THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary (Little Rock, Arkansas) _________________________________________________________________________ For Immediate Release April 3, 1995 REMARKS BY THE PRESIDENT AT THE DEAN B. ELLIS LIBRARY DEDICATION Arkansas State University Jonesboro, Arkansas
10:55 A.M. CDT
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you very much. I think Molly Mayer did a great job, don't you? (Applause.) I am delighted to be here today with so many old friends. I look out across this crowd and see a great portion of my life looking back at me, and I'm glad to see you all here.
I'm delighted to be back at ASU. I got myself a list from my staff -- as I get older my memory begins to fade -- I got my staff to pull up a list of all the times I have been here in --at least in official capacity to this campus as Governor -- and we found -- or as Attorney General -- we found a dozen times. I've been here a dozen more times, I know, just to see students and have meetings. But it is wonderful to be back here.
I was glad to see Gene Smith giving his speech. And I'm kind of glad you didn't let him retire. (Laughter.) He looks young enough to keep working to me. And he's certainly done a wonderful job.
I thank my friend, John Trout, for what he said. I cannot even begin to recount all the instances in which I worked with people from Craighead County and indeed from all of northeast Arkansas in trying to generate more economic opportunities here.
I was very glad to be accompanied here today by two of your former presidents, Carl Whillock and, of course, Congressman Thornton.
And Rodney Slater and Mack McLarty and I all came up on a helicopter. We didn't mean to interrupt your ceremony, but anyway, it's not a bad sight to see us coming down. And we were all talking about all the changes that had occurred at ASU over the last several years and how much better things are. And for that I thank all the members of the board of trustees -- Larry Ross and the others.
And I'm glad to see a lot of people I appointed still serving. That's an immensely rewarding thing, as well as the members of the board of higher education.
I'd like to say a special word of thanks to Congresswoman Blanche Lincoln for what is literally a ferocious job of lobbying she does in behalf of the interest of the people of the First District. There is no member of the House of Representatives who is on my doorstep more often for more different things. And when I complained about it one day, she said, well, that's just the way you used to behave when you were Governor. (Laughter and applause.)
Let me say a special word of thanks to the members of the Arkansas legislature I see out here in the audience. One of them was in Washington the other day for a meeting, and he said, you know, I kind of miss you, and I never thought I'd say that. (Laughter.)
I remember coming here in 1977 when I was Attorney General. This is how I really got interested in helping ASU. I came here to speak to a commencement. And it was supposed to be a beautiful day like this, and instead it rained, and we had to go inside to the old field house, where there was no air conditioning. And the rain -- you know how it is when it gets warm here. The rain just makes it worse. The humidity was sizzling around. No one could breathe. The faculty and the students were suffocating in their beautiful robes. And I gave a six-minute speech. (Laughter.) And I made up my mind that if God ever gave me the opportunity to serve long enough, I'd build us a place with air conditioning where I could give a longer speech. (Laughter and applause.) And that's how the Convocation Center got started. (Applause.)
I have enjoyed immensely being involved with this wonderful place. It was mentioned already, the Communications and Education Building and the Convocation Center, and now this library. I'll never forget the first time I went to an event in the Convocation Center. I've seen a lot of games, a lot of athletics. I remember the first time Jonesboro got to host the AAU national championship basketball tournament. And I came and saw two high school kids play basketball, named Chris Weber and Grant Hill, who later had a pretty good career all because they had the experience of playing basketball here when they were 16 years of age.
I'd also like to say a special word of appreciation to all of you who have run all of the programs here, the extra- curricular programs here at the university. And I'd like to say a special word of appreciation to one of your students who became very, very famous this year in that remarkable, wonderful contribution to our understanding of American life, "Hoop Dreams." Arthur Agee has really been a great example of what we can do with our dreams. (Applause.)
I'd like to say one other word of introduction. I was profoundly pleased to know that a special part of this new library has been set aside for a Delta Studies Center. As has already been said, the Delta region of our state has always had special meaning for me. When I was a boy coming home from college, I used to take a day of my Christmas vacation every year and just drive around in the Delta. I never saw a place that was so poor economically and so rich in spirit and people.
And when I was head of the Lower Mississippi Delta Study Commission, we made a common commitment to try to invest more in our people so that we could be rich in spirit and rich economically. And I know that this studies center will carry on the work of that commission and will continue its important mission.
