THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary (Amelia Island, Florida) ________________________________________________________________________ For Immediate Release November 1, 1997
REMARKS BY THE PRESIDENT AND THE VICE PRESIDENT AT DNC DINNER
Ritz-Carlton Amelia Island, Florida
8:32 P.M. EST
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you very much. Please be seated. We're going to reverse the order tonight and I'm going to introduce the Vice President because you've all heard me speak before -- (laughter) -- because I need to save my voice to campaign for our candidates in New Jersey and New York tomorrow. (Applause.) Thank you.
Let me once again thank all of you for coming. I hope you have enjoyed this. I certainly enjoyed it today. I was glad to meet with the various panels, and I enjoyed Governor Romer's speech at lunch very, very much. Didn't he do a terrific job? (Applause.)
Ladies and gentlemen, six years ago when I began running for President, I wanted to win the election to change the country, and I felt very strongly that we were not preparing America for the 21st century and that our party needed to break the logjam not only with a set of new policies, but with a set of new ideas. I thought the political debate had become, frankly, stale, and at least to someone like me, governing a state out in the country, often completely meaningless.
I believed we had to move the debate toward what was good for the future, not the past; what would support positive change, not the status quo; what would bring us together, not divide us; and move away from the old left-right, liberal-conservative and, frankly, outdated name-calling and labeling that dominated national politics. Six years later, we've made a lot of progress, not only in moving the country to a better place, but in changing the nature of political debate.
I very much hope that the simplistic antigovernment, reactionary approach had its last gasp in the Republican congressional victory in 1994. (Applause.) The fact that we beat back the Contract With America and signed the right kind of welfare reform, got a balanced budget with the biggest investments in education and health care since 1965, and that we're moving forward in a way that brings the country together around the ideas of opportunity, responsibility and community that we have espoused now for a long time is deeply encouraging to me.
The fact that all around the world now people are beginning to talk in the same terms -- the First Lady is in Great Britain today; she's been in Ireland. I, frankly, was very flattered that Tony Blair's campaign was often compared to ours, and that the so-called new Labor movement has a lot in common with what we try to do here. I believe all over the world countries that are serious about helping people make the most of their own lives, assuming a leadership role in dealing with the challenges of the modern world are going to have to basically adopt similar approaches.
If you hadn't helped us, none of the that would have been possible. But what I want to say to you is, if I hadn't been smart enough to pick Al Gore to be my running mate, none of it would have been possible. (Applause.)
Let me just give you a few examples. Sam Rayburn used to say it's a lot easier to tear something done, even a jackass can kick a barn down, but it takes a carpenter to build one. Now, we took the position that the old debate that government could not be a savior, but couldn't sit on the sidelines, either, was a false debate, and that we had to have a new kind of government that was smaller, that did more with less, that could balance the budget, but also invest more in our future. Al Gore's Reinventing Government project was the instrument through which we put that principle into practice.
And five years after we took office, our government is smaller by 300,000, several thousand pages of regulation, several hundred government programs that were out of date. It has been modernized in many ways, but we did not walk away from the problems, the challenges, and the opportunities of the American people.
The Reinventing Government project was often, frankly, made fun of because it's not the sexiest issue in town. But it's what enabled us to cut the government by 300,000 and increase the quality of public service and have money left over after we reduced the deficit, passed the balanced budget bill, to still invest in our future. The American people owe the Vice President a great debt of gratitude for that achievement alone. (Applause.)
Second example: When I became President, I got a very interesting letter shortly after I took office from former President Nixon, written a month and a day before he passed away. And it was about Russia, the importance of Russia to our future, and how we had to work with them to make sure we didn't repeat the ugly history of the last 50 years, but instead had a partnership for peace and prosperity and cooperation.
Well, I struck up a pretty good relationship with President Yeltsin and I stuck by him through tough times because he was standing up for democracy and prosperity. But we had a huge number of exceedingly difficult issues and, frankly, we still have some tough issues, and we always will because it's in the nature of relationships between two great countries.
