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Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release April 27, 1999
                        REMARKS BY THE PRESIDENT
                             AT DNC DINNER

                           Private Residence
                            Chevy Chase, MD

9:22 P.M. EDT

THE PRESIDENT: Ladies and gentlemen, this has been an atypical, and thoroughly enjoyable, fundraiser. (Laughter and applause.)

First of all, when I was introduced, Father, to you, I thought to myself, how did the conversation go, when Tommy Boggs asked you to come and pray over all these politicians, lobbyists and fundraisers? And I think it must have gone something like this: he asked you and you said, well, if I can pray over you, Tom, I can pray over anybody. (Laughter.)

Let me say -- we were having a conversation here at the table, and I was telling Pat Kluge, Tom, how much I liked your whole family, and how much I admired your late sister Barbara, and treasured the brief occasions I had to be with her; how I will always cherish the fact that I was with your remarkable father on the last weekend of his life, in San Antonio, Texas, when I was a very young man. And I was completely enamored of him.

And how your unbelievable mother took me under her wing, and didn't shed me when a lot of other people were, in 1992. (Laughter.) And now she represents me to the Pope -- (laughter) -- and is maybe the only person on the earth -- (laughter) -- who could convince the Pope that I am worth dealing with. (Laughter and applause.)

So, anyway, so I love the Boggs family. (Laughter.)

And I understand that one of the things that Lindy's going to do before she leaves the Vatican is to nominate you for sainthood, Barbara. (Laughter.)

But let me say to all of you -- I appreciate, Tom, what you said in the introduction. But I would like to say that I hope all the people who came here, who are not rank-and-file Democrats, would just consider a few things.

We had a remarkable NATO summit here, over the weekend. The largest number of world leaders who had ever been gathered in Washington, heads of government and heads of state, at one time -- not only to deal with the immediate crisis of Kosovo, but to envision the world of the 21st century that we want to make. A world in which Europe, for the first time in history, is undivided, democratic and free, and at peace. A world in which people are working together and cherishing both their diversity and their interdependence. A world which offers our children the promise of greater peace and prosperity than any age in human history.

And at the end of that summit, Al From and the Democrat

Leadership Council sponsored a forum, in which Governor Romer spoke about his experiences as governor, and the new Labor Commissioner in Georgia -- the first, along with the Attorney General, the first two African-Americans ever elected to statewide office in Georgia -- talked about the work he had done to move people from the welfare rolls to the work rolls.

The mayor of Denver, an African-American in a city where African-Americans are decidedly in the minority, talked about the work he had done to get the unemployment rate in the city of Denver down to 3.9 percent, and what they'd done to try to knit the community together, and build support for the schools.

And the Lieutenant-Governor of Maryland, Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, talked about, among other things, the work they were doing to try to keep more people out of prison, but to make people with drug-related offenses be drug tested twice a week as a condition of being out of prison, and how much it had reduced the growth in imprisonment, reduced the crime rate, and reduced the recidivism rate.

And it was a remarkable thing. But what really is interesting about it is, the discussion was not partisan in any conventional sense. And I brought to the discussion the Prime Minister of Great Britain, the Chancellor of Germany, the Prime Minister of Italy, and the Prime Minister of the Netherlands -- all of whom represent the same sort of movement that came to our country when Al Gore and I were elected in 1992.

I say that to make this point: every major country has to confront the challenges of creating as much opportunity as we can in the global economy, and at the same time preserving the cohesion that any decent nation, and any decent community, has. How do you get the benefits of all this exploding technology and entrepreneurialism, and global economics, and retain, and strengthen, the benefits that come from supporting families and communities, raising children well?

And I believed in 1992, when I ran for President, and I believe it more strongly today, that we had to break the citizens of this country from the grip of an outdated political debate -- that it would be possible, if you followed the right policies, to balance the budget and increase your investment in education and health care. It would be possible to preserve the environment, and improve it, and grow the economy at a more rapid rate. It would be possible to move the world toward peace, and still use force in a disciplined way to stand up for peace, and to stand against the resurgence of ethnic and racial and religious hatred in the world.

And insofar as we have had any success, I am thankful that I could be the instrument of that in the White House -- for the 18 million new jobs and the lowest unemployment in 29 years, and the first surplus since 1960, now, to the biggest peacetime surpluses ever. I'm grateful for that.

I'm grateful that we have over 90 percent of our children immunized against serious childhood diseases for the first time in the history of the country. I'm grateful for the tax credits and other advances, which have opened the doors of college virtually to every person in America.

I'm grateful that the air and water is cleaner, and that we set aside more land in perpetuity than any administration in history except those run by the two Roosevelts. I'm grateful for all that.

But it all started with a set of ideas -- that we had to find a way to guarantee opportunity for every responsible citizen, to reinforce responsibility, and to build a genuine sense of community -- so that we all felt not only that we had obligations to one another, that crossed all the lines that divide us, but that we would all actually be better off if our neighbors were better off.

