THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
REMARKS BY THE PRESIDENT IN RACE INITIATIVE OUTREACH MEETING
The Cabinet Room
5:45 P.M. EST
THE PRESIDENT: Well, welcome. I'm glad to see all of you, and I thank you for coming in, some of you from a very great distance. I will be very brief. We're about six months into this effort and I think we've gotten quite a bit done and we've certainly generated a fair amount of controversy. And we're hoping for a good next six months. We've got a very ambitious schedule laid out. But we thought it would be quite helpful to bring a group in and just listen to you talk about where you think we are with the issue, what you think still needs to be done, what this Advisory Board and our project can and cannot reasonably expect to do within this year. And maybe we can talk about some of the things that we expect to be in the budget and some other issues.
But I'll say more as we go along through the meeting, but I'd rather take the maximum amount of time to be listening to you. And maybe we could just start with Wade.
MR. HENDERSON: Thank you, Mr. President.
THE PRESIDENT: Nice tie.
MR. HENDERSON: Appreciate it. Thank you. (Laughter.) Thank you very much. First of all, thank you not only on my own behalf, but on behalf of everyone here, for the invitation to be with you this afternoon. Suffice it to say we're honored to have a few moments of your time to talk about the Advisory Board and what we consider one of the most important initiatives of your administration.
I think all of us are fully aware of the depth of your commitment to these issues and your work on these issues is reflected in the policies of your administration. We're pleased by that. And this is an opportunity for us, obviously, to contribute in what we hope will be a positive way to the success of this most important endeavor.
I think as we look around the room, the diversity of the attendants -- the attendees, those who are here, and the communities from whence they come, reflect the diversity in America as a whole. And the fact that you've sought to bring these voices to the table is something that should be commended. We want to use this time productively, and obviously, many of us, we think, are of like mind on some of the important policy issues and civil rights issues facing the country.
We certainly think that on the issue of affirmative action, which has been the most burning and controversial issue in the debate on civil rights, we have a generally shared vision of where we want the country to go and we know you share that vision. And therefore, we don't think it's necessary to spend a great deal of time reaffirming our mission and message on that important question. I will note with one exception that we will face in the coming year a new challenge to that effect in the state of Washington where an initiative may be on the ballot in November of this year, and we think that's an important issue that require national attention. And we know that you will be there leading the effort to ensure that the citizens of that state reaffirm their commitment to equal opportunity.
Therefore, if we spend our time productively, I'd like to at least highlight three issues that I think could reflect well on the work of the Advisory Board. And I'm especially pleased to see Dr. Franklin here, my old mentor and colleague. He's doing such a fine job in that regard.
The first issue, I think, is one that brings Americans together. It unites across party lines Democrat and Republican alike, and that is a commitment to enforce existing civil rights laws in a vigorous way. We know that throughout the debate over affirmative action one thing is clear, and that is the American people share a commitment to the vigorous enforcement of existing law. And if those laws can be made to work effectively, discrimination, which we know exists and is real, can be diminished.
We know that discrimination is a problem, and one need only look at the reports from the federal agencies in the Executive Branch to confirm that. The FBI's statistics on hate crimes issued last week helps to confirm that. The statistics from agencies like the EEOC and others help to confirm that.
So from our standpoint, it would be a productive use of resources if the federal government took a zero tolerance policy on discrimination in the same way that it does in other areas of policy, and that that commitment is reflected in the budgetary submissions that you make to Congress this year and in the remainder of your term in office.
Now, we know you have a commitment to that. You've made every effort to increase civil rights enforcement budget over the last several years, but making a vigorous commitment to that effort we think could make an important contribution overall.
I would mention only two other things. From our standpoint, certainly the economic growth of the economy has been outstanding, and we have seen a more robust, more vigorous economy than we've ever seen in our country. And yet, at the same time, there is a growing gap in terms of the benefits of the economy between those who have the resources that the economy generates and those who don't. So the gap between the haves and the have-nots and their ability to participate in the fruits of the economy seems to us, at least to me, has not been fully appreciated.
What we're hoping is that you can use the bully pulpit of the Presidency to help focus the attention of the American people on that gap, and to use your good office to influence, in the private sector, policy initiatives that might contribute to a lessening of the problem.
One of the things that perhaps you might consider is convening a meeting of CEOs and chairs of boards of Fortune 500 companies here at the White House for a private conversation with you to talk about how these companies can use their resources to help reverse the trend toward disinvestment, both in urban communities, but also in poor world communities. It's a policy effort that unites across racial lines. It speaks to the economic needs of the American people, regardless of where they live. And certainly it involves using the resources that these companies have to help stimulate economic growth. It's the greening of America in ways that we've seen already.
I know that others have spoken about the problems of discrimination on Wall Street -- Reverend Jackson, in particular. There's going to be an effort to address that; but making sure that economic benefits are extended to more people. And that includes, hopefully, the development of jobs and opportunity for people who don't have them is very important.
Now, I know of your welfare-to-work initiative. That makes a significant contribution to the debate, but there are many people who are currently not receiving welfare, who are still missing out on the economic wherewithal that we're talking about. Addressing their needs, helping to encourage job development and investment in these communities can make a difference.
Lastly, I think that many of the problems that we've talked about with respect to the race initiative and the need for this Advisory Board, trace their roots back to the inequality that's inherent in the American educational system. And unless we spend some time focusing on the needs of children of the next generation, trying to reduce that disparity, we're going to have a continuing problem.
The single most important contribution perhaps that you could make under these circumstances is to try to ensure that more high-quality instruction is made available in both inner-city and in rural school system that don't have that high-quality instruction that is brought about largely through the creation of incentives that attract bright, committed, dedicated professionals to the profession of teaching.
Right now the profession lacks status. It lacks recognition. And certainly it lacks the kind of economic incentive that attracts the best and the brightest. So incentives for loan reduction for students or individuals who commit themselves to five years or more working in these urban school systems, providing them with the training that allows them to be successful, helping to hold young people to high standards -- all of that could make, we think, a significant difference.
And so my suggestion is to focus on those areas that tend to unite the American people, and that these are I think three examples of perhaps what could be done.
THE PRESIDENT: I agree with that. Let me say on the first, on the discrimination, just very, very briefly, we're working on that. We have a good budget and a good plan. And I think we ought to go hard toward the people who say they are against discrimination but they oppose affirmative action in the Republican majority, and say, well, if you are, why won't you fund the EEOC? Give us the tools to do the job.
On the economy, we'll have a very aggressive set of proposals that go right at you're suggesting and also education. Of course, we've already suggested that we -- and have offered a program of loan forgiveness for people who will go into educationally underperforming school districts to teach. But we have some other things to offer in that regard.
I think all these are important because we have to find ways to unify the American people around this agenda in ways that actually change the future outcomes for people. And so I appreciate that. I think that's very good.
Who wants to go next? Go ahead.
MR. ROTUNDARO: Mr. President, I would pick up on a number of things that Wade said. In particular, two points that I think are of some substantial importance. Number one, and I would agree with I think most people around the table that the racial commission that is doing a very fine job under very difficult circumstances. But I think it would be a tragedy if the work the racial commission stops this June, stops in September, or stops sometime this year. One of the things that I would propose is that one of the aspects of the racial commission should be an attempt to enlist as many forces as possible in American government, the opinion leaders, the universities, the corporations, to enlist as many of the opinion leaders as possible in an effort to continue the fight against social injustice or racism.
I think it's important that -- I think it's very, very important that racism, that discrimination simply be held as an unacceptable approach to life by most Americans. And I think that that is something that can only be done through enlisting the opinion leaders in this country.
