THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
REMARKS BY THE PRESIDENT AT DEMOCRATIC LEADERSHIP COUNCIL RETREAT Franklin Delano Roosevelt Presidential Library Hyde Park, New York
3:00 P.M. EDT
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you. Bill, thank you for welcoming me back to Hyde Park and the Roosevelt Library. I love coming here. I'm sorry I've only come three times. And, Al, thank you for your wonderful introduction. And to you and Ginger, thank you for your years of friendship. He's very good at giving the credit to everybody else, but the truth is it would be hard to think of a single American citizen who, as a private citizen, has had a more positive impact on the progress of American life in the last 25 years than Al From. (Applause.)
I am delighted to see so many members of Congress here, members of the Senate and the House; the Governor; present and former members of the administration. Mack McLarty was Chief of Staff when we did four big DLC things. We did the economic plan, the Brady Bill, Family Leave law, and NAFTA. Somebody said, Mack, the other day -- I saw a commentator -- Hillary and I were watching the commentators -- you know, if it hadn't been for his first two years, Bill Clinton's approval ratings would be the highest ever recorded. And Hillary looked at me and she said, if it hadn't been for the first two years, when you made all the unpopular decisions, the next six years would not have happened. (Laughter.)
Mayor Brown, we're glad to see you here. And my Mayor, Mayor Williams, thank you. And thank all of you for being here, and for what you're about to do.
Franklin Roosevelt said he often came back to Hyde Park because it gave him "a chance to think quietly about the country as a whole, and to see it in a long-range perspective." That's what you're being asked to do.
I've often, in quiet moments at the White House, thought about my predecessors -- the ones that succeeded, the ones who didn't, why they did. Roosevelt had what Justice Holmes called a first-class temperament, a lot of personal courage, a good mind, and a great attitude. He had a good time being President, even in difficult times. And he learned to have a good time in the midst of almost constant personal pain.
It's worth remembering that life's successes are a curious blend of what you make happen and what happens to you; the gifts God gives you and what you do with them. But today I want to focus on the fact that he was always interested in ideas.
I read the other day Frances Perkins' wonderful book about her lifetime friendship with Roosevelt. You know she was the first woman in the Cabinet; she served as Secretary of Labor the entire time President Roosevelt was in office. She kept trying to quit and he wouldn't let her. And if you read this book, at the end you get some sense just in the curious, wonderful relationship between these two remarkable people that he had some sense of his own mortality. She kept trying to leave and he kept trying to get her to hold on to the end. And then, of course, he died shortly after being reelected to his fourth term.
But through this whole thing, you get this sense that from the time she was a young social worker and he was a young state senator, when he still had full use of his physical facilities -- and played a pretty good game of golf, I might add -- that they had this magical chemistry born of the fact that even though they were different people from different worlds, in the beginning with very different positions on certain issues, they both understood that public service was something that you weren't supposed to covet for the power, but something you wanted to do so you could help other people, and that ideas mattered.
So you come here today to think about where we are and where we ought to go and what the long-range challenges are. And Al's already said a lot of what I want to say, but I want to say some of the things he said and tie it back to what we did in New Orleans in 1990, because I believe that thinking is a big and often underutilized part of success in public life. (Laughter and applause.) And I think ideas matter.
Let me say that sometime into my first term, maybe 1995 or something, a distinguished scholar whom I at that time had never met, and who at that time was at Syracuse -- I believe he's at Harvard now -- named Thomas North Patterson -- no, Thomas Patterson -- I can't remember what his middle name was -- anyway, he wrote this article and he said, contrary to the popular belief that most politicians are congenitally dishonest, most people do what they say they're going to do when they get elected. And if you look at the history of Presidents, most of them do what they say they're going to do. And when they don't, it's usually because something has really changed, and we're glad they didn't.
We're glad Franklin Roosevelt didn't balance the budget, because if he had, under those circumstances, it would have been worse. Abraham Lincoln promised not to free the slaves. We're glad he broke that commitment. But, by and large, if you look at the whole history of American public life, when a President runs for office and says, vote for me, this is what I want to do, they pretty well do that. Or they at least get caught trying to do it.
And one of the things that really has meant the most to me, of all the things I've read -- and I've read a lot a stuff I just as soon not have in the last eight years -- (laughter) -- was Patterson said that by 1995, our administration had already kept a higher percentage of its commitments to the American people than the previous five Presidents. And we had made more commitments.
