THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary (Charlotte, North Carolina)
REMARKS BY THE PRESIDENT TO 34TH ANNUAL SESSION OF THE PROGRESSIVE NATIONAL BAPTIST CONVENTION
Charlotte Convention Center Charlotte, North Carolina
12:48 A.M. EDT
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you. Mr. President Smith, I'm glad you explained that whole thing because here I was about to speak, I'd let enough time go by between Garner Taylor and me that you could maybe forget some of my -- (laughter.) And then you said, we're going to wait until after he speaks to sing "Oh Happy Day." (Laughter.) But I think I understand it. (Laughter.)
To all the vice presidents and your convention secretary, and Reverend Booth and many of my friends who are here -- Reverend Otis Moss, Reverend Charles Adams, Reverend Billy Kyles and Reverend Shephard. To my wonderful friend, Reverend Garner Taylor, thank you for what you said. I intend to tell the story of the hound dog and the hare. (Laughter.) Where appropriate I will give you credit. (Laughter.)
To Governor Jim Hunt -- ladies and gentlemen, Jim Hunt may be the most popular Governor in America. He's certainly one of the two or three finest governors in America, and a great friend of mine. We're glad to have him here. (Applause.)
In 1979 -- that was a long time ago -- when I had no gray hair -- (laughter) -- and he had much less -- (laughter) --he nominated me to be the vice chairman of the Democratic Governors Association. No one knew who I was. I was 33 years old. And if it hadn't been for that, I might not be here today. Now, that may get him in a lot of trouble down here for all I know, but I will always be grateful to Jim Hunt for the role he had in my life and the role he's had in the life of this state and nation.
I have looked forward to coming here. I feel at home. Most people don't speak with an accent -- I like that. (Laughter and applause.) And since at home I want to talk about something I have been trying to deal with all across America lately, and that is how are we going to find the common ground we need to walk the road we have to walk together. How can we rise above our differences and march into the future together.
You've set a good example here. I understand this is the first ever joint meeting between the Progressive Baptist Convention and the Alliance of Baptists. This will have a lot of subsidiary good benefits. For example, it's doing those white folks up there a world of good to sing in a choir like that. (Applause.) That may be a racially insensitive, politically incorrect remark, but -- (laughter) -- having spent countless hours of my life in Baptist church choirs I do know what I am talking about. (Laughter.) I can't believe I said that. (Laughter.) "A happy heart doeth good like medicine." (Laughter.)
I do believe as strongly as I can say that we have to fight for common ground instead of fight to tear each other apart. (Applause.) I say that not because I have suffered my share of slings and arrows as President in the absence of common ground, it's just an honor to show up for work every day. St. Paul said that God put a thorn in his flesh so he would not be exalted in his own eyes. If that is the test, I feel down right humble today. (Laughter.)
Whether we like it or not, we are all in this together. Whether we like it or not, we are an American family, and we behave like a good family or a bad family, or a little bit of both, but we are a family. We have to get together. That's why I made the speech I did on affirmative action. Let's don't get away from something that's helping us until we don't need it anymore. (Applause.) I thought it was important to tell the American people that everything is not equal in terms of opportunity in our country today, even though the laws have changed. And also important to remind people about what affirmative action is and isn't. It's not about quotas. It's not about unqualified people getting anything. (Applause.) It's not about reverse discrimination. All of that is illegal and will not be tolerated wherever we can find it.
We ought to shift more efforts to help people just because they're poor, without regard to their race or gender. But we need to recognize that we have to have ways to make sure we're going forward together. The future really should be America's best time. Here we are living in this global society where information goes around the world in a split second. We flip on CNN, we know what they're doing in some country we couldn't find on a map six months ago. It's great.
But if we're going to be a global village, what country is in a better position to do well than the one that is the most racially, ethnically, religiously diverse, with the most powerful private sector in the world, the United States. If we can find a way to get along together and to work together and solve our problems together, our best days are before us. That is what is at issue here. (Applause.)