I'd like to say also that -- all of you know this, and it's already been said, but -- I actually ran for Governor for a pretty simple and straightforward reason many years ago. I wanted to see the people of my state have the same opportunities as the people of the rest of this country had. And I believed that the only way we could do it was by concentrating on building the economy, maintaining our unique quality of life, and educating our people, and doing it in a spirit of partnership.
All my life I had seen our state held down by public leaders who played on our fears and divided us one from another. And for a good long time here in Arkansas now we've been working in the opposite direction -- developing our economy, educating our people, preserving our quality of life, and working together.
I think it's pretty clear that that course has been more successful. If you look at the faces of the young people here, if you look at all of you here, not only from the cities of eastern Arkansas but from the smallest little hamlets who support Arkansas State University, if you look at the remarkable job growth our state has enjoyed just in the last few years, after a decade of struggling to modernize our economy, it is obvious that we made the right decision as a people.
I ran for President because just as I thought Arkansas was going to catch up to the rest of the country, our country was clearly having problems getting into the next century with the American Dream of opportunity for all alive.
We live in a very unusual time -- indeed, almost without precedent, I think, in human history, where our economy is growing, but most of our people say they feel insecure. How can that happen? How could we have two years where we'd have over 6 million new jobs, a dramatic drop in the unemployment rate, the lowest rates of inflation and unemployment combined in 25 years, and still, a majority of the American people say, I am really worried about my future.
It has happened because of what America's role in the global economy is doing to the lives of ordinary Americans. It has happened because even as we create more jobs, most people haven't had an increase in their income, and there is increasing inequality in America.
From the year I was born at the end of World War II until the year I was elected Governor in 1978, America rose together economically. Every income group and every region was doing better, and they were rising together. But in the last 15 years, that's all changed. And it makes your mission even more important.
In the last 15 years, the wealthiest and best educated Americans have done right well as we've moved in the global economy. About a third of us are doing fine. But about 60 percent of us are working harder for the same or lower wages. So that even when we create jobs in America, many people wind up being insecure. They say, well, maybe I'll be one of the people laid off.
And as we move from big corporations to small businesses being our main employers, a lot of those big companies are laying people off. Is that cause for despair? Not at all. Don't you forget this, this is still the greatest country in the world. We've still got the strongest economy. We're still producing more jobs. We've still got the greatest ability to adapt. We still do better at relating to one another across racial and religious and ethnic lines than any multifaceted country in human history. You should be optimistic about the future. (Applause.)
But what it does mean is that we must now nationally do what we tried to do here. As a country we should be focused on growing our economy, maintaining our quality of life, educating our people, and doing it together. There is a huge debate today about what the government in Washington ought to be doing.
And, you know, ever since the beginning of this Republic, we've all loved to cuss the government, especially at tax time. Every one of us can tell at least one, and sometimes 50, stories, that just prove beyond any doubt that the government would mess up a one-car parade. (Laughter.) But the truth is, if you look over the 200-year history of this country, we're still here, the longest-lasting democracy in human history, because most of the time we did the right thing. Most of the time we met the challenges of the day and did the right thing. (Applause.)
Just parenthetically, I'll tell you, I wish all of you could have been with me in Haiti a few days ago to see all our young men and women in uniform who revolutionized a country that was mired in violence and did it with barely a shot fired. Those young Americans are the best that we have to offer. And if we look at them and what works there, that'll work for our country as well. (Applause.)
So now that I'm living in Washington instead of down here with you, everyday I hear this big debate up there. And the popular thing, of course, is just to talk about how the government would mess up a one-car parade and tell everybody they're against it, and say, let's just cut everything. That's the new rage in Washington; if there were no federal government, we'd have no problem. And the old rage was that the federal government could solve all the problems.
Well, based on my experience with you, I would say both ideas are wrong and present a false choice. The great things about this country are things that the government can't reach. They have to do with how we behave personally and with our families and our communities and what we do in the workplace.
But we need our government as a partner. And I have tried to say I believe with all my heart, if you want us to do well in the 21st century, we got to do four things: We've got to have more jobs and higher income; we've got to educate our people; we need a government that is smaller and less bureaucratic, that's more oriented toward the future than the past; and we have to have more security -- more security in a profound sense.
I am proud of the fact that since I've been President there are no Russian missiles pointed at the children of the United States for the first time since the dawn of the nuclear age. (Applause.) But I also know that our security is threatened when there is too much violence on our streets, too much violence in our schools. Our security is threatened by drugs. Our security is threatened by the strains on families. And our security is threatened when families who work hard and do the right things by their children are mistreated and abused, and don't have the chances they need to support a better future.