And the point I want to make today to emphasize the importance of what it is you're about to do is that the reason that was possible is, I had thought a lot about that -- what I would do. And I had thought with many of you -- with Bruce and Will and Rob and the whole DLC crowd, and a lot of you that were going to these meetings back in the '80s and the '90s -- so that when I announced for President, I did it not because I wanted to get out of what I was doing -- I was actually happier than I had ever been with my work as governor and with my situation at home in Arkansas -- but because I thought something needed to be done, and I had thought a lot about it. And this New Orleans Declaration had a lot to do with it.
So the first thing I want to say to you is, you cannot possibly overestimate the importance of what you're here to do if you do it in all seriousness.
Let's just look the New Orleans. We met in New Orleans in 1990. As Al said, the times were different -- the economy was bad, the deficit was high, the debt had exploded, all the social conditions were worsening. And Washington seemed to be stuck in a kind of ideological trench warfare, where the Republicans said that government was the problem, and we said that it was the solution. And we always had to have a false choice -- you had to choose the economy or the environment; you had to choose impoverishment or entitlement; you had to choose business or labor.
And most of us, many of the DLC people -- this is one of the reasons the DLC succeeded, by the way -- is that we had people who were in politics in Washington and out in the country, and a lot of our people in Washington spent a lot of time in the country, and we realized that no one else in the world thought about things or experienced things in the way the Washington media and political establishment talked about issues; and that we didn't agree with all these false choices.
And so, in New Orleans 10 years ago, we set out to say and to outline what we believed ought to be done. Our approach came to be known as the Third Way. But basically, it was rooted in common sense, a common devotion to our party's oldest values, and a common vision of the new era in which we were living.
In 1992, the American people gave us a chance to put our ideas in the action. And we have done our best to do that, working across party lines where possible, and where bitter partisanship forced it, going alone.
In New Orleans -- let's just look at some of the things we said in New Orleans, as against some of the things that Al has already mentioned. This is what the New Orleans Declaration said. We believe the Democratic Party's fundamental mission is to expand opportunity, not government; that economic growth is a prerequisite for expanding opportunity for everyone; and that the way to build America's economic security is to invest in the skills and ingenuity of our people, and to expand trade, not restrict it.
Now, these ideas were all turned into action in the '93 economic plan, in the '97 Balanced Budget Act; in the Telecommunications Act in our commitment to science and technological research; in our education budget -- we doubled investment for education and training even as we were reducing the deficit, and we emphasized results and proven strategies. We very nearly opened the doors of college to all Americans. We had 300 trade agreements. Those ideas put into action have given us those 21,615,000 jobs, and the lowest unemployment rate in 30 years, and the highest home ownership ever, and the longest economic expansion in history. And the government is now continuing to shrink. It is now the smallest it has been since 1958.
We said we believe the purpose of social welfare is to bring the poor into this nation's economic mainstream, not to maintain them independent. That idea, turned into action through the expansion of the earned income tax credit, the Vice President's empowerment zone program, and welfare reform, has given us the smallest welfare rolls in absolute numbers in 32 years; a 20-year low in the poverty rate; the lowest single-parent household poverty rate in 46 years -- while we fought and succeeded in maintaining health and nutrition benefits for poor children and increasing our investment in child care and transportation for lower-income workers.
We said we believe in "preventing crime and punishing criminals, not explaining away their behavior." That idea was turned into action through the crime bill, which gave us 100,000 police; assault weapons ban; and through the passage of the Brady law which has kept a half a million felons, fugitives and stalkers from getting handguns. That's given us the lowest crime rate in 25 years, the lowest homicide rate in 30 years, and a 35-percent reduction in gun crime since 1993.
We said we believe in the politics of inclusion, in the protection of civil rights and the broad movement of minorities into the American economic and cultural mainstream. That idea, turned into action, has given us the lowest African American and Hispanic unemployment rates ever recorded; record numbers of minority-owned businesses; vigorous enforcement of civil rights; and the widest participation of minorities in the federal government at high levels and the federal judiciary in American history.
We said we believe in the imperative of work and the importance of family. I could give you lots of examples of that, but if you just take the Family and Medical Leave law, the first bill I signed, vetoed by the previous administration, 21 million-plus Americans have taken some time off when a baby is born or a parent is sick, and they said it would wreck the economy. Well, 21 million families are stronger, and so is the American economy. The idea was right in the New Orleans Declaration.
We said we believe American citizenship entails responsibility as well as rights, and we mean to ask citizens to give something back to their community. That idea, turned into action, has led to a whole series of remarkable partnerships. The welfare-to-work partnership, for example, has led to 12,000 companies to voluntarily commit to hire now something like 400,000 people off the welfare rolls. The Vice President's partnership with the auto companies and the auto workers has led to this whole effort to develop the next generation vehicle, which already has prototypes that will be on the market within two years -- 60, 70, 80 miles a gallon.
