THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
REMARKS BY THE PRESIDENT AT RECEPTION FOR CONGRESSMAN RICHARD NEAL Phoenix Park Hotel Washington. D.C.
8:06 P.M. EDT
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you. First of all, after what Richard Neal said, if I had any sense, I would just shut up and sit down. (Laughter.) I'm delighted to be here with you and Maureen and the whole clan of your family. And thank you, Senator Kennedy, for what you said.
I want you to know one thing about Ted Kennedy. He's a good friend of mine. I think in a lot of ways that I could never even describe he's been there for me and for Hillary and he's just been wonderful. And I've just got four months to be President, right? Every single time, for eight long years, I have seen him, he says hello -- he is polite, he says hello -- (laughter.) Then, within 30 seconds I get a card like this. (Laughter.) And this card tells me what I haven't done as President that I should have done, and that if I would just do these things, the whole world would be a much better place. (Laughter.)
I have all these cards. (Laughter.) I must have done 90 things in the last eight years on Ted Kennedy's wish list, and I'm still getting it. (Laughter.) That ought to tell you something. He's been there a long time, but he's not tired of the job. He is still doing a great job, and I'm very proud of him. And you should be proud of him. (Applause.)
I'd like to thank Father Leahy, the President of Boston College, for being here. You know, I'm going to be unemployed after January, and I'm looking for somebody to ask me to come give a talk every now and then. (Laughter.) They say I'll get lost on the way for three or four months because nobody will play a song when I walk in a room anymore. (Laughter.) But I'm interested in it.
I'm glad that our FAA Administrator, James Garvey, has come here in support of you, Congressman Neal. And your colleague, Lloyd Doggett, from Texas, is either here or was here -- he and his wife, Libby, they represent Austin, Texas, and that's a long way from Springfield, Massachusetts, but it's a great place.
And I want to thank Peter King for coming. I always wonder whether every time I appear with Peter King, how long he can use Ireland as an excuse to keep from being thrown out of the Republican Caucus. (Laughter.) But I want to tell you, I love this guy, and his family and his mother. And these two men have been anchors for America's role in the Irish peace process and the support I've gotten in the House of Representatives. And, of course, so has Senator Kennedy, Senator Dodd and others in the Senate.
But it was, to put it mildly, a sea change in American foreign policy when I took the position I did and we got involved in the Irish peace process, and I was mildly unpopular in Great Britain for a day or two. And there are all kinds of crazy theories about it. And finally, I told the British Prime Minister, who I actually like very much -- Mr. Major, who was Mr. Blair's predecessor -- I said, you know, this is going to be good for you because you just can't have this thing going on forever, and there are 44 million Irish Americans, Catholic and Protestant. It's the big diaspora. And we can help Ireland if they can make peace. And you should be glad we did this. In the end, it will be good.
I think now most people in Great Britain would tell you that it was a good thing the United States got involved and tried to bring about some, first, movement, and then reconciliation. We're not entirely there yet. They're having a few minor arguments about the details of the Patton report. But for those of you who care about it, you should be very grateful to the people on this stage, including your representative in Congress, Richard Neal. They were great -- (applause.)
Now, I must say, the only bad thing about the Democrats winning the majority in the House of Representatives and increasing his influence is I hate to see Peter King cry. (Laughter.) Otherwise, it would be a total unmixed blessing for America if we won the majority.
Let me say, too, how grateful I am to the people of Massachusetts for what you've done and been for me and Hillary and Al and Tipper Gore. In 1996, I got, Ted Kennedy never tires of telling me, the highest percentage of the vote in the country in the state of Massachusetts. You were good to me and I appreciate it. (Applause.) And the second highest in '92, but as he always says, Massachusetts is bigger than my home state, so I got more votes out of Massachusetts. He's always working an angle, Ted is. (Laughter.) That's what I heard when I got the first letter. (Laughter.)
Let me say to all of you, one of the things I admire about your Congressman, besides the fact that he's a really good person and wonderful to be around -- is that he has, I think, the right kind of balance in a representative. He cares about all the local issues. There's not a single local issue in your congressional district that can be dealt with in any way, shape or form at the federal level that he couldn't stand up here and give a discourse on. He cares about national policy and how it affects people who live in his district.
But he also cares about how America relates to the rest of the world and whether we are a stronger, more secure, more decent country. And he knows that that helps people all over America, including the people who live in his district. And that's about all you can ask for somebody in Congress. If everybody thought that way, if everybody worked that way, if everybody had the same willingness to work with who have good ideas -- whether they're Democrats or Republicans -- and if everybody would rather get something done than have another fight and get 15 more seconds on the evening news, we'd get more done here and we'd move even faster.
This is the first time in 26 years I haven't been on the ballot. Most days, I'm okay about that. (Laughter.) My party has a new leader, my family has a new candidate. (Laughter.) I'm sort of the cheerleader-in-chief in America now. But as I think about all the progress our country has made, first, I'm grateful for whatever role that our ideas and actions had in it, and our administration. But, secondly, I'd just like to say that, to me, when the Vice President says, you ain't seen nothing yet, it sounds like a campaign slogan, but I actually believe that.
The country is kind of like a big ocean liner, and it's hard to turn it around. That's how come the Titanic hit the iceberg. They saw it, but not in time. So we've been working for eight years to turn this thing around. And you heard -- Richard gave you all the statistics -- we're going to pay off $360 billion off the national debt before I leave office; not just get rid of the deficit, to pay the debt down.
But the question is before us here, in the national races -- the race for President, in every Senate race, every House rate -- is, now what? Okay, so unemployment is down, poverty is down, business starts are up, home ownership is at an all-time high. The poverty rate among minorities are the lowest ever recorded. The poverty rate among women is the lowest recorded in 46 years; unemployment rate among women the lowest in 40 years, which is truly astonishing since the participation of women in the work force is so much higher today than it was 40 years ago.
