Bill Clinton photo

Remarks at the Dedication of California State University at Monterey Bay in Monterey, California

September 04, 1995

Thank you so much. It's a gorgeous day. It's a wonderful reception. I thank you. I can't imagine anybody in America who's having a better time on Labor Day than I am right now, and I thank you.

Senator Boxer and Lieutenant Governor Davis, Congressman Mineta, Secretary West, Chancellor Munitz, President Peter Smith, my longtime friend from the time he was the lieutenant governor of Vermont and I was the Governor of Arkansas. We worked on education together. You've got a good person here; you're very lucky to have him. And my good friend Congressman Sam Farr who has worked like a demon for this project and talks to me about it incessantly. You think I came out here because of Leon, but the truth is I showed up today because I couldn't bear to watch Sam Farr cry if I hadn't come. [Laughter] And let me say to Beatrice, I'm glad your daddy is here. If you were my daughter, I'd have been very proud of you here today. You were great. You were terrific. Thank you. Stand up there. Give him a hand. [Applause] Thank you, sir. Thank you.

I want to thank all the others who made this possible, the other distinguished platform guests. And to Milrose Basco, thank you for singing the national anthem. You were terrific. I thank the Watsonville Community Band, the Bethel Missionary Church Choir, the Western Stage of Hartnell College, El Teatro del Campesino, everyone who kept you occupied and entertained in the beginning. I thank the members of the general assembly who worked hard to make this possible.

You know, I was listening to Leon talk about the time he introduced me in Rome. That's really true, he translated my remarks in Rome. We were in the town square there—thousands and thousands of those handsome, robust Romans were around—Leon and I standing before the cheering crowd. They were chattering away in Italian. The attractive, young mayor of Rome was to my left. I leaned over, and I said, "What are they saying, Mayor?" He said, "Do you really want to know?" [Laughter] I said, "Yes." He said, "They're saying, who's that guy up there with Leon Panetta?" [Laughter] This fall I'm going to take him to Ireland and give him a dose of his own medicine. [Laughter]

We were in there a few moments ago, and I was meeting some of the folks that helped to make this project possible. One lady went through the line and shook my hand, and she said, "Mr. President, follow your heart, and do what Leon tells you to." I want to say if she had told me to do what Sylvia tells me to, I'd come nearer to doing it. [Laughter]

One of the reasons that I felt so strongly— the first time I had a talk with Leon Panetta and I asked him to become head of the Office of Management and Budget, which, in many ways, in a time when we're downsizing the Government and when we have to cut so much and still try to save enough money to invest in things like education, it was really important to me to have someone who not only understood the value of a dollar and how the budget worked but someone I thought had good, basic American values and knew what it would take to build the community of America for the 21st century. That's why I asked Leon Panetta to do that job. And I have to tell you, when you pick somebody you don't know for a position, you don't know real well, it's very difficult to know whether you're making the right decision. You always kind of look for clues, you know. And I'm now old enough and been in enough jobs that I've hired thousands of people to do different things. And I have to tell you, one of the things that made the biggest impression on me, probably because of my own experience, was the partnership that Leon and Sylvia had working for this congressional district over so many years. That's the kind of thing we need more of in our country today, and it made a big impression. And I thank you.

I've got a lot to say today, and you may not remember much of it. If you don't remember anything else, remember this: This country will be the greatest country in the world in the 21st century, just as it has been in the 20th century, if, but only if, we take all the challenges that are before us and approach them in the same way that you approached the challenge that you faced when Fort Ord closed and you made this the 21st campus for the 21st century in California.

We are at a period of historic change, the way we work, the way we live, the way we relate to each other, the way we relate to others beyond our borders, the way we think about our lives, the way we think about the relationship of the economy to the environment, the way we think about the relationship of managers to workers, the way we think about our respective obligations to raise our children well and to succeed in the workplace at the same time. These things are undergoing a profound change, greater than anything we have seen in our country since the beginning of the 20th century when we moved from being primarily an agricultural and rural country into being an industrial and more urban country. We are out of the cold war. We have moved into a global economy. We are transforming our economy, even manufacturing and agriculture, into a more information-based, technology-based economy. Things are changing rapidly. And what we know and what we can learn more than ever before will determine what we can earn and, in some cases, whether we can earn.