The partnership we had with the entertainment industry led to the passage of the v-chip requirement and rating systems for movies, television programs and video games. And most of all, of course, it led to AmeriCorps, which now has permitted over 150,000 young Americans to serve in their communities. We had more people in AmeriCorps in five years than the Peace Corps did in its first 20 years of existence, because of the idea that the DLC relentlessly advanced.
We said we believed "the U.S. must remain energetically engaged in the worldwide struggle for individual liberty, human rights and prosperity, not retreat from the world. That idea turned into action has given us a stronger and expanded NATO; new initiatives against terrorism and weapons of mass destruction; progress on peace in Northern Ireland and the Middle East; forceful stands against ethnic cleansing in Bosnia and Kosovo; and new initiatives to expand trade and advance democracy in Africa, the Caribbean Basin, Latin America, and the Asian Pacific region.
In short, because of the work done in New Orleans and the fact that the American people gave us a chance two years later to test it, we have proven that ideas matter, and that for the decade of the '90s our ideas were the right ones. They have put the Democratic Party at the vital center of American life, and inspired the rise of new progressive governments throughout Europe and the industrialized world. Indeed, I'm going to be meeting with many of these leaders next month in Berlin -- people all over the world now who have seen what happened here, taken ideas seriously, and want to see what they can do to lift their people and make them a part of the new information age of globalization.
And most important of all, these ideas put into action have brought our country into a moment of unparalleled prosperity and promise. Now, I think we have a rare opportunity to identify and move on the big, long-term challenges the country faces in the new century. And I think the DLC -- to borrow a little of your own medicine -- has both the opportunity and the responsibility to put forth a declaration here which will guide our party and should guide our nation for the next 10 years.
That's your task -- what is the new Democratic agenda for the 21st century. Here's what I think it ought to say.
First, we will keep the economy strong by paying down the debt, maintaining our lead in science and technology, and extending our economic benefits to people and places left behind, opening new markets and closing the investment and digital divide.
Second, we will lift up all working families out of poverty, ending child poverty by increasing the EITC, the minimum wage, our support for child care, housing and transportation, and for responsible fatherhood.
Third, we will make sure every child starts school ready to learn, graduates ready to succeed, has the chance to go to college by investing more in education and demanding more of all the participants in our education process, and by opening college access to everyone by making tuition deductible.
Fourth, we will enable Americans to succeed at work and at home with more support for child care, expanding opportunity for health care coverage, passing a patients' bill of rights, and providing middle class families tax relief to educate their kids, take care of them through child care, take care of their parents if they need long-term care.
Fifth, we will make America the safest big nation on Earth, with more police, more prevention, more prosecutors, and more effective measures to keep guns away from children and criminals.
Sixth, we will meet the challenge of the aging of America by extending the life of Social Security, strengthening and modernizing Medicare with a prescription drug benefit, and providing a tax cut for long-term care, and helping working families to establish their own retirement accounts so that more Americans have a chance to create wealth.
Next, we will reverse the course of climate change while enhancing, rather than eroding, economic growth with new technologies and new sources of alternative energy.
Let me just say, when I went back and read the New Orleans Declaration, the one thing I wish we'd made more of is the environment, because we have now proved you can growth the economy and improve the environment. And this is a much more important issue now than it was 10 years ago because of the global impacts of climate change. We must address this. Every member of Congress here will tell you that a huge portion of decision-makers in our country and throughout the world -- and most troubling, in some of the biggest developing nations -- still believe you cannot have economic growth unless you pour more greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.
Just like these big ideas helped us back in 1990, there is nothing so dangerous as for a people to be in the grip of a big idea that is no longer true. It was once true that you had to put more greenhouse gases into the atmosphere to grow the economy, to build a middle class, make a country rich. It is not true anymore. And there are all kinds of manifestations of this.
The assault that the other party is making on my decision to set aside the roadless acres in the National Forests -- the Audubon Society says it's the most important conservation measure in the last 50 years. It's just a -- (applause.)
I say that not -- the applause is nice, but that's not the point I'm trying to make here. The point I'm trying to make is that good people will continue to make bad decisions if they're in the grip of a wrong idea. This is not simply a case of interest groups fighting each other. This is really a question of whether we have honestly come to terms with what the facts are, what the evidence shows about the way economies can, and indeed, should work.
