[Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: William J. Clinton (1995, Book I)]
[January 21, 1995]
[Pages 66-72]
[From the U.S. Government Publishing Office www.gpo.gov]

Remarks to the Democratic National Committee
January 21, 1995

    The President. You remember what Mark Twain said, ``The reports of 
our demise are premature.'' I could have listened to Al Gore talk all 
day about that. [Laughter]
    The Vice President. You thought you might have to. [Laughter]
    The President. Do you know what he said? He said, ``For a while you 
thought you might have to.'' [Laughter] He was waxing eloquent, you 
know. He kept saying all that stuff, and I thought, well, why didn't we 
win last November? [Laughter] I've got some ideas about that, too, I'll 
share in a moment.
    Let me begin by thanking all these people who are here on the head 
table and all of you. It is wonderful, wonderful to see you and to see 
you in good spirits and with a strong heart.
    And let me also say a special word of thanks to Don Fowler and to 
Chris Dodd. I need one of those Don Fowler stickers. I've known Don 
Fowler since 1972. You think we're in trouble now, you should have been 
there then. [Laughter] And I owe Don Fowler a lot. I mean, he ran that 
convention in '88. He wrote the speech I gave in 1988. [Laughter] I was 
supposed to talk about the future here today, but instead I decided to 
finish that speech. So you all relax, and I will. [Laughter] I wish you 
hadn't laughed so hard at that. [Laughter]
    I want to thank Chris Dodd, who has been my friend for a long time, 
almost that long. I've known him about 15 years now. And I remember when 
we were young men in public life back in 1980 when I went to the 
Democratic Convention in Connecticut to give the keynote speech and he 
was about to go to the Senate. And I have watched him, and I wanted him 
to do this job because I don't think our country has a stronger voice 
for the values, the ideas of the Democratic Party and because he's not 
afraid to fight. I wanted Don Fowler because I thought we ought to have 
somebody in the leadership who does not have an accent--[laughter]--and 
because, whether the South knows it or not, we're a lot better for most 
of them than the other guys are.

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    So I feel very good about this team. I thank Debbie DeLee for all of 
her work and for her leadership. I thank David Wilhelm in his absence.
    David and Degee brought young Luke by to see me yesterday. And I sat 
him on the desk in the Oval Office. And they're already saving up for 
the Inaugural gown for when Luke's inaugurated in 40 or 50 years. 
    I'd like to say a special word of thanks, too, in honor, in homage--
I know there is something on the program about this later, but I'd like 
to tell you all personally how sad I am about the passing of John White 
and how much I appreciate him. He was the cochairman of our campaign in 
1972 in Texas, and I've known him a very long time. He was a great 
Democrat, a great leader for our party. And I know all of you join me in 
wishing his wife, Nellie, well and in thanking him from the bottom of 
our hearts for being such a loyal and effective leader for our party for 
so very long.
    You know, I was listening to the Vice President talk--I say first I 
need to thank all three of them who spoke. I thank Tipper Gore for being 
basically, on many occasions, the continuing spark plug of our team, for 
fighting for the rights and the interests of people who need better 
mental health opportunities in this country. I do believe that Al Gore 
will go down in history as the most effective Vice President in the 
history of the Republic and the person who has exercised the most 
    And I want to say this to my wife. I never really thought when we 
started this she would become quite the target she has been. It's funny, 
when we lived in Arkansas, which is supposed to be more conservative and 
traditional than the country as a whole, most people thought it was a 
pretty good thing when the Governor's wife tried to get kids an 
education or make sure they didn't go to bed sick at night if it could 
be helped. And I'll tell you something else--[applause]--I'd like to say 
something else. When I look at her at night, I think there's a lot worse 
things that could happen to you in life than to get caught redhanded 
trying to give health care to 40 million Americans who don't have it.
    I come here today in a curious role: as the leader of the party I 
love but also as the President of a country that includes both Democrats 
and Republicans, a fair number of people that don't think either party 
amounts to much and just kind of go with the flow of election after 
    I do regret, in all candor, that any administration that could have 
done as much as we have done, and any group of Members of Congress that 
could have supported that, did not find greater favor in the election of 
November. And I thought, well, maybe there's a lot of reasons for this. 
There are, objectively, a lot of reasons. First of all, it takes a while 
for the laws you pass to be actually felt in the lives of people. And 
secondly, there are all kinds of reasons today why it's hard to get good 
news out, and it's almost harder if there's more of it. And thirdly, 
there are a lot of people in this country today who, in the midst of 
this great recovery, don't feel more secure. And they really don't. And 
they're our friends and we are their friends, but they may not have 
known it in the last election, given what they had to listen to.
    But the truth is that a whole bunch of folks in America, even in 
spite of the fact that we've got over 5\1/2\ million new jobs in the 
last 2 years, are working harder for less money than they had 15 years 
ago. Their wages have not kept up with inflation. Another 1.1 million 
Americans lost their health care last year, and they were in working 
families. They were not people on welfare.
    I just signed a bill a few days ago--we celebrated it this week--to 
try to stabilize the pensions of 40 million Americans who depend upon 
the Government guarantee system and who were in danger of being let 
down; 8\1/2\ million of them were in trouble in their pensions. People 
know that.
    More and more workers feel like they're just sort of dispensable 
products that can be thrown away in this new rapidly changing global 
economy, and they feel great anxiety.
    And not all the problems of this country are economic. A lot of 
people feel insecure on their streets. And they don't like what they see 
happening to our families and our communities. And they're vulnerable to 
the siren songs they heard in the last election: Promise them anything; 
tell them what they want to hear; tell them the Government is their 
    But let me tell you something else right on the front end, folks. 
When people say change is hard and you have to be strong and you have to 
be willing to take unpopular positions, that isn't just rhetoric, that's 
true. I used to carry a bunch of--about nine rules of politics

