Bill Clinton photo

Remarks at the Louisiana Economic Development Brunch

February 09, 1996

The President. Thank you so much. Senator don't have to run for reelection, that you said Johnston, I appreciate that, especially since you such a nice thing. [Laughter] Senator Johnston, Senator Breaux, Congressman Hayes, Chairman Livingston—that's a nice tie for you. You're going to change your whole image up here. [Laughter] Thank you. Lieutenant Governor Blanco, ladies and gentlemen.

John Breaux told me I should come to this event. He said, "This is the largest number of people in my State that you will ever see at one time when they're all in a good humor." [Laughter]

I'm really going to miss Bennett Johnston in the Senate. I always find it so helpful to have him there in getting my budgets passed. All I had to do was give 40 percent of all the discretionary money to Louisiana and—[laughter]—things went right through. It was easy.

The person in this audience that I really envy today is Buddy Leach. I'm a President; he's a king. [Laughter] I have to run for office; he doesn't have to get elected anymore. [Laughter] I have to persuade; everybody has to agree with him. [Laughter] Do you want to switch jobs? [Laughter]

Let me say to all of you—I want to, first of all, just kind of take my hat off to the State of Louisiana for coming up here and doing this event every year and for the level of cooperation that you have throughout your State in trying to develop your economy. I know we've got people here from all over the State, from all the communities, and I really think it's a good thing to do.

I guess if I had to say the thing that surprised me most about becoming President when I was elected, as compared with being Governor of your neighbor to the north, it is that the atmosphere is much more partisan than I expected it to be and that the way we were presented to the rest of the country was even more partisan than we are, the way that the story sort of spins out across the country. And I went home after I'd been President about 4 months, and we were sitting around with a bunch of my friends, and I said, "Shoot, if all I knew about me was what I saw on the evening news, I wouldn't be for me either." [Laughter]

And we have tried to sort of move away from that. Mr. Livingston and I tried. We played golf one day, and the course was so hard it took us 6 hours to finish the round. But by the end of it, I completely lost any sense of partisan difference.

I want to say to you that yesterday we did something here that, to me, is the embodiment of what we ought to be doing as we look toward the future. I signed the telecommunications bill into law yesterday, a bill that was passed almost unanimously with overwhelming bipartisan support, the first significant reform of our communications laws in over six decades.

Everyone concedes that it will create tens of thousands of high-wage jobs, perhaps hundreds of thousands of high-wage jobs for America; that it will give vast new opportunities to ordinary citizens for communications, for information, for learning, and for entertainment. It also embodies some of our most sacred values. The Congress required that all new television sets, after a couple of years, carry with it a V-chip so that parents will have more control over the content of the programs that their children watch, so you can get more information, but you can also filter it out for a change. And we're using technology not just to rush society ahead but to give basic fundamental control back to citizens and families.

And it was all done not only in a bipartisan fashion, but taking all these incredibly powerful and diverse interests—and they are powerful and very diverse—that have a stake in how this thing is going to unfold and somehow reconciling them.

And I just—I want to applaud the Congress for what they did and the way they did it and the way they worked with me, and it is the way we ought to conduct our business, especially now—especially now, because when times are changing profoundly—and make no mistake about it, my fellow Americans, times are changing now as profoundly as they have in this country in a hundred years. The time through which we are living is most nearly parallel, in my belief, to the time in our history a hundred years ago when we moved from being a rural, agricultural country to an urban, industrial country.

Now we're moving into an economy dominated by information and technology and dominated by global markets and a global village in which urbanization will still be important because people will want to live next to each other and work together but where people, no matter where they live, will be able to do almost any kind of work within a fairly short time, face to face with others, through the communications revolution. And whenever you have a change of time like that, there is a great uprooting, so that a whole lot of people do terrifically well and other people are dislocated. And if you're not careful, the society, its values, its institutions, get dislocated. It's very important to see everything we do up here in that context.

