THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary (New York, New York) ______________________________________________________________ For Immediate Release September 25, 1994
REMARKS BY GOVERNOR MARIO CUOMO AT BETHEL AME CHURCH Harlem, New York
GOVERNOR CUOMO: Thank you very much. Reverend Macky, Mr. President, Hillary, Chelsea, all the distinguished colleagues on the alter, especially Judge Burstein, the next attorney general, Paul McCall, the first African American state official in the history of the state of New York -- and he'll be around for as long as he chooses to be, I suspect -- (applause) -- Charlie Rangel, our great congressional leader, all the other distinguished people in the audience.
I notice that Reverend McCall got up and delivered his prayer with great ease. You should know, those of you who might not have thought about it before, that a lot of politicians, even those who are not reverends, pray a whole lot. (Laughter.) I do. I think that's because we need it more than most people. But we pray a lot, and usually we pray on Sunday mornings as well. And there's just one prayer that I like above all the others. It's a simple two-word prayer, and in our old church I used to do it in Latin, and they said, Deo gratias -- thank you, Lord.
And I want to say Deo gratias today for this church, for all the believers who maintain it and are inspired by it, for the good minister who leads it, for all the churches, all the temples, all the mosques and all the good people everywhere in this state and in this United States of America -- and for the democracy that protects them all and allows them to worship, or not to worship as they choose.
I want to say Deo gratias to you, Lord. We know it's a very hard time now. We know that there are people in pain in the streets and in the homes and in other places. But we know, too, Lord, that you yourself were born in pain and died in agony to remind us that our mission is not to despair or to curse the darkness, but to move toward the light at the top of the mountain. So I say Deo gratias for giving us the strength to struggle and the vision, still, to see the light.
You know, the Lord told the ancient Hebrews when they asked, "What is our mission? Explain to us why we're being oppressed. What would you have of us, Lord? What must we do?" And the ancient Hebrew was Tukun Allum -- Your mission is to repair the world.
And the Jesuits -- we have a great French priest by the name of Teilhard de Chardin -- who was a scientist, paleontologist, and a Jesuit. And he wrote some books for the modern Catholics that were so clever and so difficult to understand that for a long time we weren't allowed to read them, believe it or not. But a Pope, a good Pope by the name of John XXIII said, yes, you're big enough and smart enough to understand that. And one of the books was "The Divine Milieu." God so loved the world that he made man.
And then Teilhard de Chardin answers the question that was asked of the ancient Hebrews this way -- what is your mission? God created the world, or at least he began to, but he didn't finish the job. You are required to finish the job. You are required to complete creation, to make the place closer to perfect. That's a difficult task.
That means we have to save the children. That means we have to make the streets safer, give them a place to live, food for their bodies, food for their minds, the health care they need to grow straight, programs they need to channel their youthful energies and to guide them from their youthful confusion. Most of all, it means we have to try to give them a future they don't have to steal and a present that's more than a horror for them. And many of us, many of us have been saved that pain, as you and I have been saved the pain. And so, I would say, Deo gratias, Lord, for saving us and for giving us the chance to save some others.
One other thing I would say Deo gratias for is a very special thing indeed. This is the most powerful country in world history. There has never been a place like this. And the leader of this country is the most powerful person in the world, whether he likes it or not. If he is leader of this country, he is the most powerful person in the world. That means he is potentially a source of great good or great evil.
There is no guarantee when you choose a leader which he will be -- or she will be when some day the day of fulfillment comes and there is a woman president. (Applause.) And so far we've been pretty lucky in presidents. But we have been very lucky this time because this president is a great leader who is bringing us toward very great good and who has realized some of it already. (Applause.) And we should be grateful for his visiting us here today to remind us that he knows of our distress, and he is working hard to relieve it.
Now, every president, from Franklin Roosevelt on, looked around at this country and said there are a lot of things that need doing. One of them is, you have to take care of everybody's health. Children should not go without health care. Old people should not go without health care, and millions -- everybody said it, everybody delivered this speech -- Franklin Roosevelt, all the greatest presidents, all those with the greatest reputations for getting something done from the Congress, Lyndon Johnson, a great president.
Bill Clinton is the only president in our history to be willing to wrestle the dragon and to do something about it -- (applause) -- and with the leadership, the extraordinary leadership that was offered as well by the First Lady, the indomitable Hillary, who took the case to the American people. (Applause.)
Now, by bringing that issue to the forefront, he has changed America forever. Make no mistake about it, it looks like they're not going to give him everything he wants or even a respectable portion of it this year. But that's not the point. They cannot go back from this issue. It is there. It is right in the front of the agenda. Every time they return, they have to look at it. Every time they report to people, they have to answer it. Sooner or later this President and his First Lady will have the fulfillment of their struggle. They will have universal coverage, and this country will have been changed for all time, thanks to his extraordinary leadership. (Applause.)
And in the meantime, he's getting a lot of other things done. You know about the vaccines. You know this richest country in the world has not been able to immunize all its children from diseases. Now, I'm not talking about making a discovery. God has a lot to do with that. I'm talking about having the intelligence to use your wealth to put it somewhere where you get vaccine, give it to the right people to give it to the children, to save them.
There's no reason not to do that in a society where people can have Jaguars parked next to BMWs next to Porshes. God bless them, all the Jaguars you can make. That's a sign of success. That's fine. But there's enough wealth, surely, to immunize the children. He's the first President in history to do what he has done -- to guarantee that that gets done, because it's a sin to have all this wealth and not save the children. (Applause.)