And we know that affirmative action won't amount to anything if we don't deal with our big problems. We don't want to be part of a lot of Americans fighting over a shrinking pie. We don't want to be one of these families with a whole lot of heirs and the estate's going down. We want to be a family where everybody has a brighter future. So that means we have to deal with the economic problems of the American family, the social problems of the American family. And it means we have to be candid in saying that we can't make up for the shortcomings of our individual families or churches or communities unless they do their part.
And that's what I want to talk to you about today. There's been a lot of talk for 15 or 20 years now about family values. What are the family values of the American family and what do they compel us to do right now, today, this day, and tomorrow when we get up in the morning and God gives us another day of life? What do they say we ought to do? Are we going to use this discussion of family values this year and next to lift up or to tear down, to unite or to divide? Is it going to be a weapon of words to harden the hearts of some Americans against another, or is it going to be a way of asking ourselves what's this family all about?
Some folks like this family values issue because they get to preach at other people. They get to preach against violence and premature sex and teen pregnancy. And they get to preach against the media promoting such things, they get to preach against drugs and crime. They get to tell people -- behave. Now, that's not all bad. But is it enough?
Some folks like this issue because, frankly, they are working hard to keep their own families together, to keep body and soul together, to pay their bills, raise their kids, take care of their parents, and they'd like a little help from their government or their community or from their church.
But raising a family -- what's it about? Isn't it fundamentally -- think about your own family. Isn't raising a family fundamentally about the obligations we owe to other people in the family? Isn't it fundamentally about the responsibility we have to fulfill those obligations and then to behave in such a way that we can make the most of our lives? And if we're going to talk about the family values of America, shouldn't we talk about it like that? Isn't that what the American family ought to be about -- the obligations we owe to other members of the family, the responsibilities we have to fulfill those obligations, and the responsibility we have to conduct our lives so that we can live up to the fullest of our God-given capacities? (Applause.)
Now that means that we can stand some good preaching, but we've got to be good Samaritans, too. (Applause.) It also means that when we look at our neighbor and we see that sty in his or her eye, we've got to make sure the beam's out of ours. (Applause.)
But these problems -- the point I'm trying to make is all these problems we face as an American family or in our individual families, they have a moral aspect which needs some preaching and behaving, and they have a communal aspect which may need a little help from Samaritans.
You look at the teen pregnancy problem. People obviously have to make a decision not to do that. We can't make that decision for them. They have to make that decision and people have to be -- (applause.) That's a matter of personal ethics and discipline and values. And we're just kidding ourselves if we just pretend that there's some picture-pretty social program that will solve this.
On the other hand, when people do want to behave they're entitled to a little help from their friends, from their Samaritans. If a young girl has a child and wants to get off welfare and wants to go to school or go to work, then there has to be some child care. (Applause.) So you need -- if you want to fight the crime problem, you've got to punish those who do wrong, but you also have to take these kids who are in severe, severely difficult, at great risk of doing wrong, and give them something to say yes to, something to be hopeful about. (Applause.)
You know, a couple of years ago when we passed the Crime Bill, which had the toughest punishments in history, we put more money into prevention programs than ever before. And the people who opposed us ridiculed us in the name of something called Midnight Basketball. As far as I know, nobody has ever been arrested playing midnight basketball for dealing dope on a basketball court with an adult supervisor there. (Applause.)
So who are we trying to kid here? Let's take it the other way. Look at an economic problem. It can also become a moral problem. The fact is most families in the American family are working families. Most poor people in America are now living in working families. And most people are working longer hours today than they were 10 years ago for the same or lower wages. Now, that's a fact. (Applause.) Now, you say that's an economic fact. Well, it can become a moral fact if people who are working harder for less have less time and energy, not to mention money, to invest in their children and their education, to keep their kids out of trouble, to do what they want to do. (Applause.)
