THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary (Princeton, New Jersey) ________________________________________________________________________ For Immediate Release October 5, 2000
REMARKS BY THE PRESIDENT TO THE CONFERENCE ON THE PROGRESSIVE TRADITION Princeton University Princeton, New Jersey
3:23 P.M. EDT
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you very much. Thank you for the wonderful welcome. Thank you, President Shapiro, for your distinguished leadership here and the vital work you did during the course of our common presidencies. It occurred to me that this might be the only place in America where people thought Woodrow Wilson got a demotion when he was elected President of the United States. (Laughter.)
Thank you, Dean Rothschild. And thank you, Ruth Miller, for putting off your retirement so I could come here today. I want to thank Professor Sean Wilentz for putting on this conference, and for his many acts of generosity and kindness and support for our efforts over the last eight years. I'd like to thank the Congressman from Princeton, Representative Rush Holt, for coming here. Thank you. (Applause.)
I know this is not really a political event, but I can't help noting that Rush Holt is the only bona fide scientist in the Congress, and lord knows we need at least one. (Applause.)
Another member of Congress wanted to come here today, Senator John Edwards from North Carolina, a good friend of mine, whose daughter Katherine is in the freshman class. And I promised to give his excuses to his daughter and the rest of you, but they are voting in the Senate today. And part of the Progressive's tradition is showing up. (Laughter.) And so he's showing up down in Washington.
And I thank you, Katharine Strong Gilbert, for giving me this Whig-Clio Award.
You know, James Madison is a very important figure to every American, and every President who cares, in particular, about the framework and history of the Constitution. But it's interesting to me that he actually participated in debates here in the 18th century, including one with Aaron Burr, where Madison was the Whig and Burr was the Clio. It was that debate that produced a memorable line that is too often attributed to me -- the era of Whig government is over. (Laughter.)
I must say, when I first saw the program for this conference I felt some ambivalence. The student in me wanted to come here and stay for the whole thing. But the politician in me wondered what in the living daylights I was doing here. I'm supposed to lead off a group of people whose books I have read, who know more about the subject I'm supposed to address than I ever will.
I can say that I had some unique experience in carrying on the Progressive tradition. I always felt that the work we did the last eight years made us the heir of Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson -- Al Gore and me, our entire administration. And I have a fascination with that period of history.
I own a lot of Theodore Roosevelt's books in the first edition, including a fascinating account of how he organized the Rough Riders. I've also got a wonderful book that Owen Whister, the writer of Westerns, wrote about his friendship with Theodore Roosevelt, when, like many of you, they were undergraduates together at Harvard. The other day I acquired Joseph Tomothy's (phonetic) book -- he was Woodrow Wilson's private secretary -- about his relationship with President Wilson, both as governor and as President. It's a fascinating account of the time, by someone who was admittedly biased, but still had a unique perspective.
So I've thought a lot about this period. And I suppose as a politician, I should give myself the leeway of quoting Theodore Roosevelt, who said in his speech on the new nationalism, "I do not speak merely from a historical standpoint. It is of little use for us to pay lip service to the mighty men of the past, unless we sincerely endeavor to apply those qualities to the problems of the present."
It is in that spirit that I would like to say a few words today, about the Progressive tradition -- about what it means for today and how it is part, I believe, of a larger ongoing debate in American history about the whole idea of America. What does the nation mean? What does it mean to be an American?
The progressives thought we could only keep faith with the past by keeping faith with the future. Their time had much in common with ours and, therefore, our responsibilities have much in common with theirs -- to preserve what is enduring, but to adapt our nation time and again to what is new.
Woodrow Wilson said, "It behooves us once again to stand face to face with our ideals, to renew our enthusiasm, to reckon again our duties, to take fresh views of our aims, and fresh courage for their pursuit." These words ring with relevance for your time. Not simply because we stand at the dawn of a new century, as Wilson and Roosevelt did, but because this time, like theirs, is characterized by swift and stunning change.