And by the opinion leaders I mean the brokers in Congress, I mean the educators, I mean the journalists, I mean people in public life. But I also mean organizations such as mine -- white, ethnic organizations; i.e., we're with the National Italian American Foundation. I represent that organization, but we've also been working with some 30 or 40 different other ethnic groups -- Polish groups, Croatian, German. Most of these groups can have, and I think do have, an influence on their membership, and I think that an attempt should be made so that we also can be educated to the needs of what has to be done.
As an example, -- Isadaria (phonetic) and I go back a long way. It's only been within the last couple of years that I've begun to understand in even some small amount the impact of police reaction to minorities -- blacks, to Hispanics. I simply did not know it. Hugh Price -- I think your organization did a paper on this and mentioned this as a very important element. This is something that I simply was not aware of to any substantial degree. So I think we -- that is white ethnic groups -- do have to be educated along these lines so we can help educate our own membership.
Finally, there's one other element that I think is important and that is that not only must there be an attempt made to combat at the highest levels and on down through the society the impact of social injustice and racism, but I think we're also dealing to a degree with not just racism but also the elements of class. Once again I turn to the National Urban League -- I think you've just undertaken what I read is supposed to be a major project on the question of elevating the importance of academics for black kids in the urban community.
Virtually everything I've been reading in this field recently leads me to believe that academic excellence is maybe not prized as much as it should be. And if education isn't there, jobs -- the better jobs will not be there. And although you may make a very substantial impact on the question of racism in America, we still might be left with a substantial amount of minority kids who don't have the right attitude to an education, who don't have the right skills to have jobs and who are never going to get out of that economic, educational ghetto.
MS. RICH: I guess there are two areas that I would like to emphasize, and both of them, I think both approaches would include public-private, nonprofit partnerships, because I think that collaboration is very important in all of these efforts.
I guess Wade kind of touched on it with the economic. I'd like to say that I think the workplace is probably one of the most important areas where we need to focus. There is, obviously, still a lack of opportunity, of full opportunity for people of color and for women. And I think the workplace is key because people with diverse backgrounds are more likely to meet each other in the workplace than, say, in possibly their neighborhoods or places of worship.
And so I think that I would want to suggest that there be -- you mentioned about bringing CEOs together -- I think that a lot of emphasis of trying to bring corporate people together into this process and deal with training for cultural diversity and increase cultural diversity awareness, which would help reduce bias.
The other thing is that I think that very often we start too late. I think that it needs to be started at pre-school, in child care, if you will. I mean, very early -- children aren't born prejudiced; they learn it from someplace. I would suggest that even in programs -- I know a program which you're familiar with, which I think you know I'm familiar with -- a program like HIPPIE (phonetic), which is an early childhood program. It has culturally diverse materials, dealing with all types of populations. There are many programs that are in our schools today that are very focused on cultural diversity.
But I think that we can't wait until high school. We have to really start earlier, and focus on increasing this awareness training even at very early ages.
MAYOR SERNA: Mr. President, I think Wade does speak for a lot of us. And I think all of those issues -- the urban issues, job issues, economic development, schooling, education -- are important.
In California, we are confronted with a particularly difficult dilemma, and that is the scapegoating of immigrants, which is incredibly divisive in the state. As you know, there's a current issue that will be on the '98 ballot regarding bilingual education. It's going to be very difficult for all of us. I don't know what to advise you on that issue. Obviously, the courageous position would be for all of us to oppose it, and I personally will as the Mayor of the City of Sacramento. But what concerns me the most is over time, especially with Prop 187 that was passed by the voters, led by the Republicans, and then 209, that those are all wedge issues that tend to divide us along racial lines.
The immigrant community is being scapegoated in California, as you know, and making them to be the ogres. What to do about that problem confronts me. I think a lot of the issues that Wade talked about touches, I think, what we all have to do as people of color, with the President's support to advance the cause of justice and equity.
This issue of immigration is a particularly difficult one because I don't think any of us know what to do. The one thing to do, however, I think, is encourage the INS to process those folks that are applying for citizenship to either make that process work more efficiently, to get people through that process. It can be very, very difficult, and it can even be very costly to some folks. And once that has happened, to then, I think, devise a program. I don't know where it would come from. Maybe it comes from business. Maybe it comes from labor leaders. Maybe it comes from the White House. And that is an effort of encouraging citizenship and processing citizenship as thoroughly and as quickly as possible to incorporate those new citizens into the American fabric.
I think a statement or your leadership in leading to citizenship and all the responsibilities that go with it need incredible support. This is a very difficult issue for us in California, and California is kind of a unique place, as you know. You've made history there by winning two elections in California. A lot of people don't know the basics about our state. They perceive that, because surf is up, that we're all kind of liberals out there. It's not true. And you know better than I.
The last real contested race before yours, Mr. President, as you know, of a Democrat who won the state, was in 1948. I don't count '64 because that was a lopsided victory for us. But you've made history there.
And I think the Latino, the Mexican American community has been absolutely revolutionized. The Republicans are losing ground, and I think all the press reports are correct, because Prop 187 and the Wilson administration have so polarized our community that it has scared them into participation. They're now participating politically out of fear. That fear is -- my mother is an example, who's now 76 years old. She finally took out her citizenship papers at the age of 73. Before then, we couldn't get her to take out her citizenship papers because she felt, well, if I take out my American citizenship papers, I cease to be Mexican. Not true.
I couldn't convince her as her son, as the mayor of a major city in California. (Laughter.) Neither could my sister, who's also an elected official in Stockton, California. But when she was told that 187 threatened her Social Security, it got her to take the classes. She passed her classes and is now a citizen, and is a registered Democrat. We have to -- I'm not suggesting this is a campaign strategy. (Laughter.)
What I am suggesting, though, is that it opens up an issue that's very important. How do we get that new immigrant population to participate? And the way you do that, I think, is encourage citizenship and directing the INS to help us in that process.
These folks really are a part of our economy, and they want to be, I think, good Americans. I think you'll find that those new immigrants are probably more nationalistic than most of us here. They believe in this country, and they believe in this system; and they're afraid to participate. We need to make that easier.
So I think, Mr. President, from that perspective, there's a whole new set out there -- a whole new set of Americans that are just waiting for some encouragement that says, you're good people; you're here to work like most of us, how we got here -- to build a better life for all of us, to build on the American dream; and to be considered with this race board that American democracy and the American fabric has to include them.
Then when we talk about race, we include them in that discussion. In our community, by the way, it's not just the Latinos. It's also Asian Americans. We have a growing Southeast Asian community in our city that is very productive, very honored to be here, working hard. And I think a lot of folks that come from Mexico or that come from other parts of Latin America are waiting to be told, we appreciate you being here and we'll do everything to assist you in becoming Americans. So I would encourage you, Mr. President, to do what you can to encourage the INS to process folks thoroughly, quickly, and then sponsor a citizenship program.
THE PRESIDENT: You know, when I came here, it was taking an unconscionably long time for people to get through the system, and we tried to accelerate it. And the Congress had such a negative reaction to it, the Republican majority did, they tried to investigate the whole INS because we took the position that you shouldn't have to wait years and years and years after you had already been here five years, to have the government decide whether you could become a citizen or not. I still think that's the right thing to do. I think it's entirely too bureaucratic, and I think we should do better.
MS. NARASAKI: Mr. President, I'm very glad to hear you say that, because the backlog persists and there are already 2 million individuals, and it's two years long. That's how many would-be citizens we would have --
THE PRESIDENT: But we were taking it down, to be fair -- until we were viciously and unfairly attacked for making the law work the way it's supposed to.
MS. NARASAKI: Exactly it. I also wanted to applaud the administration for including a sizable fix for food stamps in the budget. I think it's going to be very important to save those who are the most vulnerable in our society, who already are facing the loss of food in the last two weeks of every month.
But I really most want to thank you for the stand that you took on Bill Lann Lee, and we look forward to working with you to remove the "acting" from his title, as you so eloquently said when you introduced him.