The Vice President agreed to head a commission along with the Russian Prime Minister, Mr. Chernomyrdin, for which there was really no precedent in global affairs. And the Gore-Chernomyrdin Commission is the instrument through which the good intentions and principles articulated first by me and then by Boris Yeltsin have made the United States-Russia partnership the success it is. They've made it possible for us to go together into Bosnia. They made it possible for us to dramatically reduce the number of nuclear missiles we have. They've made it possible for us to detarget missiles so that none of our missiles are pointed at each other's children. They made it possible for us to do a whole range of things.
The Vice President has done a similar thing with the Vice President of South Africa. He has worked out an environmental partnership with top officials in China. In other words, it's fine for the President to make these statements; it's quite another thing if you have to look up four or five or six years from now and nothing has been done. It won't happen because Al Gore was the Vice President of the United States with unique responsibilities for helping to build our common future. (Applause.)
I could give you any number of other examples. I remember not long after I became President, when I was still reading critical columns -- (laughter) -- someone wrote a column in which they said something like -- well, anyway, the import of it was that obviously I was a weak person and that's why I had a wife who was so influential and why I gave my Vice President so much power, more than any President ever had before. And that sort of tickled me, because it seemed to me that if I had a partner in the Vice President who had knowledge in areas greater than mine, who had expertise in areas greater than mine, and who had all this energy and ability and a passionate dedication to this country and its future, I would be a fool not to use it. And I would be disserving you and every other American citizen if I had done anything other than make Albert Gore the most influential and effective Vice President in the history of the United States. So I think I did the right thing there. (Applause.)
We've had a unique partnership. Believe it or not, we don't always agree. (Laughter.) Our disagreements have been among the most stimulating experiences of my presidency. But if I want to disagree with the Vice President, since I get the last vote, I know at least that I have to go to school and I better have my facts straight.
I will never be able to convey publicly or privately the depth of gratitude I feel for the partnership that we have enjoyed. But I just want you to know that every time I see another economic report like the one we saw yesterday, that the economy grew another 3.5 percent in the last quarter; every time I think about the 13 million people who have jobs, the 3 million people who aren't on welfare, the more than 12 million people who have taken advantage of family and medical leave, and all of the achievements that this administration has played a role in, I know -- I know that one of the most important factors was the unique and unprecedented relationship I have enjoyed with this fine, good man.
Ladies and gentlemen, the Vice President. (Applause.)
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Thank you. Thank you very much. Well, I sure didn't expect to stand up here and listen to that, and I sure do appreciate it very much. You weren't supposed to -- I mean, the whole point of why they asked you to flip the order was so that you wouldn't speak -- (laughter) -- to save your voice. And you went ahead and spoke, and thank you very much, Mr. President. I'm touched by the kind words.
And, of course, ladies and gentlemen, you can probably get a clear sense of how meaningful this friendship is to the two of us. And I know that many of you have had the great blessing of having a really close friend with whom you work on a regular basis, and when you take on challenges that are just really tough and you have somebody to talk with who understands and who is right there without any question, just as a teammate and partner, that's the kind of friendship that we have had.
Of course, the burdens and duties that this President has on his shoulders are just unimaginable. And that's true of any President, of course, but it's been such a privilege for me to watch at close hand and see how he conducts the business of this country and to see how he handles these challenges. And it's really a great privilege.
You know, the two of us feel so much gratitude to those of you here for making it possible for this President and his team to take on these challenges. And I want to thank Roy Romer, our general chairman of the DNC, and his wife, Bea Romer. Roy, thank you for the speech today; thank you for your leadership of the party; and thank you for all the hard work and effort that you're putting into this.
Likewise, Steve Grossman, thank you. As our national chair, you are right there every day making the tough decisions, moving us forward. We're very grateful to you as well.