This is a period of very, very profound change. And when you face these kind of challenges, it matters not only what particular decisions you make but how you do it. And what has always made America great is, when the chips were down and when we have a lot of challenges, we overlook our differences, we embrace what we have in common, we work together, and we work for tomorrow. That is what I have been trying to say to the American people since the day I announced for President in October '91. This is a new and different time. We've got to work together, and we've got to work for tomorrow.

You know, I just had the profound honor of representing all of you as the President to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the end of World War II. It was moving to me in many ways. But I would ask you to remember what happened to this country. If you look back in history now, you think, well, we couldn't have lost. But in the war in the Pacific, we lost all our early battles, and we had to come back. In the war in Europe, before we got in, Great Britain hardly won a battle for 2 years, and they had to come back. When we began, there were 17 countries in the world with bigger armies than the United States had. And we had to put it all together. It looked so inevitable in the light of history, but it wasn't. It happened because free people beat dictators. People who chose to live together beat empires. People who willfully found common ground and bridged their differences joined hands and moved forward. That's how we did that. And don't you ever forget it. And that's what we have to do now if we want this country to be what we expect it to be in the 21st century.

It's amazing how long it took us after the war to learn the lessons of the war in the peace. We honored our veterans. We gave them the GI bill. They had a chance to go to college, they had a chance to buy a home because we recognized our obligations to each other and to the future. We built the greatest economy the world had ever known in the aftermath of the Second World War. We rebuilt our former enemies, Germany and Japan. We rebuilt our allies in Europe who were devastated. We expanded the benefits of global commerce to Latin America, to Asia, and to other places. We did a good job in that because we worked together and we worked for tomorrow. We won the cold war because we were strong and resolute and because eventually people's hunger for freedom brought down the Iron Curtain, because we worked together and we worked for tomorrow.

Now, if you look at what we have to do today in this period of profound change—I will say again, a period of change as great as we have faced in 100 years—we have to change the whole way our National Government works. It has to be smaller. It has to be less bureaucratic. It has to be more oriented toward results and releasing the energies of people and establishing these kinds of partnerships and less oriented toward just telling people exactly what they have to do.

We have got to balance the Federal budget. You know, I say this to all the people who like Government programs that can promote education, as I do. This country never had a permanent deficit in all of our history until 1981. We had deficits when we needed them. When the economy was slow, we'd spend a little more money and juice it up. Then when the economy got good, we'd balance the budget and clear our debts and go on. Or we'd borrow money when we wanted to invest in something, just the way you borrow money if you start a business or build a home or buy an automobile. But we didn't borrow money just to go out to dinner at night. We weren't borrowing money all the time until 1981. And after having been a country now for 219 years now, almost 219 years, we quadrupled our debt in only 12 years.

That's bad for you and me. Our budget would be balanced today if it weren't for the interest run up in the 12 years before I became President and that we have to pay on that debt. It would be balanced today. And next year, unless we have real luck with the interest rates, next year interest on the debt will exceed the defense budget. Now, that's not good. That's not a good thing. Nobody in this audience, I don't care if you're a Democrat or a Republican or an independent or whatever your politics are, you don't want that little baby that was held up to me in the audience a few moments ago to grow up into a world where everybody pays taxes just to pay interest on the debt. Nobody's got any money to invest in this kind of project a generation from now. So we have to do that.

We have to reassert the values that made this country great, that helped us in the war and afterward. We have to have policies and practices that strengthen our families and our communities and that reward personal responsibility. And above all, we have got to equip our people to meet the challenges of the 21st century. Our parents built America and passed it on to my generation. And we dare not let this time pass without making sure that we have given the next generation a chance to live the American dream.

I will say again, there is nothing we have to do at the national level as a people that we cannot do if we follow the directions that you have laid out here: common sense, common ground, higher ground. Think about what we've got in common. Think about possibilities, not problems. Believe in the future.