I think that fight, to me, was very instructive, because it forced a discussion on affirmative action in a way that I think this country had not had the discussion. And I hope that you will continue to pursue those opportunities to put a face on these issues, because all too often the discussion is a lot of rhetoric, a lot of philosophy, and people don't see the faces of discrimination that we're really talking about.
I hope that you will take the opportunity to use Washington state's initiative to again deepen the understanding that the American public has about what we're talking about, why we need affirmative action, what kind of discrimination is out there. The California initiative on bilingual education I think is an important opportunity to talk about discrimination as it impacts particularly Latinos and Asians.
Finally, I wanted to echo some of the earlier comments. I think it's really important to try to now narrow the discussion. You've laid a very good general foundation, but it's hard to get deep into actual, where it hurts discussion until you get specific. And I hope that, by homing in on things like bilingual education and affirmative action, it will make the discussion more real.
I believe that you should challenge religious leaders to come in, challenge the members of the Christian Coalition to come in and talk about what are they going to do to address this issue, as you have with the conservative meeting. I think that one of the best things that the initiative has done is to cause the media to focus on these issues and to start to flesh them out when you raise them.
I think it would be great if you called the entertainment network heads together or the talk show hosts together or some of the television or movie producers together, talk about how the stereotypes that are still replete in our television and our movies continues to drive the perception that Americans have about each other, and challenge them and ask them what they plan to do on this issue.
This year is the 30th anniversary of the Fair Housing Act. We've already heard that the housing industry plans assault on the Fair Housing Act. It's a great opportunity, again, to talk about discrimination in housing. Call the leaders in the insurance companies, the bankers, the home builders, and talk about discrimination in housing and their role in it and what they intend to do.
I think that your leadership in bringing these real cases to light will help further the discussion beyond where we've been able to go today.
SENATOR LEWIS: Mr. President, I want to thank you also for inviting us to participate in this discussion. I agree with my friends and colleagues here -- you have an opportunity to provide the way out, I think, in America at this time, at this juncture. It's a major crisis, really. We can take the great leap ahead, or we can stand still.
I really believe that when you speak in two weeks, the State of the Union address, you should address the whole question of race. You should talk about the dialogue and get the American people to engage in a national dialogue on race. I agree you should bring in the religious leaders, the labor leaders, the business leaders, teacher groups, student groups, young people, and get us all talking about race.
We cannot deny the fact that the scars and sting of racism are still deeply embedded in American society. That cannot be denied. You should say, there's not any room in our society for racism, for bigotry, anti-Semitism, for hate crime and violence against our fellow Americans. Make this issue, this crusade a moral issue.
On affirmative action, don't back off, don't back down; meet it head on. Debate the people the same way you did in Ohio, and let us all put all our cards on the table if we're going to move down that road toward the creation of one America and one American family, and create what Dr. King called a beloved community, and inter-racial democracy. If we believe we can do it, we must do it. And I don't think we have much time in America to do it. But we're all in this boat together.
I think you just have to speak in a very plain way to the American people, and leave no one out, leave no one behind.
MR. KWOH: Thank you. I want to join in in appreciating your commitment on the race initiative. Coming from Los Angeles, I think your appointment of Bill Lee and the fight for him in his current post really built perhaps the best multi-racial coalition we've seen in decades. So I want to thank you for that.
And one of our staff attorneys, Julie Soo (phonetic), wanted to say hello. She was very honored by your welcome after she won the human rights award.
Coming from Los Angeles and knowing, as my colleagues mentioned, some of the racial dynamics in California, I am very concerned that the race initiative has not had the local impact it can have. There's few, if any, local politicians who have taken advantage of this opportunity. There are only a handful of community groups who have done anything new or additional since the race initiative was launched. And certainly the race relations in California need improvement. Since the '92 riots, since Prop 187 and Prop 209, discussions and dialogues in the OJ Simpson case, we've just seen people more and more racially polarized.
My suggestion is to have you focus on local action. I agree with my colleagues on the national enforcement issues that they've raised -- I fully agree with them. But I do think that the local action will enable you to see a bubbling up of creative solutions to race divisions. It will allow more local support for the national initiatives that you are taking leadership on. It will help to include the diversity of those local areas.
It won't be a broad discussion, but when you talk about who is going to do something in local communities you have to include everyone. And I stress action because I believe that dialogue within the context of taking common action is the best solution and the best dialogue, because then people work out their differences within striving for something of common good.
And let me just close by giving a couple suggestions. one is I think that local leaders need to hear from you that you expect them to take direct action, direct local action. The politicians, community groups -- that if a letter, a call, a word from the President said, I want you to take local community action to improve your communities and improve race relations at the same time, and I'd like a report from you in a year or two, I believe that would help us tremendously.
Secondly, I think there are a lot of federal programs at the local level that can incorporate race relations improvement into them. For example, your AmeriCorps program, which I greatly admire, if you set one of the goals -- not the only goal, but one of the goals is to improve race relations, then the group of people who are working in a housing project are not just improving the physical environment of the housing project. They're bringing the black and white, Latino, Asian neighborhood people together. If that is a goal within the federal program, I think then we could see a lot more action.
And both of these suggestions would not require a federal funding program. But I think people are waiting to hear from you to say, what should individuals, what should communities, what should local areas do themselves to improve race relations. Right now I see it as people are waiting and they're watching, but they have not heard from you on what they should do. And that's my suggestion.
THE PRESIDENT: I've been just -- sort of in support of what you said. We have -- one of the most clearly successful things we've done, even though it's not -- we don't have it on prime-time television in ads or anything, because we don't have that kind of money, but we put up this Internet home page with promising practices in communities around the country. And substantial numbers of people have tapped into it to see what's being done someplace else and can they apply it in their own community, is there some way to build on it. It's been very, very impressive.
The other thing you said about recruiting leadership I think is -- the one thing that we did is we wrote several thousand young people and asked them to take some initiative, and hundreds of them wrote us back with very specific things saying what they were going to do. So that's some indication that if we identify a given list of people, whether they're mayors, city council people, county officials, you name it -- and ask them to do something specific, that they'll do that.
MR. PRICE: Mr. President, first I'd like to thank you for appointing the distinguished John Franklin to chair the advisory committee and giving him a little bit of a travel budget. He was with the executives of our Urban League movement just last week and it was a wonderful presentation and a great chance for people who revere him to be in touch with him.
The second point I'd make is I do think there are some things going on that have been tripped off by the initiative that perhaps aren't on the national media radar screen. But I spoke, as did your good friend, Joe Martin, to a gathering of 400 people in Charlotte, North Carolina, which has embarked on a major effort to look at race relations in that community. And it was triggered by this initiative, although it hasn't been formally associated with the initiative. And it might be interesting to track how much of that is going on. There may be more with some legs on it that perhaps we don't even realize.
There are three areas I'd like to touch on briefly. One is -- a couple of them basically have been spoken to, but I wanted to underscore them. I think the whole issue of closing the gap between young people who are achieving in school and those who aren't is something that's got to be dealt with on a mobilization footing. I don't think we're quite at the fever pitch that we need in that area, and yet it's at the root of the initiative.
I mean, you're announcing you want to do something to help close the gap in skilled workers, and I read the other day in the Wall Street Journal that head hunters are prowling Brazil looking for skilled workers, and yet they're right in our school systems, our urban and rural school systems. And we still aren't at a point where that has got the level of commitment and energy that I think we need in the nation.
There was a submit, that you remember only too well, on the Palisades just a couple years ago, of governors and business leaders, and the whole focus was on standards, tests, and sanctions. And I remember several of us bringing up the subject of, are we going to focus on the deliver systems, what happens in the school buildings and the communities to lift the kids to these standards. And the subject was literally ruled out of order. I remember because I was ruled out of order when I raised that question.