I never will forget a few years ago, every time I ran for office at home in Arkansas, I used to make it a point to go to the earliest factory gate in my state -- Campbell Soup factory in northwest Arkansas. People started going to work there at 4:30 a.m. And I figured if I'd show up between 4:30 a.m. and a quarter to 5:00 a.m., and shake hands with everybody on that shift, that somebody would say, well, if that guy's fool enough to do this we ought to give him the vote. (Laughter.) And it worked. (Laughter.) And so I did it.
But I never forget, one day I was there quarter to 5:00 a.m. in the morning; a pick-up truck pulls up outside the factory; the door opens, a light comes on inside the pick-up truck. There's this really attractive young couple there. The young wife is going to work, the husband is driving off. They have three little kids in that pick-up truck in the front seat. And I said, now what are you going to do? He said, well, my wife has to be at work; she has to check in by 5:00 a.m. every morning. And I have to be at work by 7:00 a.m. So I have to find somebody who will take my children at 6:30 a.m., which most child care people won't. So I've got to go back home, make breakfast for these kids, get them there and then drop them off at the child care center. Then I've got to show up at 7:00 a.m.
Now, that may be an extreme example, but not an atypical example of the way most families live today. Isn't that right? Most people are working today. So I would argue to you that that's an economic issue that has become a moral issue. How can our society succeed unless people can be good parents and good workers? And if we have to choose one or the other, who's going to fall between the cracks? The kids. We live in a world where we must not make people choose. We have to succeed at both.
Now, for two and a half years that's what I have been working at. That's why I want to bring this deficit down and balance the budget. That's why I tried to create jobs with investments and special incentives for people to put money in the poor areas, and expanding trade so we could sell more of our stuff around the world. That's why I tried to increase education from Head Start to kids, to more affordable college loans and scholarships and national service for kids to go to college. (Applause.)
That's why we're putting money into the fight against crime and the war against drugs, for education and training and treatment and also to try to crack down on people who are importing these drugs into our country. (Applause.) That's why we're doing that.
That's why we passed the Family and Medical Leave Law, the symbol of being a successful parent and a successful worker. Why should you lose your job if your kid gets sick? (Applause.) Why should you do that -- and you have to go home and take care of them? And why we want to immunize all the children in this country under the age of two, and why we bailed out a very sick pension system in America and saved 8.5 million people's retirements and protected 40 million other people's retirement up the road -- because those are all family values to me.
And we have, as a result, 7 million jobs, 2.5 million new homeowners, 1.5 million new businesses, the largest number of new millionaires in a two-year period in history, unemployment's down, inflation's down. African American unemployment's below 10 percent for the first time since the Vietnam War. (Applause.) And people are not working at fighting.
In almost every major area of this country the crime rate is down and divorce is down. The country is beginning to come back together. If that's true, why aren't we happy? Because many people are still, in fact, less secure. And many of our families are less secure, because underneath those statistics, the rising tide is not lifting all boats. And a huge number of people are being left out of this nice picture. And it's going to affect all the rest of us, just like any other family.
You know, I'm really proud of my little brother, but he once had a terrible drug problem and it affected all the rest of us. We didn't get off scot-free because we didn't find a way to solve this problem. It wasn't his problem, it was our problem. That's the way it is with America. (Applause.) It's our problem.
When companies -- their profits are up and they're still downsizing and laying people off; that's our problem. That's our problem. When we see people losing their health care even though they still got jobs -- the only place -- we're the only rich country in the world where that's happening -- that's our problem. When people are faced with dealing with their parents or educating their children, that would be our problem -- not just their problem. What's happening with crime and drugs is that the overall statistics are going down, but the rate of random, violent crime associated by very young teenagers is going way up. And people feel that and it scares them. And it's our problem.
The rate of random, careless, casual drug use is going up, even though a lot of the statistics are going down. Young, young teenagers are in big trouble in this country.