What are the fundamental changes we're going through? First of all, the nature of work itself is changing; there is more mind and less muscle in work. You go in any new factory in Louisiana, it wouldn't be surprising to see a woman on the factory floor working a computer, doing work that 10 years ago was done by 10 big, burly people. Even in manufacturing you see more and more work being done by fewer and fewer people—more mind, less muscle.

What else is going on? The work organizations are changing. They're flatter, they're less bureaucratic, you don't need as many people in middle management passing information up and orders down. That's very good, unless you're one of the middle managers that isn't needed anymore. I want to say more about that in a minute. So that in every year—for 15 years now, in every year the Fortune 500 has reduced its total employment in America—every year.

For the last 3 years, in every year we have set a new record in the number of new small businesses being formed. In the last year jobs created by businesses owned by women only created more jobs than the Fortune 500 laid off. So there is a change in the nature of work organizations.

And finally, there is a change in the nature of our markets, both our financial markets where money can move across the globe in a split second, and we sell goods and services in the global market, which you in Louisiana know very well because of the large size of your port at New Orleans and because of the nature of your economic base there. And all that means that there are a lot of good things happening but a lot of dislocation. And that's how we need to see what our work is up here.

Our job up here now is to create opportunities for all Americans to benefit in this economy, to give people the tools they need to make the most of their own lives and to work together to pull this country together instead of seeing it split apart, which means that the truth is that the nature of the challenges facing America today call on us to reach a new consensus, but the easy thing is, since we're all divided anyway because all this stuff is up in the air, the easy thing is to do the wrong thing, which is to find new ways to divide the American people for short-term political advantage. It may be good politics, but it's bad for the country, especially now.

And I want to say a word—I want to thank, again, Senator Johnston; he's leaving, and I'm going to miss him. But I also want to thank my good friend Senator Breaux for trying to fashion this kind of consensus in the Congress as we deal with this budget issue.

This country needs to balance the budget. We need a balanced budget plan. It would be good for the country for two reasons: It would give us a sense of discipline up here. You would have a sense that we're getting our house in order. We're moving away from the 1980's, which is the first time in our history we ever ran a large, persistent, permanent structural deficit. We've cut the deficit in half in 3 years. We need to finish the job. We also need to do it because it will keep the economic recovery going. It will inspire consumer confidence. It will lower interest rates. It will increase investment. We need to do this.

The good news is, we have identified in common to the President's plan, the Republican majority's congressional plan, and all of the various Democratic options that have been offered— we have now in common over $700 billion in budget savings over the next 7 years, more than enough to balance the budget and continue our commitments to our parents, to our children, to those with disabilities, to our environment, to our investments in education. And we should do it. I believe we will do it. I believe we will do it.

When Mr. Livingston was good enough to go to Bosnia with me a few weeks ago, we were talking about it, and I believe there will be—this is not the conventional wisdom at the moment, but I predict to you that there will be a coming together in the Congress and in the White House, and that we will do this. It is the right thing to do for America, and I hope you will support it.

And I think you have to ask yourself, well, then what? You still have to come up here every year; you still have to keep working to develop Louisiana's economy. How are we going to open the opportunities of this new age to all of our people? How are we going to bring the American people together around our basic values? How are we going to continue to lead the world as a source of peace and freedom?

Let me just mention—if you look at where we are, to try to illustrate the general points I made, this country in the last 3 years has produced almost 8 million new jobs, a record number of new small businesses. You know, there's been a huge increase in the stock market, more than a third; it's way over 5,000 now. We've got a 15-year high in homeownership, a 27-year low in the combined rates of unemployment and inflation, as Mickey Kantor told you earlier, an all-time high in American trade. For those of us from farming States, we've got $7 soybeans, wheat is over $5, and corn is through the roof, and we think that's pretty good. And a lot of it is bad weather, but an awful lot of it is we're selling it all over the world. This is a good thing.