Colonel Hank Hendrickson, who was once Fort Ord's commander and is now the vice president of administration for this fine institution, says, and I quote, "On the same ground where we once taught 18-year-old soldiers to fight and survive in a war environment, we are now teaching 18-year-old students to compete and flourish in the global economy." That's what you have done together, and that's what America must do together.

I am proud of the contribution that your National Government could make. I think we owed it to you, with the economic development grants, the environmental cleanup, the help for the displaced workers, the young AmeriCorps volunteers who were working to help people here. I am proud of all that. But that $240 million was an investment in your future, and you earned it. You contributed to our victory in the cold war. Your Nation could not leave you out in the cold. It was the right thing to do. But you made it possible by all the things that you did here.

So I ask everybody who is cynical about America's future to just look around. You want to know what to do, you want to know how we ought to do our business in Washington, how should we decide how to balance the budget, look around. We ought to behave the way you did. You couldn't run a family, a business, a university, a church, a civic organization, you couldn't run anything in this country the way people try to run politics in Washington— [laughter and applause]—where talking is more important than doing. The night's sound bite on the evening news, if you want to be on it, you know you have to have conflict, not cooperation. If you have cooperation, people will go to sleep, and you won't get on the news. You have to exaggerate every difference and make it 10 times bigger than it is. And you have to be willing to sacrifice every good in the moment for the next election. No one could run anything that way.

So we have an obligation now to do what you do, to do what you did here. The large buildings to my left and right were battery headquarters for artillery units. One is the library, the other is a multimedia center. I don't know whether a Republican or a Democrat turned them into that. I just know it's good for the country because you're going to be better educated. That's the way we ought to run the country.

The old airfield will become an airport for business planes. And when people land and give their numbers, they won't have to talk about politics, they'll just be permitted to land and do their business. Not only that, the golf courses are going to be operated for the public.

This is happening throughout California, you know. And Alameda County, where I'm going later, machinists who once welded Bradley fighting vehicles together are now going to be building electric cars for the 21st century. Up in Sacramento, Packard Bell has already hired almost 5,000 people, including 500 jobs they brought back from overseas, to assemble personal computers at a former Army depot. We can do this, folks. It's not complicated; it's just hard. It's hard. It requires a lot of effort, but it's not complicated.

All across America on this Labor Day, our people are beginning to convert from the cold war economy to the new economy of the 21st century. And we are trying to do what we can to help. We brought the deficit down from $290 billion a year when I took office to $160 billion this year. Interest rates are down. Trade and exports are up. Investment in education and technology and research are all up. We've got 7 million new jobs, 2 1/2 million new homeowners, 1 1/2 million new small businesses, a record in this time period.

California lagged behind because California rose so much on the economy of the cold war. So when the cold war was over, you got hurt worse than other States. Then you had to deal with earthquakes and fires and—you know, God just wanted to test you and see how strong you were. Leon's a Catholic; he tells me it's a character-builder. [Laughter] He's advising me on this every day.

But California is coming back. The unemployment rate is down, but much more importantly, people here are building for the long run. That's what this is. This is a decision. This thing we celebrate today is a decision that you made for yourselves, your children, and your grandchildren. It's a decision you made for the 21st century. It's a decision you made by working together to prepare for tomorrow. It's not very complicated. That's what your country needs to do. And that's what I'm determined that we will do.

Now I want to emphasize one of our greatest challenges on this Labor Day when we reward work. One of our greatest challenges is that the global economy works so differently from the economy we've lived in that everybody's work is no longer being rewarded. If you had told me—I thought I understood this economy. I was a Governor for a dozen years. I worked on base closings and defense conversion, everything like that, with committees like the one that made this possible. I thought I really understood this economy. But if you had told me on the day I became President that in 30 months we'd have over 7 million jobs, the stock market would be at 4,700, corporate profits would be at a record high, we'd have 2 1/2 million new homeowners, we'd have the largest number of new small businesses recorded in any 2-year period since the end of World War II, but the median wage would go down one percent, I wouldn't have believed it. And most of you wouldn't either.