And I think there has got to be a whole other mobilization around that issue, and that's derivative of the knowledge base that exists. In an earlier meeting, we talked about the Equity 2000 program of the college board and Don Stewart, and they've just issued a whole other report indicating dramatic gains in the number of kids who are taking and passing algebra and geometry. And there is just a lot of knowledge that now exists and some initiatives of scale that a whole agenda could be built around that involves a combination of federal responsibility, local responsibility, state, and community. And I just think we've got to almost move to a -- it's naive of me to say this -- I think we need to move to an almost warlike mobilization on that issue, because if we don't, we're not going to deal with many of the other issues that bedevil us.
A second area that I think is derivative of the first is, many cities are beginning to show some signs of life. There is an article, again, I read today about Grand Rapids coming back and other cities are coming back. But the kids who are in the inner-cities and in those neighborhoods with still very high unemployment aren't as connected to what's happening in downtown revitalization as perhaps the ought to be, and I think that's an area for considerable attention.
The third one is a hobby horse you're familiar with. On the taxi over from the airport today, I clipped out another article from my alternative reading source, the Washington Times -- Police Profiling Goes on Trial. A police officer in Miami, Florida, was stopped for changing lanes and for a partially obscured tail light. And it's off to the races. There is another ugly situation down there, and it's because a trivial thing has been escalated into something serious.
After the Abna Luima (phonetic) incident in New York City, the New York Times began poking around into this issue of police interaction with civilians, and they have uncovered enormous problems in police practices, but even more so in the attitudes that are developing among minority citizens toward police, toward authority, therefore toward whites, even though many of the officers may be black.
And I just think somehow we've got to dive into this issue -- you've heard me on this before -- it does not go away and it just tears at the fabric of our society.
THE PRESIDENT: The profiling, I think, is a serious problem. We've talked a lot about it. I think I've seen the three most glaring examples that I've seen since I've been President are the repeated example black Americans have given of being stopped by police for no apparent reason. We had a black journalists group in here not very long ago, and every African American male in the room had been stopped within the last few years for no apparent reason.
The stopping of Hispanics for no apparent reason near the border. And the immediate assumption after the Oklahoma City bombing that some Arab American had been involved. You know that I was able to sort of put a puncher in that within 24 hours. But it was -- when I cautioned the American people not to do that. But we just -- it's still a part of how we relate to each other that we have to deal with.
Eleanor, go ahead. I'm sorry.
REPRESENTATIVE HOLMES NORTON: Mr. President, I'd just like to say a word about your initiative, from where I sit in the Congress. When you first announced it -- John will recall, perhaps -- that we had an immediate meeting because we thought that particularly black people were looking for leadership on how they're supposed to think about this race initiative.
It didn't take us long to decide that we should endorse and embrace it; that if you get the attention of the President of the United States on race, you ought to take it and run with it. And if I may say so, Mr. President, so far as I can tell, this is the first time in the history of the Republic that a President of the United States has confronted race without it confronting him; that is to say, without and in-your-face crisis. A war, a riot, then we're ready somehow to take it on.
I hope that there is something instructive in your legacy about ongoing American problems that have to be redefined and dealt with again in each generation on its own terms. So notice what the conservatives are saying -- oh, well, why are they talking about race; who's doing something about it. In Congress it's really interesting to hear these folks who don't want to do anything about it now criticize you for only wanting to talk about it. I mean, our answer has to be, you can't possibly do anything about race if you don't talk about it. You surely are not prepared to do something about something you don't even want to mention or come to grips with orally or verbally.
I endorse your notion that it is time to give some definition to where you want to commission to go. I believe that you are struggling with it in the right way, because in our country there is almost no important problem that cannot be defined in racial terms. And thus is the history of our country. Every social issue has a large racial dimension, and a large multi-racial dimension. So in a real sense, it could set your initiative up for failure if, in fact, it is left as wide open as it is, so anybody's problem you can throw in here and say, okay, that's race; you all deal with that before this is all over.
You have taken on -- it is very brave to take on something called race at this time, since you don't have a crisis that gives definition, and therefore the burden is on you.
I would also like to see -- I think if we really want to get the attention of everybody except the usual suspects that talking about race only in terms that we have talked about for the last 50 years is not likely to get the average American engaged. One of the things that most concerns me is one of those problems that doesn't quite seem a problem, and that is the absence of any sense of racial reconciliation.
I don't know, Roger, it seems to me that there was more communication across racial lines when we were in the civil rights movement than there is today. There is enormous racial isolation in this country. I make no real comparisons; I have no basis to do so. But I can tell you that I was in Yugoslavia in the 1960s as a student, going to some conference, and I was very impressed with Yugoslavia. In the middle of -- totalitarian still intact -- and it just seemed just like America to me. And once totalitarianism was gone, those people tore each other apart and were involved in savagery.
So I don't like it, I feel a sense of discomfort when everybody's so comfortable in her own racial and ethnic niche. It all feels great. And you can turn to your channel on the cable, and you can find only yourself there 24 hours a day, and isn't that great? I really wonder how healthy that can be in a society that calls itself multiracial and multiethnic and practices almost none of it. I must tell you, among my own people, among black people, I see a very -- I will use a nice word -- a very parochial sense that I didn't see before, where people are quite willing to say things in their own councils that I don't think they would have said 30 years ago. I think that just comes from the comfort of dealing only in your own councils -- feeling reinforced, really in your own views because you're dealing with yourself and it's more comfortable to deal with yourself and not being challenged.
I would like to reinforce what Wade said about enforcement in a couple of specific ways. The chairmanship of the EEOC -- I hope I will not be seen as unduly parochial here -- is just being vacated by a very capable young man -- for whatever reason, the chairmanship of this lead agency on civil rights went vacant for enormous amount of time last time. It does seem to me a lost ground. The Reagan people had almost destroyed it. With all the positions to fill, it was left vacant for a very long time. I can only hope that you give some priority to filling the chairmanship.
In the Congress, the EEOC was left with all kinds of backlogging. We were able -- I worked with J.C. Watts to get some money for it last year, and we got some extra money for it this year. But I believe it came at level funding this year. And again, one way to express one's concern for race, it seems to me, is to adequately fund these agencies.
Finally, something to be said about the State of the Union speech. I think everybody -- I think the press is going to be looking to see the way in which you in fact -- everybody is going to expect that you refer to the race initiative in some form or fashion in the State of the Union speech. I think that is a very difficult challenge for you.
There ought to be some kind of call for action. I like the notion of activating the whole country, and letting everybody know this is more than the President of the United States and the folks here in the Beltway, and perhaps giving them some vehicle to begin to nationalize what you're trying to do with the race initiative.
Finally, as a member of Congress, may I say that we made some important headway last time on affirmative action because almost surely this Canady bill was straight on its way to tossing affirmative action over the side. And what we were able to do in the Judiciary Committee was to get four Republicans to vote with the Democrats to keep this bill in committee.
Now, I have to tell you, there almost surely was some cooperation with the leadership; I certainly think with Newt. And I think you ought to have a private conversation with him. I don't think he wants to -- but I don't think he speaks for the caucus. But I do think the Chairman, I think Hyde was cooperative. There were some people who we all worked on who were Republicans who were cooperative.
In the State of the Union message, or in some appropriate place, as part of what you're doing with race, it seems to me that it would be important to call upon the Congress to resist the -- especially in an election year -- to resist the temptation to make affirmative action a wedge issue. Let it be to let your mend it, don't give it a chance, let these regulations come out here. Then perhaps you will have some basis to come forward, but that in the midst of your effort to bring about reconciliation, for the Congress to go in the exact opposite way, to draw a line in the sand among the races, would be just what we don't need at this time.