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around in my billfold when I was Governor, Clinton's rule of politics. 
And one of them was, ``Everybody is for change in general, but against 
it in particular.'' [Laughter]
    I remember a story our junior Senator, David Pryor, told me one time 
about going to a birthday party for a guy who turned 100. And he said to 
this guy who had just passed a century of life, he said, ``You know, 
it's remarkable; you have all your faculties about you. You can really--
you speak clearly; you hear me when I speak to you.'' He said, ``Yeah.'' 
And he said, ``You're thinking just right.'' He said, ``That's right.'' 
He said, ``You must have seen an amazing number of changes in your 
lifetime.'' He said, ``Yes, son, and I was agin every one of them.'' 
    And that's what I see sometimes--you think about it. The last time 
we had a period of really profound change like this was at the end of 
the Second World War. We had a President named Harry Truman. He had an 
80 percent approval rating on the day that he dropped the bomb on Japan. 
Two years later, when he sent national health insurance to the Congress 
for the second time, and he'd gone through 2 years of reverse plastic 
surgery from the organized interest groups pounding against change, he 
was at 36 percent approval. But he fought for change because it was 
necessary. And he reached out and worked with the Republicans when he 
could to build the structure of the post-cold-war world. He did what was 
right, and eventually they were able to get it across.
    So I say to you, the number one lesson is not to be cynical, not to 
give up, not to turn back but to bear down and go forward and do what is 
right by the American people. It will come out all right in the end if 
we stand up for what is right and do what is right.
    You know, I have been very interested in what the new Republican 
leaders in Congress have said in the last few days. The Speaker, quoting 
Franklin Roosevelt at length, has basically said, ``Well, the Democrats 
did do almost every good thing that was done in the 20th century; give 
them that. But in the information age, they're irrelevant. We thank 
them. They did a good job; give them a gold watch and send them home. 
And put us in in the information age because in the information age, 
well, Government is just intrinsically a part of the problem. It is 
intrinsically bad. And those Democrats, they think there's a program for 
every problem. They think Government can solve the problems. They are 
wrong. They are irrelevant. Throw them away.''
    It's a funny world, that world they're sketching, a world in which 
Big Bird is an elitist and rightwing media magnates are populists. 
[Laughter] It's an interesting world. I'm still trying to get it, but 
I'm working at it real hard.
    But I say to you, my friends, we have an obligation that is more 
than contesting the other party, and certainly I do. I do not believe 
there is a program for every problem in the information age. I do not 
believe Government can solve all the problems. But I do not believe that 
Government is inherently bad. Our Founders created Government at a time 
of limited Government. And I still think what they said it was for is 
the best statement we could ever make: We hold these truths to be self-
evident, that all men are created equal, endowed by their Creator with 
certain inalienable rights, and among these are life, liberty, and the 
pursuit of happiness. And Government was instituted to help the American 
people pursue those ends. That is what I believe.
    And you know, in times of sweeping change, times of great uprooting, 
times which are uncertain and insecure for people, it is more important 
than ever that we work hard not only to do the right specific things but 
to define that, to say what we believe. So will we have a different form 
of Government in the 21st century? You bet we will. And will it be less 
bureaucratic and more entrepreneurial and more creative? You bet; it 
must be. But does it still need to be on the side of average Americans 
to help empower them, to give them the tools, to give them the means so 
that they can survive and do well and have the American dream in their 
own lives and rid themselves of this gripping insecurity that still 
dominates the lives of so many million American families? I say yes, 
that is our job.
    And so I challenge the leaders of the other party: You won a piece 
of responsibility; exercise it. Stop the politics of demonization and 
division, and let's think about exercising joint responsibility. You say 
you want to restrain Government spending; so do I. Without help from 
them, we took $11,000 in debt off of every family in this country. We 
reduced the size of Government, as the Vice President said. We have 
begun to reinvent it to make it work. Nobody looks the other way now 
when there's an emergency and the Federal Emergency Management

