Bill Clinton photo

Remarks at the Democratic National Committee 50th Birthday Dinner for the President in New York City

August 18, 1996

Let's give Jessye Norman a hand. That was about the best "Happy Birthday" I ever saw. [Applause] I often thought—please sit down— I often thought my birthday might resemble a soap opera, but never a real one. [Laughter] So I am deeply honored that Jessye is here tonight.

Let me say very briefly—I said what I had to say at Radio City—but I want to thank all of you from the bottom of my heart for making this night possible. I thank our hardworking Democratic chairman, Don Fowler, and Marvin Rosen, our finance director, and all the people at DNC. They work so hard.

The chairs of this event, Jay and Maryanne Alex, Noah Dear, Beth Dozoretz, Larry Harris, Susan and Alan Patricof, Stan Shuman, Paul Verrochi, Harvey Weinstein—let's give them all a big hand. They've been great. [Applause]

I want to thank my good friend, the former Governor of Mississippi, Ray Mabus, who put together all the satellite events around the country, 89 of them. Thank you, Ray.

I'd like to thank the distinguished political leaders from New York who are here: former Mayor Dinkins; Congressman Rangel; Congressman Lowey; Senator Lautenberg; the minority leader of the Senate, Senator Martin Conner; and Speaker Shelly Silver; and the New York State Democratic cochairs, Judith Hope and John Sullivan.

I think that there are a lot of other—I want to thank all of the entertainers who are still here, those who performed tonight. You were magnificent. It was a great event at Radio City Music Hall.

In addition to Jessye, there is one very great American artist here who just came in from Europe, could not be here earlier for the performance, but I think is one of the most gifted musicians of my lifetime. Mr. Wynton Marsalis is here. Thank you very much, Wynton, for being here.

Let me say finally that what Vernon said about the birthday present coming on November 5th is not entirely true. This is a deeply personal night for me and a great joy. I know that a lot of you worked very, very hard on this evening. You know who you are; I know who you are. I know what an enormous effort it was, and I don't know where you got some of the home movies and the pictures. If I knew where, the people who gave it to you would be in trouble—[laughter]—but I thought it was fabulous, and I thank you for that.

In terms of the election, I ask you only to remember that we really are going to make a decision which I think is even more important than the one we made in 1992. We have to validate the direction this country is going in. We cannot permit it to be reversed, and we cannot permit people to turn away from the fact that we are in better shape as a nation than we were 4 years ago. The choice is clear about the competing visions for the future, and it's very important for us to build on the progress that has been made, not to sit on it but not to reverse it, either.

And when we go to our convention in Chicago and we're going into this campaign, I want all of you to help me elevate this campaign. I want this to be a campaign in which the American people have an honest, civil discussion with one another about how we ought to go forward into the 21st century. I don't want you to check your passion, I want you to turn it up. I don't want you to decline to say that you disagree with our opponents when you do and why you do, but I do not want it to be personally demeaning or negative.

You know, this is not the world's oldest democracy because every single election has been decided between a saint and a scoundrel; that is not what has happened. Our political system has worked and we're still around here after 220 years because we had a lot of people who loved their country who had different views, and more than half the time the American people, the majority, have made the right decision and kept us moving into the future. And that's how we ought to look at this. We don't have to demean anybody. We don't have to put anybody down. We have to lift the country up, put people together, and move into the future. And I want you to lead that. And I want you to have no amount of overconfidence. I want you to be intense, focused, and committed, because a lot is riding on it.

Finally, let me say—I want to thank a man I've known a long time and I really admire on many, many levels, but tonight we heard his great music and the music of his orchestra. Thank you, Peter Duchin, for what you've done. Thank you. Thank you for being a good Democrat.

And lastly, Vernon, I was sitting there listening to you speak, and you about had me convinced I was a great man. [Laughter] I believe you could talk an owl out of a tree. And I want you to know that we did not ignore your birthday. Even though I was away aching from that—as I called it—that death march of dehydration that I took the press on when we climbed down from Mount Washburn in Wyoming, having been there a day and a half, we were still thinking about you. And I'd like to present you with your own birthday cake since you gave me mine. Where is it? [Laughter] Happy birthday, Vernon. I love you.

Thank you, and God bless you all. Thank you.

NOTE: The President spoke at midnight in the Grand Ballroom at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel. In his remarks, he referred to soprano Jessye Norman; David Dinkins, former New York City mayor; and Vernon E. Jordan, Jr., dinner emcee.These remarks were released by the Office of the Press Secretary on August 19.

William J. Clinton, Remarks at the Democratic National Committee 50th Birthday Dinner for the President in New York City Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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