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Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release December 9, 1999
                        REMARKS BY THE PRESIDENT
                      AT THE DNC PRESIDENTIAL GALA

                             Grand Ballroom

8:30 P.M. EST

THE PRESIDENT: Thank you very much, ladies and gentlemen. It's been a long, but a wonderful, night. I am delighted to see you all. The most important thing I can say is, thank you. I thank Joe Andrew for his increasingly energetic leadership. (Laughter and applause.)

I thank Ed Rendell. For those of you who don't know him, you will get to know him. Philadelphia had lost jobs for 30 years before Ed Rendell became mayor, and now they're gaining jobs rapidly. (Applause.) They had lost population, they had had a crime rate going up -- everything. Do you remember how the Vice President used to say in the '92 campaign, everything that should be up is down, everything that should be down is up? That was Philadelphia times five. Now, everything that should be up is up, thanks to Ed Rendell, and he's going to keep our party up, as well. (Applause.)

I want to thank Lorretta Bowen and John Cooke and John Merrigan and Carol Pensky for this dinner tonight. It was wonderful. (Applause.) And I want to thank my friend, Walter Shorenstein. You have already honored him and you heard the Vice President talk about the big achievements in his life. I think it is remarkable -- he reflects, first, a characteristic I've seen in so many of you. You've been so phenomenally generous. Many of you in this room tonight could be making more money in a short run under the other party's policies. You know it as well as I do. And you came here because you believe that we all ought to go forward to together and that we ought to keep our eye on the long run, social justice and the long-term strength of America. And Walter has stood for that all of his life.

He is also an uncommonly decent person. I'll just tell you two things. First of all, not very long ago I was out in Northern California and I had a day to kill and I hadn't seen my little girl in a long time. And it's inconvenient for the President to go any place quietly. Walter had a place south of San Francisco, he let me go there and spend the day with my daughter. That meant more to me than anything he could do for me. I'll never forget it as long as I live. (Applause.)

And I'll tell you something else. You heard the Vice President say he helped to save the Giants. I was talking to Walter one night and I said, you know, Walter, I think the greatest baseball player that ever lived was Willie Mays. Next time I go to dinner at Walter's house, Willie Mays is there. (Laughter.) And, I might add, number 8 on ESPN's list of the 50 Greatest Athletes of the 20th century. Almost high enough.

So this guy has never lost his sense of personal things, which I think matter most to us all when it's all said and done. And I thank you for honoring him. I hope that all of you feel honored, to some extent, through him. Sometimes I think we take and take and take and we don't take enough time to give and to say thank you. And I'm honored that we could do this for Walter and, through him, for all of you who stick with us through thick and thin,

I also want to say a word about the Vice President and Mrs. Gore. I have spent a lot of time studying the history of our country and the institutions that have made it work. When I became a candidate for President, Hillary and I talked about a lot of things. I said, I'll tell you one thing I'm going to do. If I win this nomination, I'm going to appoint somebody to be my running mate that I would feel good if I dropped dead, if something, God forbid, happened to me, that I am convinced would be a great President. And in the meanwhile, I'm going to make it a real job.

You know that when Harry Truman became President he did not even know about the atomic bomb? A lot of people don't know that. Franklin Roosevelt had a lot of great qualities, but we had lost a lot of presidents up to then and they were still just picking vice presidents for the most sort of shallow political reasons. Thank God, Harry Truman turned out to be a great man and a great president.

And then it got a little better. When John Kennedy picked Lyndon Johnson he was ready for the job. When Dwight Eisenhower picked Richard Nixon, he had broader responsibilities. And then when Jimmy Carter picked Walter Mondale he qualitatively increased the role of the Vice President. And to his credit, President Reagan followed his lead in giving more responsibility to then Vice President Bush.

But I want every person in this room to know that Al Gore has had, two, three, four, five times as much responsibilities as any person who has ever held this office and he has done a superb job discharging every single one of them. (Applause.)

You know, we've had a lot of fun together over the years and we kid each other mercilessly. When Arkansas plays Tennessee he usually wins, sometimes I do. And he always says, you know, the difference between you and me, he said to me, is you don't have a vote in Congress and I do -- (laughter) -- at least, every now and then I do. And whenever I vote, we win. (Laughter.)