Like the Industrial Revolution, this Information Revolution is a true seismic shift. It alters forever the way we work, live, relate to each other, and those beyond our borders. The consequences of the digital chip, nano-technology , the Internet, and the sequencing of the human genome will be every bit as profound, if not more profound, than those of the telephone, the assembly line, and the vast migration of Americans to the cities, and the opening of America to its first great wave of immigrants.
But these are only the most obvious parallels between the Progressive Era and what I call this time, the last time I came to Princeton, a new Progressive Era. I also believe in a larger sense the Progressive Era and this time represent two of the five pivotal points in American history, when we have been called upon to reaffirm and to redefine not just the role of government for new times, but the very idea of the American nation. That debate has gone on from the beginning.
First there was the debate which George Washington, Alexander Hamilton, and John Marshall won over Thomas Jefferson and his friends, about whether we were preeminently going to be one nation, or a just a little bit stronger confederation of states. I have to say out of deference to Mr. Jefferson that after he became President, I suspect he was glad he lost the argument, as he sent out Lewis and Clark, imposed the infamous embargo and bought Louisiana, which at the time cost the equivalent of one full year's budget of the federal government.
Can you imagine what would happen if I came to the Congress and said -- (laughter) -- have I got a deal for you. (Laughter.) Just $1.9 trillion. What difference does it make? (Laughter.)
The second great debate we had about the idea of the nation occurred obviously in the days leading up to, and during, and immediately after the Civil War, when Abraham Lincoln saved the Union by moving it closer to the true ideals of the Declaration of Independence, and as Gary Wills has so brilliantly argued, literally redefining the Constitution closer toward those ideals in the Gettysburg Address.
The third great point was in the Progressive Era, when Woodrow Wilson and Theodore Roosevelt presided over an America fully entering the Industrial Revolution. Then the fourth time was during the New Deal, the second world war, and its immediate aftermath with the dawn of the Cold War, when Franklin Roosevelt and Harry Truman gave us our first comprehensive social safety net and an institutionalized commitment to American leadership for peace and freedom in the world.
Now, at the dawn of this global Information Age, Al Gore and I have been working to adapt all of the domestic and foreign policies of the United States to these sweeping changes, in science and technology, in social diversity and pluralism, and in increasing global interdependence.
History has taught Americans not to stand passively in the face of change. What the Progressive Presidents understood so clearly, from Teddy Roosevelt to Wilson to FDR and Truman, to Kennedy and Johnson, is the understanding that America either will shape change or be shaped by it. As I've already said, I believe the time in which we live bears the most resemblance to the Progressive Era. But there are also elements of those other great hingepoints in American history in this time, too.
You can see it in the fight we had with the Republican Congress that led to the shutdown of the government. You can see it in our efforts to build one America across all the lines that divide us. You can see it in our struggle to end genocide and ethnic cleansing in the Balkans, and to build binding ties to Africa, Latin American and Asian nations with whom we have not been closely aligned in the past.
The central lesson of the Progressive is that you either have to shape change consistent with your values, or you will be shaped by it in ways that make it more difficult for you to live by your values. To retreat from responsibility is to invite instability. To embrace the obligation of leadership has consistently under Progressive times led to better lives for all Americans.
Wilson and Roosevelt made an enemy of outdated orthodoxy, replacing them with what Teddy's famous cousin, Franklin Roosevelt, called "bold, persistent experimentation." As many of the scholars here have argued, and doubtless will argue with greater clarity than I can, the Progressive legacy is not primarily a set of programs that no longer have great relevance to us, but a vital set of principles: the idea that new conditions demand a new approach to government.
When Teddy Roosevelt became President, few Americans looked to him, to his office, or even to their government to solve their problems. At the end of the 19th century, the White House was weak, the Congress was at the mercy of special interests. Roosevelt's genius was to redefine the role of government and the role of the President, to protect the public interest and to act as an accountable agent of change. This is an ideal as old as Madison. But Roosevelt and Wilson gave it new meaning for a new era. What is its meaning today?
