Bill Clinton photo

Remarks at the United Jewish Fund Luncheon in Los Angeles

April 09, 1995

Thank you very much, Peter, for your very fine introduction. To you and Gloria; to Irwin and Helgar Field; to our good friends Senator Boxer and Congressman Berman and his wife, Janice; Lew and Edie Wasserman; and Barbra Streisand and all the others who have come here to be with us today and mostly to all of you for inviting Hillary and me to share this moment with you, I thank you.

The terrible incident of violence upon the people of Israel, which reached today also to some Americans who were also affected, gives me a way of beginning what I came here to say to you. I offer my condolences and the condolences of the American people to the people of Israel and the Government of Israel as well as to the American citizens and their families who were affected by this attack.

Once more, the enemies of peace have sought to abuse the opportunity peace presents, to kill it, to kill hope, to kill all possibility of a normal life for the people of Israel, for the Palestinians who are struggling to do the right thing there, and for, indeed, people throughout the Middle East who can see a permanent and lasting peace within their grasp.

As we give our sympathies to those who have suffered and died and their families, let us stiffen our resolve to say to those who seek to abuse human life so that they can continue to kill and continue to keep peace from people who want it: You will not succeed. You must not succeed.

I ask you to think today for a few moments about the connection between what you hope will happen in the Middle East—what I have worked for as your President in terms of peace in the Middle East and Northern Ireland and South Africa and Haiti, worked for to reduce the nuclear threat in North Korea and to be able to say that this is the first time since the dawn of the nuclear age when no Russian missiles are pointed at the children of America— what is the connection between all of this and the work you have done here at home? The literally tens of millions of dollars that you have raised for any number of worthy public purposes and the partnerships that you have had with our Government, our National, State, and local governments, serving families, resettling refugees, helping the elderly and the sick, promoting education, and of course, as Mr. Gold said, dealing with the aftermath of the terrible earthquake; even the help you sent to the people of Rwanda and those who were affected by the Kobe earthquake—what is the connection between these two things?

You have a sense of mission and purpose. You know that it is for all of us to make the most of our God-given capacities, but that we can only do it if we work together with some common purpose. I believe that the role of our Government must be as a partner to people like you, people who are willing to give of your time and your money and your heart and soul to try to solve the problems of other people because you think your life will be richer and stronger as well, not—to use your phrase, sir— not because it's a matter of charity but because it's a matter of justice.

I have done what I could to be a good partner, and I thank you for what you said about the earthquake. We worked hard there. And we continue to work hard to make sure that all the consequences of the quake will be overcome and that the future will be bright.

What I want to say to you today is that if you look at the economic problems and the social problems tearing America apart, if you look at the level of violence and gangs and drugs among our children, the number of children who are born out of wedlock, if you look at the problems we have with stagnant incomes, and then you look on the other side of the ledger at the fact that we are creating new businesses at a record rate, we are creating new millionaires at a record rate, our country has the lowest combined rate of unemployment and inflation that we've had in 25 years, you might ask yourself, how can this global economy, how can the end of the cold war, how can the transfer from the industrial age to the information age bring us so much good and leave so many problems in its wake?

If you look at the Middle East, you see that the very act of making peace has made it possible to have more violence. Look at what happened in Gaza. If peace is made and the PLO has a government there and the borders are open and the people are more integrated, then the incomes of the Palestinians go up, prosperity increases, the love of peace deepens. But if the borders are open, then that means there is also a greater possibility for terrorism, violence, murder, and killing the peace.

I want to make this common point. I believe the greatest challenge to civilization at the end of this century, with the globalization of the economy and the revolution of information and technology we're seeing, is that all of the forces of integration, which give us the hope of building people up and having untold dreams fulfilled, seem to be accompanied by seeds of disintegration, which threaten our most basic human decency. And our job as citizens of our country and as human beings is to try to stabilize and shape and humanize those forces so that we can allow all the wonderful things of this new age to lift our people up and, at the same time, beat back the demons that would destroy us.

Now, I could give you a lot of examples of that. The financial crisis in Mexico: We signed NAFTA; everything looked great. The world financial markets are integrated. Money rushes into Mexico. Mexico grows more rapidly than ever could have happened 15 years ago. Errors were made, and instead of a mid-course correction, there is a huge flow of capital out of Mexico. The same speed that brought the country up threatened to bring it down, which is why I moved in to try to stabilize the situation. Overreaction, integration, disintegration.

Japan becomes a great industrial power by developing an incredible ability to fill different little market niches and do specific things, smaller and smaller things with bigger and bigger impacts. And the miniaturization and openness and rapid moving of that society also makes it possible for a religious fanatic to walk into a subway with a little piece of poison gas in a little vial and kill 60 people and hospitalize hundreds more.

Russia throws off the shackles of communism, gets rid of totalitarianism. No more oppression. Free enterprise banks. The first thing you know, the biggest problem is organized crime taking over the banks.

In the Baltics—Hillary and I went to the Baltics, and people were cheering us on, saying the United States got Russian troops out of the Baltics for the first time since before World War II, thank you very much. We had this moving ceremony. Everybody was in tears. We walked into a room to have a private meeting, and the first thing the leader of the country asked me for was an FBI office, because now that they were free they were going to be vulnerable to organized crime and drug transit.

