Bill Clinton photo

Remarks at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

October 29, 1996

The President. Thank you very much. Thank you, Philadelphia. Can you hear us in the back? Beyond the fence? Thank you. Thank you for being here today. Thank you, Congressman Chaka Fattah, for your eloquent introduction. What's all that music? [Laughter] Whoever turned it off, give them a hand. That's great. There are a few thousand people out there beyond the fence. Can you hear us back there? Welcome. We're glad to see you.

Thank you, Congressman Chaka Fattah, for your leadership. Thank you, Mayor Rendell, for your outstanding leadership of Philadelphia. It's amazing what you've accomplished for all of America, as you said in your introduction. [Laughter] Congressman Borski, Congressman Foglietta. And I'd like to introduce a person that I hope will be joining them in the United States Congress to fight for you and your future, Joe Hoeffel, a congressional candidate, very near here. Thank you, sir. Thank you, president of the Philadelphia City Council John Street. Thank you, my good friends Grover Washington, Patti LaBelle, Boyz 2 Men. Weren't they great?

Thank you, Rodney Peete, for what you said and what you do, and we all wish you well in your recovery. He's in a line of work where he even takes more blows than I do, and he's doing very well. [Laughter] And thank you, Holly, for being here. Thank you, Dr. Papadakis, and thank you, Dr. Judith Roden. Thank you, Chairman Brady, and thank you, Catherine Baker Knowles. And I understand that there are students here from 21 different colleges and universities throughout the Delaware Valley, thank you, all of you, for coming here today.

Thank you, Secretary Riley, for being here with me and for being, I believe, the most outstanding Secretary of Education in the history of that department.

Ladies and gentlemen, we're about to elect the last President of the 20th century, the first President of the 21st century. You have a lot at stake in that election. I wanted to come here today where there would be so many young people to ask you to think about your tomorrows. I ask you to go home tonight and before you go to bed, to spend just a few moments asking yourself a simple question: What do I want my country to be like when we cross that bridge into the 21st century? What do I hope my country will be like when my children are my age?

Here we are in Philadelphia, the birthplace of American democracy. When our forefathers gathered here to lead the way into the 19th century over 200 years ago, they restored to the Earth a form of government called democracy that had been all but forgotten for 2000 years. Since ancient Greece, people had given up on the idea that people could be free, could freely govern themselves, could elect their own leaders and make their own decisions and march into the future as equal children of God. It was a revolutionary idea.

And because they did that, they set in motion a whole chain of circumstances that have brought us all here today. All of us from our different ethnic and racial and religious backgrounds, all of us from our different economic circumstances, all of us from all over this great country and from all over the world, we stand here today freely to debate our opinions and discuss our visions, because they did that. What I want you to understand is that we are about to begin a new century and a new millennium where we are radically changing the way we work and live and relate to each other, where we must find a way to meet our challenges and seize our opportunities while preserving the values that have sustained this country and our families and our lives for over 200 years.

Many of you in this audience today will soon be doing jobs that have not been invented yet; many of you will even be doing work that has not been imagined yet. I want to say a special word of thanks to those who are here who are pushing the frontiers of knowledge, the hundreds of scientists and engineers, including many here in Pennsylvania, who have supported our goals in science and technology. And I want to thank especially one of your own who is here today and was a pioneer of the Internet and one of the cochairs of Scientists and Engineers for Clinton/Gore, Pennsylvania's own David Farber. Thank you for being here today.

If you just think about the Internet, 4 years ago when I took the oath of office as President, about the only people who knew about the Internet were nuclear physicists. Today, my cat has his own home page and own website. [Laughter] I stop and shake hands with schoolchildren; they know not very much about me, but they have been conversing with Socks on the Internet. [Laughter] Before you know it there will be 100 million people on the Internet.

So when we think about this election, I think it's good to cheer and shout, make a lot of noise and get our emotions running, but I also think you ought to take a little time just to ask yourself, "What do I want this country to be like when we cross that bridge to a new century and a new millennium?"

I have always wanted America to go into this new century with the American dream alive and well for everyone responsible enough to work for it. I have always wanted to know that our country would still be the strongest force in the world for peace and freedom and prosperity. And I have always wanted to know that we could beat the tide of history driving so many people apart around the world, and we could say, we love our diversity, we relish our diversity, we're building a stronger American community with all the different people who come here who share our values and believe in our Constitution.

Now you know, 4 years ago when the people of Pennsylvania supported me, you sort of took me on faith. Today you don't have to do that entirely. There is a record. And it is true that we have 10 1/2 million more jobs; that we have the lowest deficit that our country has had, once you adjust for inflation, in 22 years; that our deficit is now the lowest of any advanced country in the world; and that in part because of that, we have lower interest rates, which means lower loan rates for businesses, lower car payment rates and student loan rates and home mortgage rates. That's what gives you 10 1/2 million new jobs and record numbers of new businesses.

