Remarks at the Time Magazine 75th Anniversary Celebration in New York City
Thank you very much. Thank you Walter, Jerry Levin, and all the people at Time. Tonight Time has paid tribute to the time it not only observed but helped to create, the stunning years your founder, Henry Luce, so unforgettably called the American Century.
To me, one man above all others is the personification of our American Century: Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Now, that choice might have pained Henry Luce—[laughter]—but surely he would not be surprised.
The story of this century we're about to leave is really many stories: the ascendance of science and technology, the rise of big Government and mass media, the movements for equality for women and racial minorities, the dynamic growth and disruptive force of the industrial age. But when our children's children look back, they will see that above all else, the story of the 20th century is the story of the triumph of freedom.
Freedom: the victory of democracy over totalitarianism, of free enterprise over state socialism, of tolerance over bigotry and ignorance. The advance of freedom has made this the American Century, for in this century America has made freedom ring. The embodiment of the triumph, the driving force behind it, was Franklin Delano Roosevelt.
Today, with the happy outcome known to all, it is tempting to look back and say the victory was assured, inevitable. But it wasn't. In the face of the 20th century's greatest crisis, decisively, irrevocably, President Roosevelt committed America to freedom's fight. Because of that commitment and its embrace by every American leader since, today we can say, for the very first time in all of human history, a majority of the world's people live under governments of their own choosing, in freedom.
Winston Churchill said that Franklin Roosevelt's life was one of the commanding events in human history. He was born to privilege, but he understood the aspirations of farmers and factory workers and forgotten Americans. My grandfather came from a little town of about 50 people. He had a fourth grade education. He believed that Franklin Roosevelt was his friend, a man who cared about him and his family and his child's future. Polio put him in a wheelchair, but he lifted our troubled Nation to its feet, and he got us moving again.
He was a patrician who happily addressed the Daughters of the American Revolution as "my fellow immigrants." He was a master politician, a magnificent Commander in Chief. Yes, his life had its fair share of disappointments and failures, but they never broke his spirit or his faith in God or his people. Because he always rose to the occasion, so did we. FDR was guided not by the iron dictates of ideology but by the pragmatism of what he called bold, persistent experimentation. "If one thing doesn't work," he said, "try another thing, but above all, try something." It drove his critics crazy, but it worked.
He brought joy and nobility to public service as he completed the mission of his kinsman Theodore Roosevelt, forging a progressive Government for the industrial age, taming the savage cycle of boom and bust, giving our citizens the economic security and the skills they needed to build the great American middle class.
In our century's struggle for freedom, President Roosevelt won two great victories. By confronting the gravest threat capitalism had ever faced, the Great Depression, he strengthened economic liberty for all time, teaching us that free markets require effective Government, one in which individual initiative and the call of community are not at odds, but instead are woven together in one seamless social fabric.
By confronting and defeating the gravest threat to personal and political liberty the world has ever faced, he forever committed America to the frontlines of the struggle for freedom. He taught us that even the expanses of two great oceans could not shield America from danger or absolve America from responsibility. He taught us that our destiny, forever, is linked to the destiny of the world, that our freedom requires us to support freedom for all others, that humanity's cause must be America's cause.
Now we know what came of Roosevelt and his generation's rendezvous with destiny. What will come of ours? To this generation of the millennium, in President Roosevelt's words, "much has been given and much is asked." When Roosevelt ran for President in 1932, he said new times demand new responses from Government. He saved capitalism from its own excesses, so it could again be a force for progress and freedom. Now we work to modernize Government, saving it from its excess of debt, so that again it is a force for progress and freedom in a new era.
As Roosevelt gave Americans security in the industrial age, now we work to give Americans opportunity in the information age. As Roosevelt asked us to meet the crushing burden of the Depression with bold, persistent experimentation, now we must bring the same attitude to the challenges and unrivaled opportunities of this era to our schools, our streets, our poorest neighborhoods, to the fight against disease, the exploration of space, the preservation of the environment.
As Roosevelt established that security and opportunity for ordinary Americans required our leadership and cooperation with like-minded people throughout the world, now we must commit ourselves to the common struggle against new threats to the security and prosperity of ordinary people everywhere. For even more than in President Roosevelt's time, our prospects are bound to the world's progress. Like FDR, we look around us and see a world that is not yet fully free. The advance of democracy has been steady, but it isn't irreversible.
For our generation, what does freedom mean? Well, at least, the long-delayed achievement of President Roosevelt's dream of a Europe undivided, democratic, and at peace for the first time in history. What does freedom from fear mean? Well, at least, freedom for our children from the worry of nuclear, chemical, or biological weapons. What does freedom from fear or freedom from want mean? Well, at least, for the world, a fair chance for people in every land to develop their minds, find reward in honest labor, and raise their children in peace according to the dictates of their conscience.
America must work to secure this kind of freedom with our allies and friends whenever possible, alone if absolutely necessary. We work today through the United Nations, which FDR helped to create and which he named. I salute Secretary-General Kofi Annan tonight for what he has done. Bearing an unequivocal message from the international community, backed by the credible threat of force, the Secretary-General obtained Iraq's commitment to honor United Nations resolutions on weapons inspection. Now the Security Council clearly and unanimously has supported the agreement. Iraq must match its words and its deeds, its commitment with compliance.
In the tradition of FDR, America and its partners must make sure that happens. And in the tradition of FDR, America must support the United Nations and other institutions for global security and prosperity, and that means we ought to pay our fair share.
In the darkest hours of the Second World War, Franklin Roosevelt proclaimed, "We have faith that future generations will know that here in the middle of the 20th century, there came a time when men of good will found a way to unite and produce and fight to destroy the forces of ignorance and intolerance and slavery and war."
More than any other 20th century American, Franklin Roosevelt fulfilled the mandate of America's Founders. When everything was on the line, he pledged our lives, our fortunes, our sacred honor to the preservation of liberty, the pursuit of happiness, the creation of a more perfect Union. The next century is now barely 700 days away. It will be many things new: a time of stunning leaps of science; a century of dizzying technology; a digital century; an era in which the very face of our Nation will change.
Yet in all the newness, what is required of us still is to follow President Roosevelt's lead, to strengthen the bonds of our Union, widen the circle of opportunity, and deepen the reach of freedom. That is the tribute we ought to pay to him. God willing, we will. And if we do, we will make the 21st century the next American Century, and a Happy Warrior will be smiling down on us.
Thank you, and God bless you.
NOTE: The President spoke at 10:59 p.m. at Radio City Music Hall. In his remarks, he referred to Walter Isaacson, managing editor, Time magazine; and Gerald Levin, chief executive officer, Time/Warner.
William J. Clinton, Remarks at the Time Magazine 75th Anniversary Celebration in New York City Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/225690