Bill Clinton photo

Remarks to the Democratic Business Council in Chicago

December 03, 1997

Thank you very much. Lew, that was so nice I felt almost like it was a eulogy. [Laughter] I started to say, I'm not done yet; I'm not done yet.

I want to thank Lew and Susan for their role in this tonight. And thank you, Phil, and thanks to all of the people here at this table and all the rest of you who helped to put together this wonderfully successful evening for our party.

Lew and Susan, we go back a long time in this, and I can't help but—just listening to them reminisce, I'd like to say something I said when Gary LaPaille and I were down at the other event with Senator Moseley-Braun and Senator Durbin, and I don't know if Congressmen Davis and Rush are here, but they were with us at the other event.

I'll never forget the first conversation I had with Al Gore after I became a candidate for President. Now, this was when I was the fifthbest known candidate in New Hampshire. [Laughter] And only my mother really thought I had a chance to win. [Laughter] And I was over in Tennessee with my friend, the then-Governor of Tennessee, Ned Ray McWherter, who is a marvelous old-fashioned political leader and was a great Governor. And he wanted to get me and Al Gore together. And Al had run for President in '88 and decided not to run in '92. And so we were sitting alone in this room.

And he said, "You know what happened to me? I did real well in the South on Super Tuesday, but," he said, "I didn't do so well after that." He said, "What's your theory about how you're going to become the nominee of the Democratic Party?" And I looked at him and I gave him a one-word answer. I said, "Illinois." And he said, "Why?" And I said, "Well, because of Hillary, because southern Illinois is south of Richmond and looks just like north Arkansas." [Laughter] "And I've been there, and it feels just like north Arkansas." [Laughter] And I said, "And besides that, half the people who live in Chicago are from Arkansas"—[laughter]—"Danny Davis, John Stroger, John Johnson—need I go on—Scottie Pippen, yeah." [Laughter] I'm not sure he was in the picture in the same way there as he is now. [Laughter]

But anyway—and, you know, I came here in October of '91 and spoke. Gary hosted the chairs of the Democratic Party, and I spoke. And then we went to Navy Pier and announced that David Wilhelm was going to be my campaign manager. And then I just kept getting people from Chicago in my operation—Kevin O'Keefe, Rahm Emanuel, Laura and Bridget Hartigan, Minyon Moore—there's a lot of other people—Avis LaVelle; Dave and Deegee both worked for me; Bill Daley's now the Secretary of Commerce.

And of course, when Chicago turned out for Hillary's 50th birthday the other day, it almost made it bearable for her. [Laughter] No one here will ever know what it meant to her, what was done.

But I want to say, before I get into anything substantive at all, you will never know, none of you can ever know, what knowing that Illinois would always be there for us has meant to us, to Al Gore and to Hillary and to me, in two Presidential campaigns and the administrations and the times when we were down as well as when we were up, and how it changed the entire landscape of electoral politics of the last several years, knowing that it would always be there. I cannot thank you enough.

I also want to say a special word of thanks to Gary LaPaille as he ends 8 years as head of the Democratic Party here. That's a hard job. I can't imagine anybody doing that job for 8 years; that's what people say to me. [Laughter] If I weren't term-limited, I'd probably run again. [Laughter] But Gary's done a great job, and I thank him for what he's done and also for his leadership as the head of all the State party chairs in the country.

I want to thank Steve Grossman, who spoke so beautifully here earlier, for his leadership. This was—he was not exactly buying high when he agreed to become chairman of the Democratic Party in America, and he's done a superb job. And his friend and our good friend Alan Solomont, for being our finance director. And I want to thank Senator Durbin for many things, but especially—all of you know this, but I want to reiterate it—I hope and believe that next year, even though it's an election year, we will pass legislation which will embody the best parts of that settlement in the tobacco case and do some other things which will go beyond what the settlement does to dramatically reduce the exposure of young children to tobacco, which is still our number one public health problem. And if we are successful in that, it will be in no small measure due to the year-in and yearout, dogged determination of Dick Durbin. And I really appreciate that.

