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Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release June 16, 1997
                        REMARKS BY THE PRESIDENT
                            Hay Adams Hotel
                            Washington, D.C.                   

9:54 P.M. EDT

THE PRESIDENT: Steve gave such a good speech, if I had any sense I would just sit down. (Laughter.) But I thank you for it. Let me thank Joel and David and Monte and Jeff and Ira and everyone else who is responsible for this tonight. I thank Carol Pinsky and Cynthia Freedman for their leadership in our party. I thank Secretary Babbitt for coming tonight, and Ann Lewis from the White House for coming, and Craig Smith, my political director. There may be more people here; I'll hear about it tomorrow if there are. (Laughter.) I thank Senator Lautenberg and Senator Feinstein and Dick and Senator Lieberman -- thank you all for being here.

I really appreciate more than anything else I suppose the fact that there has been established between our administration and I hope between me personally and the American Jewish community a bond of trust which is rooted in our shared values for what America ought to become here at home and for our longing for an honorable and lasting peace in the Middle East. And I thank those of you who mentioned to me going through the line tonight my speech in San Diego a couple of days ago. And I would like to talk a little about that and about the Middle East in what I would call a proper context.

In 1991, when I was attempting to decide whether to enter the Democratic primaries, and only my mother thought I could be elected -- (laughter) -- night after night I would sit at home and say, why do you want to do this. You know, you could say, well, every little boy -- and now, I hope every little girl -- can want to grow up to be President, but that's not a very good reason for other people to vote for you, the fact that you'd just as soon live in the White House as somewhere else. And I was deeply disturbed because I didn't think the country was moving to prepare for the new century.

It was an unusual time because I'd actually had a very good relationship with President Bush. I was very often the designated Democrat to deal with the White House. I had no burning, negative passion -- I don't understand them very well, anyway. But I really felt that my country was not preparing for the future.

And so I sat down, almost six years ago now, and wrote out what I wanted America to be like in the 21st century. And now I have said it over and over again probably a thousand, maybe two, three thousand times and a lot of people are sick of hearing it. But it's important that you know that every day as President I still think about what I wrote six years ago.

I said that I wanted my nation in the 21st century, first of all, to have the American Dream of opportunity alive for every person here, without regard to their race, their background, their starting point in life. I wanted all of our citizens to be responsible, to take responsibility for themselves, their families and others in their communities. I wanted America to be the world's leading force for peace and freedom and prosperity a generation from now, just as we are today. And I wanted us to become closer as one community with all of our diversity.

And I realized that if you ask the question, what do you want the country to look like 30 years from now, then you begin -- and you answer that, you're much more likely to ask and answer the right questions about what are you going to do tomorrow. Because then it became clear to me that the first thing we had to do was to scrap the economic policy we were following and adopt one that made some sense; that we had to find a way to get rid of the terrible deficits we had and still invest in our future.

Most people said you couldn't cut the deficit and invest more in education and technology and research. I thought you could. We know -- the record is in now. The deficit has gone down 77 percent in four years before this last agreement, and we have invested more. And the country is better off, and our economy has produced a record number of new jobs, biggest decline in income inequality among working families, something very important to most of you, since the 1960s.

I thought we could have a crime strategy that was more than tough talk. I mean, everybody -- you can't have a free country if people are terrified of their own personal security. And I thought the Democrats had made a mistake not taking that issue on, but taking it on in a real way, not just a rhetorical way. So I worked with Senator Feinstein to ban assault weapons. And we worked to pass the Brady Bill. And we heard all these talks, and a lot of our people lost seats in '94 because they had the guts to vote for the assault weapons ban and the Brady Bill.

And they were all told, oh, you're going to lose your gun. Well, as I said in '96 in New Hampshire, I said, a lot of you voted against our people in '94 because they told you we were going to take your guns. And I said, I want everybody who lost their guns to vote for Republicans for Congress and everybody who didn't to vote for the Democrats. (Laughter.) And they were all laughing. But 186,000 felons, fugitives and stalkers have lost their guns.

Last year we had the biggest drop in crime in 35 years -- putting these police officers on the street, and we're moving forward with this juvenile justice strategy, based on what's been working in Steve and Alan's home town of Boston. There has not been a single child killed with a handgun in a year and a half.

So we're working. We had the biggest drop in welfare rolls in history. Things are moving. You may have seen last week, something that I was told by the cynics would never happen -- in the International Math and Science Survey, our 4th graders scored way above the national average in math and science. They said, oh, no, America's kids are too poor, they're too racially diverse, you'll never get this done. But our educators have been working on this since 1984 all over America.

So then I got hired again '96 -- (laughter) -- and I said to myself, well, now what are we doing to do. I love to tell this story -- I told this story where I was earlier tonight. When I ran for reelection as governor one time a guy came up to me and said, are you going to run again, Bill? And I said, if I do, will you vote for me? He said, probably. What are you going to say? I said, well, I'm going to say I did a good job. He said, hell, that's what I hired to you to do. He said that's not a reason to vote for you. (Laughter.) You think about it. I mean, it's an interesting thing.

So I asked myself, what are we going to do. So I asked the right question again. Where are we going to be in 30 years. What do we still have to do. That's what this balanced budget agreement is all about. It balances the budget and has the biggest investment in education in history and opens the doors of college to all Americans, and pays for examinations in math and science for every 4th and 8th grader in the country to see if we're really committed to national academic standards. It helps to bring economic opportunity and empowerment into the inner cities. It's the right thing to do. So that's the first thing I wanted to do.