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Agency comes, like they did when the Republicans were in power. They now 
say, ``Bring them on. They're our friends. They're our helpers. They get 
things done.'' When California had their terrible earthquake, we got 
that highway rebuilt in about half the time--the busiest highway in 
America--they said they could do. If you go into the Small Business 
Administration now, you can fill out a one-page form for a loan and get 
an answer in 3 days. You don't have to wait months after going through 
page after page. I talked to university administrator after university 
administrator who tells me that they are saving weeks of time now in 
college loan applications because they like our new college loan 
program, our direct loan program that cuts costs to the taxpayers and 
cuts costs to the students and gives people a better way to pay back 
their college loans and cut out bureaucracy.
    They say they want to help us. I say, come on. We need the help. 
We'd like to have some support. We've been carrying this burden for 2 
years, reducing the Government, reducing the bureaucracy, making it work 
better. We would like to have a partner; you are welcome. Let's go, 
let's talk about positive ideas for our future.
    They say we have to do something about immigration. They're right; 
there are too many illegal immigrants in America. But we have increased 
the number of border guards. We have accelerated the deportation of 
people convicted of crimes. We have faced these problems after they were 
ignored by the people who were here before. If they want to help in a 
responsible and fair way, I say, come on.
    They say they're for welfare reform. Well, in the last 2 years, we 
gave 24 States permission to get around Federal rules and regulations to 
find new ways to put people to work, to give them a chance in life. So I 
say, okay, come on; help.
    They say they want to be tough on crime. Most of them voted against 
the crime bill that put 100,000 police on the street, passed ``three 
strikes and you're out,'' gave our people some prevention programs--and 
law enforcement, community leaders--to give kids something to say yes to 
and a better future. But we want help in these areas, and I say, come 
    They say they want to give tax relief to working people. So do we. 
In the last 2 years, as the Vice President said, we not only made 90 
percent of the small businesses eligible for tax cuts, but for working 
families under $26,000, their taxes this year will be, on the average, 
$1,000 lower than they would have been if this administration had never 
come to office. That's under the laws that are already there. So let's 
look at what we can do.
    But let's look at what we should not do. In the last 2 years, a lot 
of the important things we did were opposed by somewhere between a 
majority and 100 percent of the members of the other party. Now they're 
in the majority. But I don't think we should repeal the family leave 
law. I don't think we should repeal the tax cuts for working families on 
low income to keep them off welfare. I don't think we should repeal the 
Brady bill. And I don't think we should repeal--and I know it may have 
cost us the House of Representatives, and most people who studied it 
closely believe it did, but I don't believe we should repeal the assault 
weapons. You don't need them. I'm not sure about this; you may need 
assault weapons to hunt giraffes, but you can go with ducks just fine 
with an ordinary shotgun.
    This is a serious thing. Policemen lay down their lives every day in 
this country because of the upsurge in assault weapons. Talk to people 
who run the emergency rooms of our hospitals about the increasing 
mortality rate of people with gunshot wounds, and you know what they'll 
tell you? It's happening because there's more bullets in people's bodies 
who are shot with guns, on average, than there used to be. A lot of good 
Democrats laid down their careers to give our children a chance to stay 
alive on the street, give our police officers a chance to stay alive 
while they do their duty. We must not go back on that.
    I'll tell you something else. We shouldn't repeal the law that will 
make it possible to immunize all the kids in this country against 
serious diseases who are under 2 years old. We shouldn't repeal the 
national service law. We should not do that. You know, on Martin Luther 
King's birthday, those national service volunteers were building houses 
in Atlanta, repairing tattered housing in Chicago, and helping people 
fight the floods in California. And they're earning money to go to 
college, which is important to their future and ours. And we shouldn't 
repeal it. We shouldn't repeal it.
    I guess what I want to say to you is that I don't think the 
Government in any given time is intrinsically good or bad. Is it 
relevant? Is