I'd also like to say a special word, put in a special plug for Carol Moseley-Braun. I expect to be back here campaigning for her on several occasions in this next year. But I could say many things, but I'd like to ask you to think of three things when you think of this election—two in the past and one in the future—that are very important.

One is, all the good fortune that has come to our administration because the American people are better off than they were 5 years ago had at its root the announcement we made after the election and before I took office that we were going to dramatically reduce the deficit. We were not going—America had quadrupled the debt in 12 years. We were choking on debt. Interest rates were too high. Investment was to low. The economy was stagnant. And we were going to turn it around.

And when we presented a plan to do it, we could not get a single person from the other party to vote for it. They said it was going to be a terrible thing for the economy; it would bring on a recession. We passed the bill by one vote in both Houses. If it hadn't been for Carol Moseley-Braun's vote, I don't think we'd have the lowest unemployment rate in 24 years and 13 1/2 million new jobs. And I hope you'll all remember that.

Lew mentioned the crime issue. Maybe it was because I was out there living in the country and not in Washington; I never knew crime was a Republican issue. [Laughter] I never knew a policeman who asked a victim of a crime for their party I.D. before they filled out a report. I was unaware of this until I got to Washington, and I realized that talk too often supplemented for action, and if you talked long enough, you got credit for something whether you did anything or not.

What we did was to try to give the American people a crime bill that was written, in effect, by police officers, prosecutors, and community leaders that worked with kids to try to keep them out of trouble in the first place and that was based on the experiences that I'd seen in places that, even before I became President, where the crime rate was already going down because of community policing and a better distribution in the number of police officers and more work at prevention.

So we came up with this crime bill. We were afraid we couldn't pass it because there was a bitter Republican filibuster in the Senate, and we didn't have a vote to spare. When the Republicans filibuster, you have to get 60 votes. And thank goodness there were enough brave Republican Senators to give us one more vote than we needed. But if we hadn't had the Democrats we had, including Carol Moseley-Braun, I don't think we'd have the lowest crime rate this country has had in 24 years. And that's something that I think is worth remembering.

At some point, you know, we all have to take responsibility when we're wrong. And I've made some mistakes, and I've tried to assume responsibility for them—you take the consequences. But when someone is right, it ought to be noticed. On those two great issues, which had a great deal to do with shaping where America is today, Carol Moseley-Braun was not only right, her vote was decisive. And the people of Illinois should remember and reward, I believe, at election time.

The third thing I'd like to say is about the future. Carol was the first Member of Congress who came to me and said that she thought we ought to reconsider the historic reluctance of the Federal Government to support any sort of capital expenditures for our public schools, any kind of fiscal expenditures. There is a good reason for that. We only provide about 7 percent of the total funding for our schools in America. Most of it comes from State and local level, and so most of the building has been done from local funds. Most States don't contribute to school buildings either. Most States just do it locally.

But she made a case, and I looked into it. And I discovered, for example, in the city of Philadelphia the average school building is 65 years old. And in many of our cities the percentage of people living in the city and paying taxes in the school district, with children, has gone down dramatically so that the tax base, the effective tax base for maintaining these physical facilities has shrunk.

I was in a little town called Jupiter, Florida, the other day where I counted—I believe there were 12—12 trailers full of kids in classrooms, supplemental classrooms on the outside of the school building, because of the growth of the student population.

Now, I want to say a little more about Chicago's reforms in a moment, but it was because of that that I made a proposal to Congress, which did not pass last time, but I think we still have to keep working on this, because if you want these schools to work right, they don't have to be modern—they can be old buildings— but the windows don't need to be broken, and the kids don't need to be in danger. And they at least need to be clean and fixed up and shiny and adequate so that you send a message to our children that they matter, that they're important, that they're not some second-rate ancillary concern to us. So I think there's quite a good chance that we'll be able to do something to support local efforts on school construction in a way that also furthers school reform. And I want to say a little more about that in a minute.