And to all of the talented team at the DNC, our national victory fund chairman, Dan Dutko; our DNC treasurer Carol Pensky, who was just here on stage, and her husband David; to Cynthia Freedman, our women's leadership forum chair; to Tom Hendrickson, the Democratic Business Council chair who is here with his wife Jill; Alan Solomont, our national finance chair; and to all of the other members of the team -- and especially this weekend, to our DNC retreat chair Walter Shorenstein, thank you very much, Walter, for making this weekend an extraordinary and unforgettable experience. We're very grateful to you. (Applause.)
And I'm looking forward to Art Garfunkel and Billy Porter. We're going to have some great entertainment after dinner. (Applause.)
Let me just say a few words first on behalf of the President, both about politics and about the future of our country. We are witnessing a great contest between two sets of ideas and we have the privilege of having had a test of both sets of ideas and we can assess how well the ideas have served our nation.
But we also have a political struggle, and the outcome of this struggle will depend in many ways on you. But in looking at where we have come under the leadership of President Clinton, we often talk about the economic recovery and all the success in our nation, but look at what has happened politically. You know, for a quarter century, the Republican Party raised doubts about the ability of Democrats to handle fiscal policy, to handle the budget, to bring crime rates down, to keep our military strong, to reduce the welfare rolls. They drove a wedge between Democrats and the middle class.
Well, that was never the party that we knew. But in the last five years, we have proved that those charges and allegations were just nonsense, because in political terms what President Bill Clinton has done is nothing short of revolutionary. The entire political landscape has been transformed.
The American people know that Democrats are responsible for reducing the budget deficit from $300 billion down to $22 billion this year on the way to a balanced budget, that Democrats have been responsible for bringing all the crime rates down in every single category for five years in a row, putting all those new community police officers on the street, emphasizing prevention programs, building the strength of the communities.
The American people understand that Democrats have managed the government well, reduced its size to the lowest level in 30 years and improved its efficiency in the process. Democrats have reduced the welfare rolls and put people back to work. Democrats have handled our nation's business so well that we have had the longest sustained economic recovery in more than a generation. It is a success that Democrats deserve credit for. (Applause.)
Now, the point in political terms is that we have won back the trust and confidence of the middle class in this country. And that is a remarkable achievement. Look, by contrast, at what's going on in the Republican Party. They talk constantly among themselves about how they do not have an agenda. They have the same kind of bickering that they used to point do in the Democratic Party a quarter century ago, over on the right. While they're so disorganized, the right hand doesn't know what the far right hand is doing. And they're fighting among themselves. (Laughter and applause.)
Their vision for the future is right out of Jurassic Park -- they would turn the clock back. Incidentally, last Sunday we all felt, Saturday night, like Republicans for just one brief dark moment as we turned the clocks back with the end of Daylight Savings Time. (Laughter.) But the country doesn't want to turn the clock back 50 years, and that's what the Republican agenda would do.
They're at each other's throats because they are competing with one another for the affections of the far right-wing fringe. And their agenda is being driven by those elements in the party that hold them hostage. And it's scary to think, here, the day after Halloween, it's scary to think what they would really propose if they were to once again be in control of the White House.
We cannot let that happen. We've seen what they tried to do when they acquired control of the Congress. And whenever they could not convince the country to accept their proposals through the normal constitutional processes, the right wing has ginned them up to take hostages. And so they shut the government down -- twice.
President Bill Clinton, of course, as is now legendary, backed them down and forced them to retreat. But they didn't learn their lesson. When North Dakota had that devastating 500-year flood and was in desperate need of relief, they shut down the relief to North Dakota in order to try to blackmail the country into accepting yet another part of their agenda. Now, they're shutting down the confirmation process for judges on the Courts of Appeal because, again, one of their right-wing groups wants to prevent the filling of these judgeships around the country with anybody that does not agree with their right-wing approach.
So it's a very high-stakes battle. And they know they do not have the American people on their side, so they're trying to win by hook and by crook with political sleight of hand and massive infusions of money into the process -- like on Staten Island, for example, where -- I guess Roy talked a little bit earlier today.