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it working? Does it reflect our values and our interests? That is the 
question. There are many areas in which we can find agreement, and we 
must be big enough to seek those areas. Even though in so many places 
they turned away from the same opportunity in the previous 2 years, we 
have to let that go. Our job is to think about the people out there in 
America, those who are left behind in this global economy who need help 
to work their way from the under class to the middle class. We need to 
think about people out there who are working harder and falling further 
behind who deserve to have the American dream in a swelling opportunity 
middle class.
    We need to be true to many of you in this room who are successful 
people, who are winning in the global economy but who know that your 
ultimate success and that of your children and your grandchildren 
depends upon our ability to go forward together. And you haven't left 
the Democratic Party, because you believe that America is one country 
and one community and we're going forward together. We have to be true 
to those people.
    And so we have to work together. I hope that we will get bipartisan 
support for the administration's middle class bill of rights, which 
could just as well be called the bill of rights and responsibilities. It 
reflects all three things that I sought to do from the day I came here: 
to create a new economic policy, a new way of governing, and a New 
Covenant of rights and responsibilities.
    If we give a tax deduction for education after high school, if we 
let people withdraw tax-free from an IRA for educational purposes, we 
are helping to rebuild our economy, we're having a nonbureaucratic 
governmental effort to help people grow, and we are establishing rights 
and responsibilities because you cannot be given an education, all you 
can be given is an opportunity to get an education. You have to do that 
for yourself.
    Anybody can offer a tax cut. We saw that for the 12 years before we 
showed up. You know, you can quadruple the debt of the country, increase 
inequality, and claim you gave everybody a tax cut, even if it wasn't a 
fair one.
    What we ought to do is to give hardworking, middle class Americans 
the benefit of this economic recovery by having a tightly disciplined 
tax relief focused largely on middle class Americans in ways that are 
paid for so that we do not explode the deficit. That should be our goal, 
and that will be my goal.
    We're gunning with another round of reinventing Government 
proposals. We want there to be bipartisan support for that. We also 
think there ought to be some more political reform. I applaud the 
Republicans for supporting the law applying to Congress the same laws 
that are applied to the private sector. I think that's a good idea. And 
we should be for that; everybody should be for that. But we ought not 
stop there. We ought to also pass lobby reform and require disclosure 
and ban the gifts and the trips and let the American people know that 
there is no special political class in this country forgetting about 
    The Democrats ought to keep pushing until we get lobby reform and 
responsible campaign finance reform and the things that will move us 
forward as a people in increasing the trust of the voters in their 
Government. We ought to be doing that and say, ``Join hands with us and 
do that, too. We like what you did, let's go further.'' That's the 
attitude that we ought to have.
    And we ought to also be for more welfare reform. But I want to say 
something about this. I may be the only President who ever actually 
spent a lot of time talking to people on welfare. I may be the only 
President who ever, when he was a Governor, actually went into a welfare 
office, not just one but many, and watched how they work. We need to 
change this system. And our goal should be to move from welfare to work, 
from dependence to independence, from just proving you can biologically 
have children to responsible parenting. That ought to be our goal.
    But our goal ought to be to liberate the energies and capacities of 
people to be good parents and to be good workers, not to punish people 
because they happen to be poor. And there will be some strong 
differences that need to be debated here, because I believe the American 
people desperately want a change in the welfare system. I believe they 
do not like the direction of our culture in terms of the breakup of 
families and the rising number of our children born out of wedlock. But 
I do not believe they want to punish parents and children just because 
they're poor or because they've made some mistakes in their lives.
    I think we ought to require a system that promotes parenting, that 
promotes education,