But you just remember, when that comes up on the national screen—today I was in Akron, as Steve Grossman said, at our first big national townhall meeting on race relations and building one America for the 21st century. Three of the people—of the 65 people in the audience brought it up to me and said, "I wish you would do something to help get our broken-down or overcrowded schools in a position where they can do the job for the kids without regard to their race." Carol Moseley-Braun made that a national issue for the first time in the history of the Republic. And she deserves a lot of credit for it, and we ought to keep fighting to make our schools better. And I hope the people of Illinois will back her up in this coming year on that issue, because it's very important. And I thank her for it.

Now, let me go back to the beginning of this. Six years ago, when I came to Illinois for the first time, I was convinced that our country had its best days in front of it if, but only if, we actually tried to prepare for the future. I did not think we could simply stumble into the 21st century. Nor did I think we could get very far by denying the significant challenges we faced.

By 1992, it had been nearly 20 years since the bottom 60 percent of the work force had had an increase in their real wages, because of global competition and because of the premium that had been put on higher skills in the global economy and the growth of technology. Unemployment was high, growth was low, interest rates were high. And like I said, we had quadrupled the debt. Crime was going up every year. The welfare rolls were rising. And most people didn't think that this country worked very well anymore.

I believed very strongly that if we had new ideas and we implemented them with discipline, we could turn the country around, not because I would be President—because the President is only one actor in a very big system—but because this country has enormous capacity to solve any problem before it if the people make up their mind to go in the right direction and actually do it.

So I took to the people a new direction. And we said it was a new Democratic approach not because we were running from the Democratic Party's values in history but because at every time when there's change, you have to change your approach to be relevant to the times. You can't stick with an approach that no longer works. So what we said was we want new ideas and old-fashioned values, opportunity for everybody, responsibility from everybody, a community that includes everybody in America. We want a different kind of Government. We don't pretend that the Government can solve all the problems, but we don't think it should sit on the sidelines. We think we ought to have a Government that's primary focus is to create the conditions and give people the tools to solve their own problems and build strong careers, strong families, and strong communities. And that's what we've done.

Five years later there are 300,000 people fewer working for the Federal Government. It's the smallest it was—your Federal Government today is the same size it was when John Kennedy was President. And this is a much bigger country.

The percentage of the economy being taken by the Federal Government is smaller than it was 5 years ago. Of all the advanced economies in the world, the percentage of our wealth that goes to taxes at the State, national, and local level is lower than every other one except Japan; we're about even with Japan. And yet, we have still been able to invest more in things that are critical to our future, like education and environmental technology and cleanup and medical research and the expansion of health care coverage, things that bring us together and make us all stronger.

And the consequence of that is that we've not only reduced the debt by 92 percent—the deficit—by 92 percent before the balanced budget law triggered in, because of the 1993 vote, but we're now going to balance the budget and at the same time have the biggest increased investment in health care for kids since '65, in public schools since '65, and in helping people go to college since 1945, since the GI bill.

We are seeing the crime rate drop to a 24year low, and the biggest drop in welfare rolls in history—3.8 million fewer people on welfare than when I took office—with a program that is tough in the sense that it requires able-bodied people to go to work, but compassionate for children because it guarantees medical care and nutrition for the kids and child care for the mothers if they go to work. So you don't ask people to choose between their children and their jobs.

And if I might say, I think that's one of the largest questions still facing the United States. Even upper income people I know who have school-aged kids, almost every one of them can cite one example in the last few weeks when they felt torn between their obligations to their children and their obligations at work. And I think one of the single achievements the Democratic Party should make to 21st century America is helping to reconcile the conflict between work and family so that people who do work do not feel that they have to sacrifice being good parents to do it.

What does that mean? That's what the family and medical leave law was about. When we doubled the earned-income tax credit—I'll tell you what that means; nobody knows what this is, the earned-income tax credit—it means that if you make less than $30,000 a year and you have one or two children, you get a lower income tax as a result. It's worth about $1,000 a family, over and above the children's tax credit and the other cuts that we've done in taxes.