By contrast, as I said, we've won back the confidence of the middle class. And in the famous saying on the front of the Archives, the past is prologue, and the American people understand that the performance under President Bill Clinton during these past five years is what the country can expect by continuing these policies in a Congress that is once again Democratic. Never forget that the economic recovery and the transformation of America's economic and financial fortunes came about because of the adoption of President Clinton's plan, without a single Republican vote -- not one in the House, not one in the Senate.
And what has happened as a result is truly remarkable. You know, the President referred to these new figures yesterday. Just let it sink in a minute. Growth went up again, while inflation went down again. That's kind of what you want. That's a combination that we just convinced ourselves was impossible during the long, dark years of Republican rule, where almost every day there was more distressing economic news about the deficit going through the roof, and businesses had no confidence in the future because every time they thought they felt a little strength in the economy and tried to borrow money to expand or hire new people they ran headlong into that government demand for credit and drove interest rates up and the economic recovery shorted out before it even got started.
The Bible has a passage, "they built an ambush for themselves." Well, under Republican economic policies they built an ambush for every potential economic recovery we attempted. It shorted out because of its internal contradictions. And the policy contradictions that the Republicans inflicted on this nation mirrored the internal political contradictions inside the Republican Party. It's not coherent. And so they tried to put in place policies to satisfy the various groups, even though they are internally contradictory. And the result for the country is confusion and dissidence and poor performance.
Now, of all the things that have been written about the success of President Clinton's policies, the one thing I think has received too little emphasis is the extent to which this President, beginning even before he was President, assembled the best thinkers in our party to put together a coherent set of policies that would be good for America across the board. It's not an accident that all this good news is happening all at the same time, because the policies fit together.
When the crime rates go down in our cities, that works hand in glove with our community empowerment strategy and our brownfields approach to bring new investment into the cities. When we have a sound economic policy that drives interest rates down and stimulates new investment, that works hand in glove with the increased investment we have made with public funds in research and development and science and technology and the Information Superhighway and the new technologies that are making us more productive. That in turn works hand in glove with the President's efforts to open new markets around the world, to have this huge increase in exports from this nation to the rest of the world, with high-paying jobs increasing rapidly as we go out to sell goods and services to the 96 percent of the world's consumers that are outside the United States of America. It is a coherent agenda that is working extremely well for the United States of America.
Now, if it were ideas alone that determined the outcome of political contests, then it would be all over. They would have to call the fight. They'd have to say this is no contest. But that's not the way it works, and thank goodness you all understand that, because a clearly superior agenda may not be selected and chosen if those who believe in it are not willing to fight for it, if there is not a requisite level of intensity being put behind those policies.
What is so interesting about the current political landscape is that even though the Republicans are incoherent, even though they are presenting an agenda to the country that does not make sense and failed the nation in the past, they, nevertheless, have a lot of people who feel very intensely that they want to win, and they're fighting very hard. So a lot of times they will pull out a victory in a political race purely on the basis of extra resources and more fight.
So that's why we're here this weekend, to talk about the ideas. And I look forward to participating in the panel discussions tomorrow, incidentally, and I've heard wonderful reports about all of the ideas exchanged here already and I'm really eager to participate in these sessions tomorrow. But, in addition, we're talking with one another about how we can match the intensity on the other side with an even greater intensity of effort on the part of those of us who believe deeply that politics is about more than just winning and losing. It really is about the future of this country.
So your willingness to come here and to identify yourselves as leaders for the future, to be willing to be a part of this winning team is something that we really appreciate more than we can tell you. It is great to have a friend, as I began by saying, and both the President and I feel the same way about your friendship to the Democratic Party and to the people of the United States of America. We're grateful to you and we look forward to fighting alongside you and winning in the future.
Thank you very much, ladies and gentlemen, for being here. (Applause.)
END 9:00 P.M. EST