Now, if I had told you 3 years ago these things could happen and more than half the American people still wouldn't get a raise, you'd have a hard time believing that. But that's true; that's the other side of this change. With low inflation, high productivity, intense competition, and a lot of people not well-positioned for a world where the changing nature of work and the changing nature of work organizations is creating winners and losers, we've got to worry about those folks.

Then you've got a lot of people who are my age—I got a letter just the other day from a guy I grew up with who finally got another job after 9 months of looking—50-year-old white male, engineer, fixing to send three kids to college, and he lost a job with a Fortune 500 company because all of a sudden he wasn't needed anymore. Their stock price went up, but his life stock went down. So we have to worry about that.

And if you look at our social problems, the news is good. The crime rate is going down. The welfare, the food stamps, the poverty rate, the teen pregnancy rate, even the divorce rate, they've all gone down for the last 2 years. American people are getting their act together. That's the good news. The bad news is, they're still way too high.

And they will be—if you just take crime for an example, they will be too high until—the test for you—there will never be a time when there's no crime and violence. The test for you should be, the crime rate will be low enough when crime is the exception rather than the rule in your community again. When people are surprised when something bad happens, then the crime rate is about as low as it can get. And that ought to be your test. And until it is the exception and not the rule again, we should keep working on it.

So if you look at it in that context, I believe there are seven things that we ought to be working on, not the Federal Government, we together. One is the most important job in this country is still to raise good children and support families. That's what we did with the Family and Medical Leave Act. That's what I hope we will do with any tax relief we give coming out of this budget battle. That's what I thought we were doing when we required the V-chip in the telecommunications bill, so parents can choose for themselves what their children are exposed to. We should be supporting good childhoods and stronger families.

The second thing we should be doing is recognizing that in a world where work is more mind and less muscle, you have got to have more education, and it's got to be better. And we all have to work on it. That's why I am doing my part to see that the Federal Government is a partner in making sure that by the end of this decade every classroom and every library in America is hooked up to the Internet with good computer equipment and good software, skilled teachers, the kind of things we need to really make this work.

The third thing we have to do is to deal with this economic insecurity. If we're going to have work organizations changing, if people aren't going to be able to rely on the company the way they used to be able to, what do people need to be secure without wrecking the dynamism of this economy, whether it's in Louisiana or Seattle, Washington, or New York City? What do they need? How can we give families security without wrecking the dynamism?

Well, people have to have access to lifetime education and training. They have to have at least access to affordable health care. If the decision has been made that we will continue to be the only country in the world with a rich economy that can't figure out how to give every family under 65 health insurance, at least we ought to be smart enough to figure out how to give every family access to affordable health insurance that they don't lose.

And there is a bill in the United States Senate right now with 45 cosponsors that's been passed out of its committee unanimously, sponsored by Senator Kassebaum of Kansas and Senator Kennedy, which would basically say you won't lose your job—you won't lose your health insurance if you change jobs or if somebody in your family gets sick. Now, that may seem elemental, but millions of people lose their health insurance arising out of those two conditions. And I hope very much that the Senate will pass it and send it on to the House. It is a good thing. The national chamber of commerce, the National Association of Manufacturers have endorsed it. It has broad bipartisan and broad-based economic support.

The third thing we've got to do is to figure out what to do about people who don't have pensions anymore. One of the most important things that all sides have agreed to in this budget debate is a minor provision which would make it much easier for small-business people and self-employed people to take out pension plans for themselves and their employees. It doesn't cost a lot of money. It was one of the top three priorities of the White House Conference on Small Business, and we ought to do that. So we have to find a way to give people more economic security. We'll do our part, but you have to do yours. We've got to keep the economy growing in order for these other things to make sense.