MR. WILKINS: Mr. President, I'm grateful that you invited me to participate in this meeting. And I must say, this is quite an emotional moment for me -- I didn't realize it. I haven't been in this room in 30 years. And the last time I was in this room, Martin King was sitting there, and my uncle was sitting there, Whitney Young was sitting where Hugh is sitting. John wasn't here because he was in jail. (Laughter.)
THE PRESIDENT: That's why he looks so young -- he had all those resting days. (Laughter.)
MR. WILKINS: The Vice President was sitting where Senator Daschle is sitting. And Clarence Mitchell was sitting where Bill is sitting. And it reminds me of a lot of things, but it suggests to me that -- I say this with great trepidation with my hero and mentor sitting here on my left -- but I think that the conversation, as Eleanor said, is really important. And it should go forward, but I agree that it shouldn't end in a year. At least, maybe the conversation part should, but the effort should continue.
I think that conversation is good for getting things into people's minds, and God knows it needs to get into people's minds -- if you read that survey this morning about college kids and the low number of college kids who are interested in doing something about race relations. But in the end, what I remember most about that meeting 30 years ago was that President Johnson was urged to use the presidency as a bully teaching lectern. And although he was a civil rights giant, by that time he was disenchanted and he didn't do it. And in the conversation, what happens is that a lot of views get legitimated, and they're not always views that are very constructive. Sometimes they're views that are a crime against humanity, in the felicitous phrase that some have used. (Laughter.)
And in the end, some truth has to be really pounded into the national psyche. And one of them is that history counts. This country is the most historic country in the world, as far as I can tell. And on this issue, it is truly historic, until you get to the people like the Thernstroms, who take history and turn it upside down and try to make a different point.
But if you take the position that Justice Scalia has taken -- he is against affirmative action because his parents, his grandparents came here in the 20th century. They never owned a slave. They never discriminated against a black person, and why should he be concerned leaves out the whole history of the country up to that point where the opportunity structure was denied to black people and that denial of opportunities to black citizens who were penned up in the South was exactly what gave Scalia's family its handhold into the 20th century industrial opportunities which had been denied to blacks. Americans need to know that. Americans really don't know that.
And so we have utterly ignorant conversations about race in which my feelings are as valid as your feelings are as valid as her feelings, because nobody is dealing with any facts. So I would hope that after the conversation, that you would use the rest of your term to be what you once were, which is a teacher -- a very strong and powerful teacher.
And that brings me to the second point. I agree with everybody at this table, starting with Wade, who talks about the importance of education. So I won't belabor it except to say that it breaks my heart when I am confronted by my most talented students, year after year after year, with requests for recommendations to law school.
And I say to them, why don't you do something useful with your life? Why don't you go teach? Well, they don't go teach because, as Wade says, the status is lousy, the pay is lousy. You can help change that.
If you think about it, the Kennedy Center Honors gets a lot of play in this country, in part because everybody who gets honored is famous and glamorous, but you could institute some kind of program where instead of a world champion baseball team or the national champion football team -- well, this year you could do that, national champion, Michigan is the national champion, you can let them -- then after that, you could start something. But bring the teachers in. Bring the best teachers in America in. Have a glamorous evening for them and begin, you know, The Presidential Medal of Teaching Honor or something. It would be terrific.
And also make the remuneration of teachers a huge, huge issue. I mean, it is obscene, the disparity between what a running back gets and somebody who is doing a useful thing in the inner city teaching a kid.
Finally, I would say that I agree with the point about education starting at the earliest point. And I think of our mutual friend Bill Wilson's lesson that joblessness is so destructive, more destructive than poverty ever was. And somehow if we're going to do education for poor kids right, because poor kids need parents to help educate them just like your kid and my kid at Sidwell Friends, they need parents even more. Parents who are stressed out by being jobless are not going to be able to give those kids the help they need in the beginning.
I don't know how we do that. And perhaps this is something that the race commission as it draws best practices from around the country, something that we can find places where people are actually helping the jobless parents of little children, A, to become not jobless, and, B, to become more effective parents.
Thanks again for inviting me. I really appreciate it.
THE PRESIDENT: Let me say, one of the -- just a couple of things real quick. Is it -- one of the big entertainment organizations sponsors every year a big event honoring teachers -- is it Disney? Disney. Maybe we should see if we should do something with them.
On this unemployment, one of you mentioned this earlier -- I think it was Hugh that mentioned it -- but we announced today, it was in the paper that we're going to spend a ton of money to try to focus on just training people to take jobs in technology companies. And the reason -- how that happened was I read two things at the same time several weeks ago. I get -- a month after the unemployment rates come out, the people who do the unemployment rates give you the state-by-state for that month, so like every month you're getting this month's national unemployment rate and last month's state-by state. So I don't have the December state-by-states, but I do have it for November.
In November, two states -- North Dakota and one other -- Nebraska, I think -- had 1.9 percent unemployment. Now, that is essentially negative unemployment because any economist will tell you there's somewhere between 2 and 3 percent of the people walking around all the time. I mean, they're moving, they're get married, they change states, they do something -- something is always happening to a couple percent of the people -- in the way we measure unemployment.
And Washington, D.C. had 7.8, or whatever it was. And at the same time -- this was this month. Anyway, the month before when this happened, the same day I pick up this article in The Washington Post which says that in all these suburban counties around Washington, D.C., there's this huge shortage of high-technology workers. Well, if Washington, D.C. had an unemployment rate of 2 percent instead of nearly 8 percent, we'd have about a quarter of the problems we've got here. Maybe a tenth.
And so it occurred to me that a lot of -- but a lot of these jobs in high technology areas do not require four-year college degrees. They do require technology training, they do require advanced skills over which you would get just coming out of high school, but they do not require a four-year college degree. So what this announcement in the paper is about -- it's Alexis Herman and some others who had been working on this -- were trying to figure out whether -- not just in D.C., but anywhere around the country where you've got this suburban ring of job demand and a high unemployment core -- whether we can go in there and do profiles on people and see who is capable of getting these skills. And we're going to try and do it in some of the less urbanized areas, too.
One of the problems -- a lot of our Native Americans without jobs, without good jobs, live in highly dispersed areas where it's not as easy to get there. But, anyway, if this works -- that is, if four months from now we can show you that we did x amount of training and the people that formerly would have gone into minimum wage jobs are now going into jobs that pay above average wages, where they actually get retirement and health insurance and other things because they got this -- it will rather dramatically change the nature of job training and the whole strategy that the federal government has generally followed.
So, anyway -- but I appreciate what you're saying about it.
Bob, you were next, I think.
REPRESENTATIVE MATSUI: Well, thank you very much, Mr. President, for inviting me today. Actually, I really appreciate this. Usually when I come to the White House it's to talk about taxes or trade and this is rather refreshing. I want to thank you very much. And, of course, in 1992, when you were running as a candidate, you said you wanted to make your administration look like America. And I have to say that you really have done that, both in the Cabinet, certainly within the White House and all the agencies of the government. And I think it's been very difficult for you to do that, because there has been some criticism over the years. On the other hand, it's worked out very well. And I think from an historic perspective for now on any President that comes into this office will undoubtedly have to take into consideration what you did over the last five years. And I think it's really commendable and it shows that it works, the fact that you've had so much diversity within your administration. Quite remarkable.
And also, I think, as Stewart and perhaps Karen and others have said, Bill Lann Lee's appointment was just remarkable. It brought together a coalition that we'd never seen before. And I think we can keep together as a result of that. And we really, really appreciate that.
One of the real difficulties I see in talking about the issue of race, Mr. President, is the fact that, I think as Eleanor said, it permeates almost all of America. Almost every major historic issue will have some component of race to it. By the very nature of talking about it, we seem to limit ourselves, and it almost becomes somewhat diminishing. Every one of us raised two or three, maybe four points; but we really, unfortunately, aren't able to really talk about race because, again, it's like saying, let's talk about America. It's so difficult to talk about something so large and so conceptual and that has so much involved in almost everything we do.