Now, we've got to decide how to deal with it. If all we do is preach, we can play on our anxiety and our anger, and we can divide one from another, and we can fight over a shrinking economic pie. And it may be a wonderfully successful electoral strategy, but it won't solve anything. (Applause.) We go through another set of elections where nothing gets better. People vent their steam and express their fears and their anger, but nothing ever changes.
So you see it today. People say, well, the American family would be all right if it weren't for the immigrants, or if it weren't for the people on welfare, or if it weren't for the affirmative action program giving all the money to people who aren't qualified, or if it weren't for the government throwing all or money away.
Now, what I want to say to you is the same thing I said about affirmative action. We have problems in immigration. We've got no business spending money on illegal immigrants. We should not -- people that wait for years to get into this country lawfully should not be leaped over by people who just cross over because they can get in. That's not right. (Applause.) And our administration has put more effort into sealing our borders and sending illegal immigrants back and people that come into the criminal justice system who aren't here legally than anybody has in a long time.
It is true that people shouldn't be on welfare if they can also be working. That's also true. And we have done more than any administration in history to move people from welfare to work. (Applause.) It's also true that, as I said before, we have to make some changes in the affirmative action program so we can keep it and make it work right. That's all true.
And, finally, it's true that there is waste in government. But our administration has cut more out than anybody has in over 20 years. The point I want to make is, if you do all that, it still won't solve the problems unless you deal with these fundamental problems of the American family: What are the fundamental economic problems? What are the fundamental social problems? And how can we deal with them together? That's what our job is. We need to start acting like family members -- (applause) -- do our part and ask what our obligations are.
So let me say -- the other day I tried to do this at the American Federation of Teachers Convention. I'm going to try again. Here's what I think the family values of America in 1995 ought to be, and what we can do about them in government. And then you ask yourself, what can you do about them.
Number one, if you were running a family right, you wouldn't saddle your kids with unnecessary debt. In other words, if you borrow money, you're borrowing it to buy a house, finance an education, build a new business, but you wouldn't borrow it to go out to eat on the weekend. That's what this country's been doing. We ought to balance the budget. It's the right thing to do.
But if you're running a family right you'd, first and foremost, try to take care of your children. Now, our children -- (applause) -- our children don't need to balance the budget on their backs. We don't have to cut Head Start or college loans and make it more expensive to educate the children to balance the budget. (Applause.) We can do them both.
The third thing that you want your family to do is to take care of your parents. I mean, after all, they raised you. (Applause.) Right? And in the American family, we decided a long time ago we would take care of our parents from middle-class and lower middle-class people, and even through pretty well-to-do people, largely through Medicare and Medicaid. Medicare pays for hospital care, and then if you buy into the second part of it, it pays for doctor visits and a number of things. And Medicaid pays for people that have to go into nursing homes. That's about two-thirds of the cost. That's how we pay for it.
Now, we don't have to balance the budget by exploding the cost of Medicare to ordinary people. You know 75 percent of the people on Medicare are living on incomes of under $25,000. We don't have to increase their premiums, their co-pays, their deductibles to make it so they don't have enough money to live on. We don't have to make their children pay even more than they're already paying in the payroll tax. All the children are paying for Medicare now. They're paying for it in the payroll tax. We don't have to make them pay more, which means that they will have -- how are they going to educate their kids if they have to pay twice through Medicare?
So I'm telling you, do we have to make some changes in Medicare? Yes, we do. Why? Because we're living longer and more of us are getting older. But do we have to absolutely bankrupt the elderly people of this country to balance the budget? No, we don't. And we shouldn't do it. It violates our family values. (Applause.)
What's the fourth thing we've got to do? I already said it. In the world we're living in today, most people do not have an option, they have to work. We spent a lot of time and energy trying to get people from welfare to work. Most people are trying to find work. Most people on welfare want to go to work. Most people in jobs are trying to keep the one they've got or get a better one. Isn't that right? That's the normal thing in life. (Applause.)
