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Remarks at the White House Correspondents' Association Dinner

April 29, 1995

Thank you very much, Ken. To all the members of the White House press who are here; to all the members of the White House staff and the administration who are here and who have to endure this every year with me. [Laughter] Let me say I have had a wonderful time tonight. I kind of hate to come up here; I'd rather listen to Conan talk to that worthless redneck on the screen—[laughter]—for another half an hour.

I identify with Conan O'Brien. Like me, he's a young man who came from obscurity—[laughter]—and chose a sidekick with more inside experience. And despite his many accomplishments, 250 million Americans never get to see him in prime time. [Laughter]

I feel your pain. [Laughter]

Speaking of young people, it was announced tonight, you know, that my Press Secretary, Mike McCurry, and his wife, Debra, just had their third child, Christopher. I want to make another announcement: Before my term is over, Christopher will become the youngest member of the White House Press Office—[laughter]— just barely younger than the rest who work there. [Laughter]

You know, I practiced for this night. I had all this humor and everything, but—and I really believe that you could tell I—I really liked that—whoever that awful person is that played me. [Laughter] I thought it was wonderful.

The Book of Proverbs says, "A happy heart doeth good like medicine, and a broken spirit drieth the bones." And I believe that. But I think you will all understand that—and I hope my wonderful comedy writers will understand— if I take a few moments tonight not to be too funny here at the end because of the tragedy in Oklahoma City, which has captured us all and which still is the focus of our efforts, for understandable reasons tonight, as the rescue workers are still laboring and as the law enforcement officers are still working.

Tonight, as Ken and I were sitting here, and he let me read his latest essay about the heroism of the people in Oklahoma City. And I want to say something personal to all of you. I know that for virtually everybody in the press in this room, this has been a very painful experience for all of you, too, who have covered it, and to have been Americans, to have been parents and children and brothers and sisters, and to have identified with the human tragedy on such a massive scale.

And what I want to do tonight is to tell you that I really appreciate the way this incident has been presented to the American people. I think you have made an extraordinary effort to capture both the horror and the humanity of the situation, to somehow grasp and communicate to your fellow citizens the incredible honor with which so many people have performed in these last difficult days.

Most of you were able, and I think it was difficult, to show commendable restraint in not jumping to any conclusions about who did this terrible thing. And most of you have really done a great deal to help the American people find some renewed strength and energy. And I thank you for that. And I hope in the days ahead you will be able to continue it.

As this story unfolds, I would ask you to continue to return to Oklahoma City, to update our country on how the families who have suffered so much are rebuilding their lives, and to remind us about the countless heroes we have all seen there. The terrible people who did this thing do not deserve to be celebrities, although they will become famous. But the victims and their families and the people who have labored, they don't deserve to be forgotten.

The heroes of this tragedy embody the unbreakable spirit of our Nation. They should always be remembered, the hundreds of rescue workers who defied the rain, the cold, the heartache, and a very real risk to their own lives. People like Rebecca Anderson, a nurse with four children, whose parents still live in my home State, who was hit by a piece of concrete and later died trying to help others. Even in death, she continued to serve the living by giving her heart to save the life of a man from Oklahoma and one of her kidneys to save the life of a woman from New Mexico.

Now, folks, that is the real America. Sometimes all of us forget it a little bit. Sometimes all of us are too bound up in what we are doing. But this country is bound together in a way that the people like those who committed those crimes in Oklahoma can never understand. And I know our Government is not perfect, and I know it makes mistakes. But this is a very free country and a very great country. And a lot of the people who are out there complaining about it today would not even be able to do what they do in the way they do it in most of the other democracies in the world today. And we should never forget it.

I say this tonight not to pour cold water on this wonderful evening and not because I haven't enjoyed it—I think I laughed harder tonight than anybody else here—but because as long as this work is going on, I think I owe it to you to tell you for all of our sometimes conflicting interests, I am really proud of the work the American press corps did in bringing this to the American people. And the work is not over. The understanding is not over.

We have a lot of difficult decisions to make in the weeks and months ahead. As you know, I feel very strongly that the country should adopt stronger measures against terrorism. It will be debated in the Congress. Some of the measures are complex. You will have to explain them to the American people. I ask only that in all of this, you never forget the human dimension that you have so skillfully and heroically brought home to all the people of this country.

We are going to get through this, and when we do, we'll be even stronger. We've been around here now for more than 200 years because almost all the time more than half of us wind up somehow doing the right thing. And we will do the right thing again.

I'd like to close with words written by the wonderful poet W.H. Auden over 50 years ago: "In the deserts of the heart, let the healing fountain start. In the prison of his days, teach the free man how to praise."

We praise America tonight, and we thank you for bringing it home to us in such a powerful way in these last days.

Good night, and God bless you all.

NOTE: The President spoke at 10:47 p.m. at the Washington Hilton. In his remarks, he referred to Ken Walsh, outgoing president, White House Correspondents' Association, and entertainer Conan O'Brien.

William J. Clinton, Remarks at the White House Correspondents' Association Dinner Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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