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                      Office of the Press Secretary
                         (New York, New York)
For Immediate Release                                      June 30, 1997

                        REMARKS BY THE PRESIDENT
                     AT NEW YORK PRESIDENTIAL GALA
                            The Plaza Hotel
                          New York, New York

11:25 P.M. EDT

THE PRESIDENT: Thank you very much. Well, you heard Lauren say that Al Gore is the most influential Vice President in history -- I let him have all the jokes. (Laughter.)

I do want to thank my good friend, Peter Duchin, and his orchestra for being here tonight. (Applause.) And I want to thank Mr. Billy Porter for that wonderful song he sang; and thank you, Denise Rich (phonetic), for writing the song, it was wonderful -- and the group, you were all great. Thank you. (Applause.)

You're going to hear a lot more from that young fellow, I predict. If I could sing like that I'd be in a different line of work. (Laughter.)

I want to thank Wynton Marsalis, who has always been there for us repeatedly. (Applause.) We were having a discussion around the dinner table tonight about Wynton Marsalis, a man I admire enormously. And I said I believe that he is the only musician in the world who is the best at what he does in both classical and jazz music. And then someone pointed out that Yo Yo Ma, with the Appalachian Suite, had come pretty close. And he's helped us, too. So I don't care, you can take your choice. (Laughter.) But he's a magnificent man.

And thank you, Lauren Bacall, for being who you are and for being there for us for all these years. Thank you. (Applause.)

Thanks for being here. You know, one of my immutable laws of politics is that no one should ever have to listen to a speech after 11 o'clock at night. And I'm not running again, anyway. (Laughter.) Therefore, I will let you out by midnight. (Laughter.)

I'll be very brief. I want you to remember the last thing the Vice President said. You have helped bring your country to this point through your support, and you are helping us to continue to take it in the direction that it is now headed, which is very different from five years ago.

I am so grateful to have had the chance to serve as President. I'm grateful, especially, to the people of New York who gave us right at 60 percent of the vote in the last election and a huge plurality of well over 1.7 million votes, about 25 percent of our total -- just under 25 percent of our total national plurality came from the generosity of the people of New York State, and I will never forget that. (Applause.)

Judith Hope, our State Democratic Chair, told me that we carried President Roosevelt's home county, which is apparently something that never happened when he was here. (Laughter.) That's just because they didn't know me as well, and I thank them for that. (Laughter.)

Let me say to you, when you go home tonight and you get up tomorrow and you think about why you do all this, I think the most useful question you can ask yourself is: what would you like your country to look like in 30 years; what would you like your country to look like when your children or your grandchildren are your age. That's a question I try to force myself to ask and answer every single day I do this job.

And it may sound trite now because I've said it so many times, but I don't have any better definition of that answer than I did when I started more than six years ago now: I want my country to be a place where the American Dream is alive for everybody who is responsible enough to work for it. I want our country to be a community that's coming together and celebrating the differences among us, not being driven apart by them. And I want us to lead the world for peace and freedom and prosperity well into the next century.

We're a lot closer to that today than we were five years ago -- because of the condition of the economy; because we are ending the structural deficit in the government; because we have developed a serious approach to move people from welfare to work, not to punish them or their children; because we developed a serious approach to reduce the crime rate and make people safer on their streets, not just talk tough about it; because we've made a good beginning in education and the environment and done a lot of things around the world.

But we still have a lot to do. It really matters not only that we balance this budget, but how we do it and whether we really empower people who need to be helped by this budget. If the budget we want passes, it will have -- for people that tell you there's nothing very significant in it, you decide. It will have the biggest increase in children's health coverage since the passage of Medicaid in 1965. It will have the biggest increase in federal support for education since 1965. (Applause.) It will have the biggest increase in federal support to help all kinds of people who need it go to college since the G.I. Bill was passed 52 years ago. I think it's a budget worth fighting for. It's a budget I'm very proud of. (Applause.)