When I ran for President in 1992, our government was discredited. In fact, you could hardly run for President unless you had something bad to say about the government. Indeed, part of the political genius of the acendency of President Reagan and his associates was to attain power by discrediting the very idea of government. They basically were able to say thing like, government couldn't run a bake sale. The government would mess up a two-car parade. And they found huge majorities of Americans sort of nodding their heads.
Those in the Progressive tradition, I believe, have given them some ammunition by clinging to old programs, bureaucracies, and approaches that no longer worked. Then the conservatives used the failures as an excuse to do nothing on the domestic front. Some of our leaders literally made a virtue of their endless capacity to tell the American people how bad the government was. And then when those who were reacting against the Progressive tradition took power, they seemed determined to prove it by digging us a huge budgetary hole, quadrupling the nation's debt in 12 years. So our economy sank, our society became considerably more divided, and predictably, public confidence in our democratic government collapsed.
That's why, when I ran in 1992, I said that it would be necessary to change our party, change our national leadership, and change our nation. Al Gore and I believed that we had to find a new way, something now popularly called around the world, "a third way." A way back to enduring values; a way beyond a government profoundly indifferent to people's problems; a way forward, to meet the challenges of today and tomorrow.
We committed to reinvent government so it could function as it does best in an information society, as a catalyst, a partner to the private sector in creating opportunity, jobs and hope, and providing our citizens with the tools they need to make the most of their own lives. That, too, of course, is a principle as old as our republic -- opportunity for all.
And whether we're talking about the Information Age, the Industrial Age, or the turn from the 18th to the 19th century, economic growth and opportunity have always gone hand in hand. That's why we set out to build an economic strategy that would work for this time, rooted in fiscal discipline, investment in our people and our future, and expanding our economic ties with the rest of the world. Well, lucky for us, or I wouldn't be here talking today, it's worked out pretty well.
We've gone from record deficits to record surpluses. Our economy has created 22 million jobs. We're in the midst of the longest economic expansion in history. But in the Progressive tradition, to use President Kennedy's words, the rising economy is lifting all boats. The Census Bureau reports that in the last year, typical household income rose to the highest level ever recorded, breaking $40,000 for the first time -- up since 1993 by $6,300, after inflation. The poverty rate has fallen to 11.8 percent, the lowest in 20 years. Senior poverty is below 10 percent, for the first time ever. Child poverty dropped by the largest amount since 1966. Hispanic and African American poverty are the lowest since separate statistics have been kept. Since 1993, seven million Americans have moved out of poverty; over two million last year alone.
Now, a century ago, economic growth was generated by large industrial organizations, popularly called the trust then. Today, economic growth is largely generated by big ideas, which is why there are so many young people like you making a fortune in .com companies.
The antitrust provisions and worker provisions that were developed in the Progressive Era to make the economy work and to give more people a chance to share in it still matters today. And they have been built on, modified and changed, but they still matter today. But today we need even more focus on boosting ideas and innovation, creating the conditions for prosperity, and again, giving everybody the tools they need to succeed in a very different and, in some ways, much less organized world.
You can see our efforts there, just for example in the Telecommunications Act of 1996, where the Vice President and I fought for the e-rate, so that the poorest schools and hospitals and libraries could all afford to be hooked into the Internet; and where we fought for a framework that favored competition from new companies, over giving all the business of the new information economy to existing big enterprises. Again, it's worked reasonably well. There are hundreds of thousands of new jobs, thousands of new companies out there, and it's an example of how we tried to change the laws and the framework to meet what was best for opportunity for the largest number of Americans, and to give all of our people, especially our young people, the tools they need to take advantage of the age in which we live.
So, in that sense, the nature of opportunity, a constant value, is changing. At the time our nation was founded, opportunity most of all meant the freedom to carve a farm and an existence out of the forest frontier. In the Industrial Age, the progressives saw that it meant something different -- it meant a high school education, a vocational training, preserving competition, protecting American workers from abuses, and keeping children out of the workplace when appropriate.