We have seen, after years and years and years of decline and stagnation, the typical families' incomes begin to go up substantially again, the biggest drop in childhood poverty in 20 years. We have the largest number of businesses owned by women and minorities in the history of America. We are moving in the right direction to the 21st century.

The welfare rolls have dropped by nearly 2 million. The crime rate has gone down for 4 years in a row and is now at a 10-year low. Ten million Americans just got an increase in their minimum wage. Twenty-five million Americans may be helped by the Kennedy-Kassebaum bill that says you can't lose your health insurance anymore just because you change jobs or somebody in your family has been sick. We've stopped and made it illegal for insurance companies to kick mothers and their newborn babies out of the hospital after 24 hours.

There are fewer chemical pollutants in the air. Our drinking water is safer. Our food standards have been raised. We've cleaned up more toxic waste sites in 3 years than the previous administrations did in 12. The environment is cleaner, and we have fought off the most vigorous assault on environmental protection since we began to protect the environment in 1970. We are moving in the right direction to the 21st century.

We have expanded Head Start, created the national service program, given our schools the tools they need to meet higher standards. We have lowered the cost of college loans and improved the repayment terms so that for 10 million American students today you can pay your college loan back as a percentage of your income and never fear being bankrupted because of the increase in the cost of college. I just signed the biggest increase in the Pell grant program in 20 years, and 200,000 more workstudy positions for college students throughout America. We are moving in the right direction.

But you have to decide. And I want to go through some of the specific issues, but I want you to keep the big issues in mind. The big issues are, what do you believe we have to do together as a people nationally? It's not the Government versus the people; our administration has reduced the size of Government, the number of regulations, the number of programs and privatized more Government operations than the last two administrations combined. That is not what it is. It's whether you believe we'd be better off going into the future with the philosophy of "you're on your own," or whether you think it does take a village to raise our children and invest in our future and move forward into the 21st century. It's whether you believe that it's enough for someone to say to you, "Whatever your station in life, there is the future out there and there is a lot of mountains to climb and valleys to cross and rivers to ford; I hope you make it," or whether you want to build a bridge that's strong enough and wide enough for every one of us to walk across together. That is the question before you.

So will we balance the budget while we protect our investments in education, research, the environment, and our obligations to poor children, to our families in nursing homes, to people with disabilities through Medicare and Medicaid? Or will we adopt a risky tax scheme that will blow a hole in the deficit and require bigger cuts than those I vetoed last year when they shut the Government down? I think I know the answer to that. I think you want to balance the budget, keep the economy growing, and have targeted tax cuts for education and childrearing and health care and buying a first home. Will you help me build that bridge? [Applause]

We have made a beginning on health care reform, but our balanced budget plan will go further. It will help families keep their insurance when they're between jobs for 6 months. It will add another million children to the ranks of insured. It will give free mammograms to women on Medicare. And for the nearly 2 million families struggling to care with a family member with Alzheimer's, we're going to give them some respite care because they're trying to keep their families together. That's what we ought to do. Will you help us build that bridge? [Applause]

We passed the family and medical leave law, which has given 12 million families a chance to take a little time off from work when a baby is born or a family member is sick. Our friends on the other side led the fight against family and medical leave. They said it would hurt the economy. We have 10 1/2 million more jobs and the fastest small business growth in American history; it does not hurt the economy when you help people succeed at home and at work. Parenting is our most important work, and we're better off.

I want to expand family and medical leave to say you can have a little time off without losing your job to go see your children's teacher twice a year and when someone in your family needs to go to the doctor, to take them. And I think when people earn overtime, they ought to have the right to decide whether to take the overtime in cash or time with their family if they're needed at home. Will you help us build that kind of future? [Applause]

The crime rate has gone down for 4 years in a row because we listen to the police in this country and to community activists, because we passed a crime bill that had tougher punishment but also had prevention programs to give our children something to say yes to, is putting 100,000 police on the street and taking guns and drugs and gangs off the street. The Brady bill cost no Pennsylvania hunter a weapon, not a single one. But 60,000 felons, fugitives, and stalkers didn't get handguns to terrorize the people here in Philadelphia as a result of it.

And now we have to go further and finish the job of putting those police on the street. You know, our friends on the other side, they still are trying to undermine our commitment to 100,000 police. It is bringing the crime rate down. I want to keep going until we have 8 years of declining crime and everybody in this country feels safe walking on the street outside their house with their children playing in the park down the street, feels safe in their schools, safe in their homes, safe in their neighborhoods. From the Violence Against Women Act, to the domestic violence prevention program, to the 100,000 police, we are moving in the right direction. Will you help us build that bridge to the 21st century? [Applause]

There are still 10 million children in this country living within 4 miles of a toxic waste dump. I want to close 500 more so we can look every child in the face and say, "Son or daughter, you're going to grow up next to a park, not poison." In America, we know the environment can be enhanced as we grow the economy, and we will never turn back on that commitment. Will you help us build that bridge to the 21st century? [Applause]

We've moved almost 2 million people from welfare to work and signed a new bill that says that people who are able-bodied have to turn their welfare check into a paycheck within 2 years. That sounds good, but passing a law does not change people's lives. I say if you require people to go to work, you had better make sure there is work for them to do. I have a plan to create those jobs, and I want you to help me build that bridge to the 21st century. Will you help us do that? [Applause]

Most of all, my fellow Americans, your vote will decide whether we go forward together in our common quest to give every person in this country, from the smallest children to people way in their later years who need it, the opportunity to learn and to keep on learning for a lifetime and to do so at international standards of excellence.