Well, we're all celebrating this economy, but he cast the tie-breaking vote in the Senate to make it a reality. (Applause.) And when we were fighting to pass common sense gun legislation in the Senate after Colombine, and all we wanted to do was to apply the Brady background checks to the gun shows and the urban flea markets, require child trigger locks on the guns, he cast the tie-breaking vote in the Senate to pass it. (Applause.)

One day we were sitting around in one of our weekly lunches -- which I miss now, as I confessed in my press conference -- he said, you know, we've got to do something about getting more computers into the schools. And not just a computer for their educational programs, we've got to hook them up to the Internet, and it will revolutionize educational opportunities. But if we don't do anything about it, only wealthier schools will get it.

So he came up with this idea that the FCC, now that we're revolutionizing telecommunications -- something he else he was the lead on our administration when we rewrote the telecommunications law for the first time in 60 years, or he created 300,000 new high-wage jobs in America -- he said, we've got to give a discount to the poor schools, to the hospitals, to the libraries, so they can afford to hook on the Internet.

And we need to try to get the business community in. We've got this whole private sector group to come help us get the connections done. Now, when we started this in 1994, it was his idea, 3 percent of the classrooms and 14 percent of the schools were connected. Most schools just had one connection in the library or something. Nineteen ninety-four, 3 percent of the classrooms, 14 percent of the schools.

Today, thanks to him, over 50 percent of the classrooms in over 80 percent of the schools in America have an Internet connection. (Applause.) And I could go through what he's done in helping us to reduce the nuclear threat and dealing with a whole wide range of foreign challenges, and the environment. We set aside 40 million roadless acres in our national forest not very long ago. This administration has now protected more land than any administration in the history of the United States, except those of Franklin and Theodore Roosevelt, thanks to his leadership on the environment. (Applause.)

So what I want you to know is he has been a good and faithful servant of the people of this country. And he knows more than any person who has ever held that job. And he's had more experience than anybody who's run in my lifetime that is relevant to this work.

The other thing I would like to say is, his wife has given us, Hillary and me, personally, but our administration and this country, many gifts. I want to thank them for the family conference that they run every year in Tennessee, that many of you have been a part of. (Applause.) What they taught us about family leave and child care, health care for children, many other issues. And I want to thank her for forcing me to recognize the woefully inadequate response that the people of the United States have to the needs of mental health in this country, and taking a lead and making us do better. Thank you. (Applause.)

I say this because this is a political dinner, but most of us are here -- and we're Democrats instead of Republicans because we're motivated by these kinds of issues. And because we think America should go up or down together. And one way or the other, if we're going up we've got to go up together. And I honor them and I thank them for that.

I will be very brief in what I want to say to you. There's no point in my reciting what you already know about the progress of the last seven years. Except I will say that there is something special about the fact that it was done by our party, because we believe you can advance the economy and social justice at the same time. (Applause.)

So it's not just 20 million jobs and the longest peacetime expansion in history -- in February it will be the longest one in history. Look underneath that: the lowest female unemployment in 40 years; the lowest single-parent household poverty in 42 years; the lowest African American unemployment and poverty ever recorded; the lowest Hispanic unemployment ever recorded; the lowest Hispanic poverty in a generation; the last three years, finally people in the bottom of the income groups, with their income rising as fast or faster than those in the top. This is a democratic recovery and we're going forward together. (Applause.)

I want to say this about the next 14 months of my term and the decision the American people will make about the leadership of this country, the presidency and in the Congress for the next four years. Over Thanksgiving I had my whole extended family with me, and then we had a few friends come up to Camp David -- and a lot of kids around, and I just love that.

And this beautiful little six year old girl looked at me and she said, now, how old are you, really -- six year old girl. (Laughter.) And I said, I'm 53. And she said, that's a lot. (Laughter.) And, lamentably, she's right about that. And I want to say this -- and I want every one of you to think about it. In my lifetime, in my 53 years, our country has never had the blessings and the opportunities and, therefore, the responsibilities it has at this moment. We have never had at the same time a strong economy, an improving social climate, strong self-confidence among the American people, with the absence of crisis at home or threat abroad.