Today it means mastering new tools and technologies, being able to think broadly, adjust quickly, and being able to keep learning for a lifetime. This morning, for example, at the White House, I met with House and Senate Democrats to push the Congress again to adopt our educational proposals, because I think they are more than ever before at the core of the concept of opportunity, and at the core of our ability to keep changing and building an ever more progressive society.
Even though we balanced the budget these last eight years, and run a surplus, and we've eliminated hundreds of programs, we've also doubled investment in education and training. More than 10 million Americans this year will take advantage of the HOPE Scholarship and Lifelong Learning tax credit. We reorganized the student loan program to save students $8 billion in student loan repayments since 1993. We raised the minimum wage -- an old tool that I think is still very important in new times. And I hope we can raise it again before the Congress goes home.
But we took a new tool, the earned income tax credit, and doubled it so that it's helping this year alone 15 million families to work their way into the middle class. We adopted an empowerment zone program that the Vice President ran so ably, which has enabled thousands of jobs to be created in communities that otherwise would have been totally left behind in this economic recovery because they were remote or poor, because they didn't have people with a lot of skills that were well-suited to the trends of the times.
We created community development financial institutions to get capital to people who couldn't go into a normal bank and produce a record that would generate a loan. We also did as much as we could to try to help people move from welfare to work, and to take maximum advantage of the new economy by investing in education, child care and transportation -- recognizing that we live in a place where very often the pool of available workers is here, usually in a city, and the pool of available jobs at their skill level is here, usually in the suburbs, usually with no public transport in between.
To try to help people balance work and family, the United States began to join what most other industrial nations have been doing for years, by adopting the Family and Medical Leave law, which now over 20 million Americans have used to take some time off when a baby is born or when a family member is sick without losing their job.
And I just predict to you, all of you young people out here, this will be one of the big debates over the next decade, because we're the best country in the world at keeping the hassles of starting a business down, providing capital to start businesses, providing an environment in which people can flourish, but we lag way behind a lot of other nations in the Progressive tradition in simply saying that the most important work of any society is raising children, and that work will be more productive if people who are working who have kids don't have to worry about the welfare of their children.
That's why we have to do more for child care. That's why we should expand family leave. That's why we should work more on flexible leave. When I became President, only 3 million people were making a living primarily in their own home. When I ran for reelection, 20 million people were making a living primarily in their own home. By the time you vote in November for the first President of the 21st century, we may be up to 30 million people. I don't have the latest figures, but it's stunning.
Part of the reason is technology makes it possible, the Internet makes it possible. But part of the reason is we haven't done as much as we should have to help people succeed at society's enduring work, raising children, and all the new work we're doing, and the fact that more people than ever want to work or have to work, and ought to be able to do so.
I am very glad that more and more Americans are sharing in our prosperity. But the other thing I want to say is that still a lot of folks have been left behind. Most of them live in inner cities or small rural towns, or on or around Native American reservations. And one of the big challenges now to sort of perfect this Progressive movement is to figure out how to bring those people into the circle of opportunity.
I hope very much that before I leave office the Congress will pass the New Markets Initiative that I worked on with the Speaker of the House in a bipartisan fashion. I won't go through all the details, but essentially what it says is we ought to give wealthy Americans with money the same incentives to invest in poor areas in America we provide to invest in poor areas around the world, because we believe that we can do this. And we ought to put the infrastructure there.
For those of you who have never been on an American Indian reservation, let me tell you, just for example, at the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota, one of the most historic parts of American history, the home of the Lakota Sioux who were the tribe led by an Indian chief named Crazy Horse, that dispatched General Custer in the late 19th century -- the unemployment rate is 73 percent.
I was at Shiprock in northern New Mexico, one of the most beautiful places in our country, the other day at the Navaho Reservation, where the unemployment rate is over 50 percent, 70 percent of the people don't have homes -- telephones in their homes. I was introduced by a young woman who won a contest, an academic contest at her school -- the prize was a computer, and she couldn't log onto the Internet because there was not a phone line in her home. In our country, at our level of wealth, that is unconscionable. And this cannot rightly be called a full Progressive Era until we have addressed these challenges.
