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Remarks to the Community in San Bernardino, California

May 20, 1994

Thank you very much. Thank you, Senator Feinstein, for that fine introduction, Senator Boxer, Congressman Brown, and Congressman Lewis. I'm glad to see Supervisor Jerry Eaves; he's already been to see me in Washington. Mayor Minor, it's good to see you. We talked on the phone about law enforcement not very long ago. I was thinking, when I saw Mr. Larson up here talking, he's about a head taller than I am; he could run any airport in the country for me. [Laughter] I kind of like that.

And I also want to thank our Secretary of the Air Force, Sheila Widnall, for being here and for the very poignant remarks that she made about the importance of these military bases to our communities and our life here. I would like to say also a special word of appreciation for the intense efforts that the California delegation has made to bring to bear in the Oval Office the needs of the people of California. I know you thought that Senator Feinstein was being somewhat aggressive here on the public forum. That is nothing compared to what I hear in private. [Laughter] If you've never been worked on by Feinstein and Boxer at one time, just imagine if somebody took a huge fingernail file and applied it to your head. Sooner or later you just say, "All right, whatever you want, take it and run." [Laughter]

I'd like to say a special word of thanks, too, to George Brown for his brilliant leadership in the fields of science and technology, trying to help us to modernize the economy in ways that can only help. And I want to say a particular word of thanks to Jerry Lewis for his work with me on a number of issues and for his kind comments today and for holding out the prospect that we can still bridge some of the awful partisan divide that still paralyzes Washington too often. I thank him for what he said; I especially thank him for what he said about Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis.

This is a very sad day for my wife and for my daughter and for me because, in addition to being a very important figure in our Nation, she was a personal friend of ours. Last summer on our family vacation, we had one of the most wonderful days I ever spent with Jackie and her daughter, Caroline, and her son-in-law and her brother-in-law and a number of members of her family. She was an astonishing woman who I think did a remarkable thing in raising two very fine children in what could have been the destructive public glare of the spotlight.

I'd like to just echo one thing that Jerry said. When President Kennedy was elected, he inspired a whole generation of Americans, I think, without regard to party, with the promise that public life could be a noble and good thing and that together we could make a difference. The country had grown somewhat weary after the burdens of World War II and then the war in Korea, and he said we ought to get moving again; we ought to get the country moving again. And people felt good about it, even when they disagreed about the specifics. The main reason I ran for President is that I thought we ought to get the country moving again and that we ought to pull the country together again.

I'll never forget the day I came to the Inland Empire and played in that big softball game. Some of you might have been there. It wasn't my best softball game, but it was one of my better days. And I left that crowd thinking, "You know, this is America. We are a very diverse country, but we're at our best when we're pulling together." And out here in the real world where people worry about base closures and their kids' education and whether their streets are safe, most of our problems do not have an answer that pulls us hard to the left or the right or calls for a label of party or philosophy. And most of them can only be solved if we air our differences in a civilized and honest and listening way and then pull together and work together.

I was afraid in 1992 that we weren't doing what we needed to do to go into the 21st century. The deficit was going up when it ought to be going down. Unemployment was going up when it ought to be going down. We weren't adequately preparing our workers and our children. We weren't investing in new technologies. We weren't coming to grips with the demands of change. And nothing made it more clear to me than an experience I had as Governor of my own State dealing with a base closing, when a base closed in a part of my State that already had double-digit unemployment before it closed. And they told me that I could have some of this land for a public park but not to put people back to work. They told me that we'd have to come up with all kinds of money if we wanted to convert the base, and the whole area, as I said, had double-digit unemployment before the base closed.

Well, we've tried to change all that. Our economic plan's got the deficit going down and unemployment going down—3 million new jobs in 16 months. We'll have, if the Congress passes this plan—and I believe they will pass this one on a bipartisan basis—for the first time since Harry Truman was President, the deficit will go down for 3 years in a row. And that's something that America can be proud of.

And we came up with this new strategy to try to help people who had won the cold war for us but were losing the aftermath because of base closings deal with that. You've heard a little bit about it today. The announcement of the DFAS center here and in three other places in California is a symbol of that. But I want you to know how it came about. When I became President, I knew that the Defense Department had plans to collapse over 300 very small data processing centers into some smaller number, perhaps as few as 8, perhaps as many as 13. And I said, "Well, what are the economies of this?" And they had basically opened the bidding process, again, inviting communities to put up as much money as they could in facilities and other things to get these things. And it seemed to me that that was wrong, because this was a defense investment after years and years of defense disinvestment in communities all over the country. And I know how a small investment like this can really jumpstart a whole economy and what it can do to the psychology of a community.

So we decided that we would go back and change the DFAS process, not to pick communities—we didn't know who would win and who wouldn't—but to give special consideration to communities that had suffered from base closings. And we also learned that the economies of this were such that we could do 25 and save about as much money as we could if we just did 10 or 12. So we decided that we would do that.

You were the victor in that process, partly because you had the talent and the resources and because you had a base closing. So you didn't have to win a bazaar; all you had to do was to show that you could do the job, you could do a very fine job, and that you had suffered grievously from the base closing process. That, I think, was the right thing to do.

The second thing we did was to change the rules for how we handled these bases. Under the old rule, we could give away bases free, as I said, for new parks but not for new jobs. Under our plan we give planning grants to communities that put together groups like this; we speed up the environmental cleanup; we cut a lot of the redtape, and we focus on creating new jobs.

As you know, about 1,300 acres, if I remember my briefing right, has already been approved here for your new San Bernardino International Airport. There will be a few other acres approved in the course of this year for good public purposes, dealing with parks and education and other problems that you have. And we are working now on the negotiations for the transfer of the land which will permit economic development of all kinds.

The thing I want to say to you is that normally when a politician comes to a place like this, the emphasis is on what we are giving to you. And what we gave to you here was the DFAS center. Now, I'm proud of that, but you got it because you deserve it. You got it because you lost a base and because you have the capacity to do it.

But over the long run—and I predict 10 years from now you all will look back on this and agree with me—as important as that DFAS center is, the far more important thing we have done is to change the rules by which this base is given back to you because that empowers you to create your own future with a resource that rightfully belongs to you. And you should be very proud of that today.

When I leave here, I'm going over to UCLA to speak at their convocation, and I'll try to remember that the most important thing for young people at graduation time is that the speaker be brief. [Laughter] But I'll be thinking about you over there and the spirit of John and Jackie Kennedy and the simple idea that the future is something that none of us can ever take for granted, that we always have to make for ourselves, for our children, and for our grandchildren.

If I could leave that legacy as President, if I could make the American people feel good about embracing the changes that we're confronting, instead of feeling threatened by them, and believe again that by pulling together across all the lines that divide us, we can solve our problems and seize our opportunities, that would be a legacy worth leaving. More important than any specific project, my fellow Americans, we have to believe in our better selves again. We cannot be, we cannot be distracted, divided, diverted, dragged down. This is a time for uplift, for looking to the future, and for pulling together. You have proved that it works. Let us do it for all America.

Thank you, and God bless you.

NOTE: The President spoke at 10:32 a.m. at the San Bernardino International Airport. In his remarks, he referred to Jerry Eaves, county supervisor and chair of the Reuse Project; Swen Larson, president, International Airport Authority, San Bernardino International Airport; and Mayor Tom Minor of San Bernardino.

William J. Clinton, Remarks to the Community in San Bernardino, California Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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