But I think as Karen, and I think as Eleanor said, we will have to narrow this issue because certainly if we don't, we're going to be criticized, and obviously, it may just kind of wither away. I think two of the most important issues I see in this -- and I do agree with Eleanor -- that we have to be very careful because certainly in Congress, particularly in the House, there may be an effort to overturn affirmative action. But I think the issue of affirmative action is just so critical to the issue of race in America today. It's not the only thing, because there's a lot of things -- hate crimes, police brutality. But the issue of affirmative action is absolutely critical in American today.
I go to Los Angeles or San Francisco or New York, and you talk to CEOs and they're all white males. When you see our country and see how diverse it really is, particularly in a state like California, you wonder, how are we going to be able to prevent a revolution in five or 20 or 30 years from now when all of these young people begin to realize they're not part of the social fabric, the economic fabric, the political fabric of America.
To have affirmative action eliminated would be, in my opinion, a major step back in terms of this country and what it stands for and what it really means. The real problem I see is that with this issue up and going through the anti-affirmative action debate in California, unless the proponents of affirmative action are willing to speak out and really discuss this issue and really take a leadership role in it, we're going to lose this debate -- whether it's the state of Washington, whether it's in the Congress, no matter where it is; because the opponents are really looking to beat affirmative action.
This is a very important issue for them. If we stand back, if we show some tentativeness, I'm afraid we really won't be able to win this issue. I think if the courts or if the Congress or through initiative processes in the state it's eliminated, it will have a profound negative impact. I just read press reports that came out today that University of California, all 13 of the campuses now for their graduate schools, African American enrollment has gone down by 25 percent, Latino enrollment's gone down by 50 percent. I think that trend will continue. This is only the beginning of that particular effort.
In addition, the second area, Mr. President, is in the area of poverty -- inner city poverty. I know you've done a lot of work on that issue; but it creates two phenomenons. One is a backlash by people that live in the suburbs. They see the inner cities and say, I don't want anything to do with it; these people are just no good; they don't deserve to be part of our fabric of life. Somehow on the other side of it is the squalor that these people live in, and the generational problem that occur as a result of the poverty is something that this country just cannot sustain. We really have to do something about it.
I think your initiatives in the technology area, obviously, empowerment zones and a number of these other areas are very, very important. On the other hand, I would say it's going to require, I think, the private sector. I think we all know that and I guess it was Wade that said somehow we have to get the CEOs involved in major corporations. I think they will respond if it's through Presidential leadership. Individual members of Congress, the leaders of the House and Senate probably can't do it. But your leadership probably will get them to start thinking, perhaps, a little bit more in the direction of perhaps they have to think more long-term about the future of our country.
And just in concluding, I do want to thank you for what you're doing. I think, as Eleanor said, this is unprecedented. I know that there's been some press criticism -- where is this going and all this stuff; but I think the mere fact that people criticize it brings up the fact that we're talking about it. From a long-term, historical perspective, Mr. President, I think this is really one of your crowning achievements. I'm just happy and very pleased that you've invited us to share this moment with you.
PRESIDENT CLINTON: Thank you. Go ahead.
MS. QURAISHI: I was asked to offer some of my insights in being part of the American Muslim community, and specifically as president of an organization called Muslim Women Lawyers for Human Rights. I'm very honored to be here, and I hope I can offer some suggestions.
One thing I think might help improve harassment and civil rights violations of Muslim Americans is to try and get the American public to separate in their minds international political events in politics from individual American citizens, especially minority American citizens. Our own past experience with the oppression of Japanese Americans and the communist scares are an example in our history where this has happened, and we look back and we realize how wrong we were at the time.
Right now you mentioned profiling, the Anti-terrorism Act of 1996 has scared a lot of Arab Americans and Muslim Americans in general for their safety, their protection, their American civil rights.
Any time there is an international event in the Middle East, there are numerous examples of individual Muslims, whether or not they are of that particular ethnicity. My husband, who was born in Baghdad and was raised in the United States since he was one year old, used to tell stories of when he was a child in elementary school he would get beaten up and harassed because they thought he was Mexican. And then in the Iranian hostage crisis, they would beat him up because they thought he was Iranian. And then in the Gulf War he would get harassed because they thought he was Iraqi. Well, he said, at least now they got the ethnicity right. (Laughter.) But the point is that the connection made between these international events and American citizens needs to be separated and Americans -- Muslims, as you know, have been part of the American community's fabric for a very, very long time. And in fact it's a very interesting microcosm of America because it is very ethnically diverse.
African American Muslims have been part of America from the very beginning. You have your immigrant population coming from all over Europe, Asia, the Middle East. My own father came here from India and I'm of mixed racial heritage myself. My mother was raised Methodist in Oregon, a caucasian American. So you see a lot of this, especially in the second generation, dealing with all of these racial issues, both with black community, Hispanic, Asian, all of these within the American Muslim community.
And I have high hopes for how the Muslim community in my generation can deal with all of these various diversities and overcoming some of the problems. But they deal with all the harassment of all the different international events every day. And that's, I think, something if we can make Americans -- and your administration has done a lot. The first Id at the White House happened under your administration. That was wonderful. You said a few words about the vandalism of the Ramadan symbol outside. Those sorts of things, but even more emphasis on American Muslims being American citizens first.
THE PRESIDENT: You know, when I was -- I made a big point to try to make that exact same point when I spoke in the Jordanian parliament when we went to sign the peace agreement between Israel and Jordan, and how the United States had no quarrel with Islam. And it was amazing the impact it had when I went back to the place where I was -- I didn't stay in this hotel, but I went back to this hotel and this public crowd there. It was amazing the impact it had on the young people that were there.
And then I got to Jerusalem and I had an Arab Palestinian employee in one of the hotels where I was came up to me and mentioned it to me. So even abroad it's a big deal. And here at home, there was a very kind of troubling story here in our local press in the last week about a Muslim school that had 50 students and they were trying to expand it and they were looking for a new home. And the people in the various places where they were looking were afraid that this would be funded by people who would be preaching terrorism and all that.
And I think it's exceedingly important that we disassociate religious conviction, and particularly being of Middle East or South Asian heritage, from some iron connection to all the problems we're having there. And we're going to have to work on it more because the Muslim population is growing so substantially in this country.
MR. YZAGUIRRE: Mr. President, I join the folks who are around the table who have been congratulating you for taking this initiative. I think I also join others who have indicated that perhaps it's time to bring some focus and narrow the scope of the initiative. There are certainly several areas that would be worthwhile, but let me suggest that the notion of using the commission, using the Advisory Board, using the initiative as a teaching tool is one that I think deserves some consideration.
And I don't mean it just in the short term. I don't mean it just in terms of this particular exercise or this particular time period, but let me offer a concept, a notion that the nature of this country is such that it needs a continued education process, that every generation needs to deal with its own identity and the identity of this nation, and that it is appropriate for government to play a role in continuing to build a national identity based on the respect of all of its constituent groups.
I think that's also a unifying theme, because what we're trying to promote is the idea of unity, and I think what scares -- some of the racism, some of the division comes out of a sense that the country is not what it used to be, and it's certainly true that it's not what it used to be. But that somehow what it used to be is better than what it is now. You've said that in your own ways a number of times.
And if we can get the notion across that, yes, it's not what it used to be, it is what it is now, and that's wonderful and diversity is appropriate and -- but we need a way of taking it from the intellectual and moving it to the visceral.