We still have to be constantly, restlessly searching for ways to expand the circle of opportunity. This, too, is a principle rooted firmly in the Progressive Era, but also in our nation's founding. Remember what the framers said -- they were committed to forming a more perfect union. They never said the union would be perfect, that we would ever reach complete harmony in our living with our ideals, but that we had a constant, endless lifetime obligation to perfect the union.
And if I could leave any of you with a thought that I hope you will have in your mind as you, as citizens, go to the polls, and then as you, as citizens, build your own lives, it is that we get a chance like we've got today maybe once every 50 years, maybe even more seldom, where we have both prosperity, social progress coupled with national self-confidence and the absence of serious crisis at home or threat abroad, to really imagine the future we would like to build and then go about building it. And in my view, one of the most important things we have achieved is not any of these specific things people always talk about, but just giving you the chance to build the future of your dreams. And I hope that decision will be made consistent with the values, the vision, and the record of the Progressive Era in America.
Theodore Roosevelt said, "The people have emphatically expressed their desire that our principles be kept substantially unchanged, although, of course, applied in a Progressive spirit to meet changing conditions." That's what you have to do.
I just want to make one other point that I think is of equal importance. I believe that in order to preserve a new Progressive Era, we must go much further than we have in our own national consciousness in understanding that our continued prosperity, as well as our security, requires us to continue to be involved in the world -- to lead in the world, and to cooperate in the world.
Almost a century ago, Woodrow Wilson described the vision of collective peacekeeping, global security, the rights of nations against the backdrop of the looming threat, and then the fact, of a brutal modern, all-consuming war. A war that is difficult for young people to imagine. In one European battle in World War I, 900,000 people were lost, because they had modern technology and they were stuck in old patterns of fighting --digging trenches and shooting each other and moving up line, after line after line, that might have worked fine if they'd had bows and arrows, or even Civil War era rifles and cannons, but was an absolute disaster when modern technology was married to old ideas -- both geopolitical ideas, which led to the war, and the ideas of military strategy with which it was carried out. You should remember that today and try to make sure that the ideas you have are equal to the technology and the realities of modern life.
When Woodrow Wilson painted this idealistic vision few of his fellow countrymen and women listened. A lot of people thought he was an idealist who passed his prime. And after he was no longer on the scene, and the reaction prevailed, as it always does after periods of progressivism, Professor Schlesinger has told us in his writings on the cycles of history, we had to learn in a very hard way that America could not safely or responsibly withdraw from the world.
Now we've had two Cold Wars and a long and bitter -- two world wars -- excuse me -- and a long and bitter Cold War. We live in a time when new democracies are emerging around the world. When you walk out of here, if you turn on CNN, you'll see the emergence -- I hope -- in Serbia, with a lot of young people like you fighting for the future you take for granted. More people live under free governments of their own choosing today than ever before. For the first time in history, more than half of the people on this planet live under governments of their own choosing -- throwing off the yoke of oppression. Many of them -- but not all -- are also enjoying newfound prosperity.
We are closer than ever to redeeming the vision of Woodrow Wilson -- of reaching his dream of a world full of free markets, free elections, and free peoples working together. But we're still not there. And there are a lot of obstacles in the way, not least of which is the continuing bedrock of reluctance in our own society to pay our fair share and do our fair part on the part of some conservatives, and on the part of some progressives who embrace the change that is the global economy and shape it, instead of denying it and pretending that as if we were -- that we can make it go away.
And you have to think about that. What does it mean to you what Wilson said and what Roosevelt said. They understood at the start of what has been called the American Century, Franklin Roosevelt and Harry Truman understood when they created the U.N. and NATO and the Breton Woods Institution, that the United States simply cannot be partly in the world, dipping in when it suits our purpose, hunkering down when it doesn't -- that we can't relate to our friends in fits and starts; we can't lead just when it suits us and then tell people we're too busy when it doesn't.
