THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
REMARKS BY THE PRESIDENT AT DEMOCRATIC NATIONAL COMMITTEE PRESIDENTIAL GALA Lincoln Center For The Performing Arts New York, New York
9:35 P.M. EDT
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you very much. To Bruce and to Lew, and to all of you, I've had a wonderful time tonight. These lights are so bright, I only know half the people I've shaken hands with. It has been a wonderful time.
I want to thank all the people who made this dinner possible, and I want to thank the wonderful entertainment. The choir was terrific. (Applause.) The group doing all the wonderful old songs from Dionne Warwick in the '60s were magnificent. (Applause.)
I was delighted to see Barry Manilow again in such wonderful voice, and grateful for his many contributions to our common efforts. (Applause.) I appreciated Phil Hartman saying he voted for me, but it's not quite enough for all the abuse I've put up with in advance. (Laughter and applause.)
And I want to say to my friend, Whoopi Goldberg: Mayor Dinkins has a telephone call for you over here if you will go over and get it. (Laughter.)
Ladies and gentlemen, all of you who made this night possible -- Lew and Bruce, Bob Rose and the other committee members -- Bob Berry, Bill Bordman, Paul Montrone, George Norcross, Felix Roatan, Ann Shepard, John Sweeney and Steve Swift, thank you all. Thank you, Roy Furman. Thank you, David Wilhelm. (Applause.)
A lot of you were here with me a long time ago. I remember once more than a year ago when I came to New York and there were hundreds people here in a hotel for a fundraiser for me, I was dropping like a rock in New Hampshire. All those experts said I was dead. I hear their call again. (Laughter and applause.)
People who couldn't see the long road and didn't want to think of the fight as something that was bigger than any person were all preoccupied. And I just couldn't believe all these folks were even showing up for a dinner in New York. It was so dark in the campaign, I thought, well, people will go ahead and send their checks and stay home. I imagined going into this vast ballroom and making a speech to eight people.
And I was feeling pretty sorry for myself, frankly. And I told this story many times, but a man stopped me at the hall who was working at the hotel and said that he was a Greek immigrant and he was going to vote for me because his son asked him to -- was only 10 years old. That if I got elected, he wanted me to do something for his son. He said, "Where I come from, we were poor but we were free. Here, I make more money, but my boy's not free. He can't go across the street and play in the park without accompaniment from me. He can't even go to his schools safely without my going with him. And I want you to work to help make my boy free." And it made me remember what politics was all about. I don't even remember what I said that night, but I know all of a sudden I had forgotten about me and started thinking about the rest of America. And I think that is what we ought to think about tonight.
When we talk about a program, it only counts if there are people behind it. New York City, for all of the problems you may think you have, has registered the first decline in the crime rate in 36 years, because you did something about community policing. (Applause.) So we know now that there is a strategy which can make people freer. That's what personal safety is. And there is no excuse for not doing something about it. And that's what politics is about -- focusing on the dreams and hopes and fears and needs of people. Sometimes I think that when we have these wonderful dinners, which are delightful to me -- I've gotten to see some of you that I haven't even seen since the election, just to say a simple thank you to you. Remember, we all did it so that we can make a difference in people's lives.
I want to say a special word of tribute here with all the people from New York and New Jersey and Connecticut, and my friend, Mayor Rendell and others here from Pennsylvania, and even a handful of folks here from my home state. They were the ones who were clapping when Lou Katz gave his Arkansas pander. I appreciate it.
I want to say a special word about one person who is here. I want to congratulate my friend, Jim Florio on winning the John F. Kennedy Profiles in Courage Award -- (applause) -- for facing the financial problems of his state, for facing educational problems of his state and, yes, for being willing to stand up for the police officers and the people of his city and state who wanted to be safe from crime, standing up to the gun lobby and being for safe streets. That's why he got the award. (Applause.) Doing real things, even if they weren't so hot in the polls at the time.
Now, our country is being called upon together to try to do the things that we just talked about in the campaign. Governor Mario Cuomo said again today when he introduced me at the Cooper Union that we campaign in poetry, but we must govern in prose. It's another way of saying, and a more eloquent way of saying it's a lot easier to talk about change than it is to do it.
