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Remarks at a Unity '98 Dinner

October 27, 1998

Thank you very much. Thank you so much. First of all, I'd like to join all those who have spoken in thanking the Cafaros for opening their wonderful alternative home to us—their non-Ohio home. [Laughter] This is a beautiful place. And I've already had a fascinating, if limited, tour. And I thank them for that and for their great friendship and support. I think it's been wonderful.

I also want to thank Steve Grossman for his heroic efforts these last couple of years to get our party out of debt and then to make our contribution to this congressional campaign and to the Governors races and the other things we've got going around the country, all of which look remarkably positive. And I can't say enough in appreciation of Senator Torricelli and Congresswoman Pelosi in the work they've done with Steve in this Unity campaign. They have been tireless, and they have seen to it that I would be tireless, even when I was tired. [Laughter] And I'm very grateful to them.

Let me say to all of you, normally when I go out to speak somewhere, I get these little cards that my staff does. You know, it says J.J. Cafaro, Janet, Renee, Capri, Senator Torricelli, Representative Pelosi, all the people who are going to be here. And then they—and everybody knows I don't pay any attention to them. [Laughter] But for the last several days, after we went through that marathon at the Wye Plantation in which, for several nights in a row, I came home at 2 or 3 o'clock in the morning, and then on the last day I was up for 39 hours straight, something I never did in college, when I had a much stronger constitution—[laughter]—my staff and my wife started saying, "Read the cards. You haven't had any sleep. We're so afraid you're going to go to one of these events and mess up. Read the cards." [Laughter]

And so I went to California; Nancy and I had a great weekend in California for Senator Boxer. And I sort of didn't read the cards. And then I still haven't had any sleep, and so if I get nervous and grab the cards, you'll know what happened. [Laughter]

Let me—I'll be very brief. I am very grateful to have had the chance to spend those 8 days plus in the search for peace in the Middle East. There are a lot of you who have been particularly involved in that subject for a long time, and I would only say to you that it was an extraordinary experience. I think some of the tough, even grueling aspects of the negotiations based on the reports I've seen were, on occasion, exaggerated in terms of the conflicts but not in terms of the intensity and the effort. I mean, nobody slept for a week. I finally told— so by the end, my strategy was to be the last person standing. [Laughter] And I thought if I were the last person standing, we would eventually get a peace agreement.

But I have a great deal of admiration for Prime Minister Netanyahu and for Chairman Arafat. And all of us should know that just as we're always happy when the United States or the President can help bring peace, whether it's in the Middle East or in Ireland, it's important to remember that no matter how essential our role may seem to be, in the end we don't have to bear the consequences. They have to bear the consequences.

And there are consequences to both these leaders, but in particular, the political opposition that Prime Minister Netanyahu has been getting in Israel—even though about three-quarters of the people support it, critical chunks of his political constituency don't. There's a lot of intensity there. And I would just tell you that I am determined to do whatever I can to support them both, to help them implement the commitments they have made. And I hope that all Americans will feel the same way. This is a terribly important thing. Our future can be very different if there is no prospect of war in the Middle East. It can be very different, indeed.

That brings me to the next point I want to make, which is that I'm very grateful, in addition to that, that since I've seen most of you last, we passed a budget which had the decided imprint of this administration and our party in Congress. For 8 months we couldn't force the majority in Congress to do anything because they had more votes than we did. We could stop them from doing things we thought were wrong. But then the time came when there had to be a budget, or they couldn't go home and campaign.

And so because of people like Senator Torricelli and Congresswoman Pelosi, because they hung tough, because we were committed we got 100,000 new teachers and smaller class sizes in the early grades, we got after-school programs for children; we got a huge increase in scientific and medical research; we got a massive commitment to our clean water initiative; and we were able to kill most of the anti-environmental efforts of the congressional majority. There were a lot of good things that happened there.

But we have a lot to do. And I think the most important thing you need to know, from my point of view, is the reason I feel good about where we are in this election is not simply that our country is doing well, but that a clear majority of the American people know we can't afford to sit on our laurels. And we have an agenda.

We don't want to spend this surplus until we reform Social Security and secure it for the 21st century. There will be plenty of time, if there's any left over, to figure out what to do about it then. We know we can't have 100,000 teachers unless they have classrooms. I see Mr. Feinhold from Florida here; you know, I went to a grade school in a small town in Florida that had 12 housetrailers out back. So it's all very well for us to hire these teachers, but if they don't have classrooms, they won't be able to teach. And that's a big part of our initiative. And I can't say how strongly I feel that 70something percent of the American people support us and not the members of the opposition party on the question of whether we should have a Patients' Bill of Rights that guarantees that medical decisions be made by doctors, not accountants. Those are just three of the issues.

Your contributing here tonight gives us a chance, even though we'll be badly outspent this last week—and I mean badly, breathtakingly in some cases—to get our message out and our voters out. We have good candidates; they're fighting good fights. We're doing much better than anybody thought they would be doing. But we have got to be able to be heard and to tell the American people this is not an ordinary election; this is not an ordinary time. These issues are clear cut; there is a clear difference. And if they understand that, we know that by huge margins they favor our position. All of that you have made possible, and for that I am very, very grateful.

Thank you very much.

NOTE: The President spoke at approximately 8:20 p.m. at a private residence. In his remarks, he referred to dinner hosts J.J. and Janet Cafaro and their daughters, Renee and Capri; Steve Grossman, national chair, Democratic National Committee; Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu of Israel; and Chairman Yasser Arafat of the Palestinian Authority.

William J. Clinton, Remarks at a Unity '98 Dinner Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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