[Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: William J. Clinton (1995, Book I)]
[January 16, 1995]
[Pages 49-52]
[From the U.S. Government Publishing Office www.gpo.gov]

Remarks Honoring Martin Luther King, Jr., in Denver, Colorado
January 16, 1995

    The President. Thank you. It is wonderful to be back in Colorado, to 
be back in Denver, and to be in this great spot which holds such a warm 
memory for me. The last time I came here we had a vast crowd. I was 
asking for the opportunity to serve as your President. And I must say, 
when I came before, I had Sinbad with me as the warmup act, and I 
thought that was responsible for the crowd. Today I am honored to be 
here with all these fine people on the platform and with all of you.
    I thank my friend Governor Romer for what he said and for his 
leadership and for his long friendship. I thank Senator Campbell and 
Congresswoman Schroeder for coming all the way back from Washington to 
be here with me and, most important, to be here with you today. I thank 
Secretary Pena for his outstanding service as our Transportation 
Secretary, working to make this country a safer place. And of course, I 
am grateful to the mayor and to Mrs. Webb for their leadership in this 
stunning event and for allowing me to be a small part of this.
    We come here today to celebrate the life of Martin Luther King. We 
know that he would have been 66 years old today. To me, it seems only 
yesterday when he was 39 and laying down his life for what he believed. 
Mayor Webb said that the life of Martin Luther King had special 
relevance for African-Americans because of what he meant. Let me tell 
you that his life should have special impact for every American, for he 
freed the rest of us, too, of our hatred, our bigotry, of the illusion 
which still crops up from time to time that we can somehow lift 
ourselves up by putting others down, that somehow, if we can just find 
someone to look down on, we can feel like we're being looked up to.
    Martin Luther King knew better than that. I ask you today, my fellow 
Americans, to think about why he lived and what he laid his life down 
for, to think about what ought to be driving our lives, our individual 
lives and our lives as citizens.
    You heard earlier Dr. King's famous ``I have a dream'' speech. I saw 
a sign held up earlier, when I came in, saying that they had a dream for 
America; did I have a dream for America--the people holding the sign up 
there. Remember what Martin Luther King said? He said, ``My dream is 
deeply rooted in the American dream.'' What did he mean by that? The 
Founders said: We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all are 
created equal and endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable 
rights, and among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
    Today, my fellow Americans, I want to talk to you about our common 
right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. I ask you to think 
today of Government but to think beyond Government to people. I ask you 
to think today of the programs and the work of Government but to think 
beyond that to the lives of people. I ask you to remember today that, 
more than anything else, Martin Luther King's life was a life of 
service. Even as he marched all across this land and took that vast 
throng to Washington, DC, and asked the Government to act, he knew that 
in the end, what was in the heart and the spirit and the mind of the 
average American citizen was even more important.

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    And that is why he always said that all of us had a responsibility 
to do our part and to serve. Martin Luther King said, ``Everybody can be 
great because everybody can serve.'' He said, ``If all you do is sweep 
the streets, then sweep them just as well as Michelangelo painted the 
Sistine Chapel.'' Be the best streetsweeper that ever lived; serve and 
    I was asked the other day, of all the things that had happened in 
the last 2 years, was there one achievement I could say I was most proud 
of? And I said, I think it was the creation of the national service 
program. And some of them are here today. Why? Because these young 
people are committed to service. And if we all are committed to the idea 
that we are bound up with one another, then we can all be great and our 
country will be great.
    When I came here in 1992, I was worried about the direction of this 
country. I was concerned about the economic problems of America. More 
importantly, I was concerned that we seemed to be drifting and divided 
and that we had no clear role for how we might work together to build a 
better future, to reclaim that dream for which Martin Luther King gave 
his life. And I told you that I would seek, for my part, to do three 
things: one, to give this country a new economic policy that would bring 
down the deficit and bring up employment and bring us forward toward the 
next century; two, a different way of governing, that I would reduce the 
size of the Federal Government and increase its creativity, its 
effectiveness, its relevance to your life. And we have done both those 
things. We have restored a sense of economic direction and opportunity 
to this country, and the Government is smaller and yet still more 
effective. No one exemplifies that any better than Denver's 
Transportation Secretary, Federico Pena.
    But I knew then and I say again now that that would be fine but not 
enough, that we literally had to change our relationship in America as 
citizens to our Government and, most importantly, to each other. It was 
what I called then and what I say now is a New Covenant, the idea that 
you have a right to certain opportunities, but in return you must 
exercise personal responsibility in return for those opportunities to 
make the most of your own life, the life of your family, the life of 
your community, and the life of your country. That is what this is all 
    That's why when people talk about something like welfare reform, I 
don't think about punishing poor people, I think about ending welfare so 
poor people can work and be good parents and have a better life and look 
to a better future. That's why, when we passed the crime bill, I thought 
it was a good thing just to give money to local communities to hire more 
police officers and also to have opportunities to give our children 
something to say yes to as well as something to say no to, so that we 
could show responsibility even as we seized opportunities.
    If you think about it, that is the great debate we should be having 
today: What is our responsibility to ourselves, and what is our 
responsibility to each other? If you have rights without responsibility, 
pretty soon people lose their rights because they don't behave 
responsibly. If you go around telling people to be responsible all the 
time and there never is an opportunity coming forward, pretty soon they 
get tired of being responsible.
    What we have to do today, if we want hope, if we want the dream to 
live again, is to say to each other: We will have a new commitment to 
creating opportunity and to being responsible. We will say no to 
violence and yes to hope. We will say no, no to the idea that we can get 
anywhere by being divided against one another and yes to the idea that 
our diversity is a strength.
    I am telling you, we can have all the economic growth in the world, 
but until we face the fact that we are going up or down together and 
we'd better get after the business of working together to make the most 
of all our potential, we will never be what we ought to be as a country.
    Now, I know we have more to do in Washington. I know that a lot of 
people are working harder and still not having a raise. I know, as the 
pastor prayed, that another million Americans in working families lost 
their health insurance last year. I know there are problems there. 
That's why I have said that in this coming session of Congress I will 
devote myself to what I call the middle class bill of rights, which 
could be called the bill of rights and responsibilities, because it 
offers you the right to pursue happiness, not the guarantee of 
happiness. I believe with all my heart that if we're going to worry 
about lowering taxes, we ought to lower taxes to help people educate 
themselves and their