We had an economy that was very strong in the early '60s that came a cropper because of the competing demands of civil rights and poverty at home and the war in Vietnam abroad. You can go back all through the 20th century and you will not find a time when we've had prosperity, social progress, national self-confidence, the absence of internal crisis or external threat.

And what I want to say to you is, that imposes on our party not bragging rights for the last seven years, but an enormous responsibility to keep the American people focused on the future. Anybody can take a deep breath and summon themselves to great efforts in tough times. The great British essayist, Samuel Johnson, said, "nothing so concentrates the mind as the prospect of one's own destruction."

Every one of us can remember when times were tough and we got right at it. But, also, most people can remember a time in your personal life, your family life, your business life, when things were going so well you just lost your concentration or became indulgent or got distracted. This country faces a great choice here.

The Vice President talked about the tax cut that Congress passed, that I vetoed. I was so proud of the American people because times are good and people have been through tough times. And a lot of people still have difficulties in their own lives and they could have said, hey, give us a break here. Don't tell me about paying off the debt for the first time since 1835 or this other rigamarole. Just show me the money.

But they didn't do it. They said just what he said -- that we like what we have and we want to go on. We want to leave a stronger America for our children. We want to get out of debt. We want to deal with the aging of America. We want to be able to invest in our children's education. What I want to tell you -- I think that's what is at stake here: whether we will assume the responsibility of our success, or indulge ourselves and squander it.

You know, you can say whatever you want to about how I say whatever I say about the Vice President. Everything I said was true and I believe it. But I'm a lot more interested than the whole country in our children and grandchildren even than I am him. I'm sitting here talking to you about whether we're going to make the most of this prosperity. And I've been here for 53 years. And, like the kid said, that's a lot. And we've never had this kind of chance before.

Are we going to deal with the aging of America or not? We're going to double the number of people over 65 in 30 years, I hope to be one of them. We can take Social Security out beyond the life of the baby boomers by doing one simple thing: just take the interest we're saving on the debt from not spending the Social Security surplus and put it into Social Security. And we ought to do that. (Applause.) We can lengthen the life of Medicare, we can provide prescription drug benefits to the 75 percent of our seniors who can't afford the medicine that they need.

We can radically improve our schools. We can deal with the challenge of global warming and all the other environmental challenges, and do it with new technology and smart investments that will grow this economy faster, not weaken it. We can extend economic opportunity to the people and places that have been left behind. In spite of all the happy talk, unemployment tonight is 73 percent on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. I'm going home to the Arkansas Delta tomorrow, right across the river from Memphis, where the Vice President spent countless days. And he can tell you that, except for the Native American reservations, the poorest parts of America are still in the Delta between Memphis and New Orleans. Or in Appalachia or in any number of our inner cities. Or upstate New York, which would be 49th in job growth if that were a separate state. Or the rural areas of New England and any number of other places.

So I think we ought to give people big incentives to invest there -- the same incentives we give them to invest in poor areas in Latin America and Asia and Africa, to try to grow the American economy now in the places that have been left behind. (Applause.)

No, it's not fashionable to talk about, because when I talk about trade I make everybody mad. (Applause.) And he's doing a pretty good job of it, too. (Laughter.) But let me just say, I think I'm right about saying that labor standards and the environment ought to be a part of the global economy. (Applause.) And you know I'm pro-trade. I don't think you can make a serious case that the world is not better off. And globalization is not a bad thing if you do it right.

You look at the places he mentioned. Do you really believe that we would have had to go to war in Kosovo and use our military power in Bosnia to stop slaughter there if the Balkans were the richest place in Europe, instead of the poorest? Do you believe we would have had 800,000 people slaughtered in 90 days in Rwanda in a tribal war if their incomes were 10 times higher than they are?

And I have to say -- you mentioned Ireland -- I've very proud of the role we played in the Irish peace process. (Applause.) And I'm very proud of Senator George Mitchell. But I want to tell you something -- you can clap for him. (Applause.) But make no mistake about it, the fact that some American banks were sending their data processing to be done in Northern Ireland by poor people who didn't have any other jobs, the fact that the Irish Republic had the fastest growing economy in Europe, and all those young people saw what was going on in the rest of Europe and they said, this is nuts, let's let it go. That had a lot to do with that.