But technology is changing so fast, so many jobs are in competition in the global economy, and money can move across national borders like that—and nothing any person in public life can do will stop that—that the working people of this country that are bringing our economy back have not gotten their fair share of our prosperity. And that is our biggest challenge on this Labor Day.

What is the answer? The answer, first of all, is not to close our borders; it's to continue to expand trade because trade-related jobs pay about 20 percent more than jobs that have nothing to do with the global economy. We can't turn away from that. But we have to be for fair as well as free trade. And that's why I'm so proud of the agreement we negotiated with the Japanese over automobiles and auto parts. We want more trade but on terms that are fair to all Americans.

The other thing we have to do is to do more of what you're doing. We must, we must, see that all of our young people finish high school and that everybody, everybody, has access to education after high school. We've got to open the doors of college education to all Americans. Our administration has worked hard to make more affordable college loans available to all the young people in this country. Millions of people now can borrow money to go to college at lower cost on better repayment terms. We have worked hard to try to increase our investment in education from Head Start through college.

I have two proposals now before the Congress in our balanced budget plan that I pray will pass. One would give American middle class people a tax deduction for the cost of all education after high school without regard to the age of the people who get it. The other would collapse about 70 different Government training programs into a big pot of money. And whenever anybody is unemployed or underemployed or on welfare, they could get a voucher worth $2,600 a year to take to the nearest community education institution like this one. Don't go through a program; go to your local institution. That's something we could do to provide a "GI bill" in our time for America's working people. Those two things would lift the incomes of the American people.

I also think we ought to raise the minimum wage. Let me tell you, if we don't raise the minimum wage this year, on January 1st of next year, our minimum wage in terms of what the money will buy will be at a 40-year low. I want a high-wage, high-growth, high-opportunity, not a hard-work, low-wage 21st century. And I think you do, too. And that's what we ought to do.

Now, I believe that the reason wages are stagnant for so many people is that we haven't done enough to educate our people. We haven't done enough to try to raise the incomes of our people. The Government can't do all that, however. The people in the private sector have a responsibility, too. The best American companies are out there today sharing their profits with their workers and making sure that they're well-treated. And all American companies on this Labor Day should be challenged to follow the example of the best American companies. The people of this country are our most important resource.

In the next year or so, all of you are going to have to decide what you think the answer to this wage problem is. There are people who will tell you that the answer to the—the real reason middle class wages are stagnant is that welfare people are taking all your tax money away or that we have too many immigrants or that affirmative action is destroying opportunities for the middle class.

Well, let me tell you, in each of those areas, we have problems. But that's not the real reason for the middle class economic anxieties. We ought to move more people from welfare to work because they'd be better off and their kids would be better off and our country would be stronger. But the welfare rolls are going down as the job rolls go up. It's only 5 percent of our budget. I want desperately to have more welfare reform. I've done more in the last 2 years than was done in the previous 12 years to move people from welfare to work. And I will continue to do that. But if we want to raise wages of middle class people, we have to have good jobs, good educations, and a competitive economic policy.

If you look at the immigration issue, there are problems. We have too many illegal immigrants in the country. We've done what we could to close the borders and to send people back. But you know what? This is a nation of immigrants. Most of us do not have ancestors who were born here. So I've tried to deal with this issue in a responsible way. Former Congresswoman Barbara Jordan of Texas, a great American, headed a commission for us and said, here's how you can relieve the problems of immigration in America and still make us a nation of immigrants.

When I was in Hawaii—let me just tell you one story. When I was in Hawaii for the 50th anniversary of World War II, the commission asked me if I would spend the afternoon playing golf with six veterans of World War II. And I did, and we just sort of lolled around. We didn't even finish the round. We had the best time in the world talking.

Let me tell you, one of those men was a Japanese-American who came to this country on his own as a boy because he dreamed of coming to America. When the war broke out, they put him in an internment camp. He still volunteered to serve his country. By the grace of God, the war ended about 3 days before he would have been on an island fighting against two of his own brothers who were in uniform for Japan. When the bomb was dropped in Japan, it injured his house and his mother, and his youngest brother subsequently died of radiation poisoning.