We raised the minimum wage because of it; we increased child support collection by 50 percent; we reformed the adoption laws and gave a tax credit for people who would adopt children—all trying to strengthen families and help people balance the demands of work and family. And then Hillary and I sponsored the first White House conference ever on child care, and we're looking at what our options are within the budget limitations to try to expand the availability of affordable, quality, safe child care to working families. Because I think that the most important job any of us will ever have—and I guess I'm more mindful of that now because our daughter just went off to college and I don't sense it every day like I used to—but raising kids is the most important work of any society, ever. In all history, it's always the same. There is nothing more important.

So we cannot ask our people to choose between success in the emerging economy and success at home. What we have to do is to find a way for us to achieve both. And that's something that we have to keep working on, but I'm proud of the progress we've made.

I'm proud of the fact that the environment is cleaner than it was; the air is cleaner; the water is cleaner; there are fewer toxic waste dumps; and the food supply is safer than it was 5 years ago. Do we still have new challenges? We do. But we proved that those who said we should break down environmental regulations and weaken our commitment to a clean environment so we could grow the economy— I think we have proved conclusively that they were wrong and that our idea is right, that you can protect the environment and grow the economy, and we need to keep on doing it.

And as you look to the future, that means, among other things, taking on the challenge of global warming and climate change. The Vice President is going to Kyoto, Japan, to present our position there, and it's somewhat controversial now because a lot of people believe that there is no way to reduce our amount of greenhouse gas emissions caused primarily from burning coal and oil without hurting the economy. I do not believe that. I think the evidence is all to the contrary. And we're determined to find a way to continue to clean the environment while growing the economy.

Let me just remind you that in the last few years we have taken the chlorofluorocarbons out of the air—the spray, the stuff that's in the spray cans—to stop the thinning of the ozone layer. Everybody said it was going to be a big problem for our economy. It all happened while we were having this unprecedented boom. We have dramatically reduced sulfur dioxide emissions primarily from powerplants. We were told it was going to cost a fortune and take forever. We're now running 40 percent ahead of schedule at less than half the predicted cost, in the midst of this economic boom, cleaning up our air, because we did it in a way that supported business, supported free markets, gave people the incentives to do the right thing, but said in the end we've got to give our children a cleaner environment. We still have—there are lots of cities in this country where asthma is the number one public health problem for young children because of air pollution. So we're doing the right things, and we need to keep on doing it.

In health care, we need to find ways to continue to expand health coverage, and without sacrificing quality in the name of controlling costs. Our side has embraced a health care bill of rights that has been endorsed by health care providers, by medical professionals not in the business end of it, by significant portions of the business and labor community. We may have a big argument about it between the parties next year, but I think the Democratic Party should be on the side of quality health care as well as affordable health care. And I think that's what people want us to do. I know that's what Susan wants me to do. She was almost clapping there. [Laughter]

So these are things that I want you to think about. There are honest differences. I regret sometimes that all the political stories seem to be about, you know—Lew made some remark about the fundraising—you have to understand, when you contribute to a party, if that party advances things that you believe in and there is a difference, especially if there is a difference between your party's position and the other one, you are doing something that is not only all right, it is a good thing because if you don't, then your side won't be heard.

And there is a direct line that will run from this dinner tonight to the actions that we will take and the fights we will be able to make to defend what we do when we try to raise school standards in every city in the country, like you're trying to do here in Chicago; when we try to get every school system to do what you say here, more homework, more parental involvement, more responsibility, more accountability, no more social promotion. The kinds of things you're doing here ought to be done everywhere in America. We believe that. That's part of our policy. We've got to have somebody sticking up for us and giving us the wherewithal to get that message out there. That's what you're doing. And you ought to be proud of that and feel good about it.

Today at this townhall meeting on race, the one substantive announcement I made was that we were going to create 25 to 30 education opportunity zones to give 25 to 30 other communities—to give a chance to do what Chicago's trying to do, to put accountability and high standards and high expectations and real, effective commitment to excellence into the schools. This is important.