So we have to find a way to put that human face on the global economy. And we've got to decide who we trust to do it and how to get there.

Finally, there are lots of other things we could talk about. We've got to be willing to take on some difficult questions in the future. You know, all that nice talk Al said to me about all these tough decisions that I had to make. When we first got together after the election he said, you know, I've spent a lot more time in Washington and I'm going to tell you, you can't imagine how hard these decisions are going to be. And it's just like developing muscles, it's going to be agonizing for you at the beginning and you've just got to grit your teeth and make them and it will be get easier and easier and easier.

And, like so many things he told me, it turned out to be right. But it was a lot easier because he was there with me, helping me. He was right when we took on guns. He was right when we took on big tobacco. He was right when we took on the health care industry on the patients' bill of rights and on so many other issues. (Applause.) So we have a lot of things to do.

Now, I just want to make one last point. I'm going to keep working for the next 14 months and I think the best thing I can do for all of our candidates, from top to bottom, is to try to be the best President I can be. And I'll do my best to do that. (Applause.) And I am profoundly committed to renting back the House and Senate because a lot of those people lost their seats -- (applause) -- a lot of those people lost their seats because they voted for the economic plan and the voted for the Brady Bill and they voted for the assault weapons ban and they took the tough decisions. And, unfortunately, they had to stand for reelection in 1994, before the American people knew we were right. And we owe it to them. (Applause.)

And, besides that, I've got a minor interest in what happens in New York. (Laughter and applause.)

But let me say to all of you, if I had this proverbial encounter tonight and somebody said, well, you can't stay 14 months, you've got to go. And the genie showed up and said I could have not three wishes, but one. It wouldn't be anything I've said on this list. I would wish for an America that is truly one America; that can bridge the lines of race and gender and religion and sexual orientation -- all these things that divide us. (Applause.)

If you look around the world today -- that's why we're going to try to pass the hate crimes bill. That's why we're going to try to pass the employment and nondiscrimination act. (Applause.) Because if you look at the world we're living in at the end of the Cold War, when people are not artificially bound into blocks where they feel threatened by their very existence, it was inevitable that we'd have an upsurge of nationalism and some of the things that have happened.

But it is unconscionable that on the verge of a new millennium, when there are 20,000 people making a living on e-Bay trading, when we're about to decode the whole mystery of the human genome, when some people think we'll find out what's in the black holes in space in a few years -- it is unconscionable that the biggest problem society faces is the oldest problem of society, which is that we're afraid of, prone to hate, prone to dehumanize and prone to brutalize people who are different from us. (Applause.) Thank you.

There is so much hope around the world. I announced yesterday the resumption of talks next week between the Israelis and the Syrians. I know they're working hard to make peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians. We even have the Greeks and the Turks talking about Cyprus. We've got all kinds of things going.

And for all of the hate crimes and terrible things that have happened in America, we're not bedeviled like that, but it's still there under the surface. One of our major newspapers today had two breathtaking pictures, side-by-side, on the front page of the young soldier that was beaten to death and the other young soldier that was convicted of killing him. He was beaten to death because he was gay.

And, you know, I'm not running for anything, I'm just telling you I felt as a human being. I looked at that and my heart ached for that young man whose life was extinguished. Then my heart ached for that young man whose life was ruined. Because somewhere along the way people taught him -- you're not born feeling this way -- people taught him that it was okay to dehumanize that other young person, who wore the uniform of his country. Both of them have committed to die for this country if I send them some place, God forbid, which might cost them their lives. And, yet, that happened.

So I say to you, not to bring you down, but to lift you up, the reason I am working as hard as I can to be a good President, the reason I'm here with you, besides to thank you; the reason I feel as strongly as I do about the Vice President and all of our campaigns for the Senate and the House is that we may never have this chance again. And we have to make the most of it. And we owe it to the American people to get out there and get our message out, stand up, fight, show up for them every day. Never forget that the people we're really fighting for are the people that served our food here tonight and their children. And countless other people who will never have a chance to come to an event like this. (Applause.)

And I'm telling you, if you do what you know to do next year and you tell people what the record is and what we stand for, then we'll have a great 14 months and we'll have a great celebration in November of 2000.

Thank you and God bless you. (Applause.)

END 8:55 P.M. EST