And we are trying to carry that into the world, into working for peace in the Middle East, in Northern Ireland, to the Balkans; trying to help our friends in Asia get over their financial crisis, and keep it from spreading to Latin America; in trying to make sure that the economic growth that has still escaped some of the inner cities and poor rural areas, and Native American reservations in our country, can at long last be extended to them; in trying to guarantee that every child in this country has an excellent, world-class education; in trying to deal with the challenges of aging, by reforming Social Security and Medicare for the 21st century, and at the same time continuing to pay down our debt, so that we can liberate our children from excessive dependence on high borrowing at high interest rates, and excessive reliance on all the turbulence that may yet still engulf the global economy.

All of that started with a set of ideas, with a group of people who were prepared to think in a different way -- and to have values without having ideology; to have ideas that were tested not only by whether they were consistent with those values, but by whether they in fact worked or not.

Today we had a truly astonishing meeting in the White House, with 40 members of Congress -- that included three Republicans, three brave Republicans -- to talk about something I had planned to do for some time, before the terrible tragedy in Colorado, about what we had to do to strengthen our protection that guns won't fall into the hands of children.

And I said then, and I will say again, I believe very strongly that there are things in our culture that have to be challenged, and that there is too much ready violence in the culture. And between Hillary and Al and Tipper Gore, we have worked on this hard, now, for six years. We've got the TV rating system, and the V-chip that will soon be in all new televisions.

We've made a lot of headway even on the Internet, in giving parents the tools to screen out certain websites on the Internet. The technology is there. I have to say parenthetically, with the head of the National Education Association here, our biggest challenge is going to be trying to teach the parents of this country to be half as good on computers as their kids are. But if we can do that, the technology is there. We've worked on these things. There are cultural issues, all right. And we need to do more there.

But it is also true that there is another culture in America, made up of people who are overwhelmingly God-fearing citizens who pay their taxes, and obey the law, and show up when they're needed, and who love to hunt, and they use their guns for sporting purposes, and have been, I think, welded into a political force designed to stop us from dealing with the objective things we can do about guns to make our society safer.

They've been convinced that every little thing we do, no matter how small or modest, is the camel's nose in the tent, and somebody's going to come get their hunting rifle. And as a result, our society has plainly failed to do what any great and sensible country would do.

And today I said I was going to go back and try to get the waiting period of the Brady Bill back, even though we have the Insta-Check; that we were going to try to apply the Brady Law, and its prohibition on handgun ownership, to juveniles who have been convicted of violent offenses; that we were going to try to plug some loopholes in the law that relates to assault weapons and gun shows, where there is no background check; and a lot of other things.

But I want to make a general point. I come from a culture, as do some of these -- Tommy Boggs was, I thought I was going to see him a few weeks ago, and he was down at Burl Anthony's hunting lodge instead of with me. So we come out of this culture. I was 12 years old the first time I ever shot a .22, at a can, on top of a fence-post, in the country.

But I promised myself, when I got elected President, that because of my background, I was in a position to try to take on the position that the NRA had taken, and at least have a halfway decent chance of explaining it to the American people. And I'm proud that we've done that. We've got the Brady Bill, and the assault weapons ban. And I hope we get some more things like that.

But the point I want to make to you is, that took a decision, and I had to have a party that backed me up. And I lost some House members. One of the reasons we're sitting here, worrying about whether we can pick up six more House members is, more than six lost their seats in 1994 because they stood up and voted for the Brady Bill, and they stood up and voted for the assault weapons ban. And there are children alive in America today because of it. And we were right about that.

So you don't have to be all attached to party labels to believe that ideas matter in politics, and conventional wisdoms have to be challenged, if the country is going to go forward and become what it ought to be.

And so, I just want all of you to know, here, that for those of you who have been with us all along, I am grateful. For those of you who are here for the first time, I am very grateful.

I'm not running for anything. I'm here because I believe in what we've done, and I know there's a lot more to do, not only in the two years I have remaining on my term, but in the years ahead. And this country needs to be led from a dynamic, vital center, rooted in a concern for these basic ideas. Not the politics of left and right, but how to get opportunity to every responsible citizen, and how to build a genuine sense of community, in which we care for other people because it is morally right to do, but we also are smart enough to understand that we'll all do better if other Americans do better. That unleashes a flood of good ideas. And if you can only get half of them done, the country is in a much better place.

So when I look back on the last six years, when I look to the next two years, when I look ahead to the next ten years, I believe the philosophy we have brought to America is the right one. And I believe our country would be better served if we had more people who believed in it, and worked for it every day. That's why I'm here supporting Joe, and Beth, and Loretta, and Roy, and Andy, and all of our fine team -- because I believe that with all my heart.

And if you believe that this is a better country in the last six years, I appreciate it if you think that I had something to do with it. But I was the instrument of the ideas that, when implemented, made America a better place. And we need more people who can carry those ideas, and have the ability to implement them.

Thank you, and God bless you. (Applause.)

END 9:38 P.M. EDT