And there's no way in the world we'll be able to convince our friends in India or China, which over the next 30 years will become bigger emitters of greenhouse gases than we are, that they can take a different path to development, and that we're not trying to keep them poor, unless we can demonstrate that we have let this idea go and that we have evidence that a different way will work.
You can't expect any of these members of Congress who come from rural districts that have a lot of poor people, or that rely on agriculture, to take different approaches unless there is a specific, clear, meaningful alternative that they can embrace.
So I'm sort of off the script here, but this is a big deal. We need more of our people -- every one of our people, we need to know what the facts are here. We need to know what can we really get out of automobile and truck mileage; how realistic is it to have alternative sources of fuel; what can you get if you build all new houses and office buildings with glass that lets in more heat and light -- lets in more light and keeps out more heat and cold. We need to know these things.
This is something that most of you normally wouldn't think of as something that an elected official needs to know. We need to know this. This is a huge, huge issue. And we will not be able to convince either our own people or, even more importantly, developing countries who are our partners around the world, unless we have the evidence in hand and we understand the argument.
Next, we will keep working to build one America at home -- to make a strength of our diversity so that other nations can be inspired to overcome their own ethnic and religious tensions. For me that means passing the Employment Nondiscrimination Act, the hate crimes bill, and expanding national service. I meet with these AmeriCorps kids everywhere I go, and the thing they say over and over and over again is that this gave me a chance to see how different people live, to see how much we have in common as human beings, and understand just what it means to be an American citizen at the dawn of a new century.
And last, we will continue to lead the world away from terror, weapons of mass destruction, and destructive ethnic, racial and religious conflicts, toward greater cooperation and shared peace and prosperity.
That's what this vote about China is all about. Yes, it's a good economic deal. China has agreed to open its markets. I just stopped, when I got out of the airplane here, where I drove up here there were a few hundred people at the airport. So I went over and shook hands and said hello to all the children. And this guy says, you really think this China thing is a good deal? I said, yes, it is -- I do. (Laughter.) And he said, why? And I said, well, in the first place, we've been calling it a trade agreement and it isn't. I said, you know, when I made the agreement with Mexico and Canada, it was a trade agreement. So I got a few things and I had to give up a few things. I said, this is a membership agreement. All we give them is membership, and they do all the market opening. And that's their dues for membership in this World Organization.
That's why, in narrow self-interested terms, it's a 100 to nothing deal not only from the United States, but for anybody else who lets the Chinese -- votes to let the Chinese into the WTO. But, even though for me the economic choice is clear, I have to tell you, far, far more important to me are the moral and national security arguments. I looked at all those kids in that crowd today I was shaking hands with, and I was reminded again that we fought three wars in Asia in the last half of the 20th century, and that we have a chance to build a different future. Not a guarantee, but a chance.
Yes, China is still a one-party state, restricting rights of free speech and religious expression, doing things from time to time that frustrate us and even anger us. But by forcing China to slash subsidies and tariffs that protect inefficient industries, which the Communist Party has long used to exercise day-to-day control, by letting our high-tech companies in to bring the Internet and the information revolution to China, we will be unleashing forces that no totalitarian operation rooted in the last century's industrial society can control.
Two years ago there were 2 million Internet users in China; last year there were 9 million; this year there are something over 20 million. At some point there will be over 100 million, and at some point, some threshold that no one can identify with precision will be crossed and it will be a very different world.
And I think it is worth also pointing out that the more China operates within rule-based systems, with us and with other countries, the more likely they are to see the benefit of the rule of law, and the more likely that benefit is to flow down to ordinary people -- in those 900,000 villages where they're already electing their mayors, and in other places.
So this is very important. I think it is quite interesting that the people who hope we will beat this next week in China are the ultraconservatives in the military and the state-owned industries. And quite interesting that people who have been persecuted in China and other places, by and large, want us to adopt this, want us to vote yes on PNTR.
Martin Lee, the head of the democracy movement in Hong Kong, came all the way over here to ask Congress to vote for this. This is a man who cannot, himself, go to China; a man who has never met Zhu Rongji; a man who is still considered persona non grata. But he said to me, he said, you know, we've got to back the reformers in China. We've got to get them into a system where there is rule of law. We have got to move this way. This is the next big step. All the human rights activists in America are, I think, he said, blinded by their opposition to things that have happened in the past and may be happening now, instead of thinking about what is most likely to change China in the future.
The new President of Taiwan supports us letting China into the WTO and America extending PNTR. And yesterday, the Dalai Lama, a man who has undergone literally decades of frustration in his dealings with China, strongly endorsed PNTR with China.