Closer to home, the more free and open we are, the more the free markets can lift us up, the more people who have great skills will be rewarded. That's why education is more important than ever before. But things are happening so fast, people who are willing to work hard but don't know a lot and can't learn a lot or don't have access to learning are going to be far more punished than they have been in the past; which is why, in the last 15 years, you see a dramatic departure from all previous years before World War II, when the middle class is splitting apart. The forces of integration are giving people who can triumph in the information age untold opportunities in America, but there are forces of disintegration for those who don't have them. They're not as obvious and tangible as the disintegration that comes from an earthquake, but they are happening nonetheless.

And you have stepped into the breach. The generosity you have shown by raising this money and working in partnership with public agencies and dealing with all these problems is of more historic importance than at ever before, at least in the latter half of the 20th century. Because we have to find a way to push for peace in the Middle East and not let the forces of disintegration destroy it. We have to find a way to help people overcome the horrible legacy of totalitarianism and build the institutions of freedom and not let them be destroyed by people who abuse freedom.

We have to find a way in this country to lift up all people in the technological and information revolution, which gives us the potential of liberating poor people at a more rapid rate than ever before, without instead creating a huge class of new poor who are working all the time and cannot get ahead. That is what is fueling all the cauldron of feelings around immigration. It's what's fueling all the cauldron of feelings around the affirmative action debate in this State. It is the force of integration running smack dab against the force of economic disintegration.

And because you have a social conscience, because you understand that as a country and as a community we must go up or down together, because you know that our diversity, our freedom, our openness will ensure America's greatness indefinitely if we can solve this problem, you are critical to our future.

Now, in Washington today, we are having an unprecedented debate about what the role of the Government should be in this time. And it is fashionable now, as it once was fashionable to say that there were people in Washington who never met a Government program they didn't like, now you see people who never met one they did like. Where once the problem was people who wanted to spend more money on everything, today the problem is people want to spend less money on everything, who make no distinctions.

We cannot live without a public purpose and institutions to bring us together in public endeavors so that the forces of integration can triumph over the forces of disintegration, so that the people who are lifting us up can prevail.

I believe in the forces of the free market. I have done everything I could to unshackle them from destructive Government interference. I have done everything I could to expand trading opportunities for the American private sector. But the market alone, in a time when the forces of disintegration are powerful, will not solve all of our problems.

And so you must work with us to define the mission of your Government and the level of partnership we will have as we move toward the end of this century and into the next. But as you go home today, I want you to think about it. Think about the terrible burden that the people of Israel bear. The more risks they take for peace, the more at risk they are from openness.

And the same is true of the Palestinians proceeding in good faith. They never had to run a police force before. They never had to turn the lights on before or run the water systems or make the trains run on time, to use the American slogan. They don't have the infrastructure to deal with this. And so their enemies say, "I liked it the other way. I could get plenty of money for making bombs. I could get plenty of ammunition for my uzi. I do not want to live in peace."

And peace requires openness and interchange so that the more risks you take, the more at risk you are because disintegration becomes an option as you try to integrate people and bring them together. In this kind of a world, we must have strong institutions devoted to preserving responsibility, family, work, community, to giving everybody a chance to imagine that their tomorrows can be better than their yesterdays.

Now, we could take every last issue being debated in Washington and every last issue being debated in the global community, and it all comes down to that. And I ask you not to forget that some of the forces who are arguing that we don't need any kind of Government are also arguing that we should withdraw from the United Nations, turn our back on peacekeeping, not be involved in the rest of the world. That would be a disaster for the future of our country and this globe. And we must not do it.

This is not a partisan issue. At the end of this century, at the dawn of the next, we must have public institutions working in partnership with public-spirited citizens to enhance our security, to enhance opportunity, to insist on more responsibility, and to empower people through continuous education to make the most of their own lives and to develop the self-confidence to believe that they can live good lives without hurting other people, that they don't have to define their success in life by someone else's failure. And that is the common element in all destructive behavior.

Why do people blow up buses in Israel? There are people who believe they can only be successful in life if someone else is dying. And in a much more pedestrian way, how many times do we see conflicts within our own borders from people who believe they can only be successful if someone else is failing?

You have believed, always, there was a public interest, there were shared values, there were common goals, we could go up together. That is what America needs now. We need it in thinking about our own problems. We need it in looking out to the world. We need to behave as citizens the way you behave as members of this organization. We need to give, because when we give, we get; because we're better off if we're all doing better. We dare not define our success in life by someone else's failure.

So I say to you, keep doing what you're doing. But when you go home and when you continue this conversation, think about how many examples there are of the point I have made to you today. And think about all the wonderful opportunities the world affords us. I believe America's best days are still ahead. We have only to figure out how to get the benefits of these fantastic new changes without bearing the burdens of the forces of disintegration. It will not happen unless we believe in the public interest, unless we believe in the human ties that bind us, and unless we join hands to work together. That is the wisdom you have to give to the rest of America, and I ask you to do your very best to impart it.

Thank you, and God bless you all.

NOTE: The President spoke at 12:10 p.m. at the Beverly Wilshire Regent. In his remarks, he referred to Peter Gold, 1995 Jewish Federation campaign chairman, and his wife, Gloria; Irwin Field, Jewish Federation president, and his wife, Helgar; Lew Wasserman, chairman and CEO, MCA, Inc., and his wife, Edie; and entertainer Barbra Streisand.

William J. Clinton, Remarks at the United Jewish Fund Luncheon in Los Angeles Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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