The second thing I wanted to do was to continue to expand our leadership in world trade, something that's controversial in both parties. But it seems to me like we have evidence now. You know, we have a 4.8 percent unemployment, the lowest unemployment in 24 years; and we had 200 separate trade agreements in the last four years. And we're selling more overseas than ever before and we're the number one exporter in the world again. And I personally do not believe we need to be afraid of making a trade agreement with Chile or Argentina or Brazil, for that matter. And I think it would be a terrible mistake for us to walk away from the chance to reach out to Latin America, to Africa, to Asia, and build closer ties and a better, brighter future.

And the fourth thing I wanted to do was to recognize that we have a problem -- I don't care how well we're doing; as long as 20 percent of the kids in this country are living below the poverty line and are in physical isolation from most of the rest of us, we've got a problem. That's really what the Presidents Summit of Service was all about in Philadelphia. It was about saying every child ought to have a safe place to grow up, ought to have a decent school, ought to have health care -- all three of those things we try to deal with in our budget, by the way -- ought to have a personal mentor and ought to have a chance to serve in the community.

And I thought the Summit of Service is important because it would mobilize volunteers all over America to support and reenforce and carry out the things I'm trying to get done in this budget and in the juvenile crime bill that was before the Congress.

And then the last thing that I wanted to do was focus on race and ethnic and religious differences, which is why I went to San Diego. Why? Because if we have a growing economy, a good educational system, the crime rate is down, the welfare rolls are down, and we're doing better by kids, and we can't get along when there is no race in the majority in this country, the rest of it will come unraveled. And if we can't get along we will not have the moral force we need to do what needs to be done in the Middle East, in Bosnia, in Africa, and in Northern Ireland, and who knows what's going to happen 10, 15, 20, 30 years from now.

In Hawaii -- Hawaii is the only state in the country today where there is no majority race. In three years there will be none in California. In somewhere between 30 and 50 years there will be none in the United States. It depends on immigration and birth patterns, but somewhere between 30 and 50 years from now we will test the theory that I have heard politicians talk about -- or read them talk about for a century, which is that this is not a nation of place or race, it's a nation of ideals. We are about to find out.

And it seems to me that it would be better for us to find out at a time when we have no riots in the streets, we have no immediate emergencies, we're at the peak of our economic strength and our international influence, when we could take back -- sort of step back and say, now, let's ask this question together one more time: What do we want to be like in 30 years? That's what that whole business in San Diego was about.

So I hope all of you will participate in that, because this is something that has been of passionate significance to the Jewish community for a long time. I really do believe that my life is diminished every time a synagogue is defaced. And I believe when they burned that mosque in the South a couple years ago it diminished my life. And I believe when those churches were burned it diminished my life. And I think that you do.

And so I ask you to help us participate in that. I also have invited you all privately -- I will say this publicly, I'm not ashamed to say it -- you care passionately, all of you, about getting peace in the Middle East; we cannot let this process become unraveled. I cannot tell you how many nights that I have had difficulty sleeping, racking my brain trying to come up with some new thing I could do or say to try to pierce the difficulties of the moment. But you have never been shy in telling me what you thought before, so don't start now. (Laughter.) Because every one of us now has a huge stake in this.

There is some good news here in some areas, and over the next several days we'll be seeing some progress, but there is a lot of -- there are a lot of clouds on the horizon, and we have to keep working at it. But I want you to know that it's not off my radar screen. It's still right there where it was the first day I took office. And I'm going to be disappointed when I leave office if we haven't gone much further. And I still believe we can, and I want you to believe that, and I want you to help me.

But I also want you also to just think for a moment one more time about the implications of this racial thing, because what I want to do is to get everybody to buy into that vision that we should be one America, that we should celebrate all the differences between us, but think that what unites us is more important; that we should get out the facts, because I've learned that we don't have the facts. I was astonished in the Gallup Poll, polling African Americans and whites just about different racial issues -- they asked African Americans and whites what percentage of our population is black. And the five choices were: less than five, between five and 10, between 10 and 20, between 20 and 49, or over half. Those are the five choices.

By far the biggest plurality -- there was not a majority for any answer -- but by far the most votes went to 20 to 49 percent. The most votes of whites, the most votes of blacks said between 20 and 49 percent of the American population is black. The correct answer is 12. But like 40 percent of both thought that. So if we don't even know what the facts are among us, you can imagine all the things we don't know about in more sophisticated ways, on more critical questions.

Then I want to try to get some honest dialogue going in every community. And the Jewish community has been very active in this in a lot of communities, so I ask you for your help for the White House in this -- help this advisory board I have appointed to reach out to things that are working now and get something like this in every community.

And, finally, we're going to try to come up with some specific, concrete solutions to go forward. But this is a huge deal. We can't hold America together and we can't maintain our position of moral leadership in the world to be for peace in a world that is coming apart around a racial, ethnic, tribal and religious differences unless we can deal with this. And we need to start now, before we have to figure out what we're going to do when things start to fray.

On balance, I'm very upbeat about our country and about the world. And there will always be difficulties, there will always be problems -- it is endemic to human nature. But if we could follow the admonition of the Christian Bible to love your neighbor as yourself, or Rabbi Hillel, who said, what is hateful to you, do not to your fellow man -- which is, it seems to me, just about the same thing -- then this race initiative will have been one well worth taking.

So again I say, I thank you for your support. I ask for your advice and your continued support. And more than anything else, I ask you to help your fellow Americans think about what we want this country to look like when our grandchildren are where we are.

Thank you. God bless you.

END 10:09 P.M. EDT