I was overwhelmed today to have the opportunity to speak on the same spot where Abraham Lincoln spoke at the Cooper Union in 1860. And I went back and read large portions of Mr. Lincoln's speech. He came to the Cooper Union and catapulted himself into the nomination of the Republican Party, into the presidency and into the history and hearts of America. He did it by saying this is a difficult time, we have to ask hard questions and give strong answers. He said that we could not allow slavery to continue to expand; and that if we did, it would destroy the United States. He said in many other places that if the house is divided against itself, it could not stand.
Lincoln went on to become president, and he expanded his vision and he eventually signed the Emancipation Proclamation abolishing slavery. In the White House we have a painting called "Waiting for the Hour," of black slaves watching a clock at five minutes to 12:00 midnight, waiting for the stroke of midnight, January 1st, 1863 for the Emancipation Proclamation to become effective. Several times a week, often late at night, I go alone into the room where Lincoln signed that proclamation, and I remembered what the presidency is really for -- to help the American people move forward. (Applause.)
It is for us now to put this house in order. And the beginning is to stop denying our problems and to accept some common responsibility for solving them. The first thing we have to do is to prove that the government can be trusted with your money by passing a budget that will bring the deficit down. Look what has happened. (Applause.) Look what has happened just since the election because finally the country has an administration trying to do that. Longterm interest rates going down very low -- 20-year low. Billions of dollars, tens of billions being recycled into this economy, giving people the opportunity to make a new start. We have got to do that.
We also have to deal with this health care crisis. You know, so many of you said nice things about Hillary tonight, and I want to say I appreciate it, because about every third day she stops speaking to me because I asked her to run the health care project. (Laughter.) It is the most complex, the most daunting task in our domestic life. But it is also perhaps the most urgent.
If we cannot give working families the security of knowing they're not going to lose their health care, if we can't give businesses the security of knowing that health care doesn't have to go up at two or three times the rate of inflation, if we can't provide coverage to the 35 million Americans which don't have it, if we can't face the crises of AIDS and the lack of health care in rural areas and big cities, and if we can't invest in research in those things that we have not come to grips with in health care, what can we do as a country? Every other nation has done a better job of many of these things than we do; and so we must. (Applause.)
They say, well, you should only do one thing at a time. You can't walk and chew gum at the same time in Washington; that's what they say. But I say we will do one thing at a time, but we have to honestly put it all out there. If you want to bring the deficit down, you have to do health care. The only purpose of bringing the deficit down is to make the economy healthy. You have to invest in new technologies and give people incentives to create opportunity for others. It is not so simple as to say, well, just think about this and let another idea cross your mind a year or two from now. We have got to be about the business of rebuilding America. And we can do that if we keep our eyes on the whole picture. Bring the debt down, invest in our future, deal with the health care crisis. Deal with the special problem of special people in special areas that have been left out and left behind. I believe we can do these things.
I also have to tell you here at this magnificent fundraiser tonight that I am so humbled that so many of you have helped me for so long and asked for nothing in return, and others have done it in spite of the fact that many of the changes that I have advocated are not in your personal, immediate, short-term interest. You ought to be proud of that, because I'm proud of you. (Applause.)
One of the problems that has just killed this country is that all of us have had our blinders on and we've been able to see about six inches in front of our eyes. And all of Washington for too long has been dominated by that. Eighty thousand lobbyists, because of the absence of a compelling national public vision, each picking apart the public interest, now I think we have to follow through, also, on our commitment to political reform, to campaign finance reform, to lower the cost of campaigns, reduce the influence of PACs and open the airwaves to challengers. (Applause.) It'll also be nicer for you if you could only go to one dinner a year instead of four or five. It's a good thing. We should do it. (Applause.)
I also believe that we have to continue on this whole reform track. We passed a modified line-item veto in the House of Representatives. The Senate ought to pass it and let the President take the heat for controlling unnecessary spending. We ought to continue to work to open up the political process. (Applause.) Hallelujah, the gridlock was broken yesterday and the United States Congress passed the motor voter bill to open up the political process to young people all across the country. (Applause.)