We still have a lot to do in other areas. We've got a lot to do in the area of the environment. We took a tough decision last week on clean air rules, and we're going to work with our cities and our businesses to meet those clean air rules, but it matters whether the air is clean. There are too many children with asthma in this country, there are too many problems. It matters. (Applause.)

We're going to have to make some other tough decisions. The United States has 4 percent of the world's population; we produce 20 percent of the greenhouse gases that are warming our planet. It's led to the most disruptive weather patterns anybody can remember over the last four or five years. We owe it to our children not to take a stable universe away from them. It's not very complicated.

And can we find a way to grow our economy and do that? Of course we can. We're smart. We can do that. But we have to do it. We still have to find a way to honor the intergenerational compact that is the test of any great society. We do well by the elderly and we don't do very well by the poor and the children in this country -- 20 percent of them are living below the poverty line. And it's hard for them to get the chances they need in life. And I am determined that before I leave office we will balance the intergenerational equities and take care of our children better because we have to for our future. (Applause.)

Finally, just let me say this. I knew something --I thought I knew something about people who couldn't get along with one another because of their differences, because I grew up in the segregated South. I thought I knew something about that. And then I became President and I saw what happened in Bosnia and Rwanda and Burundi. And I saw what happened when my kinfolks in Ireland still insist on shooting each other over 600-year-old fights that children can barely explain.

And I thought after we signed that first peace agreement in the Middle East we would have an irreversible process because people would see it just did not make any sense to hold on to old hatreds; but they die hard. And I don't care what anybody says -- you know, yes, there is an entitlements issue that we have to face on Social Security, but my generation is not going to bankrupt our children and grandchildren. Fundamentally, that's an accounting problem that will get fixed.

The biggest problem is whether we can muster the wisdom and strength of spirit to treat each other with respect and not just abide each other's differences of all kinds, but to actually relish them and be glad that we have all this diversity in our country. Because if we can do that and then be united as one America by shared values, then we're way the best position in democracy in the world for the next century. But this is a very important thing. (Applause.)

So as you leave here tonight I want you to think about that. We've still got a lot of work to do before the new century comes in. There are five school districts in America with more than 100 different racial and ethnic groups among the students in them -- within two years there will be 12, before you know it there will be 20. There's only one state in the country that has no majority race, Hawaii; within three to five years, California won't; within 30 years, the United States won't.

We always say we're bound together by our shared values. We're about to find out. (Laughter.) Hold on, we're about to find out. And every one of us who can be in this room tonight because of our financial or political position or whatever, we have a special responsibility to the people who will follow behind us. The United States has got an incredible opportunity here and I'm going to keep trying to make peace in the Middle East and Northern Ireland and do what I can to help Africa. I'm going to do everything I can in this term to try to resolve the differences between Greece and Turkey over Cyprus. I'm going to support what's now going on, finally, where the Indians and the Pakistanis are talking. I'm going to do all that. But just remember, all those people live in America.

And we have other differences, as well. Sometimes I think that we couldn't live if we couldn't look down on somebody who is different from us. Sometimes I wonder if it's just sort of endemic to human nature, you know. Every one of you has done this, I know -- at least I have, I'll plead guilty. Haven't you had a bad day when you just were really down on yourself and you said, well, no matter how bad I am, at least I'm not him or her. I mean, it's almost like endemic and we have to fight that, because we are the most richly blessed country in the world.

Here we are, going into this global society, and everybody's right here. And if we have the discipline to give excellence in education, if we have the discipline to preserve the environment while we grow the economy, if we have the discipline to eliminate the intergenerational imbalance and give children health care just like we give it to senior citizens, if we have the discipline to do these things and to continue to fulfill our responsibilities in the world, the best days of this country are still ahead of us, and the people in this room will not live to see them, and that's good. That's good. That's our responsibility. And that's what this administration is all about and that's what your presence here is helping to further. And for that, we are profoundly grateful. God bless you and thank you. (Applause.)

END 11:37 P.M. EDT