He's winning fights for us that nobody else could win -- now, this. Here's an outrageous one, and sometimes I say, you know, thank you, thank you, God, and thank you, Lord for the strength to keep going, but sometimes I get so confused, I'm not sure if there's any point in my trying as a politician.
How do you explain to somebody, some intelligence that floated down from another planet, right -- only intelligence, they don't know anything else, and they come and they greet you and they say, what is an assault weapon? And you say, well, an assault weapon is a machine made to kill the largest number of people in the shortest period of time. No, no, say that again -- to kill the largest number of people in the shortest period of time? How do you use it? Well, if you're lucky, you never use it. You have to use it, maybe, in war to kill as many human beings as you can.
Oh, well, I saw some on the street. Yes, they're legal. They're what? They're legal. You mean your law says you may have them? Yes. For what purpose? Well, you know, there's a group called the gun club or the NRA or something; they say, if you really want to be an American, you should have any kind of gun you want. How about mounting a machine gun on your lawn in the suburb? Yeah, well, any kind of gun; Second Amendment says you can do that.
Why, this is madness. Everybody knew that; why didn't you ban it? Because politically, it was too tough. Because as bad as it sounds, there are parts of this country where they can beat you on that issue. Incidentally, there are parts of this state where they beat you on that issue. I haven't been able to get it out of the Republicans of New York State, believe it or not. Why? Because the gun club is stronger than you are, and stronger than I am at this moment.
But it's not stronger than President Bill Clinton. He got an assault weapon ban. (Applause.) And he got us money through the crime bill -- which was a real struggle -- for police. You need police. Don't argue -- you need police, you need prisons, you need those things. There are people killing people. You can't let them get away with that. And he did that. But he has enough intelligence for the first time, as far as I can tell, with the thanks of Charlie, too, and all those other enlightened people down there who said, hey, look, you can have all the prisons, all the cops, all the tough laws you want, all the probation, all the parole, all the defense attorneys. You can have all those statuted books you want. That is not going to save you from crime.
You have children drinking from a poisoned lake. They take one drink, and they go mad. And they seize those assault weapons, and they kill one another. Unless you dry up that lake, unless you get to the source of the madness, there is no point in putting more police, more prisons out there.
So, yes, we will give you the police you need. But we will give you money for prevention because we know the best thing you can do is stop children from becoming criminals in the first place. So we will give you dollars for programs, dollars for education, dollars to fight drugs. (Applause.) That may be the greatest part of intelligence we've seen in a long time. He's done a whole lot of things, you know. I'm kind of surprised.
I complain a little bit. Every governor, I guess, does. How come they don't know I'm doing all these things? And people sometimes don't know for a lot of reasons. But they don't know what the President's doing. The people out there don't know that maybe 15 million families or something got a tax break, working people. He did it. He made some people pay more taxes, incidentally -- the people who can afford it. But then he gave a break to the working people. I never saw a line written anywhere written about it.
Do you know what the family leave policy is? The family leave policy means if you're a working person, and you have a child, he's giving you a chance to go and get that child a good start in life without losing your job. That makes a whole lot of sense. He did it. We weren't able to get it for years before that.
National service -- this is terrific. Kids can go -- your kids, my kids -- get an education because they'll get some help from the government. And in return, they practice charity. They do good things in the community. How could you have a better combination than that? That's his bill.
Haiti -- Charlie said it. Let me tell you what I think the big challenge for America is at this moment, and then I'll get out of there because I'm dying to hear the President. You know what the big challenge for America is right now? There are some people out there who will do politically whatever the latest poll tells them to do. They will go wherever the political wind blows.
And right now it's blowing toward some very harsh and mean things. It's blowing toward people who say you can have all the guns you want. It's blowing toward people who say, don't even bother with the cities. They're gone. They're gone; let them crumble. Don't use my money to rebuild the cities. Don't use my money to try to save those babies who are having babies that the minister prayed about. Forget about that. We're not strong enough to do that. Take up the gangplank. We have no room for anybody else in this country. That's where the political winds are blowing.
And they were blowing against the President in Haiti. Every politician knows that. No way he could come out right out of that -- and what's happened? He is bringing peace to Haiti. And, good Lord willing, he's doing it without killing people. That is a miracle -- (applause) -- and he did that one on his own.
I say, Deo gratias -- thank you for this leader. Thank you for this leader at this time. I don't want a president who is going to take me wherever the political wind blows because I don't know where it's going to blow. And maybe next year, it's going to blow against Italians. And maybe it's going to blow against guys with baggy eyes. And I'll tell you -- I've got to look out for winds that blow that way. (Laughter.)
You never know where the wind is going to blow, right? I like a president who tells me what he believes and who stays with it, no matter what. And that's what this president has done. And the most important thing he's doing for America -- not all those little bills. It's the direction he's taking you in. Look, we all want a captain who can steer the ship, but the important thing is, what direction is he going in.
And I like the direction this president is taking us in. The most important thing he says -- we're all one family. He says what the reverend says, what you're saying today, what God told you to say. Love one another for this love of me. That's what he's saying. He's saying, look, even when the political winds that may be -- when the political winds blow in a way that would drive us apart from one another, that's when we have to come closer together.
That's what President Bill Clinton is saying, and I say, Deo gratias. Thank you very, very much. (Applause.