We have not made that decision yet. You can see it in the ambivalence the Congress has felt when they supported me on NAFTA and the World Trade Organization and bringing China into the WTO, and when they wouldn't go along with giving me the same trade authority that Presidents have had for nearly 30 years now, to negotiate comprehensive trade agreements with other countries, and have them voted up or down.
You can see it in the fact that a strong conservative bloc in the Senate and in the House have actually spent eight years demanding -- eight years, the most prosperous years in our country's history -- saying that the most important thing to do at the U.N. is to lower America's share of peacekeeping and lower our percentage of the total dues of the U.N.
You can see it in the breathtaking, and I think horribly shortsighted defeat in the U.S. Senate of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, the first major treaty to be defeated since the Senate defeated Woodrow Wilson with the League of Nations Treaty. I must say, for my country's sake, I hope it doesn't have a life risk consequence. And I don't think it will, if the American people decide that these matters are important.
We live in a time when people have lots of opinions on lots of things. They're absolutely flooded with information. So if you took a survey in America and you said, should America pay its fair share to the U.N.; should America responsibly participate in peacekeeping, because other people share the load; should we have the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty and have a cooperative approach to reducing the nuclear threats and other threats of weapons of mass destruction in the future -- you'd get big majorities that would say yes. But most Americans don't understand how important this is, and what a significant piece it is of building a new era of progress. So it doesn't tend to be a voting issue.
And whenever important new things are not voting issues in a free society, then entrenched, old interests tend to prevail. And we get in trouble. So I ask you all to think about that. The challenges of this new century are far more diverse than our predecessors could have foreseen. But all the good things that we have don't make all the bad problems go away.
Information technology will not resolve all conflicts between nations. Indeed, it creates some new challenges. It enables, for example, networks of terrorists, narco traffickers, international criminals to communicate with each other with greater speed, clarity, and often with less chance of being caught.
New technology allows people to imagine weapons of mass destruction that are made smaller, just like computers, encased in small plastic containers that don't show up on airport metal detectors, that present new threats in the ongoing historical battles between the organized forces of destruction and the organized, and sometimes not so well-organized, forces of civilization.
So, for all the good things that are happening, we can't make all the problems go away. Therefore, the expansion of global commerce, the growth of democracy, the rise of other centers of economic activity does not diminish our responsibility to lead. It heightens it, and it requires that we do so in a more cooperative fashion.
As American interests evolve, I believe we can stay rooted to the principles of Woodrow Wilson and Theodore Roosevelt. I think we stay true to those principles when we change. For example, I think we're being true to the principles of the Progressive Era when we provide debt relief to the world's poorest countries. It's unconscionable that these countries are making interest payments that are often half or more of their annual government budget, instead of spending the money on education and health care, and the development of their nation. And they can't pay the money back to us anyway. Why are we doing this? It doesn't make any sense.
So we have a new idea. Don't just give uncritical debt relief. Give debt relief to countries that can demonstrate they're not putting the money in Swiss bank accounts or building military or other instruments of oppression, but only putting the money into education, health care and responsible development. That is, in my judgment, a critical component of progressivism in a global age. Just as I think it's important to fight maladies like AIDS, TB and malaria. Those three things claim one fourth of the lives that are lost in the world every year today. One quarter of all the people who will die in the year 2000 will dies of AIDS, TB or malaria.
And we have it within our power to do something about it, and also to lead the world toward the development of an AIDS vaccine, and to make the drugs more widely available, and to do more about TB and malaria. We ought to do that.
In an interdependent world, we'll be better off if people who are plagued have their plagues alleviated. We ought to do more, in my judgment, to support poor villagers in remote countries by giving them loans so they can start businesses and build a self-sustaining life; to reinforce democracy, and to build from the grass roots up, countries that can be good partners with us in the future. We ought to do more to insist that a more open economy also be a more fair one. Or in the common parlance, to put a human face on the global economy.