In the nature of a teaching tool or a teaching mechanism, let me suggest that we also use it to educate the American public in a number of areas pertaining to this theme. This country has painfully learned about the stigma of slavery. We're less acquainted, less knowledgeable -- indeed, if you walk into any library, into any book store, and you try to understand something about the victims of conquest and colonialism, native Americans, Mexican Americans, Puerto Ricans, you'll find very little because this country is, as Roger indicated, historical.
It's even more than that. We simply do not want to view ourselves as a colonial power. It's against the nature of how we define ourselves. Yet, when you look at what has happened, clearly we have been, are perhaps -- have been a colonial power in many ways, and my Puerto Rican friends tell me that we're still a colonial power in Puerto Rico.
I think that this is an important issue, and I can't think of anybody that's more equipped to lead the country in this education than yourself.
I remember very clearly the event that you had in Little Rock between the time that you were elected and the time you were inaugurated. We had a summit on economics and you spent a whole day, from 7:00 in the morning till late at night, teaching the country about the fundamentals of economics.
Let me suggest that if you did something like that around this issue -- and, by the way, I hope we can get beyond the term "Race Initiative," because it has a narrower connotation. But this initiative that has to do with how do we live with each other, how do we promote each individual's own potential to its fullest extent. That merits the kind of attention and the kind of time that you gave to the economy in Little Rock. Those would be my suggestions, Mr. President.
MR. ECHOHAWK: Mr. President, I'd like to thank you for inviting me to participate as a representative of the Native American community. We're impacted by these issues of racial discrimination just like other minorities. We probably suffer worse from unemployment and low educational attainment levels than anybody. We're involved in the race commission. We're pleased to become involved. There is a panel of tribal leaders participating in the race commission board meeting tomorrow out in Arizona, and they will be talking further with the commission members about these issues.
As you know from your own experience with the tribes and your policy relative to native Americans, the most important issue to native American people, of course, is protection of their legal and political status as sovereigns, as recognized by the laws and the Constitution of this country. That status as tribal governments is very important to us in combatting these problems that we have.
The biggest issue that I think we face is the one that Raul and Roger have referenced, and that's basically the ignorance of the American people about the legal and political status of our people and the fact that we've got three levels of government in this country -- the federal, the state, and the tribal.
Your native American policy recognizes this and you've got all the departments and agencies working on policy statements about how they're going to implement this government-to-government relationship, which is of course the way that historically we did business and we still ought to business that way, because that's the law. But a lot of people just are ignorant of that. They don't understand that. And as part of your initiative, there is this learning process going on in the departments and the agencies about our governmental status, and things are starting to happen there. You've got all kinds of people that we had never seen now talking with us about our governmental status and how to work with us in these departments and agencies, and that's terrific.
What we need to do and what I would suggest is that, as has been mentioned, we need an educational effort that you could help lead that would help educate the American public about our political status as governments in this country as part of the American federal system. I think that would be a tremendous help in terms of dealing with the problems that we face, and it's something that the race commission could really help with, and it goes back to this need of our country to understand its history and to make that history a living part of everybody's consciousness here today.
THE PRESIDENT: Let me just say very briefly on this subject, I think it's also quite important -- and we've been working at this steadily for five years, and I thank Senator Daschle, particularly -- I want to thank him because he knows a lot about these issues. But the Native American tribes have a -- I don't want to tie the analogy too tight, but they have experienced in the last several decades a situation in dealing with the United States that is not unlike that experienced by the District of Columbia.
I always tell people, the problem that D.C.'s had -- one problem that D.C. has is sort of the "not quite" place. It's not quite independent and it's not quite dependent. It's not quite a state, but it's not quite a city that we treat like a city. It's sort of not quite. And we've had a policy that if it had an honest label -- an honest label -- toward Native American tribes would be something like sovereign dependence, or dependent sovereignty.
And what I have tried to do is not only to recognize the sovereignty of the tribes when it came to national resource and environmental issues and even issues where I maybe didn't always agree because it wasn't my place to decide -- some of the gaming issues and other things, the law gives it to the tribes to decide. I think there is this whole other sort of super structure of the way the federal government dealt with Native Americans relating mostly to their economic needs and their educational needs, which in my view was not focused enough toward economic and educational and health care and other empowerment issues, where I think we could -- we'll never have the right sort of sovereignty relationship until the tools for success are there.
And I really -- we worked at this for five years. We haven't quite got it down yet exactly right, but I think we're making a lot of progress. And I appreciate the help you've given us.
DR. FRANKLIN: Well, I really wanted to say, Mr. President, that I very much appreciate this opportunity -- the opportunity not merely to hear all of these distinguished colleagues, but also to give me as the chair of your Advisory Board, to learn a great deal about what our colleagues are thinking and how important it is for us to absorb this kind of information.
I'll take it back -- unfortunately, not any of my colleagues on the board are here -- the Executive Director is here -- we'll be meeting tomorrow in Phoenix, or the next day -- taking back to these colleagues and associates these marvelous and very important suggestions that are made.
Now, I want to make one or two other comments. One is that I don't get quite as excited about affirmative action as some other people because I've lived with it all my life, and my parents have lived with it all their lives. The tables have been turned a bit in recent years, but when I was a graduate -- when I graduated from college and wanted to go to graduate school, affirmative action in Oklahoma said that I could not do it because race-based preferences were in the other direction, you see. And they could all go, all whites could go to the University of Oklahoma, but I could not go. Interesting enough, I could not even be in Norman, Oklahoma after sundown. There was a law there that prevented my being there.
So affirmative action is what it is in our history and we have to understand what it is. It's that now since it's been turned just a bit, there's a great deal of opposition to it. But as long as it was functioning the other way, there was nothing -- no opposition to it at all.
The other thing I wanted to observe, Mr. President, is that if somehow we could get the message out that things are going on now that are important in this area, that from the time you met with the Advisory Board in September, each month we've had very important initiatives that the President and his staff, his Cabinet members, others have taken. They haven't gotten much notice. The big housing initiative in September was very, very important. It was right down the line, right along the line that we wanted to go.
And yet, we haven't -- I talk to people, I say, what about -- do you know about this? No. It might get one line in the paper, but sometimes it gets no lines in the paper, particularly if something much more glamorous takes place that would attract attention.
So I know that you've been given many suggestions today about things that you can do, and I certainly hope that you will. I only hope that the communication of what you do will be sufficiently strong so that the nation will know. I can assure you that the Advisory Board will do what it can in this area, as in other areas. We'll be continuing to give whatever suggestions and advice we can not only to you, but the people in other levels of government.
And as I said, I'm cautiously optimistic that we can achieve something in this time that you've given us. I want everyone to know here that we're doing our best; we'll be in -- this time tomorrow, we'll be in Phoenix, Arizona, working with groups there. And we'll have some very important conversations with labor and with the corporate leaders. That's just the beginning.
We're taking this step by step, and I think in the final analysis, we will have covered many of the basis, if not all of them. Thank you.
PRESIDENT CLINTON: Thank you very much. I also want to thank you for the extraordinary amount of time and energy you've put into this. It's been humbling to the rest of us. Tom.
SENATOR DASCHLE: Mr. President, I appreciate very much your giving me a chance to join in this discussion this afternoon. I came to learn, and I've learned a good deal.
We in Congress need to amplify your great leadership. In the time that I've been in Congress, no President has dedicated more effort and resources and credibility to the issue of race and the challenges we face in this diverse society than have you. And I don't think you've always had the support in Congress in the time that you've been President that you need to have to do the kinds of things that you would want to do. So to the extent that it is possible for the Democratic leadership in the Congress -- and I talked to Dick Gephardt about this -- to support your efforts, and to be as bold as you are, I hope we can demonstrate that commitment as effectively as you have.