We have worked hard to improve education, but we must do more. We have to raise standards, define them, expect them, and measure them and hold people accountable. We ought to do more. Forty percent of the 8-year-olds in this country—this is important—40 percent of the 8-year-olds in this country can still not read independently. That's partly because we have so many people coming to our country from other places and their first language isn't English. But they need to learn to read so they can grow and learn and someday show up at the University of Pennsylvania or Drexel and do well. That's when they need to learn.

Now, we have a plan to mobilize 30,000 AmeriCorps volunteers and other trained reading experts to go across the country to generate a million total volunteers to help teach children to read. Of the 200,000 extra work study slots we just got allocated to college students, I want 100,000 of those devoted to young people who say, "Yes, if you will help me go through college, I will be glad to take some of my time to teach a young child to read." Will you help us do that? Will you help us do that? [Applause]

We have to keep going with technology until we hook every school and library in the country up to the Internet, to the information superhighway. I want to do it for free—every classroom and every library. For the first time in history, if we do this, we can know, for the very first time since education began in America, that the students in the poorest inner-city schools, the students in the most remote mountain villages, along with the students in the wealthiest schools and the middle class schools, all of our kids together for the first time ever will have access to the same information in the same way at the same time. We are going to revolutionize learning in America if we do it. Will you help us do that? [Applause]

And finally, we are determined to open the doors of college education to all Americans by passing the HOPE scholarship, and saying, within 4 years we want 2 years of education after high school to be as universal as a high school diploma is today. And we'll help you do it. You can deduct dollar for dollar from your tax bill the cost of a typical community college tuition. Until everybody can go, we'll pay the way. All you have to do is work hard and make your grades, be responsible, and we'll give you the opportunity to build a new life. We want to give every college student, undergraduate or graduate in any form of higher education, a $10,000 tax deduction a year for the cost of any tuition. Will you help us do that? [Applause]

We want to let families all over America save in IRA's for college and withdraw the money without tax penalty for education or homebuying or medical costs, so that we can say we will never tax the money being used for higher education in America because we want everyone to go. I want you to help us achieve that. We can do it with your help. Will you do it? [Applause]

And finally, let me just say this: Look around this great sea of people today. You have people here who come from every continent, from many different racial and ethnic and religious groups. Here we are together as Americans. You have people here with different political opinions. I'm glad some of the opposition showed up today—reminds us we don't have everything.

Audience members. Boo-o-o!

The President. Now, wait a minute. No. Listen. That's what makes America America. If we all agreed, it wouldn't be nearly as interesting as it is, because we're all different.

But you think about the rest of the world— Congressman Fattah mentioned it—but you think about Bosnia, the Middle East, Northern Ireland, Rwanda, Burundi, South Africa; how many places in the world have people been torn apart because folks are driven by their hatreds rather than their hopes, because people define themselves in terms of who they aren't instead of who they are, because political leaders are always looking for a wedge to drive into the stake of the spirit of people instead of looking for ways to bring us together. We have beat that.

In the reaction we had to the terrible tragedy in Oklahoma City, we said, "We don't hate people just because they work for our Government. They're our servants." In the reaction we had to the terrible church burnings, to the desecrations of synagogues and the destruction of Islamic centers, we said, "In America we believe in religious freedom and dignity."

You look around this crowd today—that's the last thing I want to say—we have got to say, "If you believe in the Constitution, the Declaration of Independence, and the Bill of Rights birthed by our Founders here so many years ago, if you are willing to show up tomorrow and do the right thing, being a good student, going to work and doing your best, we don't need to know anything else about you. You're part of our America, part of our future, and you're going to walk across that bridge with us into the 21st century."

Will you be there next week? Will you lead them? [Applause]

Thank you. God bless you. We can do it. Thank you.

NOTE: The President spoke at 2:33 p.m. at Hill Field. In his remarks, he referred to Mayor Edward Rendell of Philadelphia; Joe Hoeffel, candidate for Pennsylvania's 13th Congressional District; entertainers Grover Washington, Patti LaBelle, and Boyz 2 Men; Rodney Peete, NFL Philadelphia Eagles quarterback, and his wife, Holly Robinson Peete; Constantine Papadakis, president, Drexel University; Judith Roden, president, University of Pennsylvania; Bob Brady, chairman, Philadelphia Democratic Party; and Catherine Baker Knowles, Pennsylvania State treasurer.

William J. Clinton, Remarks at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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