[Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: William J. Clinton (1995, Book I)]
[April 12, 1995]
[Pages 524-527]
[From the U.S. Government Publishing Office www.gpo.gov]

Remarks at the Franklin D. Roosevelt 50th Anniversary Commemoration in 
Warm Springs, Georgia
April 12, 1995

    Thank you very much. Governor Miller, President Carter, other 
distinguished honorees, Commissioner Tanner, Mr. Barrett, Anne 
Roosevelt, and members of your family: Thank you so much for your 
wonderful remarks. And Arthur Schlesinger, thank you for yours. After 
the last three speakers, I see I don't have to worry about whether what 
I am about to say would be considered too political on this occasion. 
[Laughter] I am delighted to be joined here by two Members of Congress, 
Congressman Collins and Congressman Bishop; many State officials; and 
appropriately for this day, the Social Security Administrator, Shirley 
Chater. I thank the Morehouse Glee Club. I couldn't help thinking when I 
walked up here and heard them singing that President Roosevelt would 
have been happy to have had the opportunity to walk down these lanes and 
hear those melodic voices.
    In the 50 years since Franklin Roosevelt died in this house behind 
me, many things have happened to our country. Many wonderful things have 
changed life forever for Americans and have enabled Americans to change 
life forever for people all across our planet. This is a time when we no 
longer think in the terms that people thought in then and perhaps a time 
when we cannot feel about each other or our leaders the way people felt 
    But I think it's important just to take a moment to remember that 
even though Franklin Roosevelt was the architect of grand designs, he 
touched Americans, tens of millions of them, in a very personal way. 
They felt they knew him as their friend, their father, their uncle. They 
felt that he was doing all the things he was doing in Washington to help 
them. He wanted them to keep their farms and have their jobs, have the 
power line run out by the house. He wanted them to be able to have some 
security in their old age and see their children come home in peace from 
    In my home State of Arkansas, the per capita income of the people 
was barely half the national average when Franklin Roosevelt began his 
work. And when he came there during the Depression, people were so poor 
that when they were preparing for him to come, there was literally not 
enough paint to paint the houses along his route. And so they all split 
the paint and painted the fronts of their homes so at least the 
President could see the effort they made. That's the way people felt.
    My grandfather, who helped to raise me, was a man with a grade 
school education in a tiny southern hamlet who worked as a dirt farmer, 
a small storekeeper, and for an icehouse back before we had 
refrigerators and there really were iceboxes. He really thought Franklin 
Roosevelt cared about whether he had a job. And I never will forget the 
story he told me during the Depression when he came home--the only time 
in his life when he was unable to buy my mother a new dress for Easter, 
and he wept because he did not have $2. He thought Franklin Roosevelt 
cared whether people like him could buy their children Easter outfits. 
That is the way people felt. And even into the 1960's, when as a young 
man I began to go from town to town working for other people who sought 
public office, there were people in the sixties who had pictures of 
President Roosevelt, in modest homes in tiny, remote towns, on their 
mantels or hanging on the wall because they thought he cared about them.
    Like our greatest Presidents, he showed us how to be a nation in 
time of great stress. He taught us again and again that our Government 
could be an instrument of democratic destiny, that it could help our 
children to do better. He taught us that patriotism was really about 
pulling together, working together, and bringing out the best in each 
other, not about looking down our nose at one another and claiming to be 
more patriotic than our fellow countrymen and women.
    Above all, he taught us about the human spirit. In the face of fear 
and doubt and weariness, he showed we could literally will ourselves to 
overcome, as he had done--and as has been already said so powerfully--in 
his own life. He led us from the depths of economic despair, through a 
depression, to victory in the war, to the threshold of the promise of 
the post-war America he unfortunately never lived to see.