So this is a big deal to me, beyond the obvious economic benefits which make it easier for some members and others to vote for because of the economic makeup of their districts. You have to understand that by far the bigger issue is what can we do to promote human rights, what can we do to promote the rule of law, what can we do to minimize the chances that there will be another war in Asia in our lifetime, or in our children's lifetime. To me, that is what is at issue.
So that's my pitch here. What you're about to do is really important. I've told you the kinds of things that I hope you'll do. But those of you out here listening to me will have a bigger role than me in the next 10 years of America. If you just remember what I did with that New Orleans Declaration today, and every specific thing that I could cite to you that grew right out of that. It really matters whether you think and whether you put your feelings into organized fashion, and whether that then organizes the process for developing specific policies.
The New Orleans Declaration is largely responsible for the success we have enjoyed in the last eight years, because it gave us a platform on which to stand, and a framework from which to work.
You've got a lot of really creative people here. I could cite a thousand examples, but I want to just mention two or three to give you an illustration of how we got started, partly on what we did. You remember Franklin Roosevelt -- one of the greatest successes of his New Deal was that he essentially took social welfare progress that had been made in various states and went national with it, especially in New York, which is one way Frances Perkins got to be Secretary of Labor.
But Marc Pacheco back there from Massachusetts, the state senator, sponsored a program to give medical students and other health professionals academic credit for providing primary and preventive health services to underserved people. Should we do more in our public health clinics like that? Mayor Webb negotiated a contract with the teachers unions in his city to give an incentive to teachers to improve academic performance. Michael Thurmond, his Georgia Labor Commission has taken absent fathers who weren't supporting their children and giving them training and jobs and values of responsible fatherhood. And now 84 percent of those fathers are working and supporting their children. That's a huge deal. Shouldn't we go national with that? These are the kinds of things that I hope you will think about.
There's just one other thing I want to say. I didn't do this by myself. If it hadn't been for the members of Congress here who have helped me, I couldn't have done it. If it hadn't been for the members of the administration, past and present, I couldn't have done it. If it hadn't been for the DLC, with its constant idea machine, and Al From constantly harping on me not to abandon the reformist path -- (laughter) -- I couldn't have done it. If it hadn't been for Al Gore I couldn't have done it.
And I just want to -- I have said this in other places, but I have -- I believe I have a good grasp on the institution of the vice presidency, and I can tell you it is my judgment that he has had far more positive impact in practical ways on the way the American people live as Vice President than any other person as Vice President in the history of the nation, by a good, long ways.
He managed the empowerment zones program. He managed our administration's position on the Telecommunications Act, which had two important features -- one, it was pro-competition. We didn't give into the monopoly forces, and there are now hundreds of thousands of jobs that have been created, mostly in companies that didn't even exist in 1996, because we stood firm for competition. And we got the e-rate, which is now providing $2.2 billion a year so that poor schools and libraries and hospitals can hook up to the Internet.
Second, he managed our positions, many of them on the environment, including the partnership for new generation vehicles, which I mentioned, and the climate change. Third, he ran the RIGO program, which many of you were involved in, which in addition to reducing the size of government, has dramatically improved the performance of many agencies -- expanding health care for children and parents of working families, and the mental health parity issue, and the fatherhood initiative.
He cast the deciding vote on the economic plan and on the gun safety legislation in the Senate, and on every tough decision I had to make, from Haiti to Bosnia to Kosovo to loaning money to Mexico -- now, there was a winner. The day I made that decision, there was a poll that said, by 81-15, the people didn't want me to do it. To taking on the gun issue and tobacco issue, to lobbying for NASA at the beginning and now all the calls he's made on China PNTR at the end, he's been there.
So I wanted to say that because we did this together. And that's the last thought I'll leave you with. Roosevelt loved ideas, had good ideas, but he had a first-class temperament, and he had a good time and he enjoyed working with people. So you guys have got to keep working together. We've got to get behind all of our crowd; we've got to work to win elections. But afterward, remember, this document is a big deal.
Some day somebody will write a whole book on how this New Orleans Declaration was the foundation of the success of the last eight years. That's what what you do at Hyde Park ought to be. And if you do it, you will change America forever for the better. And what happens in 2000, fundamentally is just as important as what happened in '92 and '96, because what a country does with its prosperity is just as stern a test of its character and vision and wisdom as what it does when its back is against the wall.
I've done everything I could to turn the ship of state around. Now you've got to make sure that it keeps sailing in the right direction.
Thank you and God bless you. (Applause.)
END 3:55 P.M. EDT