was able to compose himself and give that wonderful speech. Let me say that our Nation has been very lucky because there's no doubt that in the entire history of the Republic, Al Gore is the most effective, influential person ever to be Vice President of the United States.

Let me tell you just for a minute what we were really doing here today at this regional economic conference. We were worried about what Oregon and what the Pacific Northwest will be like for all you young people here in the audience. We were worried about how we can guarantee a future, how we can move into the next century with the American dream alive and well and with the leadership and values of our country secure, in a world that is full of possibility and full of uncertainty.

You know, most of us who are my age and older, we've lived most of our lives and our course is pretty well set. And we have been very, very blessed to grow up in a country and to have the opportunities that America has offered for all the decades since the end of the Second World War.

Now, at the end of the cold war, the dawn of the global economy, the information age, moving into a new century, into a new millennium, we look out at a world that is changing so rapidly, that is full of untold possibilities but also some pretty troubling developments; a world that has left a lot of people feeling robust and secure and hopeful and eager for the future and a world that has left a lot of people feeling at a minimum kind of confused and uncertain and concerned about their future.

If you go back and ask yourself, what is the responsibility of the President and what is the responsibility of the citizenry of the United States, you can do no better than to go back to the documents of our Founders, who believed that we are all created equal and endowed by our Creator with the rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. That means that at any point in history, but particularly at those points of great change, our responsibility is to do what is necessary to help us make the most of our lives. All of us, without regard to race or region or income or background or religion, have the right to make the most of our own lives. That is the challenge that is facing us here today.

And I believe that that challenge requires us, number one, to create more economic opportunity, more jobs, and higher incomes; number two, to give people the tools they need to develop their God-given abilities; number three, to promote the security of the United States at home and abroad; number four, to preserve the natural heritage of the United States that has brought us to this point and that we want to pass on to our children, our grandchildren, and our grandchildren's grandchildren.

And finally, in a world which is increasingly fast-changing and decentralized, it requires those of us in the National Government, to use the Vice President's term, to literally reinvent the way the Government works, to set a course, to pursue the right priorities, but to make sure that people at the grassroots level can make the fundamental decisions affecting their own lives and can look across the table at people who are different from themselves and work out those differences in a spirit of genuine friendship and good citizenship.

These are the thing we have tried to do in the last 2 1/2 years, and these are the things that will take America into the 21st century.

I just want to close by asking you to think about one or two very important issues. We're in a big debate in Washington now, not only about how to balance the budget—that's the good news; most people agree that we should do it—but about the fundamental purposes of Government. There are those who say today that the Government is intrinsically destructive of our way of life and has no role other than national defense, tax cuts, and eliminating whatever you have to to balance the budget as quickly as possible.

There are those of us who beg to differ, who believe that the Government is nothing more than the expression of the American people and that when it works best, its fundamental duty is the duty of partnership, to help people do things together that they cannot do on their own. That is a debate I hope you will side with us on.

There are those who believe, for example, that it's a very nice thing if you can preserve the environment but not worth getting the Government involved. And then there are those of us who believe we have to find the best grassroots way we can to enable the American people to make a decent living for themselves and their children but to do it while preserving the heritage that God has given to Oregon, to the Pacific Northwest, and to our entire country, indeed, to our planet.

There are those who believe that all of our problems are personal and cultural. That is, if we would just get together and get our act together and do what is right and stop messing up, that we wouldn't have any problems in this old world. And there are others who believe that our problems are basically economic and political and the Government has to step in and do something.

Now, if you look at the Scouts, the VISTA, the MESA, all the groups that are here, what do all these groups do? What are all these young people doing? Why does national service work? Because we know at some level, unless people are raised with good values and unless they can take responsibility for themselves and do the right things and make the most of their own lives, there is nothing anyone else can do to give it to them. No one can give you a good life inside. No one can give you good values. No one can give you the discipline to do the right thing and—[applause]—you have to do that for yourself. So we all know that.

Let me tell you, I'm sure that no one would dispute me when I say that all of us have been given things in life that maybe we didn't even deserve. We've all been given a hand up from time to time. No person here today more than me knows that you do not achieve anything completely alone. So it is not either/or. We still need a country that cares about those of us who need a helping hand to do the right thing, who need a helping hand to make the most of their own lives, who need a sense of partnership to get through the difficult times that our country faces.

Now, over the next 3 or 4 months, you will see a lot of the things that we talked about here today debated in your Nation's Capital. And I want you to think about what I have said and what you have felt today. Should we balance the budget? Yes, we should. Why? Because there's a difference in borrowing money to invest in business or to finance your college education or to buy a home, and borrowing money just because you want to go out to dinner at night. We've been borrowing money for both, and we've been so mixed up we couldn't tell the difference for too long. And as a result, we've been too dependent on other countries for funds. We have saved too little. We have invested too little. And we have had lower incomes because we have run ourselves into too much debt.

But there is a right way and a wrong way to balance the budget, because the Government's deficit is not the only problem in this country. There is also an education deficit in this country. There's a safe streets deficit in this country. There's an adequate affordable health care deficit in this country. There's a welfare reform deficit in this country. There are other deficits.

Our proposal to balance the budget says don't cut education because that's important to our future as well. If we want good jobs and higher incomes, we should increase our investment in education, from college loans to Head Start, while we balance the budget.

Our proposal says, of course we can't continue to increase health care expenditures at 2 and 3 times the rate of inflation; we have to slow it down. But be careful because there are a lot of people, the elderly, the disabled, the poorest children in our country, who depend upon Medicare and Medicaid for their medical care, and we dare not put them in a position to have to either give up health care or pay something they can't afford to pay when they don't have enough money to live on in the first place.

And so we say, yes, let's have big cuts in other things; let's balance the budget. But if you balance the budget in 10 years instead of 7, if you cut the size of the tax cuts and target them to middle class people for education and raising children and not just give tax cuts to people like me, who don't really need it, if you do that, you can balance the budget and increase our investment in education, be kind to the people who need health care help, from the smallest children to the disabled to elderly folks who don't have enough to live on, and still bring the American economy back and go into the 21st century with good jobs, higher incomes, and an educated citizenry, including all the little children in this audience today.

You know, we all have preconceptions, and sometimes preconceptions can be bad things. They can be stereotypes about people and places. I always had a preconception abut Oregon that I think has been confirmed by all my trips out here. I always felt that the people of Oregon had an astonishing ability to maintain their idealism and be practical, to be practical and idealistic at the same time. That's why we were pleased to give Oregon permission to get out from under all kinds of Federal rules and regulations, to change its welfare programs to move people to work, to change all kinds of other programs, because we knew this was a State where people had good values and common sense.

And so, I ask all of you join us in the fight to preserve education and balance the budget. Join us in the fight to develop the economy and preserve the environment. Join us in the fight to encourage people to be better citizens and to behave better and to have better values but also to give people who deserve it a helping hand and a hand up. In other words, keep your idealism intact. Bring your common sense to the table. Give power back to communities so that the young people here can have the kind of future, can have the kind of American dream that my generation took for granted.

The 21st century will be the most exciting time in all of human history, especially for the American people, if we can bring to the task today the compassion, the values, and the common sense that I believe is at the heart of what it means to be a citizen of this great State.

Thank you, and God bless you all.

NOTE: The President spoke at 4:10 p.m. in the Courtyard at Portland State University.

William J. Clinton, Remarks to Students at Portland State University in Portland Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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