So the problem most people have is, how am I going to keep my job or get a better one and be a good parent? How can I do the right thing by our children? So what should we do? We should keep the Family and Medical Leave Law, for one thing. It's a good law. We should make it possible for everybody who works 40 hours a week and has a child in the home not to be in poverty. (Applause.)
If people leave welfare and they show up for work every day and they've got kids in the house, what kind of message does it send to them if they're in poverty? It's not the right message. So in 1993, we changed the tax law, and we said, we're going to give a tax credit, a working family tax credit. Today, for every family of four in American with an income of $28,000 a year or less, the tax bill is $1,000 lower than it was before I took office because we don't believe people who work 40 hours a week and have kids should be in poverty. We should increase that program. The last thing we should do is do what some people want to do and cut back on that program. We should reward people who are doing their best at working and parenting. (Applause.)
We ought to change the health care system. We're the only country in the world where working families are losing health care every year. We ought to change the rules so that if you change jobs, you don't lose your health care. (Applause.) If you have somebody in your family get sick, you cannot be cut off. And people ought to get a little help to keep their parents out of nursing homes, as well as help pay for them when they get in them. (Applause.) We can do that and still balance the budget. (Applause.)
And the last thing we ought to do, I believe strongly, is raise the minimum wage. (Applause.) It's too low. If we don't raise the minimum wage next year, in terms of its ability to buy things it will be at a 40-year low -- a 40-year low. I don't know about you, but my idea of the 21st century is an exciting, high-tech deal where there are all these gadgets that I don't even know how to work -- but my daughter and all my grandchildren, they'll be working them like crazy and doing well. My idea of the 21st century is not a hard-work, low-wage dead-end society. Let's raise the minimum wage. We can go forward together. That's what family members do. (Applause.) That's our obligation to people who are out there doing that kind of work the rest of us don't want to do. That's part of our family obligations.
The next thing we ought to do is when we cut taxes we ought to make it support families. My tax cut program gives people a tax cut for raising kids and for educating their children and themselves -- families, pro-family. And we ought to say we know some people are going to lose their jobs in all this downsizing -- it's always happened and now it seems to be happening a little more -- but when people lose their jobs, if they're working people, the least we can do is guarantee them a right to immediately -- not to wait until their unemployment runs out -- immediately, immediately get more education. And I have proposed a G.I. Bill for America's workers that would allow any unemployed person in the country that loses a job to get a voucher worth $2,500 or so a year and take it to the local community college for up to two years to get education and training. (Applause.) That's a family value. That's a family value.
Just a couple of other things. I believe -- you know, in our family, we were raised -- I was raised in the South. You can tell by the way I talk, especially I'm around you for a while and get in a good humor. (Laughter.) We were raised to love the land, to love the water, to believe that we had to live in harmony with it, to cut the trees in a way that there would still be trees a generation from now, to till the land in a way that there would still be topsoil for our grandchildren. That's what we were raised to do. And I believe part of our family values should be teaching our people to preserve our environment. And I don't understand this new obsession in Washington with ripping out all the protections for the environment and for the public health and safety, for clean food, clean water, clean air. I don't understand that. (Applause.) I don't understand that.
And the last thing I want to say is, it seems to me that the American family has got to be focusing on social problems we have that affect our children especially, especially. What are our obligations there? And on these I need your help because there's only so much the government can do, although there are things the government can do. We were, most of us, raised to know what the seven deadly sins were. Remember that? Pride, lust, gluttony, sloth, avarice, anger, envy. Anger and gluttony -- those are the two I have to work on all the time. (Applause.) We've all got our little list, don't we? (Laughter.)