South Dakota is not a very diverse state. We don't have the luxury of the rich culture that is so evident in our society. We have nine Indian reservations, and I can just say from the experience of reservation life, one doesn't have to visit long to know the extraordinary difficulties that we're facing, which regard to race, in every facet we have -- you mentioned North Dakota's unemployment rate. I wish they would calculate as well the aggregate unemployment rate when reservations are taken into account, because the irony is that while we have 1.9 percent unemployment maybe in North Dakota off reservation, we have 85 percent unemployment on reservation -- within those same borders.
And while we have dedicated resources to deal with it, we still have an unbelievable problem with regard to employment on reservations. I think probably -- it just blows any other statistic I can think of away. We all note the importance of education, but when it comes to community colleges on the reservations, we have a fraction of the resources on reservation for community colleges. I'm just going to use rough figures, but it's about 1,000 for community colleges versus 3,000 for other colleges around the country.
We have the highest infant mortality rates. We have the lowest rates of overall life expectancy. So we have every extreme statistic one can imagine right in our own backyards on reservations throughout the Midwest. And so the need is great, and your willingness to take on each and every one of these challenges with the diverse leadership that we find at this table is very moving to me and I very much appreciate being a part of it.
THE PRESIDENT: Before we go I'd like to just leave you with this thought, just sort of food for thought to keep you churning on this. First, I'll make a request. I would like for anything you can do to help us get more things that work in to the commission staff, so we can put it on the Internet and get it out, let people see that there are -- people always write or they e-mail us and say, what can we do? We'd like to say, here's something that's working somewhere. Why don't you do it? That's important.
Anything you can do to help us recruit any kind of new leadership to enlist in this cause, we'd like to have your help on that. But anyway, let me finish. Here's the thing I'd like to leave you with, just sort of as food for thought, to continue this discussion and try to narrow it further. And I may be unfairly summarizing someone else's work, so I'll try not to -- I hope I'm not being unfair. Bill Raspberry had an interesting column the other day in which he said this race effort is a big deal, and there are three things involved in it, and maybe nobody could ever deal with all three things. He said, first of all, there's the feeling of racial prejudice, how people feel about each other. And secondly, he said, there is the existence of illegal discrimination that our laws prohibit. And thirdly, there is the existence of outcomes which are dramatically different by race; your life chances and education, income, employment and ownership and health care, among other things, are dramatically different based on your race.
He said, I once thought we could fight all three of them in the '60s because we had an enemy, the Southern white people, and everybody else was on the same side. Now, at least when it comes to -- maybe everybody feels some discrimination towards somebody else or -- he says, now the problem is if we're all responsible for all this, it's hard to get enough allies to work on what really counts, which is changing the life experiences of the people, in terms of their outcomes. Most leaders of any group would give anything just to end whatever the disparities are in education and health care and employment, income, and ownership. And I'm sort of amplifying, but I think this is a fair representation of what he said.
So he made these suggestions. He said, what we need to do is get everybody on the same side, to start out, and then see if we can work back to -- so the logical extension -- this was not in there, but the logical extension of the argument was if you could get everybody working on the same side on what to do about job outcomes, maybe you would come back and have a broader consensus on an affirmative action program than you think, or at least the people who are against it would then recognize their moral responsibility to put something credible in its place.
I thought that was an interesting argument, when you deal with -- if you just deal with the three things I mentioned. It doesn't get you out of the primary obligation to enforce the laws against discrimination adequately, but it was an interesting way to think about it. If you ask everybody -- for example, if you ask everybody who is on both sides of this English as a second language issue in California to start with the disparate educational outcomes and work back, you might get to a different place.
One of the things that always bothers me about all these litmus test issues -- and I'm not innocent in this, so I'm not casting a stone -- is that dependent of which side of the litmus test you're on, if once you figure out your crowd's winning, then you go on and worry about something else. Then when you figure out -- when you realize your side's losing, you can't worry about anything else; but you can't have an honest conversation, because you're trying too hard to keep from getting killed in the next referendum or whatever.
In terms of the affirmative action referendum, all I can tell you is, I made a couple of statements in California on 209, and maybe I could have done more, and I think if the thing had gone on three more weeks, it would have come out differently on 209. I'm glad I was asked to be a part of the effort against the repeal in Houston and it succeeded; it's the only one that has. But the real issue is if you left it alone and no one ever debated it again, we've had enough experience to know that it is insufficient to change the disparate outcomes. So what if we started on trying to figure out how we could close the gaps and work back, we might find that we had a lot more agreement than we thought.
Now, in the initial polling -- I think this will change a lot, as the referendum is debated. And I confess, I have not read exactly what -- the initial polling in California, on the English, the bilingual education initiative, is deeply troubling to defenders of bilingual education because the initial polling has 70 percent of Hispanic voters voting for the initiative.
Now, what does that mean? That doesn't necessarily mean that they understand the implications of this initiative and they want to vote for it. But what it does mean is that HIspanic parents are concerned about whether their children stay in the programs for too long, or whether the programs are sufficiently effective to let them learn everything else as well as they need to learn.
So instead of getting into the fight, could we at least start with dealing with what people's perception of the problem is, then work back to the solution; then if you do that, you've got some alternative to put in place if you want to fight the initiative. In other words, you don't have to play their game; you don't have to let it be a wedge issue if you decide to articulate it in a way that forces everybody else to come talk to you about what the real issue is -- which is, you want all these children whose first language is not English to be able to learn everything they need to learn on time as much as possible, and to be English-proficient, if they're going to live in this country, as quickly as they can be.
But there are -- depending on what age you come here and what you're situation is and what your native language is, and how difficult it is and what the subject is, it is more or less difficult to learn certain things in English within certain time periods. In other words, it's a complicated issue. But there is a broad perception that the bilingual services have become, if you will, institutionalized in a way that carry kids with them longer than they should be and may make them too dependent on it.
So why don't we analyze the facts and find out what they are, and then try to work back from that, instead of immediately joining the issue; but do it quickly enough so that the people of California have some chance of having an honest debate. It isn't just history that people are deprived of; very often they are deprived of what the facts are on the issues they're debating. So all they can do is go on what they think their basic values are and their basic instincts.
And we get so caught up -- and, believe me, I share the frustration that Dr. Franklin said about what the voters don't know. It's very hard to pierce through the public consciousness and to do a sustained public education campaign in the absence of some great conflict.
I'll never forget, 10 days before our congressional debacle in 1994, a man I didn't know very well who was a pollster just spontaneously sent me this survey he did -- or at least I wasn't working with him at the time, and I was shocked. He said, here are 10 things that if all the voters knew them would change the outcome of this congressional election, which is about to be terrible for you, if they just -- maybe there were eight things on the list. But anyway, there were more than five things that we had done that absolutely nobody knew about. So this is a generic problem in a society as big and complex as ours being bombarded from all edges.
But I just ask you to think about that. Suppose we did that with health care. Suppose we did that with education. For example, on the education issue, some people say, well, maybe this 10 percent solution that Texas adopted would work on the affirmative action. Well, the answer is it might well work in most states for admission to college, but it wouldn't do anything on the graduate school front. So what's your answer on graduate school?
There are a lot of these things that I'd just like to see -- I'd like to see more, instead of throwing barricades over the wall at one another, if we could start with what the problem is and work back, I really believe we can make an enormous amount of progress in this country, because most Americans who get caught in the middle on these referendums, where their values are pulling them one way and you're trying to -- and the rhetoric is pulling them one way, and you're trying to cram information as quickly as you can before election time comes and all that kind of stuff. Most Americans really don't like the fact that we have disparate outcomes, and most Americans think anybody that's working hard and needs a hand up ought to get it to have a fair chance.
So I think, to go back to what you said about talking to the Speaker on this issue, I think I'm going to try to follow this tack in dealing with our friends who disagree with us on so much. Let's see if we can't start with that and work back and see how much agreement we can make. I think we may do better than people think.
Thank you. This is great.
END 7:25 P.M. EST