And the last thing I'll say is this. One of the reasons that I'm very proud to be a Democrat is we still believe that we don't have a person to waste; we believe that people that don't have as many material resources as we do are as good as we are in the eyes of God and that we need them to develop to the fullest of their abilities. And we want everybody to be part of our American future. That's what we want, and that's what that townhall meeting in Akron was all about.

I'll just leave you with that thought. A lot of Americans have thought about what the 21st century will be like in terms of, oh, biomedical research in 30 years. A lot of Americans have thought about what's going to happen in terms of the communications technology in 30 years. A lot of Americans have thought about will there be relatively more people riding on airplanes or more people doing video conferences transatlantic when all the telephones have video screens. But what we have not thought enough about is what's it going to be like when there's no majority race in America in 50 years? It will happen within the decade in California, our biggest State, where 13 percent of the people live. How are we going to continue to prove that, no matter what happens in Bosnia or Northern Ireland or the Middle East or all these places where we're trying to help them make progress toward peace, that we're going to stay on the side of reconciling ourselves to one another across our racial and religious and ethnic differences so that we will be richer by it?

How are we going to prove that we understand that the ethnic diversity that you see in Cook County is our meal ticket to the 21st century, and we are not going to let old-fashioned hatreds and newfound fears get in the way of that? I want our party—I want this to be a nonpartisan issue, but I want our party to be in the forefront of getting the American people to solve this problem community by community as well as the national level.

So these are the things that we have stood for. I don't think there's any question that America is better off than it was 5 years ago. I don't think there's any question that I could not have done this if it hadn't been for the Democratic Members of the Congress and the voices in the mayors' offices and the Governorships around the country who stuck up for what we were trying to do. I could not have done this alone. We did this together. It is an achievement of our party.

Do we have some differences of opinion? We sure do. We still have a big difference over trade, and I think I'm right, and I think that the people that think that we don't have to expand trade are not right. On the other hand, I believe that one of the things that all Democrats believe that is right is that no country has yet solved the problem—no rich country— of how do you get the benefits of the global economy, trade, technology, and investment, and still help the people that will get displaced from the global economy in an adequate and rapid way, so that they can immediately return to the winner's circle. No country has solved that problem.

And I think you should see the debate within our party on trade in those terms. That is the positive way to see it, because all of us care about that. And I believe we'll get it worked out in a way that will enable us to continue to expand the frontiers of trade and prove that we can do a better job of returning hardworking Americans to the winner's circle.

Apart from that, I think we're completely at one on things that really have made a difference to America. So you go home tonight, and you think about that. You think about that: the lowest unemployment rate in 24 years; the lowest crime rate in 24 years; the biggest drop in welfare in history; the family leave law; dramatic overhaul of the adoption laws; a dramatic overhaul of the food and drug law so we can move drugs into the workplace more quickly and people can get cures for terrible problems. The kinds of things we're doing will change the future of America for the better.

And I want you to stay with us. I want you to stay with Carol Moseley-Braun. I want you to stay with your other candidates here in Illinois. But most of all, I want you to stay with the notion that you have the right and the responsibility to support those things that reflect what you believe are right for America. And because you and people like you all over this country have done it, we're in better shape than we were 5 years ago. And when we go into the 21st century and I ride off into the sunset, we'll be in better shape still.

Thank you, and God bless you.

NOTE: The President spoke at 9:40 p.m. at Lino's Restaurant. In his remarks, he referred to Lewis Manilow, who introduced the President, and his wife, Susan, cochairs of the dinner; Phil Stefani, owner of the restaurant; Steve Grossman, national chair, and Alan D. Solomont, national finance chair, Democratic National Committee; John Stroger, president, Cook County board of commissioners; John H. Johnson, chief executive officer, Johnson Publishing Co.; NBA Chicago Bulls player Scottie Pippen; David Wilhelm, former chair, Democratic National Committee, and his wife, Deegee; and Laura Hartigan, former finance director, Clinton/Gore '96, and her sister Bridget.

William J. Clinton, Remarks to the Democratic Business Council in Chicago Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

Filed Under




Simple Search of Our Archives