There's not another country in the world that could tell that story. Why? Because people from all over the world wanted to be part of what is America. And we should never forget that. We'll have times when we can have higher immigration quotas and times when we should have smaller ones because of the economy and how much it takes to absorb people. But we should never, ever, ever permit ourselves to get into a position where we forget that almost everybody here came from somewhere else and that America is a set of ideas and values and convictions that make us strong.

I feel the same way about this affirmative action issue. I have lived with this for 20 years now. And let me tell you, there are problems with the affirmative action programs of the Federal Government. I've already abolished one that I thought was excessive, and I was glad to do it. And we're reforming a lot of them. But let me tell you that we are a better, stronger country because we have made a conscious effort to give people without regard to their race or gender an opportunity to live up to their Godgiven capacities. We are a better, stronger country.

I'm against quotas. I'm against reverse discrimination. I'm against giving anybody unqualified anything they're not qualified for. But I am for making a conscious effort to bring the American people together. If you doubt it, look at our military. We have the best military in the world. Nobody doubts it. It's the most successfully integrated institution in the United States of America, and nobody unqualified gets anything. But there was a conscious effort made to do that. Last year, a quarter of a million new roles were opened to American women in military services, and they're doing every one of them very well. And that's just one example.

So I say to you, let's look at this, let's fix the problems in America, but let's do it with common sense. Let's look for common ground. Let's do it the way you built this great institution. Let's do it in a way that will grow our economy.

So, when we come back to Washington, we've got some tough decisions to make. I've got a plan to balance the budget. The Congress has two different plans in the House and Senate. We have to cut Government spending. I'm all for that. But we ought not to cut education. We ought to increase our investment in education as we balance the budget.

We ought to cut taxes, but we shouldn't cut taxes so much and give such tax cuts to people who don't need them that we have to cut Medicare and Medicaid and hurt our obligations to the elderly people in this country who depend upon them for health care.

We ought to cut the size of Government, and we ought to cut regulation. Let me tell you, we have already reduced the size of your Federal Government by 150,000 people. It will be reduced by 270,000 people if not another law is passed by what's already been done. We have reduced thousands of regulations. We ought to do more of that. But we should not cripple the ability of the American people through their Government to assure safe food, clean air, clean water, and a decent environment, because we all have a stake in that.

I want all of you to follow this very closely. When I go back to Washington and the Congress takes up its business, this will be no ordinary time. For the first time, both parties are committed to balancing the Federal budget. The question is, how will we do it, and what will the priorities be? And that will determine what kind of country we're going to be.

I believe we've got to work together and work for tomorrow. I do not want any more of the politics of partisan polarization. I believe the American people are pretty much like all of you sitting around here today. You are celebrating an incredible achievement that you know is a good, right, decent thing. And you are here as Americans.

Now, there'll be plenty of things for us to disagree on, but at this moment our national security in the 21st century depends upon our agreeing to invest in our people and to grow our economy and to pull our country together as we balance this budget. So the decisions made in the next 60 to 90 days will determine what kind of country we're going to be into the 21st century. And I ask every one of you, without regard to your party or your philosophy, to implore your Representatives to reach for that common higher ground, to work together, and to work for tomorrow.

Just think about it. By Christmas, if we do our job right, we could have passed a balanced budget, provided for that tax deduction for education expenses, overhauled welfare, expanded educational opportunities, strengthened instead of undermined health care security, and put our people on the road to raising their incomes as they work harder.

We can do that. But we've got to do what you did here. We have got to work together, and we've got to work for tomorrow. Wish us well, insist on it, and help us get it done.

Thank you, and God bless you all.

NOTE: The President spoke at 12:02 p.m. at the Campus Center. In his remarks, he referred to Lt. Gov. Gray Davis of California; Chancellor Beatrice Gonzales-Ramirez, student, California Barry Munitz, California State University; and State University at Monterey Bay.

William J. Clinton, Remarks at the Dedication of California State University at Monterey Bay in Monterey, California Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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