These are things that can make a difference. We have to begin to think about America in terms of what's in it for all of us together so that we can move forward together. Let me just mention one or two things tonight. A couple of days ago I was in Cleveland. And on the way out of town, I went by a little pierogi place started by a wonderful young woman who wanted to start her own restaurant, couldn't get a bank loan. She came from a big Polish family, so she just took the Cleveland phone book and called hundreds of people with Polish surnames and asked them to invest in her business until she got 80 folks to give her $3,000 apiece, and she's doing real well now. They're the kind of people that we ought to be fighting for. (Applause.)
When I got to another one of my meetings, I saw a woman who had six children and was supporting these children all by herself, making a handsome salary that she had to give up because one of her children was so desperately ill. The only way she could afford the child's health care was to become eligible for government assistance, because we don't have a health care system. And she was there in my speech with her beloved child and their $100,000 a month medical bills. They're the people who are worth fighting for. (Applause.)
I received a letter yesterday from a wonderful young man and his wife who became friends of mine in New Hampshire and had a desperately ill child who had troubles at birth, and he lost his health insurance and he had to choose between working and not working to get on public assistance, and he struggled on. And the letter says that he just had to file for bankruptcy, but he hasn't given up on himself or his family or his country, and he wants me to keep fighting to make the economy better. That's what this whole effort is all about. There are real people and lives and dramas worthy of the greatest admiration behind so many stories in this room, so many stories in this country.
I ask you for your continued support. I ask you to support the suggestion I made today that we're going to put all this money we're trying to raise into a deficit reduction trust and say to the American people every dollar of the tax will go to reduce the debt, and none of the taxes will be raised without the spending cuts. Tell the Congress that we ought to do it, instead of just fooling around with it and talking about it. (Applause.)
But I ask you, finally, to remember that the atmosphere in which we labor, you and I, is still heavily laden with cynicism and skepticism. People have been disappointed on and off for 20 years. I was looking the other night at a little bit of history, an account of the Kennedy administration, reminding me that when President Kennedy was elected, the same sort of time, the same sort of moment, except that over 70 percent of the American people, when he went in, believed that leaders told the truth to the American people and believed they could trust their leaders to do the right thing. We don't have that today.
One of the things that those of you who had some personal contact and personal involvement in this administration can do is to help to restore the sense of faith that the American people used to take for granted.
We simply can never succeed -- ever -- if every step along the way is burdened with people who are denying their own responsibility, waiting for someone to deliver them while making no effort, waiting for someone else to blame, letting the spike that comes out of every conflict overcome the larger vision and purposes that we are about. I am telling you, if we could do one thing tonight that would guarantee the success of everything else we're going to do, would be all of us in our own way to walk out of here and say, let's try to put aside all of our differences and think about how we can lift up the people of this country. Let us, for a few months, suspend all of our cynicism and instead put our faith in the process that took us to the polls last November. Let us try to bring out the best in one another even in the most heated debates in the Congress.
I worry from time to time only about one thing -- and that is that the people who have to make these decisions will not feel the energy of the American people desperately saying change, have the courage to change; challenge me, bring out the best in me, do not give into the pressures and the temptations of the moment, but go forward to a better life. (Applause.)
I ask all of you, too, to remember that I'm going to get up every day and go to work, and work hard. Some days, I work smarter than other days, but every day I'll work hard. I ask you to remember that one of the great challenges of being President is to try to devote enough time and attention to the job to get the job done and save enough time to stay among the people, selling what you've done and listening, and making the proper adjustment when there is something more you need to learn.
I asked so many of you back during the election not to take the election as the end, but the beginning of this enterprise. And so I invite you again to be a part of this great enterprise with your ideas as well as your spirit. We've got four years of work to do. We can move this country forward in great ways and in profound ways that will benefit millions; indeed, all of the people of this country. But it's going to take every last good idea and every last ounce of will and vision and every ounce of courage and faith.
You have to be a part of that. I want you to leave here tonight knowing that I still want that just as badly as I did in the election. I did not run for this job to move into the White House, as great an honor as that is. I did not run for this job even to have the enormous privilege of standing on Harry Truman's balcony and looking at the statue of Thomas Jefferson every night. I ran for it to be faithful to the tradition they established by making your life better, and you have to help me do that.
Thank you and God bless you all. (Applause.)
END9:54 P.M. EDT