But I would like to point out that there are four things that are threatening our children that could be deadly sins to them -- violence; the problem of teen pregnancy for the young fathers as well as the young mothers; smoking -- something people don't often think about; I want to talk about that a little bit -- and drugs. And I want to say we have to think about the children. Families are fundamentally the device through which we perpetuate ourselves. They're really about children. They're organized to raise children. And nobody in all of human history has ever come up with an appropriate, adequate substitute. Jesus said, "Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven."
When they come what do you do? Luke:11 -- "If a child asks for bread would you give him a stone? If he asks for a fish would you give him a serpent? If he asks for an egg would you give him a scorpion?" That's what the kids of this country are being given, a whole lot of them. (Applause.)
Look at violence. Every two hours in this country a child dies of a gunshot wound. Last year in Washington we had a 13-year-old honor student just standing at the bus stop shot down because he just happened to be in the middle of two gangs that were fighting. Homicide is the leading cause of death among African American males between the ages of 15 and 24. The number of people arrested for murder is going down among those older than 25, but going up for juveniles and young adults. The number of juveniles -- juveniles -- arrested for murder increased 168 percent between 1984 and 1993.
In one of our newspapers the other day there was this incredible story about a 16-year-old boy who shot a 12-year-old boy dead because he thought he was showing him disrespect. All these boy's friends, the 12-year-old boy's friends said that's the way he treated everybody, he was a jokester. The 16-year-old felt insecure. They had one incident, nothing happened. They had another incident; he pulled out the gun and shot him when he was running away and then stood over his body and emptied the gun into his body.
Now, this happened just a couple of days after there was this great national survey of -- a very fascinating survey of young gang members in which two-thirds of these young men honestly said, quite openly, they thought it was all right to shoot somebody who disrespected you. If that's all right I'd be plum out of bullets; the whole country would be. (Laughter and applause.) We're laughing, but this is deadly serious. How many of -- how many times have we raised this, when you get mad count to 10 before you open your mouth? Don't you say that; don't you do that? That's how we were raised up. Who's telling these kids to count to 10?
What's happening out there? How can two-thirds of the kids who belong to these gangs think it's okay to shoot somebody for some word they say? Whatever happened to sticks and stones can break my bones, but words will never hurt me? Whatever happened to people being told to define themselves from the inside out, not from the outside in? Whatever happened to all that?
I'm doing what I can. (Applause.) Look, when we passed that Crime Bill last year a lot of members of Congress literally gave up their seats in Congress and gave up their careers to vote for that Crime Bill because it banned assault weapons. And they were taken out. I'm telling you, the NRA took them out in the last election. And they did it for your children. (Applause.) Most of these people came from rural districts where their voters didn't understand and they could be stampeded because they didn't know anybody with an assault weapon. And they figured if somebody bought one and wanted to take it to a shooting contest they ought to have a right to. And they were spooked and a lot of them voted against these good members of Congress. But they did it for our kids who are living in these cities where these kids are being gunned down. They said if it costs me my career to get the Uzis out of the high school, I'll give it up.
Now, that was a great thing. That was an important thing. (Applause.) And that bill gave some money to community groups for crime prevention programs and for job programs and for things to give these kids something to say yes to. We're doing what we can, but you know and I know we can put 100,000 police on the street, we can ban assault weapons, we can have the Brady Bill, we can have these funds for community programs -- and I hope we can save them, by the way, in this Congress -- but the parents still have to be there, or if they're not there, the church -- somebody has got to be there to teach these kids right from wrong. (Applause.)
Somebody has got to say, I don't care what they call you, it is better to live to be 70 years old and have children and grandchildren and have a useful full life. What difference does it make what they call you? Somebody has to be there to do that. And we've all got to do that together.
Yes, there are some other things we can do. The other day -- we're in a big argument in Washington now -- I think we're going to win this one because it's not partisan -- about the influence that our culture has. You know, are kids exposed to too much violence in the movies and principally on television because most people watch it? (Applause.) And I think the answer is, yes, they are. Of course, they are.