So I'd like to say to you in front of this library today, our country under Franklin Roosevelt began to create a safety net for the elderly. It was Social Security, and it included Medicare later. We developed a certain safety net for poor people. But in the future, if we are really going to become what we ought to be, we need a commitment to the middle class that will end this income stagnation, that will end this increasing inequality. That is a safety net for all Americans. And it is one word -- education, education, education. (Applause.)
Today the people who believe that everything the government does is wrong want to cut everything, either to balance the budget or to give a tax cut. Well, I'm for doing both. We've reduced this deficit $600 billion since I've been President. We're going to have three years of declining deficits for the first time since Harry Truman was President. I am for cutting unnecessary spending. We ought to do that. (Applause.)
And I believe we ought to cut taxes for people in ways that will raise their incomes today and tomorrow. That's why I think the best thing we could do is to give people a tax deduction for the cost of all their and their children's education expenses after high school. (Applause.)
But let me say, Arkansas is not where it is today because we cut education. And if we'd started investing in education and improving education 10 or 20 years earlier than we did, we'd be further ahead today. There's not a person in that audience who doubts the truth of that statement. And therefore I say to you: You should say to all of us, get that deficit down; get this economy going; be fair to American taxpayers, but do not cut education. (Applause.)
In the last two years, we have expanded Head Start. We have given our schools the opportunity to meet national education goals and still have more flexibility than the federal government used to give them. We helped states to establish apprenticeship programs for young people who don't go onto college but who do want good jobs. And we have dramatically expanded the availability of affordable college loans with better repayment terms to the young people of this country.
We have started the national service program to give young people the chance to earn money for college while working in their communities. And some of our volunteers are over here in the audience today. (Applause.) They've worked with migrant workers in Hope. They've helped to reduce school dropouts in Texarkana. They've done a lot of really wonderful things.
And there are people today in Washington who think the answer to our problems is to restrict the availability of student loans, to cut Head Start, to reduce our commitment to the national education goals, to destroy the national service program -- even, believe it or not, to cut the school lunch program or to eliminate the program to make our schools safer and more drug- free.
My friends, this has never been a partisan political issue. When we were in Little Rock working on education, we had Republicans and Democrats working on it together. Last year and the year before, every piece of legislation we passed for education in Washington had the support of Democrats and Republicans. This has not been a partisan political issue, and we dare not let it become one. If we walk away from education when the 21st century depends upon what we know and what we can learn, it will be just as dangerous as it would have been for us to disarm in the middle of the Cold War. (Applause.) We didn't do that, and we shouldn't do this. (Applause.)
So let me say in closing, you know, I'm feeling a little sentimental today. I'm sitting here wishing I could focus on the hundreds of people I've already seen that I've walked so many roads with. Those of you who were working for me in 1982 in these 11 countries in northeast Arkansas know that if it hadn't been for you then, I wouldn't be here now as President.
But let me say that in spite of all the sentiment and warm feelings I have, the main thing I want to say is when I look at you, I think you have good common sense. I think you love your communities, and you love your families, and you love this country. The people I know up here have spent a lifetime trying to make things better for their families and their communities and their future. And I am telling you that we can't afford sentiment today because we've got make some tough decisions.
Yes, we've got to cut unnecessary, wasteful, bloated government. Yes, we have to get things under control in Washington. I've been working like crazy for two years to do it. But we dare not in the information age believe that the answer to America's growing insecurity about jobs and incomes is to undermine the very thing that will take us into the 21st century still the strongest country in the world, still the greatest country the world has ever know, still the home of the American Dream that says no matter who you are or where you're from, if you work hard and play by the rules, you can live up to your God- given capacities and your wildest dreams. And that, my fellow Americans, is education.
Now, the country needs that strategy. And I ask you to support your members of Congress, to support the people here, and to remind everybody that this is not rocket science. This is basic. And this is America's future.
I am delighted to be here. I'm honored to have played a role in this library and all the other things that are here at ASU. But the most important thing that's here at ASU is the speaker who introduced me and all the other students. They are our future. And all of us had better decide that our first commitment is to do right by them. If we do, the rest of us will do just fine. (Applause.)
Thank you, and God bless you all. (Applause.)
(The President is presented with a limited edition print, entitled "President and Scholars".) (Applause.)
END11:16 A.M. CDT