We also stay true to the vision of Wilson and Roosevelt when we do our part to keep the peace, and to support brave people struggling for the quiet miracle of a normal life, whether they're in the Middle East, Northern Ireland, in a small place like East Timor, a long way from here, in a poor country like Haiti, or a country plagued by narco traffickers and civil war like Colombia. And especially in the Balkans, where the first world war began. There especially, the fight for freedom should still be our own.
Freedom has made steady advances in Bosnia and Croatia, and Romania and Bulgaria, and today, as I said earlier, in Serbia, where a decade ago the forces of destruction began their march across the Balkans. Now the march of freedom is gaining new ground. Yesterday, the Serbian police went into the coal mines and refused to fire on the coal miners. Today, in the Parliament building, there are, as I said, thousands of young people, like you -- and not so young people, like me -- standing up there, saying they want their country back. They want to be free; they voted and they want their vote respected.
The people of Serbia have spoken with their ballot, they have spoken on the street. I hope the hour is near when their voices will be heard and we can welcome them to democracy, to Europe, to the world's communities. When they do, we will move as quickly as possible to lift the sanctions and build the kind of responsible partnership that the people there deserve.
We have made the world, I believe, more safe against force and selfish aggression. But we know, like Roosevelt and Wilson before us, that no peace is lasting unless it is backed by the consistent, dedicated leadership of nations that have the wealth, size and power to do the right thing. Here in America, and in more and more nations around the world, Progressive parties are in power. Every now and then, we all get together and have dinner, and try to help each other. And we try to figure out how to keep this going, how to keep up the fight for reform, for justice, for opportunity for all, for freedom.
I believe that the continuation of this legacy in our time depends as much as anything else on whether we actually believe in our common humanity and the primary importance of acting on our increasing interdependence.
There's a fascinating book that's been published sometime in the last year, I think, by Robert Wright, called "Nonzero." Some of you have perhaps read it. The title refers to game theory. A zero sum game is one that in order for me to win, you have to lose. A game like the presidential election. A nonzero sum game is one where in order for me to win, you have to win, too. And Wright attempts to make a historical argument through all the tragedies, travesties, brutalities of human history, including the gross abuses of science and medicine under the Nazis, and the gross abuses of organization under totalitarian regimes of the 20th century -- attempts to prove Martin Luther King's moral assertion that the arc of history is long, but it bends towards justice. By arguing that, we are consistently growing more interdependent; and that the more interdependent we become, the more we are forced to look for solutions in which in order for me to win, you have to win, too -- nonzero sum solutions.
The whole idea of the Progressive Era was that everybody should be treated with dignity; everybody deserves certain minimal things in life; that the power of government should be arrayed against private power, so that individual people who are equal under that law, all had at least a fair chance at life. In this era, I often say, in my sort of Arkansas way, that everybody counts, everybody ought to have a chance, and we all do better when we work together. That's what I believe.
That, I think, is an enduring truth of the American Dream, going back to the founders -- going back to all the voluntary societies that DeToqueville chronicled so eloquently, almost 200 years ago. In this time, we can have a Progressive Era that outlasts the one you came here to study, if we are faithful to its values; if we understand we have to change even more rapidly, and perhaps even more profoundly than they did; and if we acknowledge that a precondition of true independence, in the old-fashioned American way, in this very new age, is having some humility and compassion and understanding of our interdependence, which is founded on an acknowledgement, an acceptance, a celebration of our common humanity.
That, after all, is what led to the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. It's what led Abraham Lincoln to lay down his life to hold the country together. And it's what gave us the Progressive Era -- the sense that we all matter, that we were all connected, and that we were all entitled, each in our own way, to have a chance to play a part in the endless effort to create a more perfect union.
The progressives have been important to America. They have redefined the idea of a nation in ways that were sorely needed. But you are in the middle of what could be the longest and most significant Progressive Era in American history. I ask you to study the one that happened before, but to fully live the one that is unfolding before your eyes.
Thank you very much. (Applause.)
END 4:10 P.M. EDT