But the answer to this is not simply to condemn, but to ask the people who are making these movies to help us and to ask the people who are showing them to us to help us. And now, with all the wonders of technology, we know that everybody who has cable TV can get something called the V-chip which would allow every family to determine which channels or even programs within channels they don't want their little children to watch. Children get numb to violence. If by the time you're six or seven years old, you've seen thousands and thousands and thousands of people shot down on the street, it numbs you. So we ought to pass this law and require the V-chip and give families the right to program for their children. It's a family right. (Applause.)
But in the end, we have to do this together. And if we don't deal with this, all the rest of this stuff is just like whistling Dixie because you can't bring one of these kids back. In this life, you cannot see them again once they're dead. So we must -- this is something we must commit to do together. And this ought not to be a partisan issue. It ought not to be a racial issue. It ought not to be a regional issue. We have to do something about the rapid growth in violence among our very young people.
The second thing I want to talk about a minute is teen pregnancy. Every year a million young girls between the ages of 15 and 19 become pregnant. Some of them are married, but most of them aren't. Eighty percent of the children born to unwed teenagers who dropped out of school -- 80 percent of them live in poverty. It is literally true that if teenagers who are unmarried didn't have babies, and all babies were born into families where at least one person both had a job and a high-school education, you would cut the poverty rate by more than 50 percent in America. The new poor in America are young mothers and their little children.
And the last two and a half years, we've worked hard on this. And our welfare reform program sends a clear signal to young people. I believe if people are going to draw welfare when they are young and unmarried, we should say, this is not so you can get up and set up your own household and perpetuate this. Unless you have a bad situation at home, you ought to have to live at home and stay in school or stay at work to take the check. (Applause.)
And I think we should hold fathers more accountable. (Applause.) There's a lot of child abuse in teen pregnancy. At least half the babies born to teenage girls are fathered by men who are 20 or older. That's child abuse. That's not right. (Applause.) It's not right.
And even young men -- even young men -- there was a young man in our hometown in Arkansas before I moved here who made a mistake and fathered a child. He was a young man in school. But, you know, that kid got up every day before school and went to work, and every day after school, went back to work and gave all that money to the child. We need more people doing that. That's the kind of thing that we have got to have happen. (Applause.) We need to be, all of us, for very, very tough child support enforcement. We cannot tolerate people who won't take care of their own children. (Applause.) Eight-hundred thousand people could be move off welfare if we just enforced the child support laws of the United States of America. And we need to be for that.
But I will say again, I can't solve this problem with a government fix. This is about how people behave and whether they get personal, personal, one-on-one kinds of reassurance. I am working to get all the leaders of all sectors of our society involved in this fight. But I want to say, we know there are things that work. The Teen Health Connection here working with low-income teenagers right here in Charlotte has made a real difference. Dr. Henry Foster's I Have A Future program has made a real difference. (Applause.)
And I want to say, by the way, I thank you for standing behind Henry Foster. He is a good man, and I'm glad you've got him coming here. (Applause.) And I'm going to do my best to keep him involved in this struggle because he has proved -- I saw those young people. I saw those kids from the housing projects in Nashville, Tennessee. A lot of them didn't have a nickel to their names and they got on a bus and they left their lives, they left what they were doing, and they rode to Washington to tell the United States Senate they ought not to let politics keep Henry Foster from becoming surgeon general because he had changed their lives. (Applause.) He had ended the epidemic of teen pregnancy and violence, and had given them a chance to start a better future. That's what we need more of.
The same thing is true of drugs. Let me just give you this. In the latest survey of drug use among 8th, 10th, and 12th graders, 43 percent of high school seniors had used an illegal drug by the time they reached their senior year. Marijuana, LSD, inhalants like glue and aerosol -- that stuff people did when I was barely out of high school. All these things are coming back. And the feeling that these drugs is dangerous is going down in these surveys. The same people, the two-thirds of them who say we can go out and shoot somebody that disrespects us say, oh, this stuff is not dangerous.