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that promotes work. And we can do it in a way that builds people up, not 
tears them down. We can do it in a way that unites this country, not 
divides it. And the Democrats ought to take it as their solemn mission 
to make sure that that is exactly the kind of welfare reform we have in 
this country when I sign a bill on it.
    Finally, let me make this point. Both parties and all candidates 
bear some responsibility for the fact that our public life has 
deteriorated in recent years, by treating the voters as if they were 
purely consumers in two senses: first, consumers in the sense that all 
they care about is economics. That's not true. There are other ways of 
defining our common security. And second and most importantly, perhaps, 
for us as a party, that we would treat them as consumers of politics, 
not participants in it. Who's got the best 30-second ad? Who rushes most 
quickly to define his or her opponent as a bad person? Who answers the 
ad best? And the American people become political couch potatoes, very 
often no more involved in politics than they are in the Super Bowl.
    We've got an excuse, I do, for being a couch potato at the Super 
Bowl: I'm not good enough to play or young enough or strong enough. But 
we're all good enough to play in citizenship. And one of the reasons 
that we were successful in 1992 is that we got rid of a bunch of that. 
We did all those town meetings; we got on those buses and rode across 
the country; we stopped in little crossroads where nobody had ever been 
before. And we treated people like they had good sense and could be 
involved in a dialog about our country's future.
    We must not draw the wrong lesson from the recent election. We must 
not think that the only answer is for us to have better negative ads 
than they do. Because we have obligations to the people of this country 
as well as to the party we love. And I am telling you--Andy Jackson, one 
of the founders of our party, said that the answer to every problem of 
democracy is more democracy. So we have to do a better job of 
reconnecting our citizens to our enterprise. The people cannot respond 
to us just because we pass a lot of bills in Congress. They have to be a 
part of that. Their lives have to change.
    You know some of the happiest people I've seen in America since I've 
had the honor of being your President? People who are fighting 
disasters. I remember when that 500-year flood hit the Middle West, I 
met a little girl named Brianne Schwantes, who had brittle-bone disease, 
down in Iowa--lived in Wisconsin, came down to Iowa--the child had all 
kind of broken bones--fighting the flood, knowing that she could break a 
lot of her bones again, because it was a great enterprise and it made 
her feel that she could give something. And all the other people were 
just the same.
    When I was in California last week, we were celebrating the one-year 
anniversary of the earthquake. They had 5,600 damaged school buildings a 
year ago; all but 40 are open today. And they are brimming with pride 
about what they did.
    They're dealing with the floods. I flew to northern California; I 
went to a little unincorporated town in Congressman Fazio's district, 
Rio Linda, where Rush Limbaugh had his first radio program. And I was in 
this little Methodist church with all the volunteers in this flood. And 
this lady comes up to me--we were all standing around in a circle, and 
we were going to say a prayer--and she puts her arm around me, and she 
said, ``Well, I'm a Republican, Mr. President, but I think I'll stand 
here with you anyway.'' Why? Because she was an American first. She was 
proud of what she was doing. She was helping people in trouble. And she 
felt more like a person who mattered.
    And whether it's right or wrong, whenever our party, that has 
labored so long and so hard to lift up ordinary people and give them a 
chance to live out their dreams, suffers a reversal, it's because a lot 
of them don't think we think they matter. And what we have got to do, in 
addition to all these things we're doing here in Washington, is to 
change the way we are conducting politics, to make citizenship matter 
again, to let people become actors, not couch potatoes, in the great 
drama that is unfolding.
    I am telling you, the next century will be the most exciting time 
this country ever had. Our best days are still ahead of us. We will have 
opportunities for people to move from total deprived circumstances into 
real success because of the technological changes that are occurring if 
we have the courage to make the right decisions and if we do it together 
so that people feel they matter. This party would not be here after 200 
years unless at every critical juncture in our history, we had been able 
to do that.
    So I tell you, when I say our job is to create opportunity but to 
provide responsibility and an

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opportunity to exercise it, it begins with the work of citizenship. When 
you go home, I want every one of you to think about that. What can you 
do with the State party? What ought you to do with the Republican Party 
in your State? What kind of debates can you sponsor? What kind of ways 
can you reach out and touch people? We must make people matter again.
    You know, we'll win some elections in the future if none of this 
happens. We'll be smarter, and we'll get cleverer, and the next time 
this happens we'll do better. But what the country needs is to take 
these incredible technological changes that are going on and use them to 
connect people together again, not continue to drive them apart. You 
just think about that.
    Why do people think they matter more in adversity than in creating a 
future that we can all be a part of? Why does there have to be a flood 
or a tornado before everybody who walks the streets, without regard to 
their income, their education, their race, their background, or their 
politics, feels like they are first and foremost an American? That is 
what we have to give back to them. And if we do, we'll be doing fine 
because we will remember that the most important thing is whether the 
American people do fine.
    Thank you, and God bless you all.

Note: The President spoke at 12:50 p.m. at the Hilton Hotel and Towers. 
In his remarks, he referred to the following Democratic National 
Committee officers: Donald Fowler, national chairman; Senator 
Christopher Dodd, general chairman; Debra DeLee, former interim chair 
and 1996 Democratic Convention CEO; and David Wilhelm, former chair, and 
his wife, Degee. He also referred to the Retirement Protection Act of 
1994, which appears in title VII of the Uruguay Round Agreements Act of 
1994, approved December 8, 1994 (Public Law No. 103-465).