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    He did all these things and so many more to change America and the 
world, a lot of things we just take for granted today, that even today 
nobody's tried to do away with, like the Securities and Exchange 
Commission, which safeguards our financial markets, or the Tennessee 
Valley Authority or the very emblem of the New Deal, Social Security.
    He and his remarkable wife, Eleanor, whom we remembered together and 
who we must remember today, did a lot of things just to bring out both 
the problems and the potential of Americans. And he also changed America 
with a brilliant team. I saw here today Mr. Schlesinger, I was looking 
at Mr. Galbraith sitting out there, wondering how many of you were going 
back over your lives and remembering what you were doing then. I'm very 
honored to have as my Deputy Chief of Staff here Harold Ickes, whose 
father was President Roosevelt's Secretary of the Interior. Like me, 
this is his first visit to Warm Springs. But he has lived with the honor 
of that legacy for his entire life.
    I think it's also important that we remember today that President 
Roosevelt helped to found the March of Dimes, and today marks the 40th 
anniversary of Dr. Salk's discovery of the polio vaccine, developed 
because of the work of the March of Dimes, which continues to the 
present day.
    If I might pick up on something that Arthur Schlesinger and that 
Anne said, I think if President Roosevelt were here, he would be asking 
us, ``Well, this is all very nice, and I appreciate the honor, but what 
are you doing today? What are you doing today?''
    At the end of the war, he left us what may be his most enduring 
legacy, a generation prepared to meet the future--a vision most clearly 
embodied in the GI bill, which passed Congress in June of 1944 just a 
few days after D-Day but before the end of the war in Europe and in 
Asia. He wanted to give returning GI's a hand up. He really captured the 
essence of America's social compact. Those people that served, they had 
been responsible, and they were entitled to opportunity.
    The GI bill gave generations of veterans a chance to get an 
education, to build strong families and good lives, and to build the 
Nation's strongest economy ever, to change the face of America, and with 
it, to enable us to change the face of the world. The GI bill helped to 
unleash a prosperity never before known.
    In the fifties, the sixties, and the seventies, all kinds of 
Americans benefited from the economy educated veterans and their fellow 
Americans built. And we grew, and we grew together. Nothing like it had 
ever been seen before. Every income group in America, every racial 
group, all were improving their standing and growing together, not 
growing apart.
    Somewhere around 20 years ago, that began to change, not because of 
anything that was wrong with the GI bill or wrong with the institutions 
we had put in place but because the world changed. The economy became 
more global. Our financial markets became more global. There was an 
information and a technological revolution which exploded the unity of 
America's economic progress. And all of a sudden, we began to grow 
apart, not together, even when the economy was growing. We divided 
growth from equality for the first time since Franklin Roosevelt became 
President, and it has caused a terrible slew of troubles for the 
American people over the last 15 to 20 years.
    In the 1980's, our response--since Arthur Schlesinger said that 
President Roosevelt was for democratic capitalism, I think you could say 
that the response in the 1980's was conservative Keynesianism. That is, 
blame the Government and blame the past, but deficit spend under the 
title of tax cuts and tilt the tax cuts to the wealthiest Americans 
because it is their investment that creates jobs.
    Well, the massive deficits did spur growth, but it gave us the first 
permanent Government deficit in the entire history of the United States. 
And the inequality among working people did not go away; instead, it got 
worse. Meanwhile, our investment in our people--the thing Franklin 
Roosevelt believed most in--began to slow down, even in education and 
training, because we decided that there was something wrong with public 
    The result: We intensified the splits in our economy. We divided 
even the great American middle class as incomes stagnated, as people 
worked longer hours and slept less and spent less time with their 
children and still felt less secure. And at the same time, many good 
things were happening, but only to those who were prepared to seize the 
changes that we live with.
    It is amazing that in America we could have more than half the 
people today living on the same or lower incomes than they were enjoying 
15 years ago and still creating the largest num-

