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Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release February 22, 2000
                         REMARKS BY THE PRESIDENT
                            AT WATERS RECEPTION

                          The Four Seasons Hotel
                             Washington, D.C.

8:19 P.M. EST

THE PRESIDENT: Thank you. When Maxine said, you know, she looked at me like that and I said what I said -- (laughter) -- I looked at Sidney and I said, does she ever look at you that way? (Laughter.) He said, after 30 years, what do you think? (Laughter.)

Let me say, first of all, on the way over here with Minyon Moore, my Political Director, and Lynn Cutler, from the White House, I told Minyon -- she said, you know, you're not running for anything and you're still out doing these things. I said, let me tell you something: Maxine gets mad at me, but she was with me from the get-go in 1991 -- (applause) -- and she was with me on June 2, 1992 in California, after the California primary, when I was nominated and all the press wrote that I was actually the third choice of the country, Ross Perot was going to be the next President. And that was just between June and November. Caution: don't predict too much about this year -- remember that. (Laughter.)

So we've had this wonderful relationship. It has been full, rich and honest. (Laughter.) And I have loved it. I told Maxine one time she was mad at me, I said, you know, Sidney is an Ambassador and he doesn't talk to me that way. (Laughter.) And she said, well, he's a diplomat, I'm a politician. (Laughter and applause.) I've got 11 months -- if I keep plugging, I'm finally going to win one of these arguments. (Laughter.) I'm really working on it.

I want to thank my great friends: Eleanor Holmes Norton and Elijah Cummings for being here; Ron Dellums, we're glad to see you. And thank you for the copy of your book. It's at your local bookstores -- (laughter) -- I recommend you buying this book. (Laughter and applause.) I figure I might as well turn this into a two-fer tonight. (Laughter.)

And let me say to all of you who are here who have been my friends over these years, I thank you very much. I'm honored to be here. I thank you for supporting Maxine, and I thank her for supporting others. I think we're all here because she's so feisty and full of conviction, and because as the years go by she seems to get healthier and more beautiful -- (laughter) -- and more full of energy. She and Sidney, both of them look better than they did the first time I saw them, and that's saying something. (Laughter.) And I thought they looked pretty good then.

But we need to remember, in times where all of us have been fortunate enough to come to a place like this, an event like this, that we got here by working hard and by working together on good ideas based on our shared values. And now is not the time to stop doing that. Now is not the time to relax, or to become diverted.

The other day I said -- some of you were at the White House, I think, the other day when we celebrated Black History Month and I read my radio address. But I want to say that when we celebrated, this month, the longest economic expansion in our history, I went back and I was curious -- I wondered when the longest expansion in our history was before we got to this month and ours took over. And it was, interestingly enough, between 1961 and 1969. And those of you who were of age then will remember that.

I graduated from high school in 1964. Our country had gone through the terrible trauma of President Kennedy's assassination. We had rallied behind President Johnson. I thought then, and I believe now, he did a magnificent job of unifying the country and saying we had to take up the unfinished agenda of America. And he began to push that civil rights legislation through Congress.

And we really believed -- my group of young people did, when I went out into the world as a high school senior graduate in '64 -- we had low unemployment, high growth, low inflation, the Congress dealing in a legal way with the civil rights challenge, and the country was militarily strong and we thought we could prevail in the Cold War. And we thought everything was going to be just fine.

A couple years later, in Southern California, we had riots in the streets. A couple years later, I graduated from college -- two days after Bobby Kennedy was murdered, two months after Martin Luther King was murdered, nine weeks after Lyndon Johnson said he wouldn't run for President anymore, just a few months before Richard Nixon was elected President on the first sort of divide-and-conquer theme of modern politics called the silent majority. You remember that? If there's a silent majority, there's got to be a loud minority and it's us versus them. And just shortly after that we lost that economic expansion.

What's all that got to do with this? Eleven months from now I'll be a citizen again. I'm talking to you as a citizen now. I have waited over 30 years for my country to be in a position to build the future of our dreams for our children. We had a chance in the early '60s, but we couldn't manage. The Cold War turned hot in Vietnam; the political system breaking down over civil rights at home; and we lost our economic prosperity and our social progress and our political cohesion. And I have waited -- as a citizen, not a politician -- for 30 years for America to have that chance again.

And it's easier for us now because of the struggles many of you have undertaken over the last 30 years; because the Cold War is over. And we will never forgive ourselves if we don't take this chance to build the future of our dreams; say, what are those big issues out there. Okay, we've got the largest number of kids we ever had in our schools and they're the most racially, ethnically, religiously diverse. How are we going to give them all a world-class education?

Okay, we've got the crime rate going down; got people like Maxine turning these kids away from gangs toward better lives. How can we now make all our streets safe, and America the safest big country in the world?

Okay, we're going to double the number of people over 65 in 30 years. I hope to be one of them. How are we going to take care of them without bankrupting their children and their children's ability to raise their grandchildren?

Okay, we've got the best economy we've ever had, but what about all the people and places -- the urban neighborhoods, the Indian reservations, the poor rural areas -- that haven't been caught up in this?

Okay, we've got former welfare recipients making a living on eBay. What about the people that haven't bridged the digital divide? A lot of you talked to me about that last night -- tonight, I mean.

And you can add your own list. We proved we could grow the economy and clean up the environment, but we're still burning up the atmosphere. How are we going to turn this climate change thing around and still keep giving people a chance to make a living?

There are big questions out there. But unlike the 1960s, we are not as torn by internal crisis or external threat -- not that there are no crises; not that there is no threat, but they're not of the same dimension. And we all -- all of us who lived through that ought to be humble enough to know that we have a chance -- and for us, a second chance -- to do something that comes along maybe once in a lifetime for a great country.

I feel that in these seven years, you know, I've worked and worked and worked to kind of turn the country around economically, to move things in the right direction socially, to try to pull us back together politically, to try to be a force for peace around the world, and integrate us with the rest of the world -- Maxine mentioned Africa and I appreciate that.

But I think now, like, America is ready, you know, to do these big things. And so tonight I speak to you not -- mostly not just as President, but as someone who remembers what it was like to be 18 years old in 1964; to weep over a lost President, believing things could be made right, and then to watch everything come apart.

We've waited a long time. Maxine, Elijah, Eleanor -- they're going to carry this banner. It matters what happens in this presidential race. It matters what happens in these congressional races. It matters whether we count everybody in the census. It matters who gets elected in the governors' races. And it matters whether we say, hey, we do remember. We're not taking this for granted. We're not being arrogant, we're not being self-satisfied. We know we've got a second chance. And we're going to make the most of it.

Thank you. (Applause.)

END 8:28 P.M. EST