The next thing we have to do, as I said, is to continue the fight against crime and violence, drugs and gangs. I am proud of the fact that the crime rate has gone down. In my hometown of Little Rock, we had the biggest drop in years and years last year. New York had the lowest crime they've had in years and the biggest drop they've had in 25 years in crime. New Orleans had a 20 percent drop in the murder rate last year, in the first 6 months of '95. I haven't seen the last 6 months' statistics yet. But you see this going everywhere. We know what works. We know that if you put more community police and they work with their neighbors and you put them on the street and they're walking the blocks and they know the school kids, we know you can do something about that.

Last weekend I was in Manchester, New Hampshire, where the chief of police and a beat policeman stood there with community leaders and said, "We have taken our neighborhoods back. The crime rate is down. The drugs are gone. The gangs are gone. People can safely walk the streets at night. The police know the names of the children in the schoolyard. This is our town again." That is the song I want to hear every American singing. And they said they were able to do it because the United States Government and the crime bill of 1994 gave them more police officers and the resources they need to do that. We didn't tell them how to do it, but we said, "Here is a national problem, and we're going to help you." That's the sort of thing we need to do.

And in Louisiana and Arkansas, let me say, the next big challenge we have is we have got to continue to fight these environmental battles in a way that grows the economy. There is this idea still abroad in the land that we have to accept some environmental degradation in order to grow the economy. That cannot be the case. If you look—one of the major news magazines had a big cover story a couple of weeks ago saying that this horrible winter we've just gone through, which has paralyzed one-third of our economy for nearly 2 weeks, was the direct result of global warming. Last year was the hottest year on record ever. This is not some conspiracy. Guys won the Nobel Prize for proving how it is working.

I met with the—in the interest of Senator Johnston, I met—he cares a lot about our relationship with China—I met with the President of China in New York a few months ago, and we were talking about our differences. And I said, "You think that I'm really worried about your politics?" I said, "You know what the biggest threat to our security is that you present?" I said, "You got 1.2 billion people, and you all want your folks to be as rich as Americans, and so do I. But if you get rich in the same way we do and every one of you drives a car, you're going to burn up the atmosphere. You won't be able to breathe, and that's a threat to our common security." And he laughed, and he said, "You might be right." That's why we're working with Detroit to get a clean car, because I think it's important.

So I say to all of you, we can find ways to nurture the chemical industry, nurture the energy industry, nurture these industries in a way that creates more economic opportunity by figuring out how to use energy in a way that is good for the environment.

Let me say two other things very briefly, and some of you will agree with this, at least on the trade message, but one of my biggest challenges as President is convincing the American people that all these changes we're going through require us to be more involved with the rest of the world, not less. And now that I've been here awhile, and we've been able to do some things in foreign policy, and people see that there are no Russian missiles pointed at our children for the first time since the dawn of the nuclear age, and we've got continued progress on that front and others, I get the feeling sometimes when I make a decision like Bosnia, the American people say something like, "Well, okay, that's your job. We hired you to make it. I wish you wouldn't fool with it, but if you're going to do it, we'll let you do it. But we're not very interested in that." Let me just say to all of you, if you could see this from my perspective, you would see that all the things we hope to gain from trade, for example, would be impossible if we were to withdraw from the world in other ways.

Let me just give you a few examples. We know that our safest big market for the future is everything south of New Orleans, is in Latin America. There will be a billion people there soon. It's the second fastest growing area of the world, next to Asia. Every nation but one is governed by an elected—democratically elected leader. Now, if we want them to buy our products and we want to have good relationships with them and we want them to try to help us stop the drug problem, we have to be a good neighbor.

You know that we have arrested in the last 2 years seven of the eight top leaders of the Cali drug cartel in Colombia. That's something we can be proud of, but I didn't have to put my life on the line to do it. The people in Colombia that helped us, they risked their lives to do it. You can't tell them to do that and don't put drugs in the veins of America's kids and not be a good partner. You can't do it.

We can't ask Pakistan and other countries to go arrest suspected terrorists when people come into this country and blow up buildings and kill innocent Americans—and I want to put them in jail—if we're not willing to be good partners with them in other ways and be engaged with them and help them to realize their dreams.