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ber of new jobs and having the largest numbers of millionaires coming 
out of our economy than we have ever known, these two things existing 
side by side, the good and the bad.
    If President Roosevelt were here, what would he see today? He would 
see a country leading the world's economy, producing millions of jobs 
with people literally afraid that their lives are moving away from them. 
He would see a world of turbo-charged capitalism in which it is possible 
to succeed economically, but millions of Americans don't know if they 
can hold their families and their communities and the disciplined 
rhythms of life together. He would see people who are confused, saying, 
``Well, if there is an economic recovery, why haven't I felt it? He 
would see people angry, saying, ``I've worked hard all my life; why was 
I let go at the age of 50, and how am I supposed to send my kids to 
    He would see people who are cynical, a luxury no one could afford 
when one in four Americans were out of work or when our very existence 
was at stake in the Second World War. Now we can afford the luxury, and 
we have it in abundance, saying, ``Well, it doesn't make any difference, 
nothing we do makes any difference. If I hear good news, I know they're 
    He would see, indeed, a country encrusted with cynicism. He would 
see an insensitivity on the part of some people who say, ``Well, I made 
it, and why should I help anyone else? If you help someone, all you make 
is an ingrate.'' He would also see a profound sense of division in the 
American psyche, people who really do believe that if someone else does 
well, that's why I'm not doing so well, and in order for me to do well, 
someone else must not do that well. That was not Franklin Roosevelt. He 
was not cynical. He was not angry. He was not insensitive. He did not 
believe in division. And he certainly was not confused.
    He believed that we had to pull together and move forward. He 
believed we always had to keep the American dream alive. Langston Hughes 
once said, ``What happens to a dream deferred? Does it shrivel like a 
raisin in the sun, or does it explode?'' For Franklin Roosevelt, it was 
    My fellow Americans, there is a great debate going on today about 
the role of Government, and well there ought to be. F.D.R. would have 
loved this debate. He wouldn't be here defending everything he did 50 
years ago. He wouldn't be here denying the existence of the information 
age. Should we reexamine the role of Government? Of course we should. Do 
we need big, centralized bureaucracies in the computer age? Often we 
don't. Should we reassert the importance of the values of self-reliance 
and independence? You bet we should. He never meant for anybody, 
anybody, to become totally dependent on the Government when they could 
do things for themselves.
    But should we abandon the notion that everybody counts and that 
we're going up or down together? Should we abandon the idea that the 
best thing we can do is to give each other a hand up, not a handout? 
Should we walk away from the idea that America has important 
responsibilities at home and abroad and we walk away from them at our 
peril? The answer would be, from him, a resounding no.
    My fellow Americans, Franklin Roosevelt's first job was to put 
America back to work. Our big problem today is, Americans are back to 
work, but they feel insecure. They don't feel their work will be 
rewarded or valued. And we have to find a way to raise America's incomes 
by making Americans more productive and making this economy work in the 
way that President Roosevelt dreamed it would.
    Everybody knows we have a Government deficit. I'm proud of the fact 
that we brought it down 3 years in a row for the first time since Mr. 
Truman was President. Everybody knows that, but let's not forget that we 
also have an educational deficit. Education is the fault line in America 
today. Those who have it are doing well in the global economy; those who 
don't are not doing well. We cannot walk away from this fundamental 
fact. The American dream will succeed or fail in the 21st century in 
direct proportion to our commitment to educate every person in the 
United States of America.
    And so I believe if President Roosevelt were here, he would say, 
``Let's have a great old-fashioned debate about the role of Government, 
and let's make it less bureaucratic and more flexible. And those people 
in Washington don't know everything that should be done in Warm 
Springs.'' And he would say, ``Let's put a sense of independence back 
into our welfare system.'' But he would also say, ``Let's not forget 
that what really works in life is when people get a hand up, not a 
handout, when Americans go up or down together.''

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    If you look at this great debate we're having in Washington with our 
twin deficits, the budget deficit and the education deficit, I say to 
you, we try to solve one without the other at our peril. We have brought 
the deficit down, and we will work to do it more. Congress and I, we 
will fight about what kinds of cuts we ought to have, but we'll get 
there and we'll bring it down some more. We already are running the 
first operating surplus in nearly 30 years, except for interest on the 
debt. And we will do better. But we cannot do it at the expense of 
education. We cannot do it at the expense of education.
    There's a lot of talk about tax cuts. I say this, we have to worry 
about how much and who gets it and what for. We should not do it if we 
have to cut education. We should not do it if we have to explode the 
deficit. And if we're going to have a tax cut, we should do it in ways 
that lift the American people's income over the long run as well as the 
short run. We have to have--we have to have a sense that our future 
depends upon the development of our people. That's why I say, if we're 
going to have a tax cut, we must give people some tax relief for the 
cost of education. That is the most important tax cut we can have, and I 
will insist upon it and will not support a legislative bill that does 
not have it.
    You know, everybody wants to have more disposable income, but what 
we don't want to have is disposable futures. So let us not sacrifice the 
future to the present. And let us not have a false choice between a 
budget deficit and an education deficit. We can have both.
    I wish President Roosevelt were here. I wish he were just sort of on 
our shoulder to deride those who are cynical, those who are skeptical, 
those who are negative, and most of all, those who seek to play on fears 
to divide us. This country did not get here by permitting itself to be 
divided at critical times by race, by religion, by region, by income, 
you name it.
    And just remember this: President Roosevelt died here, and they took 
his body on the train out, and America began to grieve. Imagine what the 
people looked like by the sides of the railroad track. Imagine the 
voices that were singing in the churches. They were all ages, men and 
women, rich and poor, black, white, Hispanic, and whoever else was 
living here then. And they were all doing it because they thought he 
cared about them and that their future mattered in common. They were 
Americans first. They were Americans first. That was his contract with 
America. Let it be ours.
    Thank you, and God bless you.

Note: The President spoke at 1:14 p.m. at the ``Remembering Franklin D. 
Roosevelt'' 50th anniversary commemorative service at the Little White 
House. In his remarks, he referred to Gov. Zell Miller of Georgia; Joe 
Tanner, commissioner, Georgia Department of Natural Resources; Lonice C. 
Barrett, director, Georgia State Parks and Historic Sites; Anne 
Roosevelt, granddaughter of Franklin D. Roosevelt; Arthur M. 
Schlesinger, Roosevelt biographer; and John Kenneth Galbraith, author 
and economist.