Crime is at a 30-year low; welfare is at a 32-year low. We've proved you can improve the economy and the environment, because the air is cleaner, the water is cleaner, the food is safer. We've set aside more land than any administration except Theodore Roosevelt's, in the history of the country.
So what are you going to do with that? That's really the big issue here. I say this all the time, but sometimes it's harder to make a good decision in good times than it is to make a good decision in bad times. I'm sure a lot of people voted for me in 1992 thinking, God, I'm really taking a chance, this guy -- he doesn't look old enough be President -- I didn't have gray hair then -- (laughter) -- he's from this little state, I'm not sure I know where it is; his opponents all say he's terrible -- I'm really taking a chance here. But you really weren't taking much of a chance, because the country was in trouble and we had to do something different.
Now, the country is in good shape and you have to decide what to do. There are a lot of young people here, but I think I'm competent in saying that maybe even including Father Leahy there's not a person in this room who's over 30 years of age who hasn't at least on one occasion in your life made a significant mistake, not because times were so tough, but because times were so good you didn't think you had to concentrate. That happens to countries as well as people.
So the reason I'm going around the country trying to help people like your Congressman, and talking everywhere I can about this, I just don't want America to miss this magic moment. You heard Richard say, we can be out of debt in 12 years. Should we do it? I think we should. Why? Because if we do -- if we keep paying that debt down, interest rates will stay lower, businesses will borrow more money, expand more, hire more people, raise wages more, the market will be higher. And if you keep interest rates a percent lower, it's worth about $390 billion in lower home mortgage payments, $30 billion in lower car payments, $15 billion in lower student loan payments in 10 years. That's pretty good money.
We could revolutionize our schools over the next 10 years. We could have every child in a school that's functioning at a national level of educational efficiency and excellence. We could have all the kids that need to be in Head Start, in Head Start. We could have all the kids that need to be in after-school programs and not on the street, in after-school programs getting mentoring, new computer instruction, all that stuff. We could do it.
We could provide health care coverage to all the working families in this country who don't have it. We could reverse the tide of global warming and actually increase the rate of economic growth by an explosion of the development of new engines, new fuels and new conservation technologies in America. We could do it.
We could use the Human Genome Project to tell every mother what her newborn baby's future health will likely be like, what all the problems are, by the time she brings the baby home from the hospital. It could change child-rearing and take life expectancy, within 10 to 15 years, to 90 years. We could do it.
We could become a much greater force for ending the plagues of AIDS, TB, malaria, poverty in the world in a way that would actually increase America's wealth because we'd have better trading partners. And that's just a partial list of what we could do. I also think you're going to find out what's in the black holes in outer space and the deepest depths of the ocean -- which, ironically, may be even more surprising.
But you have to decide to do it. It means you've got to make the right decisions in these elections based on economic policy, crime -- you can make America the safest big country in the world. Gun crime down 35 percent; crime has dropped seven years in a row for the first time ever. You could make America the safest big country in the world. You could do all this stuff, but you've got to decide to do it.
And I know I'm a Democrat and I know I'm prejudiced -- (laughter) -- but that's the only thing I'm prejudiced about. But I think you've got a good person representing you in Congress. And I think I know now -- after eight years, I know. (Applause.)
And I also agree with what Richard Neal said about Ted Kennedy; he is probably the most effective legislator in the Congress, I think. I've said this before and I like to turn his Irish face red, but I think that I'm something of an American history buff, I think I know a little bit about the history of this country and I believe that any historian who is well informed who had to list the 10 greatest United States senators in the history of the republic would have to put his name on that list. (Applause.) I want you to know why I said that. Because every time I say that, I earn the right to hand him a little card for something. (Laughter.)
So I want you all to be happy. I want you to be happy about this good time. But I don't want you to be careless about the election. It's not so much a matter of party as it is philosophy. I really believe that this country works best when we say, everybody counts, everybody deserves a chance, we all do better when we help each other.
And I'll just close with this thought. There's a new book out which is selling reasonably well, called, "Nonzero," by a man named Robert Wright. He wrote a book a few years ago some of you probably read, called "The Moral Animal." And "nonzero" is a reference to game theory. A zero sum game is like the presidential race -- in order for one person to win, somebody has to lose. A nonzero sum game is a game in which in order for you to win, the other person playing the game also has to win. And the argument of the book is that as societies become more and more complicated, and we become more and more interdependent, both within our nation's borders and beyond our borders, humanity has a chance to improve and progress because we are inevitably forced to try to find more and more nonzero sum solutions, where we all win.
You know, I never thought I was right about everything. And on those important occasions, all too few, when I could work across party lines, I think I've learned some things and America has been strengthened. I've learned some things about Ireland from Peter King. I think we made a good balanced budget agreement, because it was bipartisan. I could go through a lot of others. But this country does not need dividers. This country needs unifiers. And it needs people who have enough sense to understand the connection between what goes on in Springfield, Massachusetts, connected to Washington. D.C., connected not just to Ireland, but what happens half a world away.
You're lucky enough to have a person like that in Congress. I hope you'll leave him there forever, and I hope between now and November you will share some of these thoughts with your friends not only in Massachusetts, but in other states.
This is a very important opportunity for the American people to make a good decision. In my lifetime we've never had a chance like this to build the future of our dreams for our children -- never. We've never had so much prosperity and social progress with the absence of internal crisis or external threat. It may not roll around again for another 50 years, so you make the most of it. And meanwhile, take care of him.
Thank you and God bless you. (Applause.)
END 8:35 P.M. EDT