A lot of people thought that this Haiti thing was something we shouldn't be involved in. I heard a lot of people say that. Well, 2 days ago they had the first democratic transfer of power in the 193-year history of Haiti, and there are no illegal immigrants, full of boats, besieging the shores of the United States, because we were involved.

So I say to you, this matters. If you want the Europeans, which will soon be the biggest economy in the world collectively, if they all unify, to open their doors to our products more instead of become more protectionist, which is a big deal for farmers and a big deal for hightech telecommunications people, then we must be prepared to be their partners in places like Bosnia.

So I ask you to go home and talk to your friends and neighbors about this. If we're going to have all-time high trade figures, if you want 4 or 5 more years where exports grow faster than imports, the United States cannot walk away from the fact that we are the only superpower in the world and people look to us to be leaders for peace and freedom.

The last thing I want to say is, we have big decisions to make about what kind of Government we're going to have in Washington. What are we supposed to do? What are you supposed to do in Louisiana? What should be done in the private sector? And I just want you to know that from my perspective, that the old debates are no good anymore. This is not about big Government and small Government. This Government here in Washington—you're sitting in the Commerce Department at a time when your Federal Government is the smallest it's been since 1965. Next year, it will be—by the end of this year, it will be the smallest it's been since 1962, and it's going to get smaller still. Two hundred and five fewer thousand—205,000 fewer people work here than they did the day I showed up. The big Government issue is not there.

It's not a question about Government versus the marketplace. We needed a Government action, the Telecommunications Act of 1996, to unleash the power of the marketplace. The issue is whether we're going to do this together.

Now we're trying to give you better Government here, not just smaller but better. The SBA has doubled its loans and cut its budget. Last year—I'm really proud of this—in Forbes or Fortune, one of those business magazines—depending on the outcome of these primaries, I'll have to figure out which one—[laughter]—but anyway, one of those business magazines gives awards every year to the best performance by a business organization in a lot of categories, and one of them is telephone service to consumers. And this year, the nominees were Federal Express, Southwest Airlines, L.L. Bean, pretty distinguished group. Do you know who won? The Social Security Administration—not by a Government determination, by a business magazine. I'm proud of that.

So we're trying to give you that. But let me just say, you have to decide, because you will determine the tenor of this election and more importantly, you will determine where we're going in the future, whether you believe what works to bring you here when you all get together and work together is what should work in the country. This is not big Government versus small Government anymore. It is not the Government versus the private sector anymore. This is about whether we are going to work together to solve our problems or whether we are going to continue to treat politics like a sport which makes the people more and more cynical and more and more divided. Those are luxuries we cannot afford.

The best days of this country are still ahead of us if we are willing to meet our challenges and if we're willing to meet them together. We are going through a period of great change which will give us the greatest age of possibility the American children have ever known. But we have to do it. And if we do our job up here in the way that you are doing your job where you live by working together, this country is going to be in great shape for the future.

Thank you very much.

Senator J. Bennett Johnston. We want to make the President an honorary Louisianian so he can properly celebrate Mardi Gras, so I'm going to give him my beads which I wear every day. [Laughter]

The President. When I am no longer President—and I have been making this little list of all of all the things I wanted to do in my life I never got around to doing, and if God leaves me healthy and I can do it—when I'm taking time off of paying my legal bills—[laughter]—I've got this list of things I want to do. And one of the things I want to do is go to the Mardi Gras and play my saxophone with a group like that. If I live long enough, I'll wear these beads.

Thank you. Thank you.

NOTE: The President spoke at 12:10 p.m. in the auditorium at the Department of Commerce. In his remarks, he referred to Lt. Gov. Kathleen Blanco of Louisiana and Claude (Buddy) Leach, king of Washington Mardi Gras.

William J. Clinton, Remarks at the Louisiana Economic Development Brunch Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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