Now, we are now doing more than a national government's ever done to fight drugs based on cutting off the source in foreign governments. You probably saw in the press this week another drug kingpin busted in Colombia. We work hard on that, and we are making real progress on that.
But you also have to do things here at home. You've got to punish the real serious offenders here at home. But you have to have some sort of treatment, education and prevention programs as well. Therefore, I am opposed to these efforts in the Congress to balance the budget by cutting 23 million students out of Safe and Drug Free Schools. (Applause.)
You know, I bet a lot of you had your children come home and tell you how much they liked their DARE officer in the school talking about staying off drugs. A lot of these police officers that are going into these schools are the best role models a lot of these young kids have. (Applause.) And we need to support this sort of thing. We don't need to walk away from it. And you have to help. You have got to make sure that every single, solitary school in this country has a good, safe and drug-free schools program. You have got to do that. Whatever we do in Washington, you have got to do that.
Now, the last thing I want to talk about is smoking. And I want to tell you why I want to talk about it. Tobacco is very important to the economy of this fine state. And I've worked hard to help the economy of this and every other state. And there are a lot of wonderful people in this country who make a living as tobacco farmers and their families have for a couple of hundred years. That's important to understand.
But we cannot pretend that we're ignoring the evidence. One of the greatest threats to the health of our children is teenage smoking and it's rising. Listen to this -- every single day 3,000 young people become regular smokers and nearly 1,000 of them will die prematurely as a result. For more than a decade, even as adult smoking was dropping, the smoking rate among high school seniors did not go down. That was bad enough. But since 1991 the percentage of teenage smokers has risen steadily and rapidly. There's been a 30-percent increase in the eighth graders who smoke, a 22-percent increase in the number of 10th graders who smoke, and by the age of 16, the average teenage smoker is smoking every day and will not stop.
If you wanted to do something to reduce the cost of health care, help over the long-run to balance the budget and increase the health care of America, having no teenagers smoke would be the cheapest, easiest, quickest thing you could ever do to change the whole dynamic of health care in America. (Applause.)
Now, again I will tell you that it's just like the drugs and the gangs, the number of teenagers who believe smoking is dangerous is dropping dramatically. There's a lot more peer approval. This also is a recipe for disaster. There are some things we can do at the governmental level, and we'll be talking about that in the near future. But what I want to say to you is this is just another example of where, no matter what you do with the law, people have to change inside, and somebody has to help them change inside. And we have to do it in an organized, disciplined way. (Applause.)
James Baldwin once said, children have never been very good at listening to their elders. As a parent that's comforting to know. (Laughter.) But he said, they have never failed to imitate them. (Laughter and applause.)
So, I say to you what I said at the beginning. We are on the verge of the 21st century. It should be America's century. The best days of this country should be before us. If we recognize that we're a family and we're going forward, up or down together, we will go up and forward together.
But we have to ask ourselves, what are our family values and what do we in the American family value and what are we going to do about it? Today I've tried to tell you what I intend to do about it. And I ask you to say, what are you going to do about it and how are you going to continue to work.
I want to say a special word of thanks to our host pastor, Reverend Diggs, because I know that he has worked in this community -- (applause) -- to try to make a difference on these issues. And so many of you have.
You've got this alliance of these two groups here meeting today. We need this kind of alliance on these problems. The kind of problems that are children are facing at the grass- root level, they know no racial barrier, they know no income barrier even, they certainly know no regional barrier. We have got to get over this using family values to drive a stake between us as American people and let it lift us up. We have got to do that. (Applause.)
And I ask you to leave here determined to do what you can to be good preachers and good Samaritans and good examples; to make the family of America a place where family values lifts us up, pulls us together and takes us into the future. We can walk and not faint. We can run and not grow weary. And if we do not lose heart, we shall reap.
God bless you all and thank you. (Applause.)
END 1:35 P.M. EDT