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Remarks at the Children's Discovery Center Benefit and Tribute to Governor John Waihee in Honolulu

November 18, 1994

Thank you very much. Governor Waihee, Lynne, Governor-elect Cayetano, Lieutenant Governor-elect Hirono, Senator Akaka, Congressman Abercrombie, Congresswoman Mink, Mayor Harris, Admiral Macke, ladies and gentlemen: I wanted very much to be here tonight, but I was worried when I heard that John was going to be canonized; I thought maybe he was desperately ill or something. [Laughter] Then I realized that you really did just want to do something nice for him and for Lynne and that you were going to do it in a wonderful cause.

This Children's Discovery Center, to me, is a symbol of what is best in our public life: people working in partnership, people working in a positive way, trying to light the flame of an imagination in each child's life and eyes. It is so very different from so much of what dominates our public discussion today, but it is so very like what I will always think of when I think of John Waihee.

He didn't tell you that a couple of years ago when the Democratic Governors had a meeting in Washington and we talked about my running for President, that he—it's true that he thought that I would be elected. It's also true that he and my mother were the only people in America who believed that at the time. [Laughter] And he gave me a—I don't know if he remembers this—he gave me a scarf and a cap to take to New Hampshire because it was so cold up there. Now I may just wear it all the time in Washington. [Laughter]

Once I remember John and I were talking about his ancestry and how he was the first native Hawaiian to be elected Governor, and he was talking to me about King Kamehameha, the enduring power of spirits. We were on a golf course at the time; that's where we usually are when we talk about such important matters. [Laughter] And he said, "It's a very powerful thing, and you need to understand this." So I was listening to him, and I teed off, and I hit the ball a very long way. But unfortunately, at the end of the rough, which was—we were on the Big Island—it was into the lava—[laughter]—and my ball disappeared into the lava. He never breaks a—so help me, this is true—he never missed a beat. He kept talking, he went up, he hit his ball exactly, I mean, exactly in the same place I hit mine, and it bounced into the middle of the fairway. [Laughter] Well, after nearly 2 years in this job, I no longer need John's ancestors to keep me humble. [Laughter] But I often remember it, anyway.

Let me say, if I might, just one other thing, in all seriousness. This country of ours is a very great place. But like all democracies, we sometimes go through wrenching changes that we don't fully understand. And while we're going through them, sometimes we have enormous national debates, even debates within each home in the country, about exactly what we ought to do about the various challenges that we face.

We are going through several big changes at once now as a people. And to me, it is very interesting to see how people deal with it in different places, in different ways. As a nation, we're plainly going through the end of the cold war period and trying to construct a new world of peace and prosperity and freedom. And we're making quite a bit of progress at it, by the way, from the Middle East to the Persian Gulf to Northern Ireland to South Africa to Haiti. For the first time ever, no Russian missiles are pointed at American children, since the dawn of the nuclear age. We're moving in the right direction. But no one can say what they said in the cold war, "Here's the cold war, and there's the enemy; organize your life accordingly."

We're going through real changes in the economy. The average 18-year-old will now change jobs five or six times in a lifetime. Many of these changes will be glorious and wonderful and fascinating. A lady came up to me tonight when I got here and gave me a little CD for me to take home to my daughter, showing— it was a CD about Hawaii, and it was sort of a contribution to the information superhighway that will sometime, not in the very distant future, link all the schoolchildren in American with libraries and other resources all over the world.

But it's also true that there are a lot of problems with this global economy, and our workers are often increasingly insecure, working for years without a wage increase, working longer, worrying in other States, unfortunately, about whether they're going to lose their health care benefits. And so these things are difficult to deal with.

Everybody knows that in America, even though we're in some ways the most old-fashioned country in the world, we have significant problems with breakdowns in our communities and the rise of crime and violence. What we have to ask ourselves, I submit to you, is how we are going to deal with these things as a people. What you have done here—I wish I could have seen the whole film, but I know John Waihee, and I've gotten to know the people of Hawaii. And what impresses me is that when you have a challenge, you try to figure out what to do about it so that people will have a better life and so that people will win, everybody will win; they'll be able to live in a more robust and rich and fulfilling way.

That is what we must do as a nation. We don't need to become divided so that we have some winners and some losers. We don't need to demonize our own Government. It is, after all, the instrument of our own will; it's either good or bad or somewhere in the middle, depending on what we expect it to do and whether it does it. What we really need to do is just simply to face our challenges.

What you have done here in health care is basically what we ought to do everywhere. And I continue to be surprised and somewhat disappointed that Hawaii has done this and improved the business climate, lowered the cost of health care, increased the health of its citizens, but the people who profit greatly from the other sort of health system that the other 49 States have were able to spend a couple of hundred million dollars to convince the American people that when I said we ought to do what Hawaii did, I wanted the Government to take over the health care system. I'm trying to keep the Government from taking over the health care system, but I would like for people who work hard, pay their taxes, obey the law, and raise their kids the best they can not to lose their health care every year. That's what I would like, and I think that's a worthy goal.

You know, another million Americans and working families lost their health insurance last year. We're the only advanced country in the world where there's a smaller percentage of families under the age of 65 without health care today—or with health care today, a smaller percentage with health care today than there were 10 years ago. Why? Because we haven't done in America what Hawaii did or something else to solve the problem.

Well, tonight is a night for John and Lynne and the Children's Discovery project, but what I want to say to you is that this is an example of what America must do. In this period of transition and change, we have to fall back on what has always made us great. And what has always made us great is not moaning or being negative or being divisive or running down people who are different from what we are. What's always made us great is coming together, facing our problems, joining together, and figuring out some practical, hard-headed way to solve problems so that our children would be better off than we are. That is what has made us great, and that is the only thing that will make us great from now on into the future.

And so, I would like to say that all of you probably have a better feel for the enduring legacy of this Governor and his fine wife and their administration that I do in the details. But we worked together closely for 8 years, and I know him very well. And the thing that I want you to know is that I have probably spent more unguarded moments with him than most of you have. And I can tell you that about as much as anybody I've ever known, he is in private the way you see him in public. His values are what he says they are when he speaks. And he gets up every day trying to figure out how he can make something good happen in this State. And I think that this country needs more people like that. If we all got up every day trying to make something good happen, like John Waihee, our future would be assured.

And that, sir, is your legacy. I thank you.

God bless you. God bless all of you, and good luck. Thank you.

NOTE: The President spoke at 7:20 p.m. at the Hilton Hawaiian Village.

William J. Clinton, Remarks at the Children's Discovery Center Benefit and Tribute to Governor John Waihee in Honolulu Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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