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children and strengthen their families, so we can move forward together 
and grow together.
    And so I have said, let's do four things that the Government can do 
to help people exercise more responsibility and take control of their 
own lives: tax deductions for all the cost of education after high 
school; lower the tax burden for parents with young children so they 
have more money to spend on raising the kids; let people save money in 
an individual retirement account, but let them withdraw it without a 
penalty for education or health care or taking care of their parents 
when they're sick; when people are unemployed or working hard for low 
wages and they're willing to get new skills, give them the funds they 
need to get education and training so they can grow into what God meant 
them to be.
    But I say to you again: We can pass that program. We can have the 
crime bill work perfectly. But unless in Denver, Colorado, you do what 
the Governor challenged you to do, we will not be what we ought to be.
    This country cannot go on with children shooting children. This 
country cannot go on with so many kids just giving up on their lives. 
This country cannot go on with more and more little babies being born 
into unstable situations where the mothers are children, too, and the 
future looks bleak. We can turn this around. But we have got to turn it 
around, and we have got to do it together by lifting each other up.
    You know, the reason I said what I did about the service corps--and 
all the young people in the Denver national service corps raised their 
hands--I want to tell you why I did that. I did that because to me that 
represents everything I wanted to do. These young people are building 
the new economy because when they work on solving problems in Denver, 
they earn some money to go to college. And they're changing the way the 
Government works because there is no bureaucracy at all; they just have 
a project here and apply for the opportunity for young people to work in 
it. This is not a Government bureaucracy. But most important of all, 
most important of all, this is creating that new relationship of 
opportunity and responsibility, building up a community by people giving 
and getting and giving and getting and giving and getting, until pretty 
soon lives are changed and futures are changed.
    Today, to celebrate Martin Luther King's birthday, there are young 
people like this all over America. They're rebuilding schools in Atlanta 
as we talk today. They're rebuilding homes in Memphis. They're helping 
people work their way out of the flood in California. And they're here 
today in Denver, building this country, doing what we ought to do.
    I was told a day or so ago that in this new Congress there may be a 
move to abolish the national service corps to save money to pay for tax 
    Audience members. No-o-o!
    The President. Well, let me say, I know about cutting Government 
spending. We've taken $11,000 in debt off of every family in America by 
reducing the deficit. We have reduced the size of the Federal Government 
to its smallest size since Martin Luther King visited John Kennedy in 
the White House. I know about that. But the purpose of all this is not 
to wreck the Government, not to give us a mean-spirited Government. It 
is to give us a lean Government that will help us to work together to 
solve our own problems. That's what we should be committed to do in 
Washington and in Denver and in every community throughout this great 
    So let me ask you to think about this. Look at all the young people 
in this audience. Look at the fine young people in their band uniforms. 
Look at the young people around the choir and the young kids here. Look 
at all the children here, all different colors and backgrounds. What is 
the American dream? It is the right to pursue happiness. It requires a 
certain equality and a certain respect. It requires us to listen as well 
as to talk.
    I know the American people are often angry and frustrated today. But 
let me tell you something, folks, this is a very great country, and 
there is nothing that cannot be fixed if we will rely on our hearts and 
our spirits and what we know to be true. I have traveled this whole 
world on your behalf. I have seen many different places. I have dealt 
with many different opportunities and problems. I am more convinced 
today than I was on the day I took the oath of office that the greatest 
days of America lie in front of us if we have the courage to live the 
dream of Martin Luther King.
    But remember, what he lived and died for was for every one of you to 
have the right to do good and to be good and to make the most of your 
own life. It was no living and dying

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for the freedom to shoot people, no living and dying for the freedom to 
shoot up, no living and dying for the freedom to hate people, no living 
and dying for the freedom to ignore the responsibilities of parenthood 
and the obligations of our children. That is not what this was about. 
And there was no living and dying to advance the proposition that we are 
all just isolated individuals out here, we don't need anybody helping 
anybody else, and everything we do as a Government is intrinsically bad. 
That idea is wrong, too.
    So I say to you, as you look to the next century, let's make Denver 
and the West the frontier of the next century by proving that you can be 
a rugged individual, you can do everything you want in your individual 
aspirations, but only if you build a new community where everybody has a 
chance to rise up and everybody has a chance to be respected and every 
child has a chance to be loved and to be important. That is what this is 
all about.
    And let us look for ways every day, every day, to say the dream of 
Martin Luther King depends upon what I do inside and how I relate to my 
fellow men and women and to all the little boys and girls.
    Twenty-seven years ago, April 4th, Martin Luther King was killed. 
Only such a young man, but he gave his life willingly so that we might 
become all God meant for us to be. We can still do it. We will have more 
opportunities than ever before. But you look at this sea of people, and 
you think about what the Founding Fathers said over 200 years ago: life, 
liberty, the pursuit of happiness, together.
    Thank you, and God bless you all.

Note: The President spoke at 12:34 p.m. in the Amphitheater. In his 
remarks, he referred to Gov. Roy Romer of Colorado and Mayor Wellington 
Webb of Denver and his wife, Wilma.