THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary (Hauppauge, New York) ________________________________________________________________________ For Immediate Release August 29, 1999
REMARKS BY THE PRESIDENT AT DNC DINNER Private Residence Bridgehampton, New York
10:00 P.M. EDT
THE PRESIDENT: Well, thank you very much. (Laughter.) I must say, I thought Hillary was going to say, if you think it's windy now, wait until Bill gets up to talk. (Laughter.) I feel badly about this wind. It came up about the time I was explaining the finer points of voodoo around our table -- (laughter) -- and the conviction that Haitians and others have that the spirits of light and darkness are more or less in equal balance and they manifest themselves in all kinds of physical ways. And all of a sudden the lights started moving and -- (laughter) -- so we'll just have to hope the good guys win tonight.
Let me just say first to Craig and Jane I'm very, very grateful to be in their home here -- I've also been in their home in New York City. Thank you, Brian; thank you, Robert. They're quite wonderful people -- among other things, when I came to see them in New York they provided me, since I had a little down time, with a tenor saxophone and so I played a tune for them. So I got here tonight and the horn was here again. But I didn't put them through it again. (Laughter.) But it was very touching and I thank you for that.
I also want to thank all of those who are here. Jon, thank you; and, Richie, for entertaining. Jon Bon Jovi has been very good to me, he has played for me a number of times over these last six and a half years and I thought they were terrific tonight and I thank them for being here. (Applause.)
I want to thank the people who prepared the wonderful dinner and all those who served it and all the volunteers who have been part of this tonight. And I would like to just make a couple of brief points.
Somebody will ask you tomorrow why you came here tonight. And I wonder what you will say: I wanted to see their house, it looked kind of interesting. (Laughter.) I wanted to hear the music. I hear the food was going to be great. The restaurant was closed tonight.
I'd just like to offer a few things that I hope you'll think about. First of all, New York has been very, very good to me and to Hillary, to Al and Tipper Gore, to our whole administration. We had a wonderful convention here in '92. I had a very interesting, eventful primary here in '92 -- but it came out okay. And then the state voted for us big in '92 and then, breathtakingly in '96 and I'm very grateful.
But in 1992, I asked the country and I asked the people of this state to take a chance on me, on my family, my Vice President, my administration and on a whole new direction for the country. I saw a survey the other day which said that things had been going so well in our country for so many years now, nobody could -- people have no memory of what it was like in '91 and '92. They've forgotten entirely.
But the economy was in the tank, and the country was divided, and the social problems were worsening. And we had a lot of challenges around the world that weren't being addressed. And, you know, I lived a long way from Washington, D.C., but it seemed to me that we were working on the wrong things, and not working on the right things. And I asked the American people to give me a chance -- to create a country in which there was opportunity for all who were responsible; in which we could build a community of all Americans; in which we could be a force for peace and freedom and justice around the world. And so you took a chance.
The first thing I hope you'll say -- and one of you said this to me tonight -- when you go home and they ask you why you came, is that it was a good chance to take and it worked out all right; that we've got the longest peacetime expansion in history, and the lowest crime rate in 26 years, and the lowest welfare rolls in 32 years, and the lowest minority unemployment ever recorded, and the highest homeownership in history; that our country has been a force for peace and freedom, from Northern Ireland to the Middle East to the Balkans; that we have tried to include all Americans in our future.
The second thing I hope you'll say -- because, as Joe Andrew said earlier, politics is always about tomorrow -- is that you think we're right about the things we're talking about for today and tomorrow. You know, I'm not running for anything anymore. Joe Andrew used to have a great line in his speeches: Bill Clinton doesn't have to be here, he's not running for anything anymore. That's where Hillary started running for something, now I do have to be here -- (laughter) -- in a different role. (Applause.)
But I believe this anyway and I want you to think about this. Once in a lifetime -- once in a lifetime -- if you get real lucky, maybe twice -- a country, like a person, has a moment that is either seized or squandered. You may have a lot of wonderful moments, but some will be greater than others. Mr. DeNiro has made a lot of great movies, but some were greater than others. Steven Spielberg and Kate and I, we were talking with Hillary and Chelsea on the way over about the greatest moments of his movie career. Countries are like that, just like in your personal life.
A time like this comes along once in a lifetime, where we went from having -- we quadrupled our debt in 12 years, and now we've got the biggest surplus we ever had. And we project for 15 years or more we'll have it. Oh, there will be ups and downs in the economy but, on average, it will be there. Now, what are we going to do with it?
Our friends in the other party, they say that all that's not attributable to Social Security taxes, we ought to give it back to you in a tax cut. And that's very popular, especially in this crowd. Some of you will say you ought to have your head examined, because every one of you should be over there with them tonight.
We say we ought to face the challenges facing our children. And I'll just give you three real quick: the aging of America. There will be twice as many people over 65 in 2030 as there are now. I hope to be one of them, so do most of you. If we don't save Social Security and Medicare and do it in a way so that the children of the baby boomers don't have to support them, so they'll be free to support their children, we're going to have an enormous amount of heartache and difficulty in this country. But if we do it, you'll have people living longer and better than ever before. The children of the baby boomers will be free to pursue their own destiny and they'll be free to raise their grandchildren in the best possible way.
The second thing we ought to do is face the fact that we've got more kids in this country in school than ever before -- over 53 million of them. More of them come from families whose first language is not English than ever before. But it's a godsend in a global society if we can give every single one of them a world-class education.
The third thing we ought to do is figure out how we can keep this economy going and how we can bring it to people who haven't felt it yet. Because I can tell you, in spite of all the prosperity the last six and a half years, there are inner-city communities, there's the Mississippi Delta, there are places in Appalachia, there are all these Indian reservations in America, there are small towns in upstate New York -- which, if it were a separate state, would rank 49th in job creation in the last five years -- where the sunshine of all this prosperity has not yet reached.
We all hope there won't be other interest rate increases. We say, gosh, let's keep interest rates down and keep growth going. You want to expand the economy with no inflation, invest in the places that haven't had any growth. These are big deals.
Now, my view is we ought to take most of this surplus the next 15 years, and reform and save Medicare, run Social Security's life out to about 2053 -- that ought to take care of all the baby boomers; I'm the oldest of the baby boomers. I don't think I'll be alive in 2053; I'd like it awfully well if I was. But most of us will be gone by then, and we'll return to some more normal population distribution. And, meanwhile, our children will not have to worry about taking care of us in our dotage. And our grandchildren will have a better future.
We ought to invest in education, in the things we know that work -- and recognize that the poorest children in this country need the richest education if we're going to have the kind of future we want.
We ought to pay this country's debt down. You know, we could get out of debt in 15 years for the first time since 1835? And we'd have low interest rates for a generation, and people like us would do just fine if we did that. (Applause.)
Now, we also ought to do things that bring our community together. Congressman Forbes changed parties because he got sick and tired of the leadership of his party turning a deaf ear when he said, we're going to have more and more people in managed care and we may have to do it. It may not be a bad thing. But you've got all these hospitals going broke. You've got doctors wanting to quit, or join unions. And you've got people who are tearing their hair out. We've got to have a patients' bill of rights so that we have quality care as well as properly managed care. Because he thought we ought to be investing in education, not cutting it.
Carolyn McCarthy, another Congresswoman from Long Island, was a Republican, became a member of our party because she lost her husband, had her son subject to grievous injury, because this is the only big country in the world that has no sensible restrictions on firearms -- until we passed the Brady Bill, which was vetoed in the previous administration, which kept 400,000 people with criminal backgrounds from getting guns and saved God-knows how many people. But we still have serious problems in the law. That's important to me.
I supported an increase in the minimum wage, because I don't think anybody that works for a living and has kids at home ought to be in poverty. And I believe those people should get big tax increases -- tax cuts, I mean -- people who have modest wages and have children at home. They got the biggest tax cuts, percentage-wise, of anybody in this administration in the last seven and a half years, because I don't think anybody who works full-time and has a child at home should be in poverty. And I don't think you do, either.
Now, these are major issues. What kind of a community are we? Look -- can you believe this -- all the good fortune we've had, and just a couple of weeks ago, some guy listens to some racist kook and goes out and murders an African-American former basketball coach, shoots Asian students in the street. This guy the other day in Illinois and Indiana, going on that shooting spree.
Then we had another shooting, of the children at the Jewish child center in Los Angeles. And the same guy murdered a Filipino-American because he was Filipino and because he worked for the United States government, and the Post Office. We had that young Matthew Shepard being killed in Wyoming. The Democratic Party wants to pass hate-crimes legislation. We want to pass employment non-discrimination legislation. We want to have people in our future without regard to their race, their sexual orientation, their politics or anything else. (Applause.)
Now, why? Because we need all those people. Because we -- if you believe in free markets and free societies, you have to believe that everyone should freely have the chance to live their dreams, and that there ought to be a framework which makes it possible for them to do it.
I want to close -- before we get blown away -- (laughter) -- with one story. I went to the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota the other day -- some of you may have seen it -- on this New Markets tour, organized by a man, Gene Sperling, my National Economic Counselor, who also happens to be in the audience here.
Before I did that, I had the 19 tribal leaders from the Northern High Plains come to see me, from North and South Dakota and Montana. They are probably the poorest of all of our Indian tribes. And they had this meeting with the President. And I had five or six Cabinet members there. And they went through their little presentation, you know, and everybody said what they had to say about what their needs were.
And at the end, Harold Salway stood up, who is the President -- they now call them Presidents -- of the Oglala Sioux, the tribe of Crazy Horse, in South Dakota. And he was standing there, and he said that the chiefs wanted to tell me that they supported what I had done in Kosovo, in saving the Kosovar Albanians.
And he started talking. He's not very tall, but he's very dignified, and you could have heard a pin drop. And he said, Mr. President, he said, my great-great-grandfather was massacred at Wounded Knee. We know something about ethnic cleansing.
But, he said, I had two uncles. One was on the beach at Normandy. The other was the first Native American fighter pilot in the history of the United States military. He said, and now I am here in the White House meeting with the President. I have only one son, and he means more to me than anything in the world, but I would be proud to have him wear a uniform and go fight for the freedom of the people of Kosovo, to be free from being slaughtered because of their ethnic background or the way they worship God. This is America, and I'm proud of what we're doing here.
I hope tomorrow, if somebody asks you why you were here, you'll say, because we took a chance and it worked out; because we've got the chance of a lifetime to do the right things for the future; and because more than anything else -- believe me, if I could leave office with one wish for America, it would be that somehow we would find a way to lay down all these idiotic ways of looking down on one another, and find some way to lift each other up.
And the last thing I want to say is this: I have been privileged in my wife to work with thousands of people in public service. And notwithstanding the intense partisan rancor of the last few years, my experience is that what you have been subject to is atypical. Most of the people I have known in public life, Republicans and Democrats, were honest, hard-working, decent people who had honest differences of opinion, and got up every day and tried to make this country a better place.
But I'm telling you, of all the people I have ever known in public life, the ablest, the smartest, the most passionately dedicated, is the person who wants to be the next United States Senator from New York.
Thank you, and goodbye. Thank you